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Creator / Wilbur Smith

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"I wrote about my own father and my darling mother. I wove into the story chunks of early African history. I wrote about black people and white. I wrote about hunting and gold mining and carousing and women. I wrote about love and loving and hating. In short I wrote about all the things I knew well and loved better."
(On the writing of his first published novel, When the Lion Feeds, as quoted on his website)

Wilbur Addison Smith (born 9 January 1933, died 14 November 2021) was a prolific best-selling author, having written over 30 novels and sold over 120 million copies worldwide. All of his novels are adventure stories set in Africa. He is best known for the Courtney Series, following several generations of the titular family and their fortunes.

Born in Northern Rhodesia (now Zambia), Wilbur grew up on his father's cattle farm before being sent off to boarding school. After his father discouraged his dreams of becoming a journalist, he became an accountant. Nevertheless, he was determined to become a writer. He had written short stories for magazines and had one novel rejected by the time he wrote When The Lion Feeds which was accepted and published in 1964. The success of this novel (except in South Africa, where it was banned on the grounds of blasphemy and obscenity) enabled Wilbur to become a full-time writer.

Since 2012 when he changed publishers, Wilbur increasingly used co-writers for his novels. His autobiography, On Leopard Rock, was published in 2018.

All of his novels follow similar themes of African history, big-game hunting, gold mining, carousing and romancing women - a self-acknowledged case of writing about what he knows best.

Not to be confused with Will Smith.

    Books by Wilbur Smith 

The Courtney Series

Has its own page

The Ballantyne Series

  • A Falcon Flies (1980)
  • Men of Men (1981)
  • The Angels Weep (1982)
  • The Leopard Hunts in Darkness (1984)
  • The Triumph of the Sun (2005; also counts as a novel in the Courtney Series)
  • King of Kings (2019; co-written with Imogen Robertson; also counts as a novel in the Courtney Series)
  • Call of the Raven (2020; co-written with Corban Addison)
  • Prey Zone (2022; co-written with Keith Chapman and Steve Cole)

The Egyptian Series

  • River God (1993)
  • The Seventh Scroll (1995)
  • Warlock (2001)
  • The Quest (2007)
  • Desert God (2014)
  • Pharaoh (2016)
  • The New Kingdom (2021; co-written with Mark Chadbourn)
  • Titans of War (2022; co-written with Mark Chadbourn)

The Hector Cross Series

  • Those in Peril (2011)
  • Vicious Circle (2013)
  • Predator (2106; co-written with Tom Cain)

Other books

  • The Dark of the Sun (1965)
  • Shout at the Devil (1968)
  • Gold Mine (1970)
    • Made into a movie in 1974 - Gold - starring Roger Moore
  • The Diamond Hunters (1971)
    • Made into a movie in 1975 - The Kingfisher Caper - starring David McCallum
  • The Sunbird (1972)
  • Eagle in the Sky (1974)
  • The Eye of the Tiger (1975)
  • Cry Wolf (1976)
  • Hungry as the Sea (1978)
  • Wild Justice (1979)
    • Filmed for TV as a two-part miniseries in 1993
  • Elephant Song (1991)
  • On Leopard Rock (2018; non-fiction)

