'Casca the Eternal Mercenary'
(original book cover shown left)
In the Casca book series, Casca is the original immortal fighting man, created by Barry Sadler seven years before Highlander was written. You may recognize Sadler’s name because he was also the singer /song writer of the number one hit song - and anthem of the U.S. Army Special Forces - “The Ballad of the Green Berets.”
(above right): Although the scars are not quite in the "right" places, I have always thought that this photo of Tom Berenger is the best contemporary photo of what Casca would look like. Even the expression conveys the forlorn war-weariness of a Timeless Soldier.
Who is Casca? The Legend of Longinus: Barry Sadler took his inspiration for the Casca character directly from an actual legend that has persisted since the Time of Christ. Longinus is the traditional name by which the Roman soldier who pierced the Side of Christ in the Biblical account is known. Although his story is more legend than history, Longinus is an actual saint of the Catholic Church, who is believed to have repented and who later become a martyr who many think lived for another four hundred years or more. Click here for the Wikipedia entry regarding Longinus.
(right) Bernini’s sculpture of Saint Longinus in St. Peter’s Basilica
With a little imagination, the canonized Bible shared between Catholics and Protestants alike lends some credence to the idea of immortals walking among us. Not necessarily too much of a stretch for a Bible that records in its Old Testament genealogies many patriarchs who lived for hundreds of years. Mark 9:1 quotes Jesus speaking to His disciples:
And he said unto them, Verily I say unto you, That there be some of them that stand here, which shall not taste of death, till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power. (King James version)
The legend of Longinus purports that the Roman Legionnaire was one of the people about whom Christ was speaking. Some believe (as a legend) that he is still around today. The term in Mark ‘till they have seen the kingdom of God come with power’ is a clear reference to The Second Coming of Christ in the End Times, written about in Revelations.
Casca in Barry Sadler’s original series, Casca, the Eternal Mercenary: Barry Sadler, a soldier, took the Longinus legend and fictionalized his interpretation of how things could have gone on Golgotha, the hill on which The Crucifixion took place. It went like this in his first book Casca, the Eternal Mercenary: Jesus to Casca: Soldier, you are content with what you are. Then that you shall remain until we meet again. As I go now to my father, you must one day come to me".
With those words, Casca Rufio Longinus is fated to walk the earth until the End Times, when Jesus Christ returns; and to remain by vocation a soldier. Swordplay loving readers have been drawn to the character because of Casca’s service as a Roman Legionnaire turned Gladiator, Viking, Samurai, martial artist, Barbarian, Warlord, Aztec god, and more. The appeal of this character to other readers is the ability to place him into any conflict since the time of Christ, and to render a first person account of events. Casca’s character gives us the ability to render a sense of continuity and context to all conflict that only he, as history’s eyewitness, can convey. A very attractive concept to any lover of historical fiction.
Who was Barry Sadler? Staff Sergeant Sadler – a Green Beret whose own life would make for a good swashbuckling adventure novel – wrote the first 22 of the now 31 books in the series before his mysterious death in Guatemala. If one could categorize the theme of the books, the most accurate description would fall somewhere between “historical fiction” and “fantasy / adventure.” Staff Sergeant Sadler was a U.S. Army Special Forces soldier – also known as a “Green Beret.” He wrote The Ballad of the Green Berets during the Vietnam War Era within which he himself served. After his song hit number one on the charts, he appeared on the Ed Sullivan show and became an Army and pop culture celebrity. To this day, graduates of the two year long U.S. Army Special Forces Qualification Course don their Green Berets for the first time as this song plays over loudspeakers.
After he became a celebrity, SSG Sadler was used as a PR figure for the Army, and thus not really allowed to go to war again or serve in the capacity for which he received his training. Discouraged by this, he left the Army and became a mercenary and arms dealer who roamed the world from conflict to conflict, and more or less “settled” in Guatemala, where he based his operations, sang songs, and wrote the books that he researched exhaustively. Many long time devotees of his books see little or no separation between Sadler and Casca himself, which lends yet another layer of mythology to the series. Sadler’s image is – in fact – the one used to adorn every book cover as the face of Casca.
