Book Thoughts: The Prisoner of Zenda


For reasons that will become apparent I picked up The Prisoner of Zenda by Anthony Hope a few weeks ago. It is available for free at Project Gutenberg. It was written in 1894 so it has fallen out of copyright.

It was written at the same time as Arthur Conan Doyle wrote his Sherlock Holmes books and the language is very similar. Long rambling paragraphs and strange sentence constructions. I have to admit that I had some issues getting through it.

It had never crossed my radar but the book is a classic and has been filmed several times.

The books starts when young, English gentleman Rudolf Rassendyll decides to travel to Ruritania where an old ancestor hails from as sort of a Grand Tour to prove to his sister-in-law he’s not all talk and no action, so there.
In Ruritania he meets his doppelganger in the form of the new, soon-to-be-crowned King Rudolf V.  Rassendyll is of course invited to party with the King but he then falls prey to a plot to seize the throne by the King’s half-brother Duke Michael.

The King is drugged and Rassendyll finds himself at the middle of a plot to keep the crown out of Duke Michael’s hands. While the King sobers up Rassendyll is crowned but of course complications arise when Duke Michael kidnaps the true King and keeps him prisoner in his castle at Zenda, guarded by his Six Henchmen among others Jasper Detchard and Rassendyll’s nemesis Rupert of Hentzau.

The book is written as a true account by Rassendyll and he comes off as a True Hero and genuine Good Man by selflessly offering to help free the captive King and restore him to the throne. While also courting The Princess (these stories always have a Princess) as the King so she won’t notice when they (hopefully) switch him out after the rescue.

Duke Michael and his Henchmen do their best to stop him, but of course, since we hear the story from Rassendyll, they are unsuccessful.

The book very much follows a well-known “script” but given its age it may very well be that this is where the trope originates. It was a fun read but the language made it hard to get through. It takes a while to get used to.


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