Saturday, January 30, 2016

The Glory Jumpers by Delano Stagg


I love the cheesy cover on this 1959 paperback from Monarch Books. I also think Delano Stagg is a great pseudonym. The copyright page lists Mel R. Sabre and Paul Eiden as the authors. The cover is intentionally misleading. Monarch Books specialized in sensationalist paperbacks and the covers rivaled the alluring titles from Beacon. There is nothing sexy about The Glory Jumpers. This is a brutal, hard-boiled story about men in combat. The sex scenes are nominal and hardly erotic. It’s a damn good book and the type of post-war prose about combat that was once standard material for the so-called “men’s paperback” market. The cataclysmic events of World War II had an immediate effect on writers and artists of all types. The best known novels of the post-war era are The Naked and the Dead by Norman Mailer and The Young Lions by Irwin Shaw, both published in 1948. I prefer Shaw over Mailer. Dozens of paperback titles became modest best-sellers, only to fall into obscurity. Does anyone out there recall The Reef by Keith Wheeler? Then we have the men’s pulp magazine market which exploited every aspect of combat in wildly divergent ways. I don’t know if there exists any qualified academic study of the war fiction that flooded the market until the early 60s, but that strikes me as a fascinating project for anyone willing to tackle it. The Glory Jumpers resembles The Dirty Dozen. The plot will be familiar to all of you: Eleven men picked from the Army stockade are sent to do a dangerous job behind German lines. These include Reb and Swampy, two hillbillies, a beatnik character named Cadillac, the cruel Sergeant Nolan, the idealistic Dana, and a killer named Sergeant Mungo. Other characters offer support but add little depth. The six primary characters carry the storyline. As you would expect, many of them don’t survive the narrative. I like the matter-of-fact style to the prose. There’s not a smidgen of sentiment to be found. Mailer and Shaw’s influence, and maybe even a dash of Hemingway, is obvious. Stories like The Glory Jumpers bridged the gap between objective journalism and creative fiction. It comes across as a straightforward account of war with all of war’s horrific blemishes visible. The Glory Jumpers is a great piece of war fiction.

2 comments:

  1. Hello, I just found this article and I am so glad to find some-one else who is a fan of this novel. I read it when I was 15 when I found it on my Dad's bookshelf. I enjoyed this novel and recently I tracked it down and found a copy for myself on ebay and had the pleasure of reading it again. During the 1950s, 60s and early 70s there was a large number of WW2 novels pubished. Sure, a lot of them were garbage but there were some real gems among them and most of those have been unjustly condemned to obscurity. While an acclaimed novel like 'All Quiet on the Western Front" (one of the most over-rated war novels of all time, in my opinion) has been in print for nearly 90 years, some terrific war novels have been allowed to wither on the vine after only one or two printings. Reading 'Glory Jumpers' again a few years ago, I was impressed by its realism. The final battle scenes in the village were much more convincing and believable than the similar kind of scenario in the final scenes of the film 'Saving Private Ryan'. In Stagg's novel, most of the losses are caused by German artillery which is consistent with the actual Normandy campaign. I liked the scene where one of the squad becomes fixated on the distant German officer riding atop a Panzer and becomes obsessed with killing him, repeatedly emptying his M1 at the officer without success (another piece of realism, not every soldier is an expert marksman unlike in the movies).
    When I tracked down a copy of this novel, I also came across 'A Walk in the Sun' (1944) by US writer Harry Brown who served in the US army during WW2 but did not leave the States. The novel was filmed by Lewis Milestone in 1945 and the book was much praised upon its release but has been largely forgotten since. It offers an important lesson to today's successful writers. Just because the current generation likes your work, don't assume the next one will. Brown's novel, like a lot of novels from that era, was in the style of Hemingway. Comparing Brown's novel to Stagg's, I thought that the latter was as good as the former.
    Other unjustly forgotten WW2 novels from that era include the excellent novel 'Ragged Regiment' by George Marion (1982), a novel about an under-qualified infantry squad assigned to hold a vital sector during the Battle of the Bulge. Another is the novel 'The Cauldron' (1965) by British writer known as 'Zeno', about a company of paratroopers at the Battle of Arnhem 1944, 'The Last Dogfight' (1974) by US writer Martin Caidin, an aerial war drama set in the Pacific in 1944 and 'The Last Blue Sea' (1959) by Australian author David Forrest (his real name was David Denholm), a novel about Australian infantry in New Guinea in 1942. These are all novels that deserve to be much better known. Regards Peter
    petehill854@gmail.com

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  2. Thanks Pete! That's a great response to this post and I appreciate it. I'll track down some of these books you mention, and there's more war fiction to come on this blog. Many Thanks, check in anytime! Tom

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