A note on deCamp’s Lest Darkness Fall

(Posted in a slightly different form to colgaffneyis mailing list.)

Science Fiction fans may recall this scene in L. Sprague deCamp’s classic time travel/alternate history novel Lest Darkness Fall (Plot summary here):

“Snatches of song came from the camp. Apparently Padway’s scheme of leaving a wagon-load of brandy where foragers would be sure to find it had had results, despite Belisarius’ well-known strictness with drunken soldiers.” [Chapter 10, p. 106 in my edition]

A few years ago, while doing some background reading for colgaffneyis, I learned about this incident: On July 13, 1680 Sir John Campbell of Glenorchy (once described as “cunning as a fox, wise as a serpent, and slippery as an eel”) defeated the Sinclairs at Altimarlach (Allt nam Meirlach, Uilt na Muirleach) one of the last real clan battles in Scotland.

According to one tradition, the day before the battle:

“Glenorchy thought proper to add stratagem to force. He knew that in those days whisky was the nectar of Caithness, and in consequence ordered a ship laden with that precious liquor to pass round, and wilfully strand itself on the shore. The Caithnessians [Sinclairs] made a prize of the vessel, and in indulging themselves too freely, became an easy prey to the Earl.” [From History of Caithness, ch. 11]

I had not realized that deCamp knew about this piece of Scottish history, which I discovered more than 30 years after first reading Lest Darkness Fall, but I am not surprised. He certainly knew about lots of other obscure bits of history and used them in his fiction.

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