In 1989 SSG Sadler was shot in the head while riding in the back of a taxi cab with a dangerous woman, and in the middle of a dramatic conflict between many rivaling Central American factions. To this day, the circumstances that led to the shooting are not fully known, despite a great deal of informed speculation on the part of Sadler confidants who refuse to go on record. The shooting left Sadler in a coma for months. Soldier of Fortune magazine flew a Lear jet down to retrieve Sadler and brought him back to Tennessee, just as his son was headed to Guatemala to investigate for himself.
Back in the States, Sadler recovered enough from the coma to interact with his family once again but he remained quite impaired and steadfastly refused to shed any light on the circumstances that led to his injuries, and colorfully commanded that his family “stay out of his business.” He died from complications shortly thereafter.
The History and Current State of the Series: Staff Sergeant Sadler wrote the first 22 novels of his Casca series before his death in 1989. Two subsequent novels (Casca 23: The Liberator and Casca 24: The Defiant) were written by Paul Dengelegi. The current author, Tony Roberts, has written all the novels since 2006, excluding Casca 29: Immortal Dragon, which was written by Michael B. Goodwin. To date there are 32 novels in the series, if you include the ones written after Sadler's death by other authors.
The cover for Michael Goodwin's Casca book "Immortal Dragon" shows just how campy the packaging has become, relegating the series to "third tier" quality and appeal, at best. Worse, this book - universally considered by Casca fans to be the low point of the series - completely squanders the golden opportunity to place Casca within the modern Global War on Terror. To add insult to injury, Goodwin has seen fit to take Dr. Goldman - Casca's only confidant who is loved by the readership - and have him betray the Eternal Mercenary. These are all such egregious offenses to those of us who are attached to these characters and the theme of the books that I feel the Goodwin effort should be omitted from the "canonized" timeline altogether.
The worst part of what is happening with the current Tony Roberts efforts to add to the series is that the new Casca books are being churned out in too rapid succession and without exhaustive efforts to eliminate a staggering number of typos, grammatical errors, campy artwork and shallow writing that does not do justice to the character or to the Sadler legacy. Hopefully the publisher can find someone to redeem the book series in subsequent novels. I would prefer to see quality over quantity, but every effort that's thrown out there just adds to what will eventually need to be "cleaned up" or omitted from the timeline altogether once a better writer is found to take the series over.
My Connection to the Series: I would not call myself a “fantasy” reader. I am drawn to the Casca series for these primary reasons
1. I enjoy history and historical fiction. The ability to look at history through the eyes of a single “Walker” like Casca lends a continuity and cohesion to history that is very attractive.
2. Casca, as a fighting man, is a great medium through whom to enumerate both the necessity and the nature of wars; and the culture of the rough men who fight them.
3. I enjoy immortal characters, through whose eyes we as readers can glimpse history in the first person. Anne Rice’s Vampire Chronicles is another series that I have enjoyed seeing accomplish this.
4. The under-developed, Biblical overtones of the Casca character lend power, drama, and epic scope to the context of the Casca canon.
I have been a collector of the Casca books since 1989, when I (as a private in the Army) first discovered them on the shelves of the Fort Bragg post exchange. I wish I had known at the time that the books would become so rare once they went out of print. But I have had fun hunting for them since that time…first at mall bookstores now and again, and then even more rarely at used bookstores, until they all but dried up completely sometime in the mid nineties. I now own all of the original Sadler written books, with multiples of several of them, but I have yet to buy Michael B. Goodwin’s #29; Immortal Dragon or #23 or 24.
I have had the privilege of getting to know Barry Sadler’s son, Thor - who is a Major in the U.S. Army himself – and I have also had regular correspondence with the current publisher, and the current author, of the ongoing book series. With all of these people, I have had the opportunity to discuss the future direction of the series, and I have even written many scenes myself that I hope will influence the Casca timeline, one way or another.
Although I have enjoyed getting to know the current Casca publishing team on a personal level, I have been disappointed with the books that have been written since Sadler’s death, and I continue to hope that the publisher will work hard to reestablish the original tone and quality of the first twenty-two books.
With all of that said, Casca is a unique and powerful character, with a well developed canonized mythology, who is worthy of the best literary – and even cinematic - treatment. Written, packaged, and marketed correctly he could become more than a pulp character and rise to be a force in modern literature and film that could far surpass even what Barry Sadler himself accomplished.
CASCAtheEternalMercenary@yahoogroups.com An interactive forum group run by the current author. It is disappointingly insular, with an appalling intolerance for dissenting opinions or discussions about the religious overtones of the series
The best Casca Timeline