A Contribution To The Erbzine Library Project

The Beau Ideal Trilogy Of

P.C. Wren

Beau Geste, Beau Sabreur, Beau Ideal

Review by R.E. Prindle

Part   I: Introduction

Part II: Review of Beau Geste

Part III: Review Of  Beau Sabreur

Part IV: Review Of Beau Ideal

P.C. Wren

  For hundreds of years after the expulsion of the Moors from Spain the Moslems raided the European c0asts of the Mediterranean abducting men, women and children as slaves while also preying on shipping.  The newly formed United States sought unsuccessfully to suppress this Moslem piracy.  ‘Millions for defense but not one penny for tribute.’  If you remember that one from school.

     Finally in 1830 France invaded, conquered and occupied what is now known as Algeria ending the Barbary Pirates.

     An army corps was formed and named the Legion Etrangere in French, French Foreign Legion in English to pacify Algeria.  Over the next hundred years the Legion was used for peaceful penetration into the Sahara and Sahel to form the French West African Empire.

     In an astonishing turn around the Moslem power evaporated while the French easily became the masters of the bulge of Africa.  The military superiority was to last until post-WWII when exhausted by two world wars accompanied by a moral collapse as the best and brightest died on the battlefields leaving nothing but singers and dancers to live off the fat of the land.  The French were militarily capable but morally bankrupt.  The Moslems reasserted themselves in the fifties forcing the French out of Algeria while beginning the invasion of France by peaceful penetration.  A neat reversal of fortunes.  Thus the conquest of Europe interrupted by the Spanish expulsion began again.

     Immediately after the French invasion of Algeria the deserts of Africa beame a playground of Europeans.  The lure of the desert held a strange appeal for them.  Perahaps devoid of romance in their homelands the desert with its now no longer dangerous but exotic inhabitants replaced the fairies and elves displaced by the scientific revolution.  The Euroamerican romance with ‘noble savages’ and ‘inferior races’ may very well be caused by the void created by the scientific revolution.  Euroamericans hoped to find or create those emotional or psychological needs lost in the advance of civilization.  This may explain to some extent the White worship of people of color whose ‘natural’ uninhibited behavior they profess to admire and imitate.  Witness the tatooing and body piercing in imitation of the Africans who themselves appear to have to given it up.

     The French having conquered Algeria had to establish an army corps dedicated to perpetual warfare.  That unit was the Legion Etrangere or French Foreign Legion.  The duty in the Sahara amid an enemy population was so execrable  that only men without hope, that is criminals and outcasts with no other options need have applied.

     In 1831 then, a year after the conquest and annexation of Algeria as an actual Department of France the French Foreign Legion was created by Louis Philippe the new Bourgeois King of France.

     The Legend of the Legion apparently grew very quickly.  the first legion novel is thought to be that of the English writer Ouida.  She published her novel Under Two Flags in the 1860s.  It was a great success ultimately being made into a movie.  Alongside the Legion novels were a number of novels that dealt with the desert in a very romantic way.

     The genre of novel could only have developed after the French conquest of Algeria after 1830 and  a little later with the pacification of the Moslems.  If not pacification at least intimidation.  Astonishingly the centuries intervening between Roman Africa and the conquest of Algeria vanished from the consciousness of Europeans.  In only a hundred years (well, a hundred twenty-five years) a brief interlude, Europeans were in turn expelled from North Africa with their tremendous superiority shattered and in ruins.  That brief century now appears like a fairy story without real substance.  A hundred years of struggle and dieing ant then- poof!  But the stories were great.

      Fans of Jules Verne have a very good story- The Barsac Mission- that undoubteldy was an influence of P.C. Wren.  The work has only been translated recently issued in two volumes as Into The Niger Bend and The City Of The Sahara by Americor.  Some consider the novel science fiction.

