The Connection Between The Sabres of Paradise and Dune? Spotlight

dune frank herbert sabres of paradise lesley blanch bookblast spotlight

More and more articles about the connection between The Sabres of Paradise and Dune are appearing online. Direct film adaptations provide the biggest boost to the popularity of a book and its sales, so Dune is doubtless doing very well indeed. But what about books based on other books that were famous at the time they were written and first published?

The Sabres of Paradise by Lesley Blanch was published in 1960 and Dune by Frank Herbert was published in 1965. Lesley Blanch was, arguably, a household name on both sides of the Atlantic at the time, whereas half a century on, she has become a cult figure and is largely forgotten or overlooked by the mainstream.

THE SABRES OF PARADISE is the story of two worlds (two faiths, two societies, two continents) brought into sudden juxtaposition, when Chechnya was fighting to keep its independence against 19th-century Tsarist Russia. Lesley Blanch was editing scripts for the great Hollywood director George Cukor while writing it, and some of the scenes in her book are pure high-octane drama on the page.

Will Collins opens his piece for The Los Angeles Review of Books The Secret History of Dune with the statement that “Frank Herbert’s Dune is a science-fiction classic in part because it’s such brilliant pastiche. Drawing inspiration from the mid-century United States’ nascent environmental movement, European feudalism, Middle Eastern oil politics, and Zen Buddhism, Herbert created a universe that is at once exotic and familiar. Not all of the book’s success is a result of inspired borrowing, but much of the richness and depth in Herbert’s imagined future of religious fanaticism and aristocratic intrigue can be traced to its creator’s talent for appropriation . . . ”

Jordan Potter in his piece The Sabres of Paradise: The book that inspired Frank Herbert’s Dune for Far Out Magazine writes: “We can all agree that Herbert’s original book was a tour de force responsible for a barrowload of entertainment over the past six decades. David Lynch, who directed the first movie adaptation of Dune in 1984, and Villeneuve have endeavoured to, and in many ways succeeded, in honouring Herbert’s legacy as a towering force in 20th-century literature. But we have one other author to thank . . .”

Others continue in a similar vein . . . as follows: 

Review of Tom Huddleston’s The Worlds of Dune: The Places and Cultures that Inspired Frank Herbert by Dr Kennedy for Dune Scholar which publishes accessible, research-based analysis of Frank Herbert’s Dune series and other science fiction topics.

Steve Wasserman, publisher at Heyday, and a former editor-at-large for Yale University Press; editorial director of Times Books/Random House; publisher of Hill & Wang; and The Noonday Press at Farrar, Straus & Giroux, wrote on Facebook that The Sabres of Paradise is “a remarkable story of resistance to empire, heroism and treachery, savagery and generosity, religious fanaticism and imperial ambition.”

Blogger and avid reader Roger Parkinson writes: “This another not-exactly-a-book-review. The book is The Sabres of Paradise by Lesley Blanch, and it is also Dune by Frank Herbert, because I’m interested in the relationship between the two.”

And an enthusiastic reader writes on reddit:

“Frank Herbert was obsessed with an otherwise little-known biography called The Sabres of Paradise. Its influence shines through in his work, and fans of Dune should know it.

“Dune is a titanic work. Its themes are grand in scale: the weight of history, man and fate, mystical immanence, ethnogenesis and environment, holy war and fanaticism, degradation and nobility. Frank Herbert – despite his genius – couldn’t have produced such a work without drawing upon the stories of men and civilizations that came before. One of those stories is that of Shamyl, terror of the Russian Empire, which Herbert was heavily inspired by.

“Shamyl’s life was lived in the peaks of Dagestan and Chechnya, where a warrior people resisted the advancing Russian Empire. Their desperate violence became the Murid Wars, a name taken from Shamyl’s fighters: Muslim tribesmen and fanatical monks known as Murids, and their leaders, the Naibs. No Naib was ever taken alive.

What The Lord of the Rings is to fantasy, Dune is to science fiction, and The Sabres of Paradise is to historical fiction

“The great chronicle of the wars of Shamyl is Lesley Blanch’s 1960 The Sabres of Paradise, which Herbert read in the years leading up to Dune‘s release. It’s a long and somewhat meandering work, but readers that are obsessed with Dune, like myself, will find certain passages terribly exciting, and will recognise all the aspects that Herbert drew upon in his own writing. I could go on at great length about the gems to be discovered in this work! Very curious if anyone else has read it. It’s 500 pages with a fair amount of tangential asides, but for anyone that wants to discover the most relevant and exciting sections, I wrote a short piece here – please do check it out.”

So what are some of the parallels between Dune and The Sabres of Paradise, in brief?

Lesley Blanch’s biography of Shamyl focuses on the Caucasian Wars of Independence, when the mountain tribes of Daghestan and Chechnya united under the charismatic leadership of Imam Shamyl, strengthened by the desire for an independent Caucasus and their religious faith. She delves into the intricate cultural and historical background of the region. Frank Herbert was known for his meticulous world-building in Dune, creating a richly detailed universe with its own cultures, religions, and histories.

The Caucasus region during the 19th century was marked by political intrigue and conflict, as various powers vied for control. Similarly, Dune is filled with political machinations and power struggles, notably over the control of the desert planet Arrakis and its most precious resource, spice. Certain character archetypes in Dune may have been influenced by Lesley Blanch’s portrayal of historical figures.

Dune is known for its exploration of ecological and environmental themes, notably the desert planet of Arrakis and its fragile ecosystem. Although The Sabres of Paradise is mainly focused historical and cultural aspects, Blanch indulges in vivid descriptions of the dramatic and grandiose Caucasus landscape and its relationship with the people who lived there.

Abdul Ivan wrote in The New Yorker when The Sabres of Paradise was originally published, “As the years passed and the Tsar’s frustration continued, Shamyl became a European hero. Russophobic  Britons forgave the raider his five wives – one of them a Christian captive, well content with her lot – and honoured him by dancing the Shamyl Schottische.” Volodymyr Zelensky’s popularity has skyrocketed in the West, following Russia’s full-scale invasion of Ukraine: history repeating itself, albeit in a different context?

Both books are a glorious read. So go for it! 

Review of The Sabres of Paradise by Philip Marsden

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Georgia de Chamberet is her god-daughter and literary executor. 

The Estate of Lesley Blanch is represented by Peters Fraser & Dunlop

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