|What are the parallels, if any, between Bernie Samson and his biblical namesake?
Caveat: While I’ve tried to avoid spoilers, a piece like this inevitably poses a risk for any of you still enjoying the Samson trilogies for the first time.
As much as I appreciate Len Deighton’s non-fiction and earlier novels, I experience an especial thrill every time I return to the Bernard Samson books, not least because of how they have influenced my own mystery writing.
In particular, I’d like to propose that the series contains some rarely-if-ever-discussed theories, capable of challenging Deighton novices and aficionados alike. Inspired by an earlier post, the first of these I’ve come to christen ‘The Samson & Delilah Hypothesis’ – and anyone squeamish should be warned that we’re going to need a copy of the Old Testament!
Have you ever pondered: why ‘Samson’?
The only association with the name Samson that I have is through the Bible story. You remember :
Strong man loses his powers when his hair is shorn while he sleeps … his missus is betraying him because … something to do with him continually beating up the Philistines … and then there was this lion … and he goes blind (Samson, not the lion) yet still manages to shove over a temple, in the process killing heaps of baddies … and so on.
Hopefully you paid more attention as a kid than I did! Which is why I was motivated to revisit the Book of Judges recently, in the process discovering multiple versions of the tale. And naturally, that was just some of the English language interpretations.
So … about that Samson & Delilah Hypothesis.
And I mean, in particular, this one: vested interests work to neutralise the significant threat that is (Bernard) Samson.
Sounds pretty straightforward.
Doubtless you as a reader can recall more of the original story than I could.
- Both stride around, effortlessly taking out their opponents [Eastern Bloc intelligence or the Philistines]
- Yet, simultaneously, both stumble around their emotional landscape, unable to experience normal relations with the women in their lives
- Meantime, covert forces work to remove them from the conflict.
So where is there crossover between the Book of Judges and Deighton’s labyrinthine plot?
To get you thinking, can I propose the following matches for some of the main locations mentioned :
- Israel = The West
- The Philistines = the Warsaw Pact countries [see Judges 14:4 - ‘at that time the Philistines lorded it over Israel’]
- The camp of Dan = the British
- Zorah = West Berlin
- Manoah = Brian Samson [Bernard’s dad]
- Father-in-law = David Kimber-Hutchison [Fiona’s dad]
- Younger sister = Tessa
I’m sure readers will easily be able to suggest more … however, I’d caution against assuming, as I did, that just because Delilah always gets paired with Samson, then ‘Delilah’ must be Fiona!
You see, it turns out that in the Old Testament story (and this was exactly the kind of detail I’d forgotten or never knew), Samson was married before he met Delilah.
Even by the time of their wedding, his bride had succumbed to coercion and was favouring her own people over him. Perhaps tellingly, the wife seems to drop out of the story before Delilah appears on the scene (we’ll return to this later I’m sure, in the comments). The account is quite salacious and only explained in part; though clearly some of the marital disharmony at least was caused by Samson’s father-in-law.
Based on the above, I’m suggesting that Fiona is synonymous with Samson’s initial wife and that, because of the role she subsequently plays in Bernard’s life, ‘Delilah’ is in fact Gloria.
Did somebody order a haircut?
So far so good, although I’d also not rush to judgment about who ‘the lords of the Philistines’ are; they are regularly mentioned as pulling the strings which oppose Samson.
During his November 2012 interview with Len Deighton, you may have read Rob Mallows [Deighton Dossier editor] alluding to Silas Gaunt as ‘the mastermind behind everything.’
'I started off with a wall chart outlining a series of twelve [sic] books … In the chart Silas was the master-mind. At the end of writing Berlin Game I wasn't sure if it would all work out as planned.’
So if Uncle Silas isn’t necessarily the ultimate puppet master, who else can you think of who may be in the frame?
I myself have one idea to share, however, I would be very interested to hear other readers’ perspectives at this point: either something you’ve discerned from one or more of the books or, in the spirit of scientific endeavour, maybe you have evidence which blows out of the water my starting hypothesis, perhaps one of the identifications, etc?
But hang on, that’s right. You were promised more than one thought-provoking theory, weren’t you?
Well. What if Deighton’s plotting goes deeper still?
We can of course get into these and other mysteries in the comments section. But I would set out a challenge Deighton Dossier readers: what’s your reading of my Samson & Delilah Hypothesis?
What impacts would you say the biblical story has had on Deighton’s series?