     The publishers are escapist types who have retreated to Mattituck N.Y.  at the most extreme end of Long Island.  Unfortunately, as with many of Verne’s books the Barsac has been bowlderized to reflect current Liberal tastes.  The translator I.O. Evans coyly expresses it this way:  I have also taken the liberty, found necessary by most of Verne’s other translators, of abbreviating or omitting a few passage of minor interest.  (cough, cough)

     Another wonderful Sahara novel written at the same time as the Barsac is Robert Hichens’ The Garden Of Allah.  Hichens was an influence on Burroughs.  The novel was very well known at least through my youth.  I knew people with whom Hichens’ reputation was very great although I imagine there are few who would recognize his name today.

     And then ERB himself devoted a number of pages to the romance of the desert.  In The Return Of Tarzan it will be remembered that Tarzan was despatched to Algeria as a French secret agent just along the lines of Wren’s De Beaujolais.  The Lad And The Lion is of course a complete Sahara novel that appears to have had an influence on Wren.   Korak the Killer of The Son Of Tarzan operated on the margins of the desert while the Sahara plays a frequent part in a lot of the Tarzan novels.

     There is no question that E.M. Hull’s The Sheik was a major influence on Wren as he actually parodies Mrs. Hull’s novel virutally by name.

     With Wren the myth of the Sahara and the Legion comes into full bloom.

     If one has read only Beau Geste one has read an amazingly good story but to understand Wren’s intent it is necessary to read Beau Geste, Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal in sequence.  By the time Wren wrote, the handwriting was on the wall.  The Western will had already been sapped.  The beau ideals that had inspired Western men since the days of the Arthurian epics was fading from the Western consciousness being replaced by the effete homosexual ‘ideals’ of today.   The strength and confidence that allowed Western man to subjugate the world was becoming just a memory.  Wren in his way is either commemorating the ideals or seeking to reverse the decline.

     The three novels are concerned with the fortunes of two families, one English, the other American.  Wren has a wonderful feel for the difference between the English and the American characters, not to mention the French.  His command of American dialect and hobo slang is virtually alone worth reading the trilogy.

     The first volume, Beau Geste based on Wilkie Collins The Moonstone (a so-so read) concerns the early history of the Geste brothers, Beau, Digby and John and the story of Fort Zinderneuf away out there almost beyond a hobo’s imagination.

FFL 1939: Life Magazine

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     The novel does introduce the two American hoboes, Hank and Buddy, serving in the Legion.   Wren kills off Michael and Digby Geste in this first novel putting the load on John.

     In the second novel of the trilogy, Beau Sabreur (The good sword or swordsman) John returns to Africa to try to locate Hank and Buddy who were lost in the drifting sands after saving his life.

     In this manner Wren introduces the American family of which Hank is a member.  Hank and his friend Buddy were the two men lost in the desert that John Geste is seeking.  Both men lying in the desert near death in different locations were rescued by the Bedouins.  As luck would have it  Hank managed to work his way up to Sheik acquiring Buddy as his vizier.  They introduce superior Western discipline and tactics into their tribe giving them dominance in the desert.  Hank then comes to the attention of the French as the new Mahdi.  De Beaujolais is sent to coopt the new Mahdi.  Through a series of adventures De Beaujolais meets and falls in love with Hank’s sister Mary who is traveling with her other brother Otis Vanbrugh.  They as well as Hank are fleeing from a brutish father.

     At stories end the whole cast Henri De Beaujolais who had wed Mary, Otis, Hank, Buddy, John Geste and his wife Isobel, who plays a large part, are back at the ranch in Texas facing the old brute of a father down while trying to free Hank’s other sister from thralldom to the old brute so she can marry Buddy and begin a life of her own.  Hold on, now, Wren must have been studying Burroughs because he’s got a number of twists up his sleeve, or perhaps, tricks.

     While Otis was in Algeria an Arab dancing girl had fallen in love with him who was apparently the queen of the desert.  Otis tried to escape her but in exchange for help in recovering John from the penal battalion of the FFL he promised to marry her.  Aw shucks, that’s right, you guessed it.  Nakhla was in reality his sister.  The old brute had fathered her on another dancing girl when he was out making deals in the desert.  So we have Nakhla, the same name as the heroine of Burroughs’ The Lad And The Lion, pretty much following the plot line of The Girl From Farris’s.  So maybe Wren should also be included in the Farmerian Wold Newton Universe.

