August 20, 2009
Conversations With Robin, Page 3
Conversations between R.E. Prindle And Robin Mark
Well, well, well. Robert Goulet. I should have known that filthy bastard would be mixed up in there somewhere. What amazes me is that Guralnik could write two fat volumes on Elvis and never mention the Mob once. I think we can begin to integrate Elvis’ Mob conflicts pretty clearly now, although research will have to establish the connections for sure.
For starters, entertainment is a Mob industry both records and movies; that includes both Jews and Sicilians. If you haven’t read Gus Russo’s Supermob yet, do so. The Sidney Korshak role at MCA is crucial.
Anent shooting out TVs remember that Sinatra had a plane he called Superwop or something to that effect so it is clear he bore a grudge against the Anglo world. The plane was a small ‘Lear’ if I remember correctly. Elvis went out and bought a 707. Big plane, big penis; little plane little penis. Not exactly true in Frank’s case, but you get the point. So at least Goulet and Sinatra. I can understand why Dean Martin tried to distance himself from those creeps.
Parker must have had the business dealings with the Outfit. As he ran into gambling problems the only commodity he had to barter was Presley. Thus he would have had to ‘sell’ Presley to keep both his legs under him. Elvis’ rapid deterioration could have been because of his realization that he was ‘caught in a trap. I can’t get out.’ Devastating awareness. One could only retreat into booze and/or drugs.
Now, Leiber said that he and Stoller at one time worked for the Mafia. This wouldn’t be unusual nor should it be held against them because if you’re in entertainment you’re involved, like it or not. The question is when were they involved, for how long, and for what purpose.
We all know Fabian was a Mob creation. Why not others? If you haven’t seen and studied The Girl Can’t Help It, do so. The movie is an alegory of the record business. Everything you see in the movie is the Outfit in action. In the fifties every Juke Box in America was stocked by the Outfit. You didn’t get your record stocked unless you were Mobbed up somewhere along the line. Someone recently told me that the girls on the Dick Clark Show were prostitutes and Bandstand was used to showcase them for Johns. Don’t know that it’s true but I wouldn’t be surprised.
Leiber and Stoller could have been co-opted to write songs for, say, The Coasters. A Black act with interchangeable personnel. Kind of an early Back Street Boys. I don’t know but I’d like to hear Leiber talk about it. Might prove enlightening.
So, let us assume that the Colonel was drawn into the Mob scene from the beginning of Presley’s movie career. That might explain some of his stupid decisions and those dumb movies. Perhaps Parker didn’t have a free hand but was ‘wise’ enough to figure out that something is better than nothing.
Then after Vegas Presley was increasingly drawn into orbit until he learned the horrifying truth. Guralnik seems to have his head up his ass as far as I’m concerned.
As Presley learned the truth looking forward to forty more years of slavery he found drugs more comfortable than reality. Possible, it would make things make sense.
August 19, 2009
Themes And Variations
The Tarzan Novels Of Edgar Rice Burroughs
#5: Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar
On The Road To Opar
I have put off reviewing this Tarzan several times. I like it but I find it difficult. This may have been the first Tarzan book I read, probably in 1950. While I have always liked Tarzan And The Ant Men and Tarzan The Terrible Opar was always my favorite.
Of course in 1950 one’s choice was limited to eight or ten, not including the first, so I read the later novels only recently. Tarzan And The Lion Man is my current favorite. Opar was written in 1915 about a year after the commencement of The Great War, the occupation of Haiti and war scares with Mexico. This was also after ERB’s first spurt that ran from 1911-1914. The latter year emptied the pent up reservoir containing the residue of his early reading and experiences. That period may be described as ERB’s ‘amateur period.’ The latter part of 1914 began what may be described as his professional life as a writer. The spontaneous automatic period was over; he had to think out his stories. That meant he had to do some new reading. Opar coincided with his completion of reading Gibbon’s Decline And Fall Of The Roman Empire. What effect that may have had on Opar I’m not sure.
At the foundation of ERB’s approach to his stories are the three titles of Twain’s Prince And The Pauper, Burnett’s Little Lord Fauntleroy and Wister’s The Virginian. After 1914 he would refer to Jack London and write a series based on the style of Booth Tarkington. While he continued to produce during the twenties, the period was also one of intense reading that produced the magnificent stories of the early thirties. That need not concern us here.
