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Khaled Analysis

(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

F. Marion Crawford wrote forty-five novels, mostly cast in Italy, the United States, and Germany. His favorite was Khaled: A Tale of Arabia, which capitalizes on the popularity in the nineteenth century of fantasy literature, including The Arabian Nights Entertainments, first transcribed in the fifteenth century. Sir Richard Burtons unexpurgated, sixteen-volume translation (1885-1888) caused renewed interest. Crawford was competent to take advantage of this, as he had followed university study in England and Germany by a sojourn in 1879-1880 in India, where he edited the Indian Herald in Allahabad and also studied Sanskrit. His first novel, Mr. Isaacs: A Tale of Modern India (1882), contains an element of occultism. Other novels followed, including Zoroaster (1885), which begins with King Belshazzars feast in Babylon.

The note of fantasy is struck in Khaled at once. The hero, while a genie, hears Muhammad read from the Koran, then stands motionless for ten months in the third heaven—of precious stones—until his fate is revealed. Leading the repulse of the Shammars, he personally accounts for most of the five thousand enemy dead himself in a matter of hours. Almasta is a sorceress whose white skin, blue eyes, and red hair mark her as dangerously different from Arabian beauties. She orders a beheading, wields an undetected weapon, sings bewitchingly, and learns Arabic with surprising speed. When his chiefs disappear, Khaled is fantastically stalwart and would fight utterly alone, but he achieves his incredible victory because of two sudden advantages: the inspiration of Zehowah’s declaration of love—a talismanic password—and the emergence of a veritable army of crippled and leprous beggars led by a blind man. The climax is startling: Khaled feels the cool swoop of his angels wings, sees his own flaming soul before him, and then feels it rush into his body to grant him immortality.

In many ways, Khaled echoes elements in The Arabian Nights Entertainments. It reads as if told orally by an omniscient narrator. Scenes are presented pictorially. The plot advances with electric speed. The dialogue is poetic, archaic, stately, and often deliberately stilted. There are refrain-like repetitions; for example, graphic curses and weary lamentations about fate. Patterning is augmented by simple tropes, often concerning animals, sand, and winds. The characters in Khaled and their actions are stereotypical: the warrior hero whose worth must be tested, the rich but threatened sultan-father, the heroine combining cool beauty and suspenseful reluctance, the sensual sorceress with semimagic ways, and crafty enemies. Settings are standard: a vast desert (with horses, camels, oases, and tents), a gorgeous palace (with banquets, carpeted and dimly lighted rooms, hidden passageways, and advantageously placed windows), battlegrounds (with sandy slopes and valleys), and squalid city streets (with noisy markets and handy cellars).

Fifteen thousand copies of Khaled were printed in 1891 alone. Later that year, however, Crawford pub-lished The Witch of Prague: A Fantastic Tale, a sorceress romance reviewed so adversely that he never tried the fantasy genre again.