A Contribution To The

ERBzine ERB 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

      The first novel of the trilogy signifies a good, beautiful or noble deed.  The deed being the Geste brothers taking the odium of the theft of the sapphire on themselves.  The second, Beau Sabreur, meaning the Noble Warrior or Fighter.  The story then centers on its Lancelot like character, De Beaujolais with attention to the noble actions of subsidiary characters.  Hank and Buddy fit in as noble warriors also.  Beau Ideal then centers on the noble ideals that activate the characters and are part of Western Culture as against that the the others.

     I will put the dramatic first chapter second begin with the second section called The History of Otis Van Brugh, perhaps meant to be a Gawaine type.   Beau Ideal is Otis’ book as the first was that of Michael Geste and his brothers and the second that of De Beaujolais.

     Otis, Hank and Mary are brothers and sister with a last sister who remained at home in Texas.  Their father was a brute of a fellow who drove all his children from home except the last sister.  Wren himself must have had a wretched father because all the fathers in the trilogy are failed men, fellows who don’t have a grip on the meaning of really being a man.

     Neal, or Hank Vanbrugh, refused to put up with it taking to a wandering life.  On the road he met Buddy where they became pals ending up in the Legion.

     Otis and mary being younger subsequently left Texas to lead a peripatetic ex-patriot life of the well to do.  The history of Mary, Hank and Buddy has been given in Beau Sabreur.

     When Otis left De Beaujolais he tried to reach the French contingent in the fort.  Along the way he ran into Redon who filled him in.  Otis was to try to reach the fort to request them to assist a detached unit fighting their way to the fort.  He succeeds.

     In the process Redon diverting the attack away from the fort is shot by friendly fire.  Both he and Otis were dressed as Moslems.  Otis attempts to reach Redon but is shot falling unconscious outside the fort.  Thus when the French are massacred he is the sole survivor.

     He returns to England where psychologically shattered he is stopped by a policeman.  While being interviewed he is conveniently rescued by the leading ‘alienist’ of England.  Given refuge  in his asylum Otis discovers Isobel whose mental health is destabilized because her husband John Geste is in the penal battalion of the FFL.  She implores Otis to find John and bring him back alive.  Here’s a beau ideal.  Ever loving Isobel Otis agrees to sacrifice his happiness to go back to Africa to find John.

     What a guy!  Otis joins the Foreign Legion with the intent of being sent to the penal battalion called the Zephyrs.  He joins and succeeds in being sent to the Zephyrs.  Now we return to the opening chapter.

     Anyone who ever fancied joining the Legion, and the notion was discussed a lot down to the sixties of the last century when I was launching my bark upon the waters, should  have read Erwin Rosen’s In The Legion first.  The Legion was unconcionably cruel to its soldiers in everyday life let alone the penal battalion.  As an example, the Legionnaires complained of excessive marching.  They were required to do thirty miles a day carrying 50 lbs. or more with pack and rifle.  One really has to read Rosen’s description to realize the horror.  Those who dropped out were left where they fell.  Arab women found them subjecting them to horrid tortures.

     This became so common that the Legionnaires were given leave to slaughter the Arab women as a lesson.  This they did with a vengeance.  Rosen was shown a purse by a fellow soldier made from the severed breast of a woman.  Rosen said they were common at one time; an example of what  can happen when civilization meets savagery.  Civilization is lowered but savagery isn’t raised.  The Beau Ideal is lost.

     One of the punishments Rosen mention was called the Silo.  As he describes it these were holes dug into the ground with a funnel put where the victim had to stand exposed to the blazing sun during the day and freezing cold at night.

     Wren converts the idea of these silos into an actual underground grain storage unit capable of holding several men.  In his version the funnel was closed off admitting no light.  As the story opens several men are sweltering in the pit.  A Taureg raid was made on the penal colony building a road near the pit that  killed the whole contingent so that no new supplies were lowered.  The men are dying one by one.

     Otis is in the silo the next to last survivor.  He discovers that the other survivor is none other than John Geste.  On the point of expiring a scout from Hank and Otis’ tribe, or headquarters,  discovers the silo and hauls the two out.  Coincidences and miracles just naturally go with the desert.

     The scout take them to a member tribe of the federation.  Both are now wanted men by the FFL with no hope of salvation.  They have no alternative but to get out of Africa hopefully avoiding France.

