Simon Templar and the War Books Boom

A while back I speculated on whether Simon Templar – “The Saint” had fought in the war, and came to the conclusion, based on the first “Saint” novel, Meet – the Tiger, that he might have done, or at least that Charteris surrounded him with military imagery.

The third “Saint” book to be published (if you don’t count issues of the Thriller magazine, which I have not looked at) was Enter a Hero (Magazine publication 1929. Book publication, 1930.), which suggests differently.

In this book, Templar comes across British government scientists testing a lethal electrified-gas-cloud super-weapon. Concerned that such a lethal device might get into the wrong hands, Templar gives a caustic account of how wars start. His sidekick Roger Conway protests “But people would never stand for another war so soon. Every country is disarming – ”

The Saint interrupts with:

Bluffing with everything they know, and hoping that one day someone’ll be taken in. And every nation scared stiff of the rest, and ready to arm again at any notice. The people never make or want a war – it’s sprung on them by the statesmen with the business interests behind them, and somebody writes a “We-Don’t-Want-to-Lose-you-but-We-Think-You-Ought-to-Go” song for the brass bands to play , and millions of poor fools go out and die like heroes without ever being quite sure what it’s all about. It’s happened before. Why shouldn’t it happen again?

This is the futility-of -war thesis put at its strongest – definitely not the sort of thing you’d find in a thriller before 1928. But after this outburst, another sidekick objects that people may have learnt their lesson. With “an impatient gesture”, Templar replies:

Do people learn lessons like that so easily? The men who could teach them are a past generation now. How many are left who are young enough to convince our generation? And even if we are on the crest of a wave of literature about the horrors of war, do you think that cuts any ice? I tell you, I’ve listened till I’m tired to people of our own age discussing those books and plays – and I know they cut no ice at all. It’d be a miracle if they did. The mind of a healthy young man is too optimistic. It leaps to the faintest hint of glory, and finds it easy to forget whole seas of ghastliness. And I’ll tell you more…

What he tells them takes them all into another far-fetched swashbuckling plot, of course, but Charteris has made his point about wars and romanticism.

Charteris himself was born in 1907 – so was settling into his lifelong “Saint” series at the age of just twenty-two. In Meet – the Tiger he had put Templar’s age at twenty-nine, just old enough to have fought, and many of his hero’s attributes are copied from the most famous of ex-soldier thriller heroes, Bulldog Drummond; even Templar’s excessive facetiousness in the face of danger is a crib of a villain-annoying tactic of Drummond’s. In this third book, Charteris is distancing his hero from the ex-soldiers of “Sapper”, andTemplar is re-positioned as one of the younger generation – but as one who sympathises with the members of the older generation who are trying to tell the young the grim truths about war.  Perhaps this speech shows Charteris’s own conflict. He was a writer of romances (and unlike “Sapper” never tried to write anything else, so far as I can tell) but in 1930 has become aware that he lives in an age where romances can be dangerous. Maybe, like many young men of his time,  he’s read All Quiet and seen Journey’s End, and wants to at least pay homage to their power, and in his own way to spread the word.

17 Comments

  1. Jim Cornelius
    Posted November 2, 2008 at 3:21 pm | Permalink

    Just discovered this blog. Excellent! I am quite interested in the Great War in all it’s aspects and will be a frequent visitor.

  2. Posted November 3, 2008 at 10:35 am | Permalink

    The third Saint book was actually called “Enter the Saint”…

  3. Posted November 3, 2008 at 11:25 am | Permalink

    Enter the Saint and The Last Hero were both published in 1930. I’ve seen them placed in different order in different lists.
    Both were based on stories published originally in Thriller magazine. I’m going to try to look at Thriller for 1929-30 to work out exactly what came first – and to see if the remarks about the War were there in the original magazine publication.

  4. Posted November 7, 2008 at 4:42 pm | Permalink

    The Last Hero is based on stories from Thriller no. 23 and no. 40 (July 1929 and November 1929 respectively)

    Enter the Saint is based on stories from Thriller no. 13 (May 1929), no. 29 (August 1929) and no. 37 (OCtober 1929)

    Ian

  5. Posted November 7, 2008 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

    Ian –
    Thanks for the issue numbers. The Bodleian Library only has Nos. 1-16, but I’ll be going to the British library soon, and I think that they have a pretty complete run.

  6. Posted November 30, 2008 at 9:25 am | Permalink

    I’ve now checked The Thriller for June 1929,and the speech about “those books and plays” is not in “The Creeping Death”, the main story from which “The Last Hero” was adapted, though some of the conversation about war is included.

    That figures. Assuming a two-month gap between writing and publication of the “Thriller” story, it would have been finished before the big fuss about “All Quiet” after its publication in late April 1929. By the time Charteris adapted his stories to make the novel, later in the year, the war books would indeed have been a topic of conversation among “people of our own age”.

  7. Eric
    Posted January 7, 2009 at 9:30 pm | Permalink

    I read a Saint short story by Charteris from the 1940s recently, that strongly suggested Simon was doing some work for the British and American intelligence services during the war.

    This story was in a collection of espionage fiction I picked up at B&N. I will try to find the title of Charteris’s story for you. In it, Simon is traveling along the gulf coast to Galveston, Texas (hunting Nazi spies) when he comes across a a burned corpse on the side of the road. Does anyone recognize the story from the synopsis?

  8. PB210
    Posted October 15, 2009 at 1:03 am | Permalink

    The novel The Saint in New York has a dossier with the Saint’s age, which placed him at 33 or so in the Saint in New York in 1934.

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Saint_in_New_York

  9. Paul Fauber
    Posted October 19, 2010 at 11:09 pm | Permalink

    Souls,

    Above, Eric references a story in which the Saint encounters a man burning in the road near Galveston, This story is called “The Sizzling Saboteur” and appears in “The Saint On Guard”. The book’s introduction indicates the events referenced actually occurred, but nowhere near Galveston.

  10. Malcolm
    Posted October 21, 2013 at 5:58 pm | Permalink

    Anyone interested in first world war literature would be well advised to examine the writings of Henry Williamson.

  11. Malcolm
    Posted October 22, 2013 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

    As a further comment on Great War novels, I’d like to suggest “Winged Victory” by V.M.Yeates. In my opinion this is the finest description of combat flying in W.W.1 and one of the best books using war as its background.

  12. Posted October 23, 2013 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Years ago, I corresponded with Leslie Charteris (Yee). At no time did he mention or even suggest to me that he had served in World War One. During that era, it seems he was living in Singapore, with his Chinese father and English mother.

    Perhaps the finest novels about the Great War were written by Henry Williamson. His “Wet Flanders Plain” (1929), and “The Patriot’s Progress (1930) are vivid, as are his monumental semi-autobiographical 15-book series “A Chronicle of Ancient Sunlight.”

    • Posted October 24, 2013 at 9:49 am | Permalink

      Charteris was far too young to serve in the War – but like many of his generation was strongly influenced by the war books published at the end of the twenties.

  13. Carl Thiel
    Posted September 9, 2014 at 8:07 pm | Permalink

    I am aware that MEET-THE TIGER! was published by Ward, Lock in Sept 1928, but do you happen to know when (i.e., what months, perhaps) Charteris wrote it. I am attempting to ascertain whether the story is supposed to take place in 1927 or 1928.

    Very informative site, by the way!

    • Posted September 9, 2014 at 9:43 pm | Permalink

      An interesting question – but I can’t be positive about the date.

    • Posted September 10, 2014 at 5:35 am | Permalink

      “Leslie Charteris” did not serve in the First World War.


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