The following tropes can be found in Wilbur Smith's books

  • Action Mom: The formidable Centaine de Thiry, matriarch of the twentieth-century Courtneys.
  • Adventurer Archaeologist: Dr Benjamin Kazin in The Sunbird. Also Sir Nicholas Quenton-Harper and Dr Royan Al Simma in The Seventh Scroll.
  • Africa Is a Country: Spectacularly averted due to Wilbur's extensive knowledge about Africa which very often results in the highlighting of differences between people within certain African countries, and not just on the basis of skin colour (between the Shona and Matabele people in Zimbabwe, for example).
  • Amoral Afrikaner: Double subverted with Manfred de la Rey, who is at first portrayed sympathetically in Power of the Sword — he and his father are effectively forced into bankruptcy by Centaine de Thiry (who is in fact his mother; long story) and he grows up in poverty with a chip on his shoulder as a result. Embracing Afrikaner nationalism, he becomes the main player in a Nazi plot to assassinate Jan Smuts, South Africa's wartime Prime Minister. By the time of Rage, he's a respected politician who works closely with Shasa Courtney (actually his half-brother, but neither of them know this) in an ultimately doomed attempt to take over the country.
  • Anachronic Order: The Courtney Series novels in particular were not published in the order in which they happen chronologically — even before the co-writers got involved. It gets confusing in the Egyptian Series as well.
  • Ancient Egypt: The Egyptian Series novels are set here, with the exception of The Seventh Scroll which is set in the present.
  • Artistic Licence – History: Happens from time to time, but only with comparatively minor details — Wilbur has admitted in interviews that he sometimes does this if it suits the plot. For example...
    • Shout at the Devil has Portugal joining World War I on the British side in 1914, rather than 1916.
    • In Power of the Sword, Blaine Malcomess and Shasa Courtney go to the 1936 Berlin Olympics as members of South Africa's polo team. Although polo really was an Olympic sport then (for the fifth and last time), in Real Life South Africa did not enter a team in this event.
  • Author Appeal: Wilbur really likes swashbuckling, big-game hunting, mining and sex.
  • Big Damn Heroes: Absolutely.
  • Bigger Is Better in Bed: Implied to be the case with just about every male character whose surname is Courtney.
  • Bittersweet Ending: Happens rather a lot.
    • Shout at the Devil ends with the destruction of the German warship, but at the expense of the lives of all of the protagonists.
    • Cry Wolf ends with the Ethiopians defeated (thanks to Foregone Conclusion being in play). Jake, however, gets out alive with Vicky and the prospect of a romantic future with her; however, they only escape because of Gareth's self-sacrifice.
  • Born Winner: Several characters. Usually at least one Courtney per generation. May cause resentment among their siblings.
  • Break the Cutie: Almost all main characters who happen to be women will be subject to this - classic examples are Centaine de Thiry in The Burning Shore and Isabelle Courtney in Golden Fox. Happens to some of the men, too.
  • Card-Carrying Villain: Every villain in Wilbur's books is obviously evil and dastardly. Given the chance, they would most certainly inflict violence on women and children.
  • Card Sharp: Gareth Swales in Cry Wolf. Jake Barton only realises what he's up to — using sleight-of-hand with a fresh deck to deal everyone else a good poker hand and dealing himself a better one so that everyone will want to raise the stakes, only for him to win the lot — because he's been fleeced that way before. Gareth himself is later fleeced by Ras Golam; rather than just quit, he opts to carry on playing against the guy because he can't figure out how he's cheating.
  • Character Overlap: Several generations of Courtneys and Ballantynes interact with each other.
  • Creator Cameo: Briefly, in The Seventh Scroll. Lampshades the afterword of River God which claims that the whole story was based on a series of scrolls that were found in an ancient tomb.
  • Creator's Favorite Episode: Wilbur has often stated that of all his books, his favourite is When The Lion Feeds.
  • Darkest Africa: The setting for most of Wilbur's novels.
  • Dark Secret: A few characters have these. The prize goes to Centaine de Thiry, who in addition to being Manfred de la Rey’s mother was never actually married to Michael Courtney senior (he was killed in action hours before they were due to be married).
  • Dirty Communists: In addition to bankrolling the ANC, the KGB is getting up to all sorts of dirty tricks throughout Africa in Rage and Golden Fox.
  • Doorstopper: Nearly every one of Wilbur's novels is this.
  • Eunuchs Are Evil: Defied by Taita, the eunuch protagonist of the Egyptian series. In one of the later novels, he gets a new set of male genitalia courtesy of an evil witch who wants to have sex with him in order to steal all of the knowledge he has. Taita, though, is able to use his new, ah, weapon to defeat her, following which he becomes immortal and begins a sexual relationship with the reincarnation of Lostris. Yes, really.
  • Extruded Book Product: Wilbur beame this when he changed publishers in 2012 and started using co-writers, particularly in the Courtney Series. This has continued after his death.
  • Eyepatch of Power: Shasa Courtney sports one of these after losing an eye during World War II.
  • Face–Heel Turn: Happens a few times. Lothar de la Rey in The Burning Shore is perhaps the most obvious, earning Centaine de Thiry's undying enmity by murdering the San Bushmen who had rescued her.
