Karavansara Free Library: Robert Byron
A few days back I asked for opinions about the contents of this blog. I have been asked to do more posts about games, and about travelers and explorers.
And I say, why not?
So here’s a post about a writer and world-traveler I discovered during my second year in university, and he remains a favorite of mine. His books have contributed to fuel my interest for the Silk Road and the adventures and experiences of travelers in the years between the two Wars.
And you can get his books for free, so I think I’ll give you a brief introduction, and then let you enjoy the guy’s writing.
The guy in question was called Robert Byron, and he was a British citizen, born in 1905 in Wembley. He studied in Eaton, and he was kicked out of college, quote
for his hedonistic and rebellious manner
It was, after all, the roaring twenties, and the Bright Young Things ruled in Britain, or so we are told.
Byron was indeed a friend of the Mitford Girls (I should try and do a post on these ladies, sooner or later) – and Nancy Mitford had probably some romantic hopes, but Robert was gay. He was also a vocal anti-Nazi, which did not go down so well with Unity Mitford, that was so much into Hitler that got herself “Valkyrie” as a second name. Those Bright Young Things were a cartload of laughs, weren’t they?
Out of school because of that hedonism thing, unattached and curious, Byron got to travel. He visited India, the Middle East, Tibet, Persia, Afghanistan and Russia.
He wrote about his travels. About Greece and Byzantine history and architecture, about India and finally, in 1932 and in 1933 respectively he published the two books for which he’s most remembered: First Russia, then Tibet, in 1932, and then The Road to Oxiana in 1933.
Both books are out of copyright in Canada, and you can download them in a variety of formats from the links above.
I first read the 1932 book.
I found a paperback copy abandoned on a shelf of a book store I spent my lunch break at as a freshman (and later).
I didn’t know the author, but the book was cheap, it was published by Penguin, and it had the word Tibet in the title. So I bought it, skipping my lunch.
It couldn’t be bad, I though.
I was right.
The supreme moments of travel are born of beauty and strangeness in equal parts: the first panders to the senses, the second to the mind; and it is the rarity of this coincidence which makes the rarity of these moments. Such a moment was mine, when, at the age of three, I ventured on to a beach in Anglesey, and found a purple scabious; such again, when I stood on the Jelep La and surveyed the peaks of Tibet; and such once more, as I walked up the side of the River Moskva late in the afternoon of my second day in Russia.
(First Russia, Then Tibet)
Some would later say that he was, after his travels, pro-Soviet, but the issue is still debated today. Certainly Byron was a keen observer and a fine writer, and his travelogues are a wonder to behold. At the time Peter Fleming (another excellent writer) was more popular, but Byron’s works have survived and enjoy today probably a wider popularity than Fleming’s.
Robert Byron died in 1941, when the ship he was serving on was torpedoed in the North Atlantic. His body was never recovered. He was 35.
Not much else to say – writers leave their books behind.
So read the books, because the books are what matters.
And these are beautiful.
Next up, some reflection on roleplaying games, as requested.
Let’s see what happens.