     So that is the broad overview of the story line that holds the three volumes together.   Before I go on to the individula reviews there is one other problem I wrestle with  that I would like to to discuss and that is the
Western fascination with primitive life styles.

     For a convenient starting point we’ll use H. Rider Haggard, no, cancel that.  I’ll go back a little further to the French Wold Newton.  I’m reading the Paul Feval Black Coats series and they have some earlier antecedents.  Balzac, Dumas, Eugene Sue and Feval all deal with organized crime groups.  A Dumas title that I haven’t been able to get is titled The Mohicans Of Paris while Feval makes several reference to crime organizations  adopting a sort of  ‘red indian’ mentality.  What Dumas called Mohicans evolved into the Apaches of late nineteenth century Paris.  Anyone who watched TV in the fifties is familiar with French Apache dancing.

     Thus while the French were becoming fascinated with the North American Indians and their primitive mentality Haggard was celebrating the primitive African mentality.  And then along comes Ouida, Verne, Hichens, Burroughs, Hull and Wren celebrating the ‘free and wild’ life of the desert.

     As of the beginning of the nineteenth century, if not before, the Euroamericans evolved into the Scientific Consciousness leaving the rest of the world behind in the mythopoeic or Religious Consciousness.  However the transition from one consciousness to the other is not a clean break.  Haggard, for instance, never really made the transition while Burroughs did.  That may be why Burroughs reads as modern if a trifle old fashioned while Haggard is purely of an anterior psychology- good but just a little stodgy.

     Thus, as the White Man spread over the globe, the, what I shall I call it, White Man’s Burden, White Man’s novel appeared.  A whole genre of either stated or implied White superiority appeared of which Haggard and Burroughs are the most promient.  From these writers the genre went on to the Sheena, Queen Of The Jungle stuff to imitative White Jungle god stories.  Conrad sang the colonial era in lyric tones.  Kipling told of the Raj of India while inventing the White Man’s Burden which was very real.

     Ouida is usually credited with the first FFL novel, Under Two Flags, while Burroughs contributed The Return of Tarzan in which Tarzan goes to Algeria as a French secret agent although not as FFL.

     In 1924 P.C. Wren wrought the glamor of the French Foreign Legion with the first novel of his trilogy, Beau Geste, followed by Beau Sabreur and Beau Ideal.  These novels are also scientific demonstrating the superiority of Euroamerican intelligence over the mythopoeic mentality of the desert tribes.  Merely by introducing European military discipline into the tribe Hank and Buddy enable the tribe to defeat all others and dominate the desert.  This while Abd El Krim and the Riff dominated Western news instilling admiration for the  primitive desert tribes over Western Civilization.  I had a tearcher in high school who would get sexually aroused just talking about El Krim.

     Thus while the transition from mythopoeic and scientific thinking was not complete if even half evolved the West was presented with various mythopoeic cultures that drew them back from the transition to the Scientific Consciousness.  At present, then, the West has a split personality in which they admire the Negro and Arab mentality so much that they denigrate their own scientific side.  It doesn’t seem likely that Euroamericans in sufficient numbers will make the transition to Scientific Consciousness quickly enough to preserve Western civilization hence the present bizarre worship of primitive races in North America and Europe.  On the other hand the rest of the world seeks to imitate the West in matters that they cannot understand or sustain on their own.  If the West is in trouble imagine the actual psychological state of things in China and India.

     Now it is time to move on the first of the reviews- Beau Geste.

A Contribution To The Edgar Rice Burroughs

Library Project.

A Review

The Sheik

by

E.M. Hull

by R.E. Prindle

The Novel

     The Sheik by E.M. Hull is found in ERB’s library.  The novel published at the beginning of 1921 was a runaway bestseller going through thirty-0ne printings by October.  My copy is of the thirty-first printing.  How many more it may have gone through I am not aware.

     The book was quickly made into the movie of the same name starring Rudolph Valentino and released on November 20th of the same year.  Thus the impact would have been redoubled on ERB reading the book and seeing the movie.

