Garfield, “The Paladin” (or: Christoper Creighton’s Excellent Adventure)

Garfield, “The Paladin” (or: Christoper Creighton’s Excellent Adventure)

The Pal­adin, by Bri­an Garfield. New York: Simon & Schus­ter, 1979; Lon­don, Macmil­lan 1980; Book Club Asso­ciates 1981, sev­er­al tarns­la­tions, 350 pages. (Review updat­ed 2019.)

Garfield
The First Edi­tion, New York: Simon & Schus­ter, 1979.

Garfield’s gripping novel: fictional biography?

The late, pro­lif­ic Bri­an Garfield wrote this book four decades ago, yet I am still asked about it—and whether it could be true.

The sto­ry Mr. Garfield tells seems impossible—fantastic. An eleven-year-old boy named Christo­pher Creighton leaps a gar­den wall in Kent one day. He finds him­self face to face with the Right Hon­or­able Win­ston Churchill, Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment. He will lat­er know the great man by the code-name “Tig­ger.” It is 1935.

Christo­pher, who con­tin­ues to invade Chartwell, impress­es Churchill with his audac­i­ty and pluck. Four years lat­er, aged fif­teen, he is recruit­ed into the British Secret Ser­vice by a pair of spy-mas­ters known as “Owl” and “Win­nie-the-Pooh.”

Christopher’s climacterics

Garfield’s young war­rior then accom­plish­es a suc­ces­sion of what Churchill might call “cli­mac­ter­ics.” He warns that Bel­gium plans to sur­ren­der to Hitler. (One book review­er said “with­out a fight.”) Advance knowl­edge of the Bel­gian col­lapse enables the British to pull off a fight­ing retreat, sav­ing 338,000 French and Eng­lish sol­diers at Dunkirk.

But Christo­pher is just get­ting warmed up. Next, he finds secret U-boat pens in Ire­land and blows the Ger­mans’ most strate­gic cov­er for Atlantic war­fare. Then he sab­o­tages a friend­ly Dutch sub­ma­rine and sends its crew to the bot­tom after it reports the Japan­ese bat­tle fleet en route to Pearl Har­bor. Churchill has con­clud­ed the Amer­i­cans must not be warned—lest it enable them to avoid war. Back in Lon­don, Christo­pher fin­ish­es the job by mur­der­ing the only cipher clerk who has read the Dutch sub’s mes­sage. And she turns out to be one of his lady friends.

He engi­neers the assas­si­na­tion of Vichy’s treach­er­ous Admi­ral Dar­lan, and tips off the Nazis to the Dieppe raid so they will meet it in force, con­vinc­ing the Amer­i­cans that it is too soon for a cross-chan­nel inva­sion. Final­ly, when the D-Day inva­sion real­ly is on, he steers the Ger­mans into defend­ing Calais and not Nor­mandy. By which time Christo­pher Creighton is a good deal old­er, wis­er, sad­der and blood­i­er. But war is a dirty busi­ness!

Counter-factuals

The Bel­gian sce­nario is quite con­trary to his­to­ry. The Bel­gians fought brave­ly against over­whelm­ing odds for sev­er­al weeks in May 1940. Also, King Leopold issued warn­ings of his impend­ing sur­ren­der in advance. The Ger­mans nev­er had secret U-boat pens in Ire­land. (See for exam­ple War­ren Kimball’s arti­cle, “That Neu­tral Island.” Dieppe was a dis­as­ter, but not by plan: Ter­ry Rear­don has care­ful­ly cat­a­logued the many errors in its plan­ning and exe­cu­tion. (All three of these arti­cles are pub­lished by the Hills­dale Col­lege Churchill Project.)

Numer­ous con­spir­a­cy the­o­ries attend Pearl Har­bor. One says Roo­sevelt knew and let it hap­pen to get Con­gress to declare war. Anoth­er says Churchill knew, and kept the news from Roo­sevelt, so the Amer­i­cans would be dragged in. This is sim­ply sil­ly. No Amer­i­can pres­i­dent, espe­cial­ly a lover of the Navy, would allow his country’s mil­i­tary to be so bad­ly dam­aged. No British prime min­is­ter would with­hold advance warn­ing. Sure­ly, an alert­ed Amer­i­can fleet and air­craft would have engaged the Japan­ese, and war would have hap­pened any­way.

Read for entertainment, however….

Garfield
The Indone­sian edi­tion, sub­ti­tled, “The sto­ry of a child who was a secret agent of World War II.”

But Bri­an Garfield spun a great yarn. Although the imag­i­na­tion strains over many con­spir­a­cies engi­neered by a boy, The Pal­adin is grip­ping, well-writ­ten and plau­si­ble. The Churchill Garfield describes tal­lies close­ly with the best accounts of his con­tem­po­raries. The vivid scenes at the “hole in the ground” (Cab­i­net War Rooms) are paint­ed with author­i­ty. Nazi For­eign Min­is­ter Joachim von Ribben­trop, the Bel­gians and French, the British and Ger­man agents, are entire­ly believ­able. Bri­an Garfield is as plau­si­ble than Len Deighton, as excit­ing as Ian Flem­ing. His nov­el is splen­did enter­tain­ment, and you should def­i­nite­ly add a copy to your library of tall tales.

Garfield set tongues wag­ging back in 1980, when pro­mot­ing his new book. “The hero is a real per­son,” he wrote. “He is now in his fifties. His name is not Christo­pher Creighton.”

I’ve often thought that the Churchill nov­els of Michael Dobbs are so well script­ed, so faith­ful to the real-life char­ac­ters in them—and that we would not be sur­prised to see Dobbs’s scenes described as truth  by some care­less future writer. Well, Bri­an Garfield had a twen­ty-year head start on Dobbs, and did him one bet­ter. In the 1990s, some­one named “Christo­pher Creighton” sur­faced, with a book about a secret raid on Berlin. We report, you decide.

3 thoughts on “Garfield, “The Paladin” (or: Christoper Creighton’s Excellent Adventure)

  1. Lar­ry Kryske makes a good point. In the film “Dark­est Hour” Churchill relied on the peo­ple rid­ing the Lon­don Under­ground to prop him up. A total­ly fic­ti­tious scene and, as we know, WSC didn’t need prop­ping up. He was the prod for oth­ers.

  2. I think that’s open to ques­tion. Churchill him­self had doubts (vide his remark to body­guard Thomp­son on 10 May 1940: “All I hope is that it is not too late. I am very much afraid it is.” Until his noble fight­ing speech to the out­er cab­i­net on the 28th, he had to pon­der the very preva­lent view, typ­i­fied by Hal­i­fax, to seek a away out. Thus, on the 26th: “If we could get out of this jam by giv­ing up Mal­ta and Gibral­tar and some African colonies I would jump at it.” (Cab­i­net Min­utes, Con­fi­den­tial Annex, CAB 65/13). So I put down Dobbs’s “prop up” char­ac­ters as a fic­tion author’s license. (Both quotes are in my book, Churchill by Him­self, page 272.)

  3. I dis­agree with your view of Michael Dobbs’s Churchill nov­els. Sure they are accu­rate with regard to set­ting. But in his first one, Winston’s War, Churchill needs Guy Burgess to prop him up and to be res­olute. In the sec­ond, Churchill’s Tri­umph, WSC needs a Ger­man woman emi­grant to prop him up. I don’t think Churchill need­ed any­one to prop him up. Same goes for James Hogan’s nov­el, Pro­teus Oper­a­tion, about mod­ern-day peo­ple going back in time in the 1930s to prop up Churchill.

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