Friday, June 17, 2011
Death of Patrick Leigh Fermor
[Update: Wonderful Fermor anecdotes in "Surprised by Time," here.]
Patrick Leigh Fermor has died at the age of 96. Since I first learned of him, Fermor has been something of a hero to me, and I have written of him, here and here, and tangentially, here and here. Christopher Hitchens summed-up his legacy thusly: "To his last breath, he remained curious and open-minded to an almost innocent degree and was a conveyor of optimism and humor to his younger admirers. For as long as he is read and remembered, the ideal of the hero will be a real one."
A selection of excellent tributies follow:
The Guardian (by Jan Morris)
Slate (by Christopher Hitchens)
Paul A. Rahe
The New York Times (by Robert Kaplan)
And then there is the following trascript from a public radio broadcast in northern California (h/t to Dana):
WORDS ON BOOKS and A FEW OTHER THINGS FROM TIME TO TIME
by Tony Miksak for KZYX&Z-FM, 90.7 Philo CA
Airs Sunday, June 19, 2011 at 10:55 am & Wednesday, June 22 at 1 pm
Title: Patrick Leigh Fermor (1915 – 2011)
(MUSIC UP) This is Tony Miksak with a few Words on Books...
We lost an old man this month at age 96. They say whenever someone
dies an entire universe – thoughts, feelings, experience – also dies.
This could not be more true in the case of Patrick Leigh Fermor.
His books are inspiring, thrilling memoirs that inspire others to
similar feats of travel and insight.
When Patrick Leigh Fermor was 19 he decided, having nothing better to
do, to walk alone from London, along the Rhine, down the Danube, to
Constantinople, now Istanbul. This was in 1933, ten months after
Hitler's accession to power, through a Europe soon to disappear.
Years later Leigh Fermor pulled out his battered old notebooks and
wrote two books about the trip, A Time of Gifts and Between the Woods
and the Water. The first was written in 1977, the sequel eleven years
after that. Both have become true classics.
A high-spirited 19 year-old sets out across Europe, but it’s his 63
year-old future self who tells the story. Youth transformed by
maturity, experience enlightened by scholarship, impulse tempered by
reflection. In these books there is more than one kind of time, more
than one state of mind. Fermor blends his selves with grace and
From A Time of Gifts "Often, half in a bay of the mountains and half
on a headland, a small and nearly amphibian Schloss mouldered in the
failing light among the geese and the elder-bushes and the apple
trees...Those buildings looked too forlorn for habitation... But, in
the tiny, creeper-smothered windows, a faint light would show at dusk.
Who lived in those stone-flagged rooms where the sun never came?"
Fermor on the Baroque: "Concave and convex uncoil and pursue each
other across the pilasters in ferny arabesques, liquid notions ripple,
waterfalls running silver and blue drop to lintels and hang frozen
there in curtains of artificial icicles. Ideas go feathering up in
mock fountains and float away through the colonnades in processions of
cumulus and cirrus..."
Walking lonely stretches in the dead of winter Fermor amused himself
by reciting aloud the Latin poets or Shakespeare. At one point a
peasant woman walked out of nearby woods with arm loads of kindling.
Hearing the strange words she dropped everything and flew back into
Fermor concludes A Time of Gifts standing on a bridge between Slovakia
and Hungary: "Close behind me, girls in bright clothes were hastening
excitedly across the bridge, all of them carrying bunches of
water-lilies, narcissi, daffodils and violets... I found it impossible
to tear myself away from my station and plunge into Hungary. I feel
the same disability now; a momentary reluctance to lay hands on this
particular fragment of the future; not out of fear, but because,
within arm's reach and still intact, this future seemed, and still
seems, so full of promised marvels."
Fermor served as an irregular in the British Army in Greece during the
Second World War. Living as a shepherd in the mountains of
Nazi-occupied Crete, his small group captured the German general in
charge of the island and conveyed him to British forces in Egypt. For
this exploit and for his later writings Fermor was medaled and later
Over the years Patrick Leigh Fermor wrote a number of books, some set
in Greece, all in his uniquely elegant style. This month, obituaries
published all over the world praised both his courage and his
(MUSIC) You too, can receive WOB scripts in your email and review
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email@example.com. I'm blogging at www.wordsonbooks.blogspot.com and I
enjoy reading your comments there.
Newly reprinted this year, the story of that Cretan adventure:
Ill Met by Moonlight by W. Stanley Moss, with an Afterword by Patrick
Leigh Fermor. Paul Dry Books paperback $14.95. ISBN 1589880668.
Stanley Moss was the other British officer on this raid.
A summary of the thrilling story of the General's kidnaping told in
the New Yorker in 2006:
http://www.accessmylibrary.com/coms2/summary_0286-16387551_ITM but to
read the entire article you will have to register with Highbeam
Fermor’s walk from London to Hungary:
A Time of Gifts by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Introduction by Jan Morris.
New York Review Books paperback $16.95. ISBN 1590171659.
Hungary to Constantinople:
Between the Woods and the Water by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Introduction
by Jan Morris. New York Review Books paperback $15.95. ISBN
Words of Mercury is an out-of-print anthology of Leigh Fermor's
writings. Many copies are available, mostly in Canada and the UK. Try
You can read a review here:
Fermor on the pleasures and rigors of monastic life: "In the seclusion
of a cell – an existence whose quietness is only varied by the silent
meals, the solemnity of ritual, and long solitary walks in the woods –
the troubled waters of the mind grow still and clear, and much that is
hidden away and all that clouds it floats to the surface and can be
skimmed away; and after a time one reaches a state of peace that is
unthought of in the ordinary world."
A Time to Keep Silence by Patrick Leigh Fermor, Introduction by Karen
Armstrong. New York Review of Books paperback $12.95. ISBN 1590172442
I had hoped that Fermor would be able to finish the long-awaited last volume of his trilogy before death. Perhaps it will be published posthumously, and the writer for The Independent (who had lunch with Fermor 10 days prior to his death) gives us all hope that this will indeed come to pass:
I can say that no other person I have encountered has shown such an embrace of laughter, learning, language and life as this towering genius of word and action. The great memorial will be his writing and a great excitement is that the third part of his trilogy about crossing Europe is due soon – I have seen it, and many have waited years for this crafted reminiscence so long in gestation, about which Paddy in self-mockery called himself "The Carpathian Snail".