Having troubles in his relations with Emma, he was somewhat bedeviled by what she wanted as Freud was by what women wanted.  The Sheik presented one woman’s solution to the problem of what women want. The Englishwoman E.M. Hull examined the problem in some detail.  Her solution would find expression in ERB’s Tarzan And The Ant Men of 1923 in the story of the Alalus women.

2.

     While Mrs. Hull’s novel is invariably reviewed as a soft core porn novel it is actually quite a serious attempt to explore what women want.  Not a potboiler, the story is well thought out and carefully constructed.

     The story falls into the category of the desert nomad thriller.

     The scene is somewhere between Biskra and Oran in Algeria.  Biskra is the southernmost point on the railroad from the coast to the Sahara in the East of Algeria.  It is an oasis area and was a winter resort for Europeans.  This area was also the scene of Robert Hitchen’s The Garden Of Allah and the Sahara scenes from Edgar Rice Burroughs’ The Return Of Tarzan.

The Author

     As with Hitchens’ the desert serves as a symbol for self-realization and redemption.  The story was written as the career of the rebel Abd El Krim was reaching its apex in the Rif.  Krim’s story was terrifically romantic for women of the era.  I had a high school history teacher in the fifties who was still capable of gushing about Krim thinking him the most manly and desirable of men.

     As with Hitchens the story revolves around a man and a woman.  The woman an Englishwoman and the man a Krim like sheik of the desert.

3.

     The woman is appropriately named Diana.  Diana was the virgin huntress of Greek mythology who spurned all relations with men thus putting her in enmity with Aphrodite.  She is somehow related to the Lady Of The Lake of ancient Lacedaemon which name means Lady Of The Lake and in a line of progression to the Northern European archetype of the second half of the Piscean Age.  This is a rather strange female archetype to represent the Northern European psyche.  She is a cold unloving symbol that may have something to do with the European character.

     Whether Mrs. Hull knew these things or not she represents them perfectly in her story.  This is quite extraordinary.

     Thus her Diana was raised by her brother as a boy.  She is represented throughout the story as an ambiguous girl-boy, nearly a hermaphrodite.  She is herself a skilled huntress who has no use for men.  As the story opens she has yet to be kissed.  Mrs. Hull skillfully represents the respect that Northern European men have for their women which in itself may be conditioned by the Diana image.  They are easily put off.  When one man asks Diana for a kiss he accepts his rejection with equanimity asking only if they can at least be pals.

     The Sheik as the wild man of the desert knowing no law but his will offers quite a contrast.  By the time of Mrs. Hull’s novel ERB had already explored the same literary territory in the Return Of Tarzan and The Lad And The Lion as well as The Cave Girl.  I would hesitate to say Mrs. Hull had read Burroughs but the Sheik is portrayed as a Tarzan like superman in a decidedly pulp manner.

     The Sheik does not observe any civilized niceties.  At one point Mrs. Hull refers to his civilization being less than skin deep.  As the Sheik, Ahmed, says, if he wants something he takes it.  Having seen Diana in the marketplace of Biskra he sets out to kidnap and rape her.  There are no other words for it and Mrs. Hull does not mince them.

     His plan worked out so that he buys off Diana’s desert guide to deliver her to him on the first night out of Biskra.  Prior to that he surreptitiously serenaded her on the night before even entering her room in the dark while she is there to replace the bullets in her pistol with blanks to prevent her from shooting him in the desert which she did attempt to do.

4.

     Now, Mrs. Hull is presenting an allegory so the novel is filled with symbols.  The key symbol is the horse.  The horse is, of course, a symbol of the female associated with the Greek god Poseidon.  In ancient times the symbol of the bull was associated with the missing y chromosome of the female being replaced in Patriarchal times with the horse.  Thus the Patriarchal goddess Athene is sometimes represented as horse headed.

     When the guide brings Diana a horse to ride it is a magnificent creature much better than she might have expected from a commercial enterprise.  The horse has actually been provided by Ahmed the Sheik so as Diana leaves Biskra she is already mounted on the Sheik’s horse- a powerful sexual symbol.  The horse is trained to respond to signals from The Sheik.