While his favorite three books were the rock on which he built his church, the Oz stories of Baum contribute to the superstructure as they do so prominently in Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar. The second chapter is even titled: On The Road To Opar. ERB only left out the yellow brick and changed the Emerald City to Opar. It is clearly indicated that Opar is based on the Emerald City.
Rather than being emerald Opar is red and gold. La, the high priestess of Opar can be considered a combination of Baum’s Ozma and Rider Haggard’s She.
The Baum connection is strengthened by the fact that, as I believe but can only conjecture at this point, Burroughs visited Baum at his Hollywood home during ERB’s residence in Southern California in 1913. One guesses but it is probable that ERB got some pointers from Baum on how to keep the Tarzan series going as Baum was producing volume after volume of Oz stories. In point of fact Baum had run out of ideas in 1910 attempting to close off the series. He was compelled to restart the series in 1913 at the insistence of his fans.
Burroughs had effectively closed the Tarzan series with The Son Of Tarzan. Son is a favorite of a lot of people but for me it’s pretty much a rehash of the first three stories; I call the four The Russian Quartet after the villains of the series. Tarzan was already old in Beasts Of Tarzan but by Son he had to come out of retirement. There was no future then, so the Big Bwana had to be reborn. The old Tarzan ended with Son; the new Tarzan began with Jewels Of Opar. A fine new beginning it was.
The Ballantine edition of 1963 prefaces the story with a quote titled: ‘In Quest Of A Lost Identity’, that might easily be changed to ‘A Search For A New Identity’, for in fact, Burroughs old identity had been lost when he gained success and riches. ERB wanted to go forward not back:
Tarzan staggered to his feet and groped his way about among the underground ways of Opar. What was he? Where was he? His head ached, but otherwise he felt no ill effects from the blow that had felled him. He did not recall the accident, nor aught of what had led up to it.
At last he found the doorway leading inward beneath the city and temple. Nothing spurred his hurt memory to a recollection of past familiarity with his surroundings. He blundered on through the darkness as though he were traversing an open plain under a noonday sun.
Suddenly he reached the brink of a well, stepped outward into space, lunged forward, and shot downward into the inky depths below. Still clutching his spear, he struck the water and sank beneath its surface…
Tarzan loses his memory at great stress points in Burroughs’ life. They take place at Opar in underground caverns surr9unded by a wealth of gold. One might think then that they are related to Burroughs’ financial success and through La to his sex life.
One must bear in mind that ERB came into the beginnings of his success just as he was edging into the mid-life crisis. Given a reasonable amount of money in 1913 he reacted in a nouveau riche manner. Remembering back to 1899 and his private railcar trip to NYC and back he tried to relive it with Emma. His trip with Frank Martin troubled his memory. He recalled it 1914 when he took the job on the railroad in Salt Lake City. In 1913 he packed the family aboard with all his belongings and rode out to Los Angeles and San Diego. He may very well have rented a whole Pullman car for himself and family that would be equivalent to a private car but we don’t know for sure at this time. We only know that he was fixated on a private car and that he rode first class.
We can be sure that he was realizing all his dreams as fast as he could earn the money to pay for them or perhaps before he had the money.
He was moving through uncharted territory thus ‘he blundered on through the darkness as though he were traversing an open plain under a noonday sun.’
ERB has his eyes wide open but the unfamiliar demands being placed on him were equivalent to darkness: he couldn’t be sure whether he was making the right decisions. ‘What was he? Where was he.’ This is a dilemma of the newly successful. And then by late 1914, early 1915 he realized that he was in over his head.
Suddenly he reached the brink of a well, stepped outward into space, lunged forward, and shot downward into the inky depths below. Still clutching his spear, he struck the water and sank beneath the surface…
What? Of course. McClurg’s released the first Tarzan as a book in 1914 treating the release in what seems a peculiar way. The contract had been signed, apparently perpetual and unbreakable, ERB, Inc. only bought it out in the fifties, so he must have realized that he had been had. He committed the same error in 1931 when he signed his contract with MGM so he didn’t learn much over the years.
His contract would certainly have been a contributing factor but there may have been other sources that put him in over his head. It is significant that Tarzan didn’t drop his spear; he was still capable fo defending himself.
