The Haunted Major
by Robert Marshall
Teacher’s Comments: A wonderful tale.
Written in 1902, and republished in 1999, The Haunted Major is a delighful fantasy of a golf match played for the love of a woman between Major John “Jacky” Gore and Jim Lindsay, winner of the Open Championship.
Gore, the pompous narrator of the tale, describes himself as “the finest sporstman living,” having managed to excel at polo, cricket, tennis, rugby, hunting, billiards, whist, piquet and poker. He has, however, never played golf, regarding it as an inferior activity:
Now golf is a game that presents no attractions to me. I have never tried it, nor even held a golf-stick in my hand. A really good game, to my mind, must have an element, however slight, of physical danger to the player. This is the great whet to skilld performance. It is the condition that fosters pluck and self-reliance and develops out perception of the value of scientific play. It breeds a certain fearlessness that stimulates usnot merely to the actual progress of the game, but unconsciously in the greater world, where we play Life with alert and daring opponents.
Still, when he comes to the conclusion that Jim Lindsay is a rival for the affections of the beautiful and wealthy American widow Katherine Gunter, Gore challenges the Open Champion to a winner-take-all golf match.
After all, for the master of so many sports, how hard can it be to excel at golf?
Gore soon finds out. In spite of practice in his hotel room, and the aid of a Scottish pro, Gore fails to master the sport in the week between the challenge and the match. Gore becomes resigned to a loss, but that’s before he gets a little ghostly intervention.
The Haunted Major reminds me of the very best of P.G. Wodehouse—although it predates him by some years. It’s good natured, with quirky characters and humorous situations. Author Robert Marshall takes more than a few pokes at the British class system of the time through the antics of the impossibly stuffy Major, but never stoops to meanness.
This is a charming book that, while not rolling-on-the-floor funny, is sure to put a smile on your face.