     The story is filled with horses and horse races between she and the Sheik.  In one race the Sheik gives her a minute to stop or he will shoot her horse dead which he does.  He then places Diana in front of him on his horse (these horses are all magnificent and beyond magnificent) at which point she realizes that she is not only in love with the Sheik but has been for some time.

     Previous to this time she had noted in the camp

     …but it was the horses that struck Diana principally.  They were everywhere, some tethered, some wandering loose, some excercising in the hands of grooms.

     So everywhere is the symbol of the female.  At this stage Diana has been sexually subordinated to the Sheik but she is intellectually resisting.  The Sheik puts on a demonstration of how useless her resistance is as he fully intends to break her.

     A man eater is brought out who has killed a man earlier that morning.  The horse obviously represents Diana.  Some two or three men attempt to break the horse but they all fail.  Then the Sheik mounts.  The result is a thoroughly exhausted and beaten horse.  She stops fighting with her legs splayed while the Sheik jumps off.  Then the horse rolls over left with no will of its own.

     This is exactly Diana’s situation.  Earlier she had boasted to her brother:  I will do what I choose, and I will never obey any will but my own.

     That is now proven an empty boast as the Diana riding in front of the Sheik chooses to obey the Sheik’s will.

     Perhaps Mrs. Hull has prophesied the submission of England’s will of today to the desert Sheiks.  As of now the Moslems have all but assumed religious control of England.  Thus England as Diana has submitted its sexuality to the sons of the Sheiks.

     However Diana’s Sheik still has to prove himself as the dominant male of his society to retain her allegiance.  One hesitates to say that she perversely tests him nevertheless having been cautioned to take care on her desert rides she insists on going too far afield.  Naturally she and her seven man escort are ambushed by the fat swarthy greasy rival sheik’s men.  Six of the seven escorts die joyously defending their sheik’s property.  The seventh, the sheik’s European manservant gets the classic bullet crease alongside the head.  Diana disappears into the fat greasy sheik’s tent.  This guy is everything an Arab sheik should have been in contemporary European eyes.  Fat, greasy, swarthy, unbelievably smelly, uncouth to the nth degree.  There’s no doubt there’s the fate worse than death for the boyish, sylphlike, slender, lithe Diana.  Yes, it seems pretty certain, unless…

     Here comes the Sheik with a small but loyal and dedicated band of followers eager to die for their leader.  Just as the greasy, swarthy sheik  has got it out and ready in crashes Ahmed  in the nick of time.  Rather than shooting the bastard and getting it over with he wants to dispatch El Greaso by hand.  As we all know strangling a a struggling strong man takes a little time.  Enough time for El Greaso’s vile Ebon followers to burst into the tent.  Right behind them come Ahmed’s men.  Shades of Tarzan!  Ahmed takes a severe blow to the head and a couple long blades in the back.

     Will he live?  After muttering a couple pages similar to the last words of Dutch Schultz the matter is in the hands of Allah and the European surgeon.  As much as I like having god on my side, in certain situations a good surgeon is even better.

      Nevertheless if Ahmed lives he has proven himself to be the right man for Diana.  Interestingly the virgin huntress has submitted to the law of Aphrodite.  The European archetype has accepted the dominance of the Moslem Arab.

     Well, almost.  In the first place the tribe of Ahmed is very interesting according to his French friend who arrived in time for the big battle.  It seems that Ahmed’s tribe is different from the rest of the desert greasers.  It is inferred that his tribe is one of the legendary White tribes supposed to be living in the Sahara.  Undoubtedly a surviving remnant of Atlantis that moved South when the Mediterranean flooded.

Why, in addition, it turns out that Ahmed isn’t even an Arab.  It seems that he’s actually English.  Well, an English Spanish blend.  His English father when in his cups did some unspeakable thing to Ahmed’s mother when she was pregnant with him and she was found by Ahmed Sr. Ahmed Jr.’s adopted father wandering dazed and confused beneath the broiling desert sun.

     Taken in she dropped Ahmed Jr. and died.  The baby was raised as the successor to Ahmed Sr.  But he developed an uncontrollable hatred for England, its people and all things English.  That’s why he captured and raped Diana over and over.  But it’s OK, they both realize they love each other now.

