by Harry Mount
First published in the Telegraph 10 June 2011
Leigh Fermor, who has just died at 96, was blessed with many gifts, among them good looks, into old age, and an admirable war record. The two attributes were reflected in Dirk Bogarde being cast to play him in Ill Met by Moonlight, the story of Leigh Fermor’s daring kidnap, on Crete, of the German officer, General Heinrich Kreipe.
But his most extraordinary gift was his writing skill. Travel writers often depend on unusual destinations – the Antarctic, or wherever – or unusual stunts – ie taking a fridge to the Antarctic. Leigh Fermor went to more conventional places, but wrote about them beautifully.
His two best books – A Time of Gifts (1977) and Between the Woods and the Water (1986) – tell the story of his walk in 1933, aged 18, from the Hook of Holland to Constantinople. They combine total recall of events that happened half a century before, with his poetic, classical prose – itself rooted in his mastery of Latin and Greek (ancient and modern).
He is a lesson to all travel writers. It’s not enough to travel; you must be a writer, too.
This is tragic. Somehow I’d hoped he’d go on and on.
I’ve travelled a lot about Greece and Crete in particular, and somehow never made it to his village in the Peloponnese, though I’ve been within a handful of miles of it a couple of times. I don’t know why. He’s been a hero of mine for the best part of twenty years. I gave a copy of ‘A Time of Gifts’ to one of my dearest friends the other day, telling her that I’m not sure if there’s such a thing as a perfect book in this fallen world, but if there is, then that might be it.
I’d stand by that.
(Thank you for this blog, by the way. I’ve been reading it more or less since you started.)
So very sorry to learn of his death. Just recently discovered his writing, and was delighted to earlier learn that he was still living. His observations of Europe between the wars were so detailed and nuanced.