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I'm not sure when I first became aware of the works of Achmed Abdullah. It must have been in the early 1980s, when I first began collecting pulp magazines, and spotted this curious Arab-sounding byline in issues of Adventure. I rapidly became a fan: this Abdullah fellow could write!
Many of his stories deal with exotic locales, usually Oriental. But even his Occidental tales are of interest, well written and fast paced, often with an unexpected twist or two. I began gathering his stories whenever I spotten them, and the result was one of Wildside Press's first original collections of pulp stories: Fear and Other Tales from the Pulps, by Achmed Abdullah ... the first new collection of his work in more than 50 years. (Needless to say, I recommend it highly.)
I could go on about him, but Darrell Schweitzer's scholarship on Achmed Abdullah far exceeds by own, so I will simply quote part of his introduction to Fear:
Those who met Abdullah found him very British in speech, manner and ideas. Indeed, he had been educated at Eton and Oxford (and the University of Paris), and had served in the British Army in the Middle East, India, and China, but he was actually the son of a Russian Grand Duke, the second cousin of Czar Nicholas II. His Russian name was Alexander Nicholayevitch Romanoff (sometimes given as Romanowski). His Muslim name was Achmed Abdullah Nadir Khan el-Durani el-Iddrissyeh. While the byline "Achmed Abdullah" was easy to remember and quite exotic, it wasn't, strictly speaking, a pseudonym, and he came by itlegitimately. Admittedly "Achmed Abdullah" was more likely to sell books of Oriental adventure than "Alexander Romanoff."
Abdullah/Romanoff was born in 1881 and died in 1945. His birthplace is variously reported as Malta or Russia. What is certain is that after his army service, he embarked on a general literary career, writing novels and stories of mystery and adventure and some fantasy, with much of his work appearing in pulp magazines such as Munsey's, Argosy, and All-Story. His first novel was The Swinging Caravan (1911), followed by The Red Stain (1915), The Blue-Eyed Manchu (1916), Bucking the Tiger (1917), The Trail of the Beast (1918), The Man on Horseback (1919), The Mating of the Blades (1921), and so on, all the way up to Deliver Us From Evil (1939). He edited anthologies, including Stories for Men (1925), Lute and Scimitar (1928), and Mysteries of Asia (1935).
Among his fantasy volumes, the story collection Wings: Tales of the Psychic (1920) is most recommended by aficionados. His best-remembered and most famous work is the 1924 novelization of Douglas Fairbanks, Sr.'s film, The Thief of Bagdad. As it has been reprinted many times over the years, clearly Abdullah's Thief of Bagdad is more than a mere typing exercise. It is, after all, the novelization of a silent film, which meant the novelist had to be considerably more creative and invent most of the dialogue.
Abdullah's connection with Hollywood did not end with a novelization. He had written plays for Broadway, such as Toto (1921) and went on to do a number of screenplays, including Lives of a Bengal Lancer (1935), for which he and collaborators John Balderston and Waldemar Young shared an Academy Award. The film was based on the novel by Francis Yeats-Brown, but it is clear that Abdullah was eminently suited to the material.
THEIR OWN DEAR LAND
OMAR THE BLACK sighed--and grinned a little too--at the recollection.
"There was Esa, the chief eunuch, yelling at me," he said to his twin brother Omar the Red. "And there was Fathouma, the woman I had, if not loved, then at least left, smiling at me! Ah--I felt like a nut between two stones. Can you blame me that I sped from the place?"
He described how, with the help of crashing elbows and kicking feet, he bored through the crowd; how at a desperate headlong rush, he hurtled around a corner, a second, a third, seeking deserted alleys, while behind him, men surged into motion.
There was then pursuit, and the chief eunuch's shouts taken up in a savage chorus:
"What has he done?"
"Who cares? Did you not hear? A hundred pieces of gold to the man who stops him!"
"Money which I need!"
"No more than I! Money--ah--to be earned by my father's only son!"
Well, Omar the Black had decided, money not to be earned, if he could help it. He was not going to be stopped, and delivered up to the chief eunuch. It would mean one of two things: an unpleasant death or a life even more unpleasant.
For he knew the chief eunuch of old--knew that the latter, who had been fiercely jealous of him during the days of his affluence and influence at the court of the Grand Khan of the Golden Steppe, had always intrigued against him, always detested him, always tried to undermine him. And here, tonight, was Esa's chance.
A chance at bitter toll!
Either--oh, yes!--an unpleasant death or a life yet more unpleasant. Either to be handed over by the eunuch to the Grand Khan; and then--the Tartar considered and shuddered--it would be the tall gallows for him, or the swish of the executioner's blade. Or else--and again he shuddered--his fate would rest with Fathouma, the Grand Khan's sister.
And--ai-yai--the way she had peered at him through the fluttering silk curtains of the litter! The way she had smiled at him! Such a sweet, gentle, forgiving smile! Such a tender smile!
Allah--such a loving smile!
Why--this time she might be less proud, less the great lady. Might insist on carrying out their interrupted marriage-contract. And what then of this other girl, this Gotha? A girl--ah, like the edge of soft dreams--a girl whom he loved madly....
He interrupted his thoughts.
What, he asked himself, as his legs, one sturdy and sound and the other aching rheumatically, gathered speed, was the good in thinking, right now, of Gotha? First he would have to find safety--from the Grand Khan's revenge no less than from Fathouma's mercy.