Now, one would have to believe that Burroughs was at least famous in Chicago. By 1917-18 Tarzan was a household word recognized it seems by everyone. It would be odd indeed if sexual temptations weren’t placed before him. Literary groupies surrounded authors then as groupies did musicians in the ’60s.
La herself is a repressed sexual image while the novel abounds in sexual images. Perhaps signficantly when the rutting elephants charge the priests of Opar Tarzan takes refuge in a tree high above the ruckus. Even then the rutting elephants try to uproot his tree to bring the Big Bwana to earth but do not succeed. One may infer that while temptation was strong ERB remained faithful to Emma.
However by 1918′s Tarzan The Untamed, note the title, Jane is killed while Tarzan’s eye immediately wanders forming a near dalliance with another woman. It was also at this period that ERB walked out on Emma. As told in Tarzan The Terrible, note the title, and Tarzan And The Golden Lion Tarzan and Emma were separated through those two novels and Tarzan The Untamed.
So, Jewels of Opar may be describing the dark side of success when the master tempter attacks you at your most vulnerable plus Burroughs was in full blown mid-life crisis by 1914-15.
The forces of change were shaking him like a terrier shaking a rat. His situation was terrible and wonderful at the same time. So, with Tarzan And The Jewels Of Opar he launched himself on his career as a professional writer.
The novels of Burroughs previous to Opar had flowed from his experience and early reading. The reading had provided the framework that ERB fleshed out with his interests, ideas and experience in essentially an allegorical form. David Adams quite justly points out that Burroughs relies quite heavily on a fairy tale format although it took me a long time to recognize it. ERB’s wonderlands are lands of enchantment as much as that of Mallory’s and Pyles Arthurian England. That is certainly clear in this book.
Now Burroughs has to actually invent and construct a story from scratch. Once again he relies on his reading. The first chapter titled The Belgian And The Arab encapsulates his reading and perhaps watercooler discussions of the Belgian administration of the Congo with the depredations of the Arab slaver Tippu Tib as gleaned from Stanley’s two tremendous adventures, Through The Dark Continent and In Darkest Africa.
In the first Stanley encountered Tib on the upper Congo, Lualaba he calls it, when Tib was just beginning to extract the Congo tribes for slaves. A few years later Stanley encountered Tib on his way across the Congo from the West to East. By that time Tib was halfway across the Congo basin toward the West depopulating it on his way. In this story Achmet Zek is based on Tippu Tib while Albert Werper, the Belgian, meets him well into the Congo moving up river as in Stanley’s In Darkest Africa.
Werper, as a Belgian, epitomizes King Leopold of Belgium’s administration of the Congo. For a few decades the entire Congo Free State as it was then known was his personal possession Tippu Tib or no. As such he had to make it pay and make it pay he did. Rubber was the engine of that prosperity. As the tree was not yet cultivated as Firestone would in Malaya, the Africans were required to collect balls of rubber from the wild. Not naturally inclined to collect rubber some harsh disciplinary measures were required to give them incentive. One method if they failed to bring in their quota was to cut off their right hand. Seemingly counter-productive it was nevertheless effective although there were a lot of Africans walking around with only a left hand. In Leopold’s defense the method was suggested by Africans themselves.
Leopold made money but incurred the hatred of Africans while giving himself an atrocious reputation in Europe and America. The Belgians removed the Free State from his administration after which it became known as the Belgian Congo. Thus Burroughs unites two men of evil reputation in the Belgian Albert Werper and the Arab Achmet Zek. They naturally conspire evil.
ERB also leans on Joseph Conrad’s Heart Of Darkness for his opening episode. Heart Of Darkness was Conrad’s most famous work and it may be said his reputation has been founded on it. A sensation when published it is or was still widely read today.
The opening scene takes place at the Stanley Pool where the Congo begins its descent from the plateau. Perhaps the post was the nascent Stanleyville. Werper commits his crime then flees into the jungle where he is captured by the Arab Achmet Zek/Tippu Tib.
The Belgian and the Arab are two of a kind forming a natural partnership with Zek being the senior partner. Zek may have been able to carry on his depredations without hindrance except for the Great White Lord of the jungle, Tarzan. Thus Burroughs rectifies the situation in his imagination. Prior to Werper Zek had no way to reach the Big Bwana but with the European Werper he has an entree.
