A Review: Antlantida by Pierre Benoit

April 1, 2017

La Maison de la Derniere Cartouche

Maison

A Contribution To The ERB

Library Project

A Review: Atlantida

By Pierre Benoit

Review by R.E. Prindle

Pierre Benoit’s excellent novel Atlantida: The Queen Of Atlantis was first published in 1919. Written in French it was translated in 1920 so it is possible that Burroughs read it. There is a possible reference to the book in Tarzan the Invincible, I’ll get to that later. Benoit himself was accused of ‘plagiarizing’ H. Rider Haggard but he defended himself by saying he neither read nor spoke English while Haggard was not translated into French as of 1919.

It matters little as Benoit, Haggard and Burroughs all knew their Greek mythical heritage and all seem to be addressing the male-female conflict from the same intellectual approach derived from that mythology. And they all placed their stories in Africa, a burning question of the day.

The heroine of Benoit’s novel, Antinea, is an irresistible woman along the lines of Haggards She and Homer’s Circe, and Burroughs’ La. All three women rule over lost lands. Antinea lures Aryan men to her to her palace carved from a mountain of the Ahaggar range.

The Ahaggar range, Ahagger is Taureg, the Arabic is Hoggar, is located almost in the middle of the Sahara at what is now the Southern extremity of Algeria. Its highest peak is nearly 10,000 feet in elevation, the whole massif of a half million square kilometers being at the same elavation as Denver, a mile high. Boiling summers and freezing winters and fair moisture.

Antinea having lured the men entrances them and when they no longer amuse her she embalms them alive in a unique metal called Orichalch. Thus, they are preserved forever as they were in life. An advance on all other methods. The question is why does she do this?

The answer is explained by Benoit’s character Mesge:

“Now you know,” he repeated. “You know, but you do not understand.”

Then, very slowly, he said:

“You are as they have been the prisoners of Antinea. And vengeance is due Antinea.”

“Vengeance?” said Morhange…For what, I beg to ask? What have the lieutenant and I done to Atlantis? How have we incurred her hatred?”

It is an old quarrel, a very old quarrel.” The Professor replied gravely. “A quarrel which long antedates you, M. Morhange.”

“Explain yourself, I beg of you, Professor.”

“You are a Man. She is a Woman…the whole matter lies there.”

“Really, sir, I do not see…we do not see.”

“You are going to understand. Have you really forgotten to what an extent the beautiful queens of antiquity had just cause to complain of strangers whom fortune brought to their borders? The poet, Victor Hugo, pictured their detestable acts well enough in his colonial poem called la Fille d’ Otaiti. Wherever we look we see similar examples of fraud and ingratitude. These gentlemen made free use of the beauty and the riches of the lady.   Then, one fine morning, they disappeared. She was indeed lucky if her lover, having observed the position carefully did not return with ships and troops of occupation….Think of the cavalier fashion in which Ulysses treated Calypso, Diomedes Callirrhoe. What should I say of Theseus and Ariadne? Jason treated Medea with inconceivable lightness…”

And so on. Thus on page 114 of 229 Benoit explains the nature of his story. Bear in mind that of Circe and Ulysses in which Circe enslaves all the men who approach her and turns them into swine by lust while Ulysses with a pocket full of mole to defend himself resists her charms, maintains his manhood, rescues his sailors and sails away. So, while there are great similarities between Benoit’s, Haggard’s and Burrough’s stories they could easily derive from the same sources; variations on a theme. Of course, Burrough’s La is derived from Haggard’s She. But La is closer to Antinea in method than She. La’s job in Opar is to sacrifice men on the bloody altar. La is also from Atlantis. And all three share the glorious tradition of being too beautiful to resist.

Benoit himself the son of a French diplomat grew up in Tunisia and Algeria where he became acquainted with the desert and its legends. Thus, his story is an authentic addition to the great stories of the African explorers and the fictions of Haggard, Burroughs, Edgar Wallace, Mrs. Hull, P.C. Wren and others.

Benoit charmingly writes his story as current history rather than fiction without any framing story. He includes the Emperor Louis Napoleon and others as well as showing himself familiar with the latest Parisian designers and bon ton retail establishments. He mentions a painting titled La Maison Des Derniers Cartouches which can be found on internet and with which I have headed the review. Translated it means The House of the Last Bullet. I’m sure all his Parisian references are real but they have slipped through the crack of time had have not found a place on the internet.

