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Literature / Michael Strogoff

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1876 cover

"You made a good choice there, General," said the Czar.
"I think so, sire," replied General Kissoff; "and your majesty may be sure that Michael Strogoff will do all that a man can do."
"He is indeed a man," said the Czar.
Chapter 2, Partie I

Michael Strogoff: The Courier of the Czar (Michel Strogoff: Le Courrier du Tsar in French) is a book written by Jules Verne and published in 1876.

The Tartars have risen in rebellion in far-East Russia and cut the telegraph lines; they are helped by Russian traitor Ivan Ogareff, who plans to take Irkutsk and kill the royal family in revenge. Without the telegraph the Tsar Alexander II has no other means to alert his brother the Great-Duke in Irkutsk, so he sends Michael Strogoff, a 30-year-old Siberian courier from Omsk. Michael Strogoff will have to travel for five weeks to Siberia, under a false identity, to bring a secret message to the Great-Duke, warning him of Ivan Ogareff's treason.

En route, he meets Nadia Fedor, who is travelling east to join her father in political exile in Siberia, Harry Blount, reporter for the Daily Telegraph, and Alcide Jolivet, reporting for his "cousin Madeleine". His travels bring him close to his mother Marfa, but he's not allowed to even recognize her - nothing can detract him from his secret mission.

He meets also Ogareff in a coaching inn; the traitor doesn't recognize him, but steals his horse and threatens to hit him with a knut. Strogoff refuses a fight because it would slow him down. But he will later have an occasion to give Ivan Ogareff A Taste of the Lash, fully aware of the consequences, which will be terrible...

This book is in the public domain and can be read here and here. Or here in the original language.

The novel was adapted for the stage by Jules Verne himself in 1880. Since then there have been a number of film versions, starting with an American (1914) and a Franco-German (1926) silent version. The 1935 Franco-German co-production Der Kurier des Zaren/Michel Strogoff starred the Austrian actor Adolf Wohlbrück, who soon afterwards emigrated to England and reprised the role of Michael Strogoff in The Soldier and the Lady (1936) under his new name Anton Walbrook. Other film productions starred Curd Jürgens (1956 and 1961), John Philip Law (1971), and Hardy Krüger jr. (1999). A Franco-German-Austrian TV adaptation starring Raimund Harmstorf was produced in 1975.

This novel provides examples of the following tropes:

  • As the Good Book Says...: Blount quotes The Bible in the telegraph to keep the line for himself during a battle between Tatars and Russians. When his turn comes, Jolivet prefers song lyrics.
  • Crippling the Competition: Michael Strogoff is blinded by having his eyes exposed to a heated iron by his foes.
  • Eye Scream: Subverted: Michael Strogoff is subjected to this by the Tartars in front of his mother but keeps his sight thanks to his tears protecting his eyes from the hot blade.
  • Happily Ever After: Strogoff marries Nadia.
  • Hordes from the East: Tartars, led by Feofar Khan, are invading Russian Siberia, plundering and taking prisoners.
  • Hot Gypsy Woman: Sangarre is described as a hauntingly beautiful, sultry Romani woman.
    Near him, the Romani Sangarre, a thirty-year-old woman, dusky of skin, tall, statuesque, with magnificent eyes and gilded hair, stood in a superb posture... Romani women are generally attractive, and more than one prominent Russian landlord, who profess to emulate the British in eccentricity, hasn't hesitated to pick his wife among their number.
  • Intrepid Merchant: Nicholas Korpanoff, alias Michael Strogoff.
  • Intrepid Reporter: Harry Blount, reporter for the Daily Telegraph, and Alcide Jolivet, reporting for his "cousin Madeleine", are both understated badasses.
  • Kill It with Fire: The Tartars put petrol in the Angara and then set it on fire to burn Irkutsk.
  • Mother Russia Makes You Strong
    • Michael is from Omsk, Siberia and is able to appear stoic, to the point of behaving as if he was effectively blinded by the Tartars even though he has still his sight.
    • Nadia Fedor also show signs of this, even though she's Livonian.
  • My Country, Right or Wrong: The Czar is certain no political exile would collaborate with Tartars, and was right, given they volunteer in the Home Guard defending Irkutsk.
  • Obfuscating Disability: Michael Strogoff was not blinded by the Tartars, but keeps the pretence because Ivan Ogareff let him see the secret message he had been carrying - which means he can still complete his mission.
  • Penal Colony: Siberia is used as this by Imperial Russia:
    • Nadia's father has been sent here for illegal political activities.
    • Ogareff was sent here for sedition.
  • Place Worse Than Death: Averted: Siberia is showed as harsh, but liveable, place.
  • Secret Police: Ogareff was sent in Siberia by the Imperial secret police.
  • A Taste of the Lash: Ogareff wants to hit Marfa, Michael's mother, with his knut but Michael catches his hand and knuts him instead.
  • Whatevermancy: Feofar Khan's chaplain used a Koran to search, by bibliomancy or tal, which punishment should befall on Strogoff:
  • Yellow Peril:
    • There's entire Mughal hordes wanting to invade Russia, led by Feofar Khan.
    • Ogareff is described as half-Asian.