Jane, of course, will be captured to be taken to the North to Algiers or Tunis to be sold into a Moslem harem. That would have been a nifty trick from the Congo to the Mediterranean. The walk alone might have taken a year or more.
So, as the chapter ends the plan is to kill Tarzan giving Zek a free hand and capture Jane.
Chapter two ‘On The Road To Opar’ introduces what will be a recurrent theme in Tarzan’s life- insolvency. In this case the Big Fella has made a bad investment, not unlike Burroughs’ habit, and been wiped out. Being now impoverished he has to recruit a new fortune by taking several hundred pounds of gold from the vaults of Opar.
Tarzan justifies himself:
…the chances are that they inhabitants of Opar will never know that I have been there again and despoiled them of another portion of the treasure, the very existence of which they are as ignorant of as they would be of its value.
Thus, the Zen question, are you stealing from someone if you take what they don’t know they have or its value somewhere else? I would be interested in ERBs justification of what seems to be a felony. After all Tarzan isn’t going to show up with a brassband and waving banners; he’s going to sneak in and out hopefully unnoticed. It’s too late to ask now.
The raid on Opar may have reflected ERB’s financial condition after 1913-14′s stay in San Diego. He had to write another Tarzan novel to recoup his finances.
As Tarzan is about to leave, Zek and Werper have concocted their plan. Werper is to gain admittance to the household under guise of being a lost great white hunter and prepare the way for Zek. Werper posing as the Frenchman Frecoult overhears Tarzan and Jane discussing Opar quickly realizing there is more at stake here than killing Tarzan and selling a White woman into a Sheik’s harem in the North.
He warns Zek while following Tarzan on the road to Opar.
Chapter 3 is titled The Call Of The Jungle. As On The Road To Opar reflects Baum’s Oz stories so the Call Of The Jungle resonates rather well with Jack London’s Call Of The Wild. the jungle that Tarzan inhabits is a wonderful place, no bugs, no mosquitoes. In Africa the land of fevers that would still be unknown if Europeans had not invaded the continent Tarzan never has one. We know that ERB read Stanley. That explorer speaks of no romance of the jungle. For him it was a dark dank horrible place he couldn’t get out of fast enough. He not only suffered terrible fevers but so did everyone else. Yet in Burroughs’ imagination the jungle becomes a paradise.
Perhaps that might reflect thte lost paradise of America conquered by industrialism and cities. Perhaps in its way it represents the White City of the Columbian Exposition as opposed to the Black City of industrial Chicago. Idaho vs. Chicago; something of that order.
Now hungry Tarzan kills a deer with his favored bare hands method plunging Dad’s knife deep into its heart. Dad’s knife and plunging it into the heart of its victim. There’s an image. ERB had a terrible relationship with his father. Perhaps he visualized the relationship as his father killing him with heartaches. Haven’t actually worked out the meaning yet. Interrupted by a lion he retreats to a tree with a haunch between his strong white teeth. Another sexual image. Now, here we have another psychological problem. Tarzan is a very unforgiving guy, petty even. Having been disturbed in his dinner which surely must have been a frequent occurrence in the jungle, he is not going to let the lion eat his kill in peace. Up in his convenient tree he finds another tree nearby bearing hard fruit. Not the soft mushy kind but hard. He bombards the lion until it leaves the kill.
The lion slinks off after his own game, a lone African witch doctor. Tarzan doesn’t care if the lion kills the African but just as his dinner was disrupted he wants to punish the lion by depriving him of his. So just as the lion mauls the African Tarzan jumps on the lion’s back and kills him merely for interrupting the Big Guy’s dinner. You know, that’s capital punishment for a very minor offence. This is a little excessive to my mind.
What does it say about ERB’s own state of mind? Was he also unforgiving and draconian in his revenges? ERB himself mostly stood in his relationships as the African to the lion. There is a certain irony in the symbol of MGM being Leo The Lion. In his last major confrontation with MGM, Leo mauled ERB pretty badly. There was no room left for revenge in that struggle.
The mauled witch doctor had appeared in Tarzan Of The Apes. He recognized Tarzan but was unrecognized by the latter.
In his youth he would slain the witch-doctor without the slightest compuncition, but civilization had had its softening effect on him even as it does upon the natives and races which it touches though it had not gone far enough with Tarzan to render him either cowardly or effeminate.