In this case there is a Captain Avis who is believed to have murdered his fellow, Capt. Morhange and hence is in bad odor. This is the mystery that holds the story together. We learn later how Morhange died. Avit is transferred to a desert post, indeed demanded the transfer, managed by Lieutenant Ferrieres who is about to embark on a mission passing the Ahaggar massif.

Algeria. Sahara Desert. Ahaggar Mountains. Atakor Massif.

Ahaggar Plateau

At the post Saint Avis tells Ferrieres of his strange adventure in the Ahaggar Mountains with Capt. Morhange during which Morhange perishes. The African scenery is different than any of the authors mentioned and the setting is quite spectacular.

Morhange and Avit are caught in a freak storm on the slopes of the Ahaggar, and apparently these are not uncommon on the massif, where they rescued a Taureg from drowning who happens to be the procurer of European men for Antinea. The two soldiers are procured and delivered to the Atlantian Queen.

Somewhat very similar to scenes from Haggard’s She they are conducted to a great room or hall where fifty some embalmed former lovers stand in niches. The truth descends on our sexual warriors.

Morhange who, being the more handsome and impressive of the two, finds favor with the Queen of Atlantis also, not unlike Ulysses and Circe, is proof to her blandishments and beauty. What he had is his pocket isn’t mentioned. His refusal eventually enrages Antinea. Without going into details, Antinea hypnotizes Avit into taking her large silver hammer with which she bangs her gong and giving Morhange such a good bash it cracks the man’s skull to pieces. Thus she solves her problem of being rejected by Morhange.

A digression here. Benoit here shows off is knowledge. Amazingly I was able to get it. In Paris at the time there was a theatre called The Grand Guignol. It was a place of horrors, a sadists delight, at which all kinds of gruesome murders, mutilations and disfigurations were enacted. Apparently the scenes were so realistic that the faint hearted actually fainted and a doctor was kept on the premises to deal with these frequent occurrences. Now, a guignol is something like a puppets booth. Benoit has Avit climb into a guignol in Antinea’s boudoir where he watches the horror of Morhange being dismissed after which Antinea calls his down, hypnotizes him, hands him the silver hammer, directs him to Morhange’s room and watches as Avit cracks his friend’s skull. The horror, the horror. So Benoit demonstrates he is au courant with Paris’ entertainments.

Avit then turns to thoughts of escape. Here Benoit displays a certain genius in moving his story along.

Antinea had a slave girl named Tanit Zerga who became enamored of Avit and also wishes to escape to return to her people. She organizes the escape attempt. As it turns out she is a princess also, of the Trarzan Moors on the North side of the Senegal River. Bear in mind that everything mentioned in the story is real except the story itself. The Trarzan Moors exist to this day and of course the Senegal is one of the great rivers of Africa. The history is within the realm of fact. Only the story and its leading characters are fiction. Benoit does not spare the reader his knowledge. The man has been around.

The pair are assisted by the procurer rescued by Avit in the storm. He is quite willing to help because he tells Avit he will be back, no one who has ever known Antinea can escape her charms. All the victims in the hall had died of love.

Here’s a Burroughs connection indicating he may have read the book. Tanit Zerga resembles Nao, the fourteen year old girl who rescues Wayne Colt in Tarzan the Invincible only to be discarded coldly as were the heroines mentioned. It would be pushing it too far to claim Burroughs did read the book but he often got his scenes and incidents from other authors so I’m about three fourths convinced.

At any rate Tanit Zerga dies in the desert carrying on Benoit’s theme of women making sacrifices for ungrateful men.

The story then returns to the Foreign Legion camp of Ferrieres as he and Saint Avit are to make a trip across the desert passing the Ahaggar massif. As prophesied, to know Antinea is to love her forever, and her lovers all died from love, so he intends to return to the Ahaggar’s and his certain death. Whether Ferrieres will accompany him is left open.

The book was a slow starter but one is gradually swept along almost as a participant as the storm increases. A very exciting conclusion. Benoit’s is a very worthy book for Bibliophiles. If it wasn’t in Burroughs’ library it must have been through neglect or loss. Highly recommended.

Pierre Benoit 1932

300px-Pierre_Benoit_1932

One Response to “A Review: Antlantida by Pierre Benoit”

  1. reprindle Says:

    Thanks for the like Diz.

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