How ‘The Sabre Of Paradise’ Inspired Dune
Frank Herbert’s Dune itself has inspired a lot of material across various mediums. But what about Dune itself? The following article will briefly delve into the life of Lesley Blanch and compare the 1960s book ‘The Sabre of Paradise’ and analyse the influence of the material on the terminologies and stories behind the original Dune book.
Lesley Blanch was born in the British Empire in 1904, survived two world wars and also lived to experienced the 21st century. During her younger years, a family member would tell her about his travels, mainly Russia, which would eventually lead to a surge of interest in her desire to visit the empire. In 1934, she worked as a scenic and costumer designer with a Russian director at the New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She represented England as part of the Theatre Art International Exhibition. In 1935, she worked with British Vogue in regards to reviewing movies, books, theatre works and the people, including Britons at war on behalf of the Minister of Information. She later married a French navigator Romain Gary, which allowed her to travel various countries, such as the Balkans of (Stalinist) Russia, Paris of France and Berne of Switzerland. This allowed them to travel to even more countries, such as Turkey, Mexico and the other countries of Central America as well as North Africa.
This cumulative experience has allowed her to begin her book career. She has influenced an entire generations of writers and readers with a memorable range of published books, including the likes of the 1954s Wilder Shores of Love, 1968s Journey Into The Minds Eyes, 1983s Pierre Loti and of course the 1960s The Sabre Of Paradise.
The Sabres Of Paradise
The latter book was no doubt influenced by her travels to the respective countries. The story takes place between 1834 and 1859. It details the story of an Islamic holy struggle against Russian Imperialism from the eyes of Imam Shamyl, who is also known as “The Lion of Dagestan”. She described the experience as “the book I was meant to do in my life”. This should not be surprising either, as she already had interest in these subjects from a young age, thanks to her parents. Her father would sing “I’ll Sing Thee Songs of Araby and Tales of Far Kashmir”.
My mother would read The Koran for breakfast in bed which she found very stimulating. My father would read Daniel Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year because he said the descriptions were so ghastly it made daily life seem so much more agreeable. I would be in my room getting ready for school and reading Carlyle’s History of the French Revolution; I had a thing about tumbrils and all that. It was not exactly a conventional household. Of course school [St Paul’s] was a letdown. — Lesley Blanch
The rest of the article will detail specific elements which Frank Herbert derived for Dune from the Lesley Blanch book.
In The Sabres Of Paradise, the hunting language of the Caucasians were known as Chakobsa, also known as Shikwoshi. Chakobsa is also the name of the language of the galactic diasporoa in Dune, being developed from the Bhutani hunting language. In Blanch’s book, the word “Kanly” refers to a blood feud between the various Islamic tribes of the Caucasus, whereas Kanly refers to a formal announcement of a feud between two nobles houses of the Landsraad within the compliance of The Great Convention in the Duniverse.
Also, The Sabres of Paradise describes the provincial governors of the Russian Empire as ‘Siridar’. This is quite similar to Dune, where Siridar refers to the planetary governers. The word itself might possibly be of Arabic origin from the word “As-Sadar”, which means ‘the voice’. It could also have been borrowed from the Persian word Sirdar/Sardar, which refers to military or political leader.
The Islamic Soldiers of the Caucasus also used a personal double-edged knife-weapon known as “Kindjal”, which were also sometimes used in duel. In the Duniverse, the Kindjal was used by various noble houses, including by the great Duke Leto Atreides.
Furthermore, Imam Shamyl described the Russian leader as ‘Padishah’. In Dune, the ruler of the known universe is known as the ‘Padishah Emperor’. In real life, this terminology originated from Ottoman and Persian customs, where the Sultans and Shahs of these respective empires were referred to as such. In 1774, the Ottoman Empire lost the war against the Russian Empire which lead to the signing of the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca. This contract stipulated the Ottomans to refer to the empress Catherine The Great and all future all rulers of Russia with the title ‘Padishah’.
Lesley Blanch refers to the land of Caucasus to be filled with “eagle-faced warriors”, with Imam Shamyl being described as having “handsome eagle features”. In Dune, the Atreides sigil is a symbol of a hawk. The green and black features of the sigil also likely was influenced by Lesley Blanch: Green represents Islam and Black represents the Murids, the Islamic warriors who promised to fight Russian imperialism to their death.