     I can’t ask you to guess who was in the camp because you wouldn’t.  Remember the Arab dancing girl Otis met in Beau Sabreur?  She’s the one and she’s still in love with Otis.  Wren names her the Death Angel.  Wren was heavily influenced by E.M. Hull’s The Sheik.  Maud in Beau Sabreur was mad about sheiks, overjoyed when she won one in the person of Hank.  Of couse Hank was an American sheik and not an Arab one, much as Hull’s sheik was in reality half English and half Spanish.

     So, perhaps Otis and the Death Angel are revenants of the Sheik and Diana from Hull’s novel.  In this case the woman has power over the man but the sexual roles remain the same as the king trumps the queen every time as Larry Hosford sings.  If you don’t lose track of who you are it’s true too.  Otis doesn’t lose track of who he is.  Revisit the story of Circe and Ulysses.

     The tribe that rescues Otis and Geste is a rival of Hank Sheik’s but a subordinate member of the confederation.  Hank has organized a sort of United Emirates of the Sahara of which he serves as President for life but without any democratic trimmings.  In a parody of the Sheik then the Death Angel demands ‘kiss me’ of Otis.  He’s not so easy to deal with as Diana.  Even with the Death Angel’s knife at his breast he refuses.

     In the meantime the Zephyrs reclaim Geste and he goes back to his old job of building roads.  Rosen’s account of the FFL compares with Burroughs’ account of his army days.  ERB too was put to work building roads, complaining of moving or perhaps breaking huge boulders.  Both his experience and that of the penal colony of the FFL are quite similar to the chain gangs of the old South of the United States.

     Even when not of the Zephyrs the Legionnaires were given detestable tasks unbefitting the dignity of soldiers.  According to Rosen the men were required to clean out sewers in the Arab quarter of Sidi Bel Abbes.  That’s enough to make anybody desert.  And then get sent to the penal battalion. Crazy, crazy world.  Rosen’s In The Legion is well worth reading if you like this sort of thing.  Download it from the inernet.  Only a hundred pages or so.

     Geste then has to be re-rescued.  This forms the central part of the story along with Otis’ struggles with the Death Angel.  Hank and Buddy get windof the two FFL captives coming to investigate.  Otis then discovers his long lost brother.  It is settled then that Hank and Buddy will give up their Sheikdom to return to pappy’s farm, or ranch.

     Even though Hank and Buddy are powerful sheiks they are still deserters from the Legion so getting out of Algeria is a problem.  Rosen tells a story of a deserter who made it back to Austria where he became a rich and  successful manufacturer.  He made the mistake of exhibiting his manufactures  in Paris in person.  There he was recognized by his old officer who arrested him sending him back to Africa.  There he died.  So Hank and Buddy run the risk of being recognized and arested on the way out of Africa as well as Otis and Geste.

     Geste’s rescue is effected.  The quartet successfully exit Africa arriving safely back in Texas.  However the Death Angel’s help was necessary.  To obtain that help Otis promises to marry her.  He doesn’t want to but a Beau Ideal is a Beau Ideal and so he is going to honor his commitment. On the eve of departure the Angel gives Otis a locket she wears as a good luck charm.  Very bad move.  The locket contains pictures of her mother and father.  Otis examines the mother with some interest then turns his attention to the father….

     Should I ruin a perfectly good ERB ending for you?  Sure, why not?  I’ve got a little sadistic streak too.  Everyone was using this one.  No fooling now, the Death Angel was Otis’ sister because dear old Dad was her mother’s wife; he was known as Omar out there on the burning sands.  Well, there’s a revelation, not that keen sighted readers like you and I didn’t see it coming from miles away.  You can see a long way out there in the desert.

     Hank, Buddy and Otis’ excellent African adventure is over.  The whole episode was like watching a movie except real.  But, back in Texas it may as well have been a dream.  The old codger is still living as the troop of Mary and De Beaujolais, Hank and Buddy and Otis assemble at the ranch, John and Isobel are there too.  Sister Janey is still waiting on her father.

     Well, Hank has Maud, De Beaujolais has Mary, Geste has Isobel but Buddy’s staring at the moon alone.  Still there’s Janey and that’s a match made in heaven but Dad won’t let her go and Janey waon’t leave without his consent.  Otis intervenes pushing Janey toward Buddy then turning to face down his Dad for the first time in his life.

     Pop doubles his fist moving to deck Otis.  Otis holds up the locket like a cross before Dracula stopping the old man in his tracks.  Confronted with the truth the old fellow buckles giving his son the triumph.   So the Beau Ideal triumphs.

     That’s all there is, no more verses left.

 

Note:  I mistakenly placed the review of Beau Geste on another of my blogs: reprindle.wordpress.com.  The review may be found there.

A Contribution To The

Erbzine Library Project

The Beau Ideal Trilogy Of

P.C. Wren

Beau Geste~Beau Sabreur~Beau Ideal

Part III

Review Of Beau Sabreur

by

R.E. Prindle

Part I:  Introduction

Part II:  A Review Of  Beau Geste

Part III:  A Review Of Beau Sabreur

Part IV:  A  Review Of Beau Ideal

Bibliographial Entry:  Welland, James: ‘The Merchandise Was Human’, Horizon Magazine, Vol. VII, No. 1, Winter 1965.  PP. 111-117

     Beau Sabreur shifts from the classic literary style of the mid-nineteenth century to the vernacular of pulp or, perhaps, Wold Newton era.  The pulp writers seem to have all read each other and Wren has certainly done his share of reading.

     This novel begins at a pre-Zinderneuf time when Charles De Beaujolais was a mere cadet entering the service.  If Beau Geste began in c. 1888 Beau Sabreur is set back at the beginning to perhaps 1875.  De Beaujolais’ circumstances quite parallel those of the hero of Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness.  Conrad has maintained a very respectable readership down to the present even though stoutly anti-Communist and a colonial writer.  Both Communists and Africans are working hard to bury his reputation.  It’s amazing how guys like Conrad  manage to hang on, but that may not be for long as Western influence in society declines.

     So it is that De Beaujolais is a sort of lounger applying himself to nothing in particular when his uncle recruits him for the French secret service as an agent to be attached to the African Spahis, an army corps.  His uncle says that he will severely try him and should he fail in any particular  he will be immediately dismissed.  This essentially means that if De Beaujolais lets a woman come between him and his duty it is all over for him.  So we are forewarned that there will a choice between love and duty.

     The book was written after 1917 so Wren introduces a subversive Communist or anarchist character.  In this book he assumes the name of Becque at the beginning.  In Beau Geste he went by Rastignac and late in the novel he will be recognized as Rastignac although he appears to be going by another name.  Wren has a good idea of the type describing him thusly under the name Becque:

     He was clearly a monomaniac whose whole mental content was hate- hate of France; hate of all who had what he had not; hate of control, discipline and government; hate of whatsoever and whomever did not meet his approval.  I put him down as one of those sane lunatics, afflicted with a destructive complex; a diseased egoist, and a treacherous, dangerous mad dog.  Also a very clever man indeed, an eloquent, plausible and forceful personality…The perfect agent-provacteur, in fact.

     Thus Becque in his various incarnations is always subversive, whether of army morale or working the Moslems up against the French.  This will be a major theme of the novel.  the same theme will appear in Tarzan The Invincible developed for his own needs.

     Having been recruited by his uncle, De Beaujolais is sent to a sort of boot camp to learn the hard way.  His ordeal is very convincingly described by Wren.  It seems authentic enough to make one believe that Wren himself actually experienced such an indoctrination but there is no record that he did.  He is just a consummate artist.

     While learning to be a soldier Becque attempts to recruit him as a Communist agent.  This leads to a sword fight in which De Beajuolais injures Becque but does not kill him.

     Having completed his boot camp De Beaujolais takes his station with the secret service and the Spahis in Africa.  Spahis are not FFL but a different corps.

     When the French conquered Algeria in 1830 they disrupted a thousand year old social system.  The North African Moslems had an insatiable need for slaves.  Not only did they raid European shores to abduct Whites but an immense system for deliviering Negro slaves had been in existence since the Moslem conquest.  This system had been run by the Tuaregs.  This people was descended from Whites dating back to at least the Phoenician conquest of North Africa.  Their alphabet probably precedes that of the Phoenicians.  Undoubtedly they were the descendants of the former inhabitants of Mediterranean Valley known as Libyans in Egypt flushed out by the melting of the ice age.

     What they did before the arrival of the Moslems isn’t known but with the African conquest of the Moslems they became the middle men between Africans of the Sahel and the Moslems of the North.  Every year for a thousand years the Tuaregs had collected convoys of Negroes from the South driving them North across the Sahara.  This was necessarily done with great loss of life as the Tuaregs were not that tender toward the Negroes.