     The lesson seems to be that that’s what woman wants:  a man who can earn her repect by dominating and controlling her while at the same time being the dominant male in his society, being able to provide all her wants and desires while being able to defend her from the El Greasos of the world.  So all the necessary elements come together here and we have a marriage if not made in heaven perfect for terrestrial travails.

     If nothing else ERB learned where he had failed Emma in the beginning but who now wondered in his own role of sheik where the rewards from Emma were.

     I’m going to speculate that ERB read the story in 1921.  He might have enjoyed Valentino in the movie but I think it improbable that the silent film came near capturing the nuances of the novel.  I’m sure the signficance of Diana as female European archetype didn’t come through on celluloid.

     Was it even in Mrs. Hull’s mind one may perhaps ask.  Is it possible I’m projecting my beliefs on Mrs. Hull’s story?  It is possible but consider this passage in The Sheik:

     He was so young, so strong, so made to live.  He had so much to live for.  He was essential to his people.  They needed him.  If she could only die for him.  In the days when the world was young the gods were kind, they listened to the prayers of hapless lovers and accepted the life they were offered in the place of the beloved whose life was claimed.  If God would but listen to her now.

     So we know that Mrs. Hull was read in Greek mythology.  It would seem inevitable that she was familiar with the stories of King Arthur to some degree.  Certainly she knew the story of Merlin and Vivian.  She was a writer.  Knowing little about Mrs. Hull it is impossible for me to know for certain exactly what she read or understood.  And yet, there it is in the pages of her novel if one has eyes to see.  The Sheik is as much a work of mythology as is that of Burroughs’ Tarzan.  It is possible that neither was conscious of what they were saying but the information taken into their minds was transformed subconsciously, at least, into the form in which it issued forth from their pens.  It works that way for writers.  I am often astonished at the subliminal message of what I write.  Did I intend it?  Must have.  There it is.  Still, I do put myself into a mild trance when I’m writing so that I concentrate on words rather than ideas.  So the words are more conscious while the content is more subliminal.  We know ERB wrote from a trancelike state and Mrs. Hull’s story has that quality.  I think we have enough evidence to know that she had read the mythological material so that whether she had consciously formulated her ideas they come out in her writing.  In short, I don’t think I’m projecting much if anything.  Tra la.

     There is no doubt that The Sheik made a big impression on ERB.  The question is how did he understand it.  His first reaction appeared in 1923’s Tarzan And The Ant Men in the weird parody of the Alalus people in which he reverses the male-female roles with the women being stronger and dominant.  As Ahmed figures the women brutally dominate the men.  Using them for sexual pleasure then discarding them.  ERB’s story seems to be tongue in cheek but without a reference point the ridiculous story is hard to follow.  With E.M. Hull’s The Sheik I believe we have the reference point.

     It seems clear that Mrs. Hull was influenced by Robert Hitchens’ The Garden Of Allah.  What is not clear is whether she was influenced by Edgar Rice Burroughs and if so by what novels.  The Sheik follows a pulp format.  So, if Mrs. Hull read the pulps on a regular basis there is no reason to believe that she was not familiar with some of his work as Burroughs certainly by 1920 when she probably began the novel was already the premier pulp writer.

     If that was the case it seems likely that she might have read The Return Of Tarzan and The Lad And The Lion, perhaps The Cave Girl.  If she read Lad then she reversed the roles of the chief male and female characters making the Woman English and the man Arab.

     I haven’t read the magazine version of The Lad And The Lion so I am not sure of the specific changes ERB made between the 1913 version and the 1938 rewrite for book publication.  The rewrite shows clear evidence of influence from The Sheik unless of course Mrs. Hull was reflecting the influence of the Lad on herself.  In any event the two books reflect an influence from one to the other.

     So, as with Trader Horn and Burroughs it is possible that Hull was influenced by Burroughs and with both of these authors Burroughs reading of them was reflected in his subsequent writing.

     Our list of reciprocal influences is growing when one adds that of H.G. Wells.  What once seemed simple grows more complex.

Postscript:  I have since learned that Mrs. Hull was a student of mythology.