Lesley Blanch’s story of a religious warrior organisation rebelling against a greater enemy is highly reminiscent of the Fremen, the native of the desert, rebelling against the Imperium in Dune. Of course, this story is not unique to Blanch’s book, but it shows how much influence this book had on Dune. This rebellion is also highly reminiscent of a T.E. Lawrence leading the desert people to rebel against the Ottoman empire. The 1924s With Lawrence in Arabia, which was later adapted into a 1962 film, has also been identified as an influence.
In Dune, the name of the villain is Russian-derived. The Baron Vladimir Harkonnen is seen as a ruthless and a violent degenerate. Whilst one might assume this to be a product of the cold war, since Dune was published in 1965 after all, there’s a reasonable chance this might be simply due to the Russian antagonist in the eyes of Imam Shamyl from Blanch’s book.
The Sabre of Paradise and Dune both have a lot more similarities:
In regards to swordfighting, Lesley Blanch says:
To kill with the point lacked artistry. — Lesley Blanch
In Dune, there is a very similar dialogue when Gurney Halleck is training Paul Atreides:
Killing with the tip lacks artistry. — Frank Herbert
A recorded Caucasian proverb by Lesley Blanch states:
Polish comes from the city, wisdom from the hills — Lesley Blanch
This was in reference to the geography of the Caucasian rebels. This is altered in Dune to say:
Polish comes from the cities, wisdom from the desert. — Frank Herbert
This was in regards to the inhabitants of the planet Arrakis.
There were some levels of poetry which Frank Herbert borrowed from Lesley Blanch:
O mountains of Gounib,
O soldiers of Shamyl,
Shamyl’s citadel was full of warriors,
Yet it has fallen, fallen forever … — Lesley Blanch
O Seas of Caladan,
O people of Duke Leto —
Citadel of Leto fallen,
Fallen forever. . .
-from “Songs of Muad’Dib” by the Princess Irulan — Frank Herbert
Frank Herbert also copied direct passages from The Sabres Of Paradise:
‘O! You who know what we suffer here, do not forget us in your prayers.’ It was the voices of those other Georgian captives, soldiers and people of no consequence, who had not been ransomed and would never again see their homeland. — Lesley Blanch
The words of the inscription were a plea to those leaving Arrakis, but they fell with dark import on the eyes of a boy who had just escaped a close brush with death. They said: “O you who know what we suffer here, do not forget us in your prayers. —Frank Herbert
They also used religious sayings from the saying of the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH), although I was unable to find the direct source. Lesley Blanch states:
When Allah hath ordained a creature to die in a particular place, he causeth his wants to direct him to that place. — Lesley Blanch
This is similar to Frank Herbert’s book:
When God hath ordained a creature to die in a particular place, He causeth that creature’s wants to direct him to that place. — Frank Herbert
The Lesley Blanch version was also quoted in Arabian Society in the Middle Ages: Studies From the Thousand and one Nights by Edward William Lane.
The central characters of Paul Atreides of Dune and Imam Shamyl of The Sabers of Paradise were both introduced in similar says, including their respective timelines of the source materials:
Thus, in writing of Shamyl, we must place him first in his time − the first half of the nineteenth century, and then in his place − the mountains — The Sabres of Paradise
To begin your study of the life of Muad’Dib, then, take care that you first place him in his time: born in the 57th year of the Padishah Emperor, Shaddam IV. And take the most special care that you locate Muad’Dib in his place: the planet Arrakis — Dune
Two central figures from both of the books end up passing away. The legacy of their detail appears to be described in quite a similar way:
There had been a legend in the mountains, that on the night of Shamyl’s death a strange light was seen in the sky. — The Sabre of Paradise
There is a legend that the instant the Duke Leto Atreides died a meteor streaked across the skies above his ancestral palace on Caladan. — Dune
HBO Max are adapting the prequel book Sisterhood Of Dune, which is currently in development. Last year, co-showrunner Dana Calvo uploaded an image of books which will serve as a source of inspiration behind the material. At the centre of the image underneath the Dune book, it says “Lesley Blanch”. Judging by the design cover shown previously in this article, this is indeed the The Sabre Of Paradise.
The other materials in the above image include the 1891s Gypsy Sorcery and Fortune Telling, 1965s Dune, 1987s The Upanishads, 1995s The Essentials of Rumi, 1997s Essential Sufism and 2001s Classics of Zen and Buddhism.
[This Article Contains Affiliated Hyperlinks — 11/07/2020]