     With the advent of the Atlantic Slave Trade in the sixteenth century the Tuaregs also captured Negroes and drove them to St. Louis in Senegal for sale and transshipment to the Americas.  According to James Welland the depredations on the Blacks was so great that the area around Lake Tchad had been cleared of inhabitants.  This age old life style was disrupted in 1830 by the French.  By that time Europeans had discontinued  the slave trade so that the French disrupted the trans-Sahara trade causing a disruption in the Tuareg economy from which there was no recovery.  Welland explains:

     In short, the official abolition of the slave trade, the desert tribes, the desert itself for that matter began to play a diminished part in human affairs, and the Tuareg, who had been the only link for two and a half thousand years between Central Africa and the Mediterranean- in other words, between the Negro and the White world- began to pass from the stage of history.  They were left unemployed and purposeless, with the result that they turned to intertribal war and oasis raiding to keep some semblance of  their nationhood.  Then again, as the supply of black labor dried up, the palmeries were increasingly neglected and often, as the consequence of a razzia, comepletely destroyed.  The size and number of oases decreased, sand filled the wells and cisterns- many of which had been maintained since Roman times- and the age old trails became more hazardous and finally were hardly used at all.

     In the secret service in Africa De Beaujolais becomes involved in the maelstrom of change, racial conflict and bad memories which were now exacerbated by the arrival of the non-Moslem, or Christian, French.  The novel beomes then a sort of proto-thriller.  De Beaujolais is on a mission to a town called Zaguig when he is caught up in a Moslem revolt.  In Zaguig he meets the touring Mary and Otis Vanbrugh.  Otis, you will remember returns from Beau Geste.

     Mary is the love interest in the story and she will conflict De Beaujolais between his love for her and his duty as imposed by his uncle.  Frankie Laine or Tex Ritter and songwriters Dimitri Tiomkin and Ned Washington (I tried to work Trad. in there somewhere but couldn’t do it) expressed the balance well in the song High Noon:

Oh to be torn ‘betwixt’ love and duty

Supposin’ I lose my fair haired beauty…

     De Beaujolais relates the story of another agent who chose his beauty over duty and was drummed out of the service ultimately being killed.  De Beaujolais has a premonition.  Wren cleverly resolves the choice so that De Beaujolais gets his beauty while fulfilling his duty.

     At the same time Otis Vanbrugh meets the apparent Arab dancing girl, who yet retains European features, who will figure largely in the sequel.

     As the revolt erupts these conflicts emerge.  As is usual in thrillers things are not what they seem.  Raoul D’Auray De Redon, a close friend of De Beaujolais’ remains behind disguised as an Arab to confuse their attack on a small French garrison destined to be wiped out.  De Beaujolais has important dispatches which must be delivered.  Thus duty makes him appear to be an ingrate and coward humiliating him before Mary.  His job is to locate the latest Arab Mahdi and suborn him the the French side.

     De Beaujolais thinks little of Otis Vanbrugh and we are meant to accept his opinion.  His true story will appear in the sequel.

     Mary was one of those women who flirt by taunting or ridiculing her guy.  In her case when De Beaujolais was within hearing she mockingly whistled a tune De Beaujolais couldn’t quite place but was called Abdullah Bulbul Amir.  This was a very popular song and poem of the time that can be found at http://wiki.answers.com/Q/lyrics_of_bhulbhuliya.  A couple of verses of its 19 will suffice to give its tenor but the poem is one you should be familiar with.

The sons of the Prophet are hardy and bold,

And quite unaccustomed to fear,

But the most reckless of life or of limb

Was Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

When they wanted a man to encourage the van

Or harass a foe from the rear,

Storm fort or redoubt, they had only to shout

For Abdullah Bulbul Amir.

     Apparently the poem was so well known that Wren felt no need to name it and he doesn’t.

      The time to leave Zaguig comes, so taking his entourage of faithful soldiers, Mary and her maid Maud, he sets out into the desert toward Oran.

     Soon Tuareg or Arab raiders pick his party up and they are forced to fight a pitched battle although from an advantageous position.  Here De Beaujolais has to make a very difficult choice between between loyalty to his men and his duty to get his dispatches through.  Getting his men into position he is compelled to abandon them to their fate and push on.

     This puts a strain on his relationship with Mary who cannot understand the concept of duty or necessity- the necessity to get the dispatches through.  After a long flight the party falls into the hands of a desert tribe.  But this is a strange desert tribe.  Rather than the usual unorganized tactics these fellows seem to have the scientific training of the French.  Another mystery.

     As luck would have it De Beaujolais and the women were captured by the Mahdi’s troops.  By way of explanation the Moslem Mahdi is equivalent to the Jewish Messiah but not the Christian Messiah.  There’s only one Christ but Jewish Messiahs and Moslem Mahdis pop up everywhere.

