by Andy Beau
Well, I lied! In my first column—about Elak of Atlantis—I said I’d be writing about some lesser-known sword-and-sorcery stories I’d read since the ‘60s. Actually, I’ve read many sword-and-planet books (or planetary romances) and sword-and-history books (or swashbuckling historicals) as well. And this time it’s one of those swashbuckling historical series I'd like to focus on.
In this column I want to tell you about the Casca series by Barry Sadler (1940–1989). In the 1960s Sadler was a Green Beret and fought in Vietnam. His first claim to fame came in 1966 when he composed and recorded the pro-Vietnam War song, “The Ballad Of The Green Berets,” a popular song that year.
Then in 1979 Sadler's first Casca book was published. Some feel that he actually wrote probably the first ten to twelve books in the series himself. The rest up to #22 were then ghostwritten. The last Sadler book in the series, The Mongol, was found on his computer after his death in 1989. The last chapter was then completed by a friend. The last two books, #23 and #24, were written sometime later. I understand these last two are not up to the quality of the preceding ones. In the Fall of 2006, a new Casca #25 was published. This tale occurs during the Mexican War, America's war with Mexico in the 1840s, and is reviewed below.
For additional pictures of Sadler and a more detailed biography, go to http://www.sizemoremusic.com/sadler_history.htm.
Sadler’s Casca Rufio Longinius was the Roman soldier who pierced Christ’s side with a spear during the crucifixion. Christ cursed him; Casca is to remain a soldier until he and Christ meet again, which cannot occur until Christ returns to Earth. In effect, Casca is a non-aging immortal who cannot be killed. He can suffer wounds, but heals and even regenerates body parts. From this point on, he becomes the Eternal Mercenary, the title of the first book, for various armies throughout the world. Throughout his long life he is hoping for some way of losing his “immortality” and being granted the death of a normal man. The series chronicles his exploits during the last two thousand years, but in loose chronological order. However, I would recommend reading the books in the numeric order listed in their titles, as I write below.
I’d like to focus only on the books where swords and other bladed weapons are major weapons in the storyline, which would be in fourteen of the original first twenty-two books, chronologically the last one of which occurs at the end of the 1800s. The other eight books take place during the 1900s and are interspersed within the other fourteen pre-1900s books. The 1900s books find Casca as: a soldier in WWI, WWII, Vietnam; a mercenary in Africa; and in similar roles. Each of the fourteen pre-1900 books has battles and swordfights throughout.
The first six books in the series begin with Casca in the present day, relating his tales to a doctor who attended him when he appeared to be dying of wounds during the Vietnam War, in which Casca was a U. S. soldier. The rest of the books start right off with Casca in the time and place of the historic tale, with the doctor opener dropped.
I’ll go through the series in the order of publication, summarizing the story line and providing an example of the prose.
Casca #1: The Eternal Mercenary: Casca pierces Christ’s side with his spear during the crucifixion and becomes cursed to live and fight until they meet again. Casca later is sentenced to be a slave, then a gladiator, and learns about his virtual immortality.
The following scene takes place when Casca, as a gladiator, must battle Jubala the Numidian in the arena of Nero.
Casca #2: God Of Death: Casca joins a Viking crew as they voyage to the ancient Mexico of the Teotecs (that’s a culture clash, if ever there was one!).
I’m not spoiling the story with the following scene description because it's also described on the teaser page. This scene is one of the best in the series and one that I always remember. Casca is escorted up to the top of the sacrificial pyramid and lays himself out on the altar, preparing himself as a human sacrifice. Then:
To shorten the above quote, I had to remove a lot of descriptive language about a large storm, lightening, burning phosphorescence, rays of emerald light, etc. that also took place in the scene. The above scene covered over 6 pages of very descriptive language building to the final climax atop the pyramid.
Casca #3: The Warlord: Casca battles warriors in the Mediterranean Sea. He is also pursued by a fanatic Christian cult that believes that by following Casca throughout his long lifetime that they or future members of their sect will eventually be present when Christ returns Earth to again meet Casca, according to the curse. However, they also intend to make Casca suffer excruciatingly during his lifetime for his killing of Christ. They do capture him at one point and chop off his hand, which eventually slowly grows back. Casca later ends up in China, becoming a powerful warlord and heir to the Chinese throne. However, others have different plans.
This scene is from a battle where Casca is commanding the Chinese Emperor’s army against a Mongol barbarian horde. The youthful king has gotten himself trapped in the middle of a large group of enemy.
Casca #5: The Barbarian: Casca must escape the Romans by fleeing north to Viking country. Amid the battles he fights, he meets and falls in love with Lady Lida. In the series, he marries but has the same problem as the immortal Highlanders from the movies and TV—- he never ages and always outlives his wives.
The following scene finds Casca being condemned to death by a Viking chieftain.
Casca #6: The Persian: Following his adventures in The Barbarian book, Casca ventures to Persia and becomes commander of the royal army and defeats the Hunnish army. However, the fanatic cult from The Warlord book above is still pursuing him. One of the cult's members is a high-ranking member of the king's advisers and has Casca burned at the stake, down to an ash-covered skeleton. How does an immortal survive that!?
The following scene is from a battle against the Hun army.
Casca #7: The Damned: Leaving Persia after his adventures in the previous book, The Persian, Casca heads back to the site of an earlier book, The Barbarian, in northern Europe. This is the time of the barbarian hordes invading or supporting the crumbling Roman Empire - barbarians such as the Huns, Franks, Goths, Burgundians, Visigoths, Scythians, etc. He then travels south to Gaul, becomes a Roman soldier again, and now faces Attila the Hun.
