Book of the Week: Bite of the Bulldog

And now for something completely different

Since Polish novelists and ancient historians have proved to be too daunting or time-consuming for most readers, I am taking a different tack and devoting a few days to Bite of the Bulldog (initially titled simply Bulldog Drummond), a short thriller in which the reader meets one of the great pop fiction heroes of the last century, Bulldog Drummond.

The Bulldog's creator, Herman Cyril McNeile was born in Cornwall, the son of a navy captain.  He attended Cheltenham College and The Royal Military Academy at Woolwich, and he was commissioned lieutenant in the engineers in 1907. As Captain he sailed for France with the British Expeditionary Force in 1914, and from his wartime experiences as engineer in combat he took the nickname Sapper, which became his pen name.  Like his hero, Sapper McNeile was loud, hearty, and found of military fellowship.  and must have tried the patience of his more reserved countrymen.

One can read the entire book in a few hours of careless perusing--a perfect read for the beach or the cabin.  After a few further observations on the author and the period, I want to talk about three things, mostly:  first, the formulaic plot--what works and what doesn't; second, the character of the Bulldog; and, third, the political implications--and I do not mean  just the explicit political statements made near the end of the book.

To anticipate my conclusions and, perhaps, to whet the appetite, the Sapper and his hero--neither of them much brighter than Bertie Wooster--have a deeper instinctive sense of the 20th century revolutions than most clever political analysts and theorists.  In fact, I should go so far as to say that it would be better for the youth to grow up on Bulldog Drummond than on virtually all the popular conservative writers of the past two generations.  Someone will undoubtedly observe that I have set the bar rather low,

Read and enjoy.  This is not a five course meal or even lasagne.  It is good English beef, not so good as John Buchan, by any means, but with less of Buchan's sometimes tedious nationalism.

Thomas Fleming

Thomas Fleming is president of the Fleming Foundation. He is the author of six books, including The Morality of Everyday Life and The Politics of Human Nature, as well as many articles and columns for newspapers, magazines,and learned journals. He holds a Ph.D. in Classics from the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill and a B.A. in Greek from the College of Charleston. He served as editor of Chronicles: a Magazine of American Culture from 1984 to 2015 and president of The Rockford Institute from 1997-2014. In a previous life he taught classics at several colleges and served as a school headmaster in South Carolina

12 Responses

  1. Andrew G Van Sant says:

    I have almost finished the Odessa File by Forsyth and will look at Drummond.

  2. Vince Cornell says:

    I hereby commit myself to reading Bulldog Drummond in a timely fashion, come hell or high water.

  3. Vince Cornell says:

    I should ask – are any of the old Bulldog Drummond movies worth watching? I’ve seen them advertised but never checked any of them out.

  4. James E. Easton says:

    Apple Books has a 99 cent Megapack with 15 stories in it. Megapack says they have a Kindle version but I couldn’t find it. Nor does there seem to be a hardcover collection of Bulldog, pity.

  5. Thomas Fleming says:

    We have spent the day driving back from “god’s country”–don’t ask which deity–and I am late in responding. There are many Kindle editions of the first Bulldog Drummond, going by various names: For $0.99, there is: https://www.amazon.com/Bull-Dog-Drummond-Sapper-ebook/dp/B004YKZE0I/ref=sr_1_3?dchild=1&keywords=sapper+mcneile+bulldog&qid=1627335706&s=digital-text&sr=1-3, but there are others. Just search for Sapper McNeile Bulldog Drummond but be sure you get the first one. There are undoubtedly other sources on places like Gutenberg.

    The movies are entertaining, but neither John Howard nor Ray Milland resemble in any way the ugly-faced Bulldog with the hearty manner and massive frame. The plots are silly and have little to do with the books I have read. Nonetheless, they are entertaining, if you enjoy junk films with story and character as much as I do. They are closer to Homer than to Starwars.

  6. Allen Wilson says:

    I’ve been reading Herodotus on weekends. Weekend before last I was down with a blinding headache, then last Saturday with another that tried to come on but didn’t quite make it. Sunday I managed finally to finish volume four, and now the Persian king is preparing his revenge for Marathon. Nothing will stop me from finishing Herodotus now, but coming up with with intelligent comments has proven a more daunting task. It’s like writer’s block.

    I’ll look into Bulldog. He seems interesting.

  7. Michael Strenk says:

    I’m in! I could use a quick and entertaining sense of accomplishment. I am really enjoying Herodotus, but after spending the day at hard labor in the stifling heat and humidity, food, wine and minimally challenging entertainment are are all that my brain cells can usually process at this time of year. Luckily I picked up a brand new copy (published by Regnery) at a thrift store just before the world went completely insane.

  8. William Shofner says:

    I noticed that John Davis Lodge also played the Bulldog in the movies, and he too was not “ugly-faced”; however, Lodge was quite the fellow. Not only was he an actor, but a poet, a US Congressman, the Governor of CT, an Ambassador to Switzerland, Argentina, and Spain. and, of course, a member of the Boston Brahmin clan of Lodges. Not bad for a bulldog.

  9. Dom says:

    Still working through Herodotus, but I am already hooked on Bulldog. Looking forward to it. I got what seems to be a sloppy independent publish off Amazon because it promised to deliver quickly (I just can’t do e-books). A quick online comparison of text seems to conform with more reliable publishers. The cover art ensures the boys will pick it up at some point.

  10. Raymond Olson says:

    “the popular conservative writers of the past two generations”? If you mean Buckley as novelist, Tom Clancy, and their ilk, the bar has been set below itself.

    Vince (hope you see this)–Yes, the first Bulldog Drummond talkie (not that I’m aware of any silents) is one of the first glories of the talkies and is, accordingly, on my list of favorites, “The Talkies, 1929-1939”, forthcoming on this blog. Entitled Bulldog Drummond, it stars Ronald Colman as the sleuth and is art designer William Cameron Menzies’ first triumph, for which he was given an Oscar. It is an eyeful but also an earful, for Colman’s delivery as well as that of most of the rest of the cast of professional British stage actors in Hollywood. Everyone’s tongue is kept firmly in cheek throughout.

  11. Thomas Fleming says:

    I did include WFBt–not for fiction but for political thought.–along with most of his editors and friends. You are certainly right about the Ronald Coleman Bulldog movies, by far the best, though it is as far from the real fictional BD as the sequels.

  12. Thomas Fleming says:

    The plural “movies” was a mistake.