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Literature / Sard Harker

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Sard Harker is an adventure novel by John Masefield, first published in 1924.

Apart from the prologue, the story is set in 1897. "Sard" Harker, first mate of the ship Pathfinder, ashore in the South American port of Las Palomas, overhears two shady customers discussing a plot against a visiting Englishman and his sister. Feeling obliged to warn them, Harker finds himself embroiled in a dangerous adventure. In battling the shadowy villain Hirsch, Harker revisits two defining moments of his life: a chance encounter, years ago, with a young woman whom he has never seen but often thought of since; and the night, on his first voyage to South America, when Don Miguel San Substantio Encinitas took refuge on his ship from the wrath of Don Lopez de Meruel, the Dictator of Santa Barbara.

A prequel, Odtaa, was published in 1926; it is set Santa Barbara in the days leading up to Don Miguel's first clash with Don Lopez.

This novel provides examples of:

  • Bad Habits: Two of the villains pose as priests to gain the confidence of the good guys.
  • Blasphemous Boast: Toward the end of his reign, Don Lopez de Meruel began trying to make people worship him as a god.
  • The Cavalry: Don Miguel and his men in the last chapter. Lampshaded afterward by Don Miguel, who offers to explain "what brings me here, so like the Deus in the play."
  • Character Overlap: Several of the characters in The Midnight Folk are relatives of characters in Sard Harker. At least one character appears in both: Abner Brown, one of the kidnappers in this novel, is the primary villain in The Midnight Folk.
  • Circling Vultures: During his trek through the wilderness, Harker has an encounter with a trio of vultures, which first perch menacingly then circle overhead.
  • Dreaming of Things to Come: Harker has several premonitory dreams.
  • Faking the Dead: One of the reasons Kingsborough has trouble getting assistance from the police after his sister is abducted is that as far as they're concerned Hirsch has been dead for years.
  • Foreign Cuss Word: Sard Harker, set in South America, includes characters saying some pretty hair-raising things in Spanish, which remain untranslated even when the rest of the conversation is rendered in English.
  • Latin Land: Las Palomas, Santa Barbara
  • The Lost Lenore: Don Miguel's entire life is shaped by the misuse and death of his fiancée Senorita Carlotta de Leyva de San Jacinto at the hands of Don Lopez and his men.
  • Religion of Evil: Hirsch is a priest in a dark and secret religion that explicitly worships Evil as the true source of power in the world, and practices Human Sacrifice as well as other unspeakable rites.
  • Short Cuts Make Long Delays: A dramatic example; Harker, desperate to get back to his ship before it sails, takes a short cut that leads him into a bog and several encounters with rats, stinging creatures, and other vicious wildlife and ultimately strands him miles from where he needs to be and facing a long trek through hostile terrain to get back on track. (On the plus side, if he had made his rendezvous he would almost certainly have wound up dead.)
  • Targeted Human Sacrifice: Hirsch wants Margarita Kingsborough, specifically, to take the starring role in an unspeakable rite. The original reason for his choice is not explicated; whatever it was, by the time Harker gets involved it's been reinforced by a grudge from her having already evaded him once.
  • They Have the Scent!: When Harker is on the run from a mob and their dogs, complete with him wading upstream to break the scent.
  • Throwing the Fight: Harker's first encounter with the villains is at a boxing match which they've fixed.
  • Two Aliases, One Character:
    • Margarita Kingsborough and Harker's lost love Juanita de la Torre are one and the same. This is not a spoiler, because it's foreshadowed heavily from the outset and the eventual reveal is not so much "They're the same person" as "This is how it's possible that they're the same person".
    • The (false) priest, Father Garsinton, is really Hirsch. Also, mention is made of a man named Rafael who was involved in Senorita Carlotta's death and escaped Don Miguel's retribution afterward; the first time that Rafael's surname or Hirsch's given name is mentioned is when it is revealed that Rafael Hirsch is both of them.
  • Would You Like to Hear How They Died?: Hirsch tries this on Don Miguel with respect to Senorita Carlotta, as a show of bravado after being captured, but is interrupted before he can go into detail.