  • Foregone Conclusion: Often at play when the setting is a Real Life historical event — for example, the Italian invasion of Ethiopia (Cry Wolf), the Rhodesian Bush War (The Angels Weep) and more than one plot to kill a South African political leader who did not die by assassination (Power of the Sword, Golden Fox).
  • Four-Star Badass: Sean Courtney senior, who's a general on the Western Front in A Sparrow Falls - and he likes to spend as much time on the front line as he possibly can. Also Peter Stride, the anti-terrorist chief in Wild Justice.
  • Framing Device: The afterword to River God counts as this — it claims that the whole story was based on a series of scrolls found in a recently-excavated ancient tomb. Which sets up the action for The Seventh Scroll.
  • General Failure: Both sides suffer from this in Cry Wolf which is set during the 1935 Italian invasion of Ethiopia. On the Ethiopian side, the man in charge is Ras Golam, an elderly nobleman who, while undoubtedly a very brave man, has no concept of twentieth-century warfare; he believes that a Zerg Rush is sufficient to defeat opponents armed with machine-guns and tanks, and thinks nothing of trashing one of the four armoured cars that Jake and Gareth provided for his forces. Over on the Italian side, Count Aldo Belli is a vain, rich idiot who has only been made a colonel thanks to his friendship with Mussolini; tasked with securing a key position, he advances as slow as he can, stopping to hunt big game whenever the opportunity presents itself, and when he does encounter the enemy, he only wins thanks to vastly superior firepower and a competent second-in-command. This, though, is enough to convince him that he's a military genius.
  • Generation Xerox: At play in The Angels Weep which has two parts, eighty years apart. In the 1890s, Rhodesia has recently been established but the conquered Matabele rise up in rebellion — forcing Ralph Ballantyne, whose pregnant wife is killed in a rebel attack, to use harsh methods to defeat them and kill Bazo the Axe, their leader. In the 1970s, Rhodesia is immersed in the brutal bush war that would lead to Zimbabwean independence; Roland Ballantyne (Ralph's great-grandson) is pitted against Tungata (who's descended from Bazo). Linking the two parts is Ralph's son John, a baby in the first part and an old man (Roland's grandfather) in the second.
  • Great White Hunter: Quite a few of his characters are this. Especially members of the Courtney family.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Taita, the genius-protagonist of the Egyptian Series, is a slave (at least he is in the first novel, River God). He thinks it's the lesser evil in addition to being an essential component of Ancient Egyptian society, although he is in a better position than most slaves, being the beloved servant to Lostris. When she tries to give him his freedom, he's distraught and begs her to reconsider. She does.
  • Hero with Bad Publicity: In Rage, Shasa Courtney is a South African politician who's trying to justify the Apartheid system to the outside world.
  • Historical Domain Character: Gordon of Khartoum, the Mahdi, Cecil Rhodes, Jan Smuts, Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia, Hendrik Verwoerd and Mick Jagger (among others) have all made appearances in Wilbur's novels.
  • I Need a Freaking Drink: Quite a few of Wilbur’s characters are rather fond of single-malt Scotch. For those in East Africa, Tusker beer (preferably ice-cold) is also acceptable.
  • Insufferable Genius: Taita in the Egyptian Series. Very much apparent in River God, even more so in the later novels. He knows more about religion than any priest, more about military tactics than any soldier, etc.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Vicky Camberwell in Cry Wolf, whose desire to report on the Italian invasion of Ethiopia leads her to join a gun-running operation aimed at providing arms for the Ethiopians despite the international embargo. The fact that the two gun-runners are both rather attractive (if somewhat disreputable) men makes the whole thing an even more interesting proposition for her.
  • Karma Houdini: Some of the bad guys do not get what they deserve, especially in the earlier novels. Count Aldo Belli, for example, survives Cry Wolf with his delusions of military grandeur more or less intact.
  • Kissing Cousins: Mansur and Verity Courtney in Blue Horizon. They don't know each other growing up and only meet when they're adults, mind you.
  • Luke, I Am Your Father: Surprisingly averted, given the number of characters who are unaware of their true parentage.
    • Michael Courtney senior never does find out that Sean senior (not Garrick senior) is his actual father. Centaine de Thiry, his lover, is able to use her Sherlock Scan to get Sean to confess this to her shortly after Michael's death.
    • In River God, Prince Memnon is unaware that he was actually fathered by Tanus, not Pharaoh Mamose. Only Lostris, Tanus and Taita are aware of this. However, in one of the sequels, it's made clear that his sisters — who were brought up as Pharaoh's daughters even though they were conceived after his death (explained in-universe by Religion is Magic) — are aware of it too.
    • The only time it's properly invoked is when Centaine de Thiry finally tells Manfred de la Rey that she's his mother at the end of Power of the Sword — and even then, she only does it because he threatens to expose her other Dark Secret.
  • Meaningful Name: Craig Mellow in The Angels Weep is much more peaceable than his cousin, Roland Ballantyne.