From this we may infer that ERB believed Europeans and Americans to have become effeminate and cowardly. Perhaps so.
The witch doctor reminds him of Mbonga’s village of the old days when they made Tarzan the god Munango-Keewati and now he makes a prophecy:
…I shall reward you. I am a great witch-doctor. Listen to me, white man! I see bad days ahead of you…A god greater than you wil rise up and strike you down. Turn back, Munango-Keewati! Turn back before it is too late. Danger lurks ahead of you and danger lurks behind; but greater is the danger before. I see…
And then characteristically he croaks. Werper was behind and Opar ahead. But what was danger to the Big Bwana; danger was his life. Of course ERB could have been talking about himself as well. Certainly by this time ERB must have realized that success and fame was going to be no bed of roses. He needed more money to continue his new life style. Could he get it now that his first spurt was finished. He had been warned by his editor Metcalf that most pulp writers had success for a couple years but then exhausted their sources. He must have feared that he was already there.
A new period of anxiety loomed before him, probably debt behind. As Tarzan is about to lose his memory, stress may have been addling ERB’s brain. Nevertheless impelled by necessity- onward.
Part II in another post.
August 2, 2009
Two, Three And Four Dimensional Burroughs
George McWhorter, the headmaster of our school, published a couple of very interesting letters in the Burroughs Bulletin, New Series #79, Summer 2009 issue.
In the first letter a Leo Baker from Nova Scotia proposed an idea to ERB. Burroughs gave a very interesting reply:
On March 16, 1920, I started a story along similar lines based on a supposed theory of angles rather than planes. If we viewed our surrundings from our own “angle of experience,” the aspect of the vibrations which are supposed to consitute both matter and thought were practically identical with those pervceived by all the creatures of the world that we know, whereas, should our existence have been cast in another angle, everything would be different, including the flora and fauna and the physical topography of the world.
The thought underlying the story was that wherefrom, viewed thus from a different angle, the vibrations that are matter took on an entirely different semblance, so that where before we had seen oceans, we might now see mountains, plains and rivers inhabited by creatures that might be identical with those which we had hithertoo been familiar, or might vary diametrically.
You see that it was a crazy story….
Now, Burroughs was a child of his times. Part of those times were some very remarkable speculative works by a remarkable thinker, Camille Flammarion. In his work Lumen for instance he demonstrates the non-existence of time. We know that ERB read Flammarion. We know that Burroughs went to lengths to demonstrate the non-existence of time. He may have drawn his own conclusions but as he read Flammarion say, by 1900, the notion at least was deposited in his mind where subconsciously it came to fruition prompted by Einstein no doubt. There were a couple other imaginative scientific writers of the late nineteenth century that my Burroughs studies led to me read. As has been said of old: When the student is ready the teacher will appear. I suppose I was ready and I read. Having read them they resonated quite strongly of ERB’s work but without anything other than ‘resonances’ to go on I didn’t dare suggest the ERB might have read them.
Other than Flammarion the two works I have in mind are Edwin Abbott’s Flatland: A Romance Of Many Dimensions and Charles Howard Hinton’s Scientific Romances. Flatland was published in 1884, Scientific Romances undoubtedly inspired by Flatland appeared in 1886. Flatland is still a famous if recondite book while Hinton is less well known.
Both works deal with lines and angles in a manner that as ERB suggests is ‘crazy.’ One has an unreal feeling in reading the books. Either ERB felt the same of his story or he was so close to Abbott and Hinton that he desisted. One notes, however, that his description of his 1920 story is very close to his Pellucidar stories and it was Pellucidar that was brought to my mind while reading Hinton and Abbott. ERB notices a theory of angles rather than planes combined with ‘vibrations.’ This suggests a continuing interest intitally excited by Abbott and Hinton combined with the originator of the theory of vibrations. The last is unkown to me at present.
While there are many who believe there is no intellectual depth to Burroughs I find a great deal of mounting evidence to suggest he was very interested in the intellectual and scientific ideas of his time and, indeed, built his entire corpus around them.
Both Hinton and Abbott are readily available, as well as Flammarion, if anyone want to join in a discussion.
August 1, 2009
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
Beau Geste~Beau Sabreur~Beau Ideal
Review Of Beau Sabreur
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.