     So now, going back to the ending of Beau Geste, the two Americans Hank and Buddy were out there somewhere trodding the burning sands.  Hank was discovered and rescued on the point of death by a kind hearted Sheik while Buddy was captured by hard hearted Tuaregs being saved from death when Hank Sheik’s tribe defeated his captors.  Buddy was out there somewhere for a long time because Hank had been rescued years before.

     Having been rescued at the point of death Hank was aware of the necessity to pass as a Moslem so he pretends to be dumb until he has learned the language so well he can pass.  He then cleverly becomes the tribe’s sheik.   The tribe is then threatened by a razzia of Tuaregs.  As this takes place in the North Tuaregs no longer having Negroes to convoy have taken to raiding the oases.  Normally the tribe would have run and hid leaving their goods  and a few token members as slaves for the Tuaregs.  Hank has a better idea  and using his superior scientific French training the tribe rather than waiting to be attacked unexpectedly attack the Tuareg camp handily defeating them.  Buddy is thus rescued.  Coincidences are dime dozen out on the burning sands.

     Teaching Buddy the language while he too plays dumb, Buddy becomes Hank’s vizier.  With Buddy as military commander the tribe is trained in scientific methods in earnest.  They then begin to organize the tribes into a confederation thus earning Hank the title of Mahdi in French eyes.  De Beaujolais was thus on a mission to co-opt the new Mahdi.

     As luck, or coincidence, would have, at the same time De Beaujolais and the girls arrive so does Becque/Rastignac.  Becque is now employed one supposes by the Soviet Union to arouse the Moslems to a jihad.  He comes bearing gifts not realizing that Hank and Buddy are his old Legion comrades.  He doesn’t recognize them but Hank recognizes him.  Becque and De Beaujolais have that old unsettled score to settle.  De Beaujolais now settles his hash removing that source of irritation.

     I’ve pointed out before that Burroughs very likely drew inspiration for his series of political Tarzan novels from 1930 to 1933 after reading this trilogy from 1924 to 1928.  The Sahara had fascinated him long before he read Wren.   David Innes of Pelucidar even surfaces in the Sahara returning from the Inner World.  The great desert and the Sahel is not quite as we Westerners have imagined it.  The thousand year long history of amazing suffering boggles the imagination.  A thousand years of thousand mile treks from South to North, untold millions of Africans were trekked across the burning sands with equally untold millions falling along the way.  This is not all.  This is a horror story.  Welland again, p. 116:

     Even after the slave trade had been suppressed, the old life of the desert survived for a while for one simple reason…the absence of salt in the Sudan.  Nearly all the salt in Central Africa had always come from the north across the Sahara on the backs of camels, donkeys, horses and men.  The salt mines in the middle of the most terrible wastelands of the desert- at Taghaza, at Taodeni, and at Bilma- had always been worked all the year round by Negro slaves, who died within a few years of their arrival at the mines and were immediately replaced by new workers.  The salt they mined was worth its weight in gold in Timbuktu, and its transport across the desert was a considerable enterprise of unbelievable size, involving the assembling  of as many as 40,000 camels to make the quick dash from Bilma to Kano.

     Think of it.  For a thousand years Negroes were dropped down a funnel in a steady stream to live the most miserable of lives for a very few years.  Over a millennium!  Think of it.  I should think those Negroes who travelled the Middle Passage in the Atlantic Slave Trade ending up in the paradise of the Caribbean and the Americas should bless their deliverers from that African hell.

     Africans should bless the French for delivering them from total servitude and degradation.  When one digs for facts beneath the surfice, the things one finds.

     Thus without giving any historical background Wren is telling the story of how Europe saved the Africans from themselves.  Indeed, Hank and Buddy singlehandely rearrange North Africa on livable lines.  The two, in the story, break the power of the Tuaregs while establishing an African paradise in a hundred square mile oasis.  Their people are delivered into prospeirty by a million franc subsidy from France that Hank and Buddy use for the betterment of their people rather than sequestering it in a numbered Swiss bank account.  A new day for Africa indeed courtesy of Western enlightenment.

     Thus De Beaujolais accomplishes his mission to align the new Mahdi, Hank, with France while winning his fair heared beauty and pleasing his uncle.

     Hank marries Maud the maid leaving Buddy hanging out but not for long.  We still have the last of the trilogy, Beau Ideal to go.  Let’s go.

   

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

.

     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.