"Great travel writing makes no pretense of objectivity,"
September 16, 2017 1:49 PM   Subscribe

The Secret History of Dune - Islamic theology, mysticism, and the history of the Arab world clearly influenced Dune, but part of Herbert’s genius lay in his willingness to reach for more idiosyncratic sources of inspiration.

Leslie Blanch - nomad, journalist, Russophile, author, considered The Sabres Of Paradise her best work. Kirkus:
Now with The Sabres of Paradise it is the scholar that is paramount, for here is a difficult area, a relatively unknown central figure, Shamyl the Avar, religious fanatic and military genius, and the confusing, contradictory history of the interrelationship of Russia and the stubborn, almost unconquerable Caucasus. It was the Time of the Shariat, the religious law, that motivated Shamyl, who dedicated his being to holding off the infidel Russians, sustaining Mohammed. What is done in the name of religion causes one to shudder today. (After all, the world marches.) The central biographical theme is sometimes lost in the immensity of her canvas, the richness of her backgrounds, the meticulously detailed descriptions of Russian life, at court, in the armies, even in the Siberian wastes -- and the vivid setting of the Caucasus, region of extremes. There is romantic drama here- there are revealing glimpses of successive rulers, there is the intricate interplay of complex politics, ambition, fanaticism on both sides.
Guest Review | Philip Marsden | The Sabres of Paradise, Lesley Blanch
The Sabres of Paradise was first published in 1960, a hundred years after the story it recounts had ended, after the Russian conquest of the Caucasus was at last complete. Nikita Khrushchev was in the Kremlin. President Kennedy was running for the White House. Soviet power was at its height. The republics of the Caucasus were just another comer of the vast Soviet empire cowed into conformity by the brutalities of Stalin. The episode of Imam Shamyl’s thirty-year resistance to Russian expansion − perhaps the most dramatic story ever to emerge from the Caucasus (where dramatic stories are hardly in short supply) − had receded to its rightful place in ancient history. The days of small bands of mountain guerrillas raiding, hostage-taking, hiding up in the thick Chechen forests were long gone; whole divisions being tied down by such tactics was unthinkable in an age overshadowed by nuclear weapons.

Forty years on, the story looks a little different and a lot more relevant; now − post-Vietnam, post-Afghanistan, post-Soviet Union and post-September 11.
Leslie Blanch (a "Grand and eccentric writer who charted her worldwide adventures in travel and cookery books, and a single literary classic", a "wildly unconventional woman", "one of the last true grand dames of the 20th century") passed away in 2007 at the age of 102.
posted by the man of twists and turns (7 comments total) 65 users marked this as a favorite
I always knew that there were strong Islamic influences in 'Dune' in fact I gave a special class on that many years ago. Thanks for posting!
posted by Katjusa Roquette at 2:09 PM on September 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

Ha, I figured out the Blanch/Herbert connection back in 2008! Blanch is a delightful writer and the book is a lot of fun, but she's no scholar, and any particular fact should be verified elsewhere before you accept it.

> I always knew that there were strong Islamic influences in 'Dune'

Well, this is not so much Islamic influence as specifically North Caucasian influence. There is nothing Islamic about Chakobsa or kanly.
posted by languagehat at 2:49 PM on September 16, 2017 [7 favorites]

OT, but jeez, talk about synchronicity with the covers thread below this one. As a fan of The Sabres of Paradise, I was chuffed to learn that 80s no-hit wonders Haysi Fantayzee recorded a quite-interesting song with the same name 10-15 years prior. Now it's a book from 1960! A hole in my compulsive Googling.
posted by rhizome at 3:21 PM on September 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

Sigh. Another one to add to the reading list.
posted by lhauser at 7:33 PM on September 16, 2017

I read the first linked article—very interesting stuff! Thank you for sharing.
posted by Conrad Cornelius o'Donald o'Dell at 8:35 PM on September 16, 2017

Dune. Islam and psilocybin Mushrooms.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:03 AM on September 17, 2017 [1 favorite]

It has been over 40 years since I read it, but I seem to recall that Herbert's the Godmakers had a strong pseudo-Islamic (and Islamophilic) bent in at least one of its threads. Maybe one of you can correct me if I'm wrong; the google is not really helping. My memory may be clouded by the above-mentioned psilocybin mushrooms, of which I was consuming healthy amounts concurrently when I read the book.

posted by leonard horner at 4:53 PM on September 17, 2017

« Older And what did you do this week?   |   Sounds like it does on the tin. Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments