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.