Patrick Leigh Fermor, RIP

June 12, 2011 • 7:00 pm

I didn’t realize that Patrick Leigh Fermor, British soldier, adventurer and travel writer, was still alive, but the New York Times reports that he died Friday in England at age 96.  I doubt that many readers have heard of him, but if you haven’t you have literary treats in store.

I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Greece: I lived there for nearly three years as a young child and have returned half a dozen times, spending a month in a tiny village in Crete, island-hopping in the Aegean (where I discovered Santorini as one of Earth’s most beautiful spots), and wandering in the north and, best of all, in the Peloponnese—the large peninsula that is southern Greece.

Leigh Fermor is the best writer in English on Greece that I know, and I particularly recommend his two books Roumeli (1966) and Mani (1958), about the north and south respectively.  Mani, which evokes the dry, rocky, and haunting southern landscape of the Peloponnese, will make you want to go there, or to return if you’ve been.  It’s one of the finest places I’ve travelled.

A village in the Mani. The tall stone towers were used as fortresses in the internecine blood feuds that consumed the residents, often for years.

19 thoughts on “Patrick Leigh Fermor, RIP

  1. I am greatly saddened by the death of Paddy Fermor. I started his books about his travels in the 30s but stopped for some reason. I need to get started on it again.
    As an aside, I have a thing against the use of RIP to indicate mourning. Do you really want Paddy Fermor’s “soul” to await rapture in peace?
    Something like “So long and thanks for all the books? ” is probably a better atheist way of remembering an author who has recently passed.

    1. It’s a cultural thing. If someone says ‘by Jove!’ I don’t get worried about Jupiter worship. Or ‘bless you!’ after a sneeze. I get a little squirmy when politicians start talking about everybody offering prayers however…

      But you can always save ‘Vale’ or ‘Ave atque vale’. Though saying ‘be well’ or ‘hail and be well’ to someone who’s died is a bit like saying ‘long live the king!’ after a monarch has died, but without a new monarch to live long….

      1. Well, not too many people believe in jupiter anymore, but as we recently saw, a lot of them do believe in raptures.

        1. Fair enough. How about this? You can think the Resquiat in Pace means ‘Do not disturb this dead persons place of burial’. A metaphor.

  2. The two published parts of his journey as a young man from London to Constantinople are some of the finest travel writing extant.I have read them many times.I wonder if we will see the third part published postumusly?

    1. According to one British paper (I believe it was the Times), the last volume will indeed be published.

  3. subramanya: I don’t think Jerry was suggesting that Paddy Fermor’s ‘soul’ was awaiting anything by using ‘RIP’ – but perhaps simply acknowledging that life is a journey of toil and struggle..? Also, the RIP at the start of the entry immediately draws the reader’s eye – we immediately know someone has died.

  4. They told me, Heraclitus, they told me you were dead,
    They brought me bitter news to hear and bitter tears to shed.
    I wept as I remember’d how often you and I
    Had tired the sun with talking and sent him down the sky.

    And now that thou art lying, my dear old Carian guest,
    A handful of grey ashes, long, long ago at rest,
    Still are thy pleasant voices, thy nightingales, awake;
    For Death, he taketh all away, but them he cannot take.

    William Cory

  5. There was a great item about Leigh Fermor on the BBC Radio 4 programme ‘Broadcasting House’ yesterday, which included his friend, Colin Thubron reading a tremendous extract from Mani, about some dolphins that come swimming alongside his boat. Magnificent writing.

    Click here (available until 19 June). Relevant bit begins at 32:30

    Off-message, but in the same programme there was also a tremendously moving interview with a 90 year-old who was a bomb disposal officer in WW2 and has recently been diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder (begins at 11:30)

  6. There’s a great account of Leigh-Fermor and his lead role in the kidnapping of General Kreipe from Crete, in Janusz Piekalkiewicz’ excellent Secret Agents, Spies and Saboteurs.

  7. The kidnapping of the German general – the book to read is ‘Ill Met by Moonlight’ by W. Stanley Moss, who with Leigh Fermor and a number of brave Cretans brought the exploit off. Incidentally, a recently published book Leigh Fermor greatly and rightly admired is ‘Along the Enchanted Way’ by William Blacker, an account of his life in northern Romania after the fall of Ceaucescu: ‘a wild and captivating story’ Leigh Fermor called it, and it is!

  8. Leigh Fermor also authored a delightful book on his travels in the Caribbean, The Traveller’s Tree, still well worth reading more than 60 years after publication. Until I read it, I didn’t know that the Rastafarian religion originated at least as far back as the 1940s.

  9. To change focus entirely, those towers are, while interesting and picturesque, by no means unique. In Svanetia (a region of western Georgia), quite similar towers were built for the same reason; and some still remain.

    And some northern Italian cities are famed for the towers built there for (surprise!) the same reasons.

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