  • Mighty Whitey: The stories are set in Africa, but the protagonists are white. A pretty obvious case of Write What You Know, given that Wilbur was a white man who was born and raised in Southern Africa. That said, his stories do feature many sympathetic black characters, and there are more white Big Bad characters than there are black ones.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist: Taita, by Ancient Egyptian standards. While he doesn't invent the wheel, he does make significant improvements to it.
  • One-Steve Limit: Averted in the Courtney series as Shasa Courtney names his sons Sean, Garrick and Michael — after his great-uncle (who was actually his grandfather), his grandfather (who was actually his great-uncle) and his father (who was ... actually his father).
  • Polar Opposite Twins: Sean and Garrick Courtney in When the Lion Feeds and The Sound of Thunder. Also Tom and Guy Courtney in Monsoon, The Tiger's Prey and Blue Horizon. Things get a bit Cain and Abel at times in both cases.
  • Private Military Contractors: Mercenaries feature in a few of Wilbur's novels.
  • Race Fetish: The Courtney books contain a couple of white characters (specifically, Tara Malcomess and Michael Courtney junior) whose opposition to Apartheid somehow manifests itself as a sexual attraction to black men.
  • Religion is Magic: In the Egyptian Series. Not really so much in River God, when it's merely used by Taita to explain certain phenomena to the supporting characters, but very much so in the sequels.
  • Remember the New Guy?: Happens a few times in the Courtney series.
    • Most notably, Ryder Courtney first appears in The Triumph of the Sun (2005) and is quickly identified as the uncle of Sean Courtney of When the Lion Feeds (1964) fame. The uncle he never mentioned.
    • Same goes for Penrod Ballantyne who also makes his first appearance in The Triumph of the Sun, having not been mentioned in any way in the four original Ballantyne novels (the last of which had been published over twenty years previously). It's never actually explained how he's related to the other Ballantynes, but according to Word of God, he is.
    • An earlier example is Centaine de Thiry who makes her first appearance in The Burning Shore (1985) which overlaps with A Sparrow Falls (1977), in which she's (obviously) not mentioned. In the former, an explanation of sorts is given by ensuring that she and Storm Courtney, a major character in the latter, do not get along.
    • Also, Sean Courtney junior is mentioned as having been Roland Ballantyne's second-in-command during the Rhodesian Bush War in A Time to Die (1989) and is shown in this role in Golden Fox (1990), despite having not been mentioned in The Angels Weep (1982) in which said war is the main plot point the second half of the book.
  • The Resenter: Several Courtneys are this towards their more successful siblings; some grow out of it, others less so (to the point of becoming a Card-Carrying Villain). Tara Malcomess is this towards Centaine de Thiry, her mother-in-law who has an affair with (and later marries) her father.
  • Roaring Rampage of Revenge: Attempted by Roland Ballantyne in The Angels Weep after Tungata and his men shoot down the plane carrying his wife and, when they find her alive, take it in turns to rape her (truly, the Rhodesian Bush War was brutal). Alas for Roland, it's a trap — and he ends up dead.
  • Scarily Competent Tracker: Usually found in the employment of the Great White Hunter; invariably a San Bushman or a Zulu.
  • Scary Black Man: Not as often as you'd think. Aboli, shipmate and trusted companion to Hal Courtney in Birds of Prey and Monsoon, is probably the best example.
  • Sherlock Scan: Although she's not a detective, Centaine de Thiry is very good at reading people. Especially men. Shasa Courtney, her son, is just as adept — he's able to work out that Jakobus Stander is Manfred de la Rey's illegitimate son just by looking at the pair of them when he's in the same room as them. He doesn't work out that he himself is Manfred's half-brother, though.
  • Sibling Rivalry: Happens a lot with the Courtneys.
  • Someone to Remember Him By: In The Burning Shore, Ceintaine de Thiry finds that she's pregnant with Michael Courtney senior's child after he gets killed in action (on what was meant to be their wedding day). Their son, Shasa Courtney, goes on to be a major character in later novels.
  • Those Wacky Nazis: These occur a few times. Of particular note is Power of the Sword, in which some of the characters go to the 1936 Berlin Olympics. One of them, an Afrikaner nationalist, becomes so enamoured with Nazism that he gets involved in a plot to assassinate Jan Smuts, South Africa’s wartime Prime Minister. Later crops up in Courtney's War, in which the brother of one of the main characters is a high-ranking Nazi.
  • The Un-Favourite: Pretty much any boy in the Courtney family whose first name begins with 'G'. Usually a late developer who suffers in comparison to the favoured sibling. May become The Resenter. Could grow up to be a Card-Carrying Villain.
  • War for Fun and Profit: Gareth Swales in Cry Wolf dabbles in arms dealing — but gets more than he bargained for in a deal with an Ethiopian prince who insists that he'll only pay for the goods once they're in the country (said prince was at Eton with Gareth and so knows him for the rogue he is). With Ethiopia subject to an international arms embargo, that means someone's got to smuggle the guns and armoured cars in. That someone, of course, is Gareth.
  • We Hardly Knew Ye: Michael Courtney senior is a very minor character in When the Lion Feeds and The Sound of Thunder. When The Burning Shore starts, he's front and centre — only to die in action very early on. It's his lover, Centaine de Thiry, who will be the main character in this story.
  • Your Terrorists Are Our Freedom Fighters: Given that some of Wilbur's stories are set in Apartheid-era South Africa and Rhodesia, this does crop up.