This is the description of Attila the Hun:
Casca #9: The Sentinel: In 485, Casca now travels to Constantinople, the capital of the Eastern empire after the fall of Rome. He then is sent to Tripoli and Carthage in northern Africa to fight still other barbarians, the Vandals and their allies. The fanatic cult has picked up his trail again and are out to cause him great suffering for killing Christ.
The following is part of the battle between the Vandals and the Byzantines.
Casca #10: The Conquistador: Casca invades Aztec Mexico with Cortez, seeking revenge on the priests who continue the human sacrifice that existed when he first journeyed to Mexico with the Vikings in the God Of Death book above.
The following is a picture of the Aztec king-god in his palace.
Casca #13: The Assassin: Casca is forced to join the Assassins, the tenth century group of Arab suicidal fanatics who were able to kill anyone, even a ruler, who did not accede to the leader’s demands.
The following is a sample of some of the battle “humor” that is sprinkled throughout all the books in the series.
Casca #15: The Pirate: Casca joins forces with Blackbeard the Pirate to rescue a “damsel in distress”. He is also joined by a female pirate (piratess? piratrix?) in the mission. The pirate/seafaring angle is totally different from any other book in the series. Many of the other books deal mainly or totally with land battles; this is the only one with battles among and aboard ships in the open sea.
A funny typo is on the back of the cover, where the story is summarized for potential buyers to read quickly. It mentions that “Casca joins ranks with the infamous BLUEbeard”, instead of BLACKbeard, as written in the actual story. BLUEbeard was a French fictional character who married and then killed successive wives!
The following shows how even though the shipboard battle is different from a land battle, Casca finds a lot of familiarity.
Casca #17: The Warrior: Casca in the South Pacific. He becomes a member of a local tribe of islanders and rises to the top because of his battle expertise. He then leads the tribe against their fierce rivals.
Here’s Casca using a totally different weapon from the ones he’s used up to this time.
Casca #18 - The Cursed: Casca’s in 1899 China, which is under European control. He leads some of the Chinese rebels in a bloody battle to oust the foreign devils—blades against rifles and machine guns!
Here’s another unique weapon for Casca, though with a short-lived use.
Casca #19: The Samurai: In feudal Japan, Casca unites with a famous samurai during Japan's feudal age. In this story, Casca learns to use traditional Japanese weapons, as described below.
Casca #22: The Mongol: In Asia, Casca is rescued from Tatar slavery by a young Mongol outcast. He trains the ambitious rebel, who then unites his people and begins to create the largest empire in the world. He is no less then Temujin, later called Genghis Khan!
The following scene describes the skill and determination of the non-human allies of the Mongols…their war-horses!
Casca #25: Halls Of Montezuma: In the U. S. of the late 1840s, Casca befriends a recently arrived Irish immigrant widow and her children. He becomes involved in protecting them from the clutches of a gang who wants to kidnap her girls for forced prostitution. Also, the fanatic Christian cult mentioned in Casca #3 above has found him again, and this time they plan on keeping him a tortured prisoner until Christ's return. After the immigrants are settled in their new home and after several violent encounters with cult members, Casca joins the U.S. Army. There he feels more comfortable being a soldier than as a civilian, and also he is trying to escape the pursuit of the cult that's hot on his trail. Soon afterwards, war between Mexico and the U. S. breaks out, and Casca finds himself fighting in Mexico. During the battle for Mexico City, he encounters a group of U. S. Marines, whom he teams up with to take the last stronghold of the Mexican army, Chapultepec Castle.
Here Casca is pinned down with other soldiers and marines while trying to attack and scale the sheer walls of the Castle.
This latest book in the Casca series was released in September 2006 by a U. S. publisher. The author is a Britisher named Tony Roberts, who also runs the www.Casca.net website mentioned below. He has written his first Casca book, which closely resembles the style and the action-packed excitement of the first dozen Casca books, which are believed to have actually been written by Sadler himself. I personally recommend this book to other Casca fans and others who enjoy fast-paced action tales in historic settings, a true swashbuckling historical, as we call them here. I, and I'm sure many other readers, especially of this site, look forward to reading additional Casca tales by Roberts, especially ones that occur in strictly sword-based societies. This trade paperback can be found on Amazon.com.
To read longer samples of additional text, go to http://www.barrysadler.com/books.htm. For detailed book summaries, a timeline of Casca's books and their relationship to actual historical events, plus much more, visit http://www.casca.net/.
The Casca series is made up of rousing historical swashbucklers, a set of books that would appeal to fans of the genre’s tales as written by famous pulp writers such as Harold Lamb, Robert E. Howard, and others. The Casca series may not totally equal the tales by these great storytellers, but they still capture their spirit of adventure.
Used copies of these books each sell for a few bucks or more on Abebooks.com, Amazon.com, and other used book web sites.
Forgotten Stories of Fantastic Sword-fighters.
About the Author
Andy Beau has lived in San Diego, CA since he was 16. There were no computer degrees in the 1960s, so he graduated with a degree in math and worked in the computer programming field from 1969 until 2003, when he retired early at 57. Prior to these articles all of his writing has been technical—the composition of user manuals—and there wasn't much call for analysis of plot and character development in that. Andy's been a fan of sword and sorcery tales since college in 1966. This has lead him to other fantasy adventure genres: lost race, supernatural thrillers, Lovecraftian horror, and more. He shares his long-term love for and knowledge of sword and sorcery with his readers in these columns. SwordAndSorcery.org is proud to have him.