Faster and faster he ran--then swerved as a man, whom he passed, grabbed his arm and cried:
Omar shook off the clutching fingers; felled, with brutal fist, another man who stepped square in his path; ran still faster, away from the center of the town, through streets and alleys that were deserted--and that a few moments later, as if by magic, jumped to hectic life.
Lights in dark houses twinkled, exploded with orange and yellow as shutters were pushed up. Heads leaned from windows. Doors opened. The coiling shadows spewed forth people--men as well as women. They came hurrying out of nowhere, out of everywhere.
They came yelling and screeching: "Get him!"
"There he goes!"
The pack in full cry--two abreast, three, four, six abreast. Groups, solitary figures!
A lumbering red-turbaned constable, stumbling out of a coffee-shop, wiping his mouth, tugging at his heavy revolver.
Shouted questions. Shouted answers:
"What is it?"
"What has happened?"
"No! A murderer!"
"Three people he slew!"
"Four! I saw it with these eyes!"
"Ah--the foul assassin!"
And sadistic, quivering, high-pitched screams: "Get him!" ... "Catch him!" ... "Kill him!"
Ferocious gaiety in the sounds. For here was the cruel, perverted, thrill of the man-hunt.
"Quick, quick, quick! Around the next corner! Cut him off!"
Swearing, shrieking. Throwing bricks and pots and clubs and stones. Pop! pop! pop!--the constable's revolver dropping punctuation marks into the night. And on, on, the sweep of figures. And Omar the Black running, his lungs pounding, his heart beating like a triphammer; darting left, right, left, right--steadily gaining on his pursuers, at last finding temporary refuge at the edge of town, in the old cemetery, among the carved granite tombstones that dreamed of Judgment Day.
There, stretched prone on the ground, he turned his head to watch the mob hurrying on and past on a false trail. He listened to the view-halloo of the chase growing fainter and fainter, finally becoming a mere memory of sound.
Then, slowly, warily, he got up. He looked about....
Nobody was within sight.
So he doubled on his tracks and left Gulabad from the opposite direction, hag-ridden by his double fear--of the Grand Khan's revenge and of Fathouma's loving tenderness.
To put the many, many miles between himself and this double fear, this double danger--that is what he must do, and do as quickly as possible. His resolve was strengthened by the knowledge that money was sultan in High Tartary as anywhere else in the world; that the tale of the rich reward which had been offered for his capture--a hundred pieces of gold--would be round and round the countryside in no time at all, and so every hand there would be against his, and every eye and ear seeking him out.
Therefore Omar the Black traveled in haste and in stealth. At night he traveled, hiding in the daytime, preferring the moors and forests to the open, green fields; taking the deer- and wolf-spoors instead of honest highways; plunging to the knee--and his rheumatic leg hurting him so--at icy fords rather than using the proper stone bridges that spanned the rivers; avoiding the snug, warm villages where food was plentiful and hearts were friendly. And living--as the Tartar saying has it--on the wind and the pines and the gray rock's lichen!
Footsore he was, and weary; and wishing: "If only I had a horse!"
A fine, swift horse to take between his two thighs and gallop away. Then ho for the far road, the wild, brazen road, and glittering deeds, glittering fame! Yes--glittering fame it would be for him; and he hacking his way to wealth and power; and presently returning to Gulabad.
No longer a fugitive, with a price on his head and the Grand Khan's revenge at his heel, but a hero, a conqueror; the equal--by the Prophet the Adored!--to any Khan.
Omar was quite certain of his ultimate success, and for no better or, belike, no worse reason than that he was what he was: a Tartar of Tartars--the which is a thing difficult to explain with the writing of words to those who do not know our steppes and our hills.
Perhaps it might best be defined by saying that his bravery overshadowed his conceit--or the other way about--that both bravery and conceit were overshadowed by his tight, hard, shrewd strength of purpose, and gilded by his undying optimism. Anyway, whatever it was, he had it. It made him sure of himself; persuaded him, too, that some day Gotha would be his, so sweet and warm and white in the crook of his elbow.
The imagining intoxicated him. He laughed aloud--and a moment later grew unhappy and morose. Only a fool, he told himself, will grind pepper for the bird still on the wing.
Not a bird, in his case, but a horse. A horse was the first thing he had to have for the realization of his stirring plans. Without a horse, these plans were useless, hopeless--as useless and hopeless as trying to throw a noose around the far stars or weaving a rope from tortoise-hair.
Yes, the horse was essential. And how could he find one, here in the lonely wilderness of moor and forest?
Thus, despondent and gloomy, he had trudged on. Night had come; and the chill raw wind, booming out of the Siberian tundras, had raced like a leash of strong dogs; and hunger had gnawed at his stomach; and thirst had dried his throat; and his leg had throbbed like a sore tooth. "Help me, O Allah, O King of the Seven Worlds!" he had sobbed--and as if in answer to his prayer, he had heard a soft neighing, had seen a roan Kabuhi stallion grazing on a short halter, had sneaked up noiselessly, had unhobbled the animal and been about to mount.... And then:
"By Beelzebub," he said now, angrily, to his twin-brother, "it had to be yours!"
Again he sighed.
"Ah," he added, "am I not the poor, miserable one, harried by the hounds of fate!"
Posted May 24, 2011
No text was provided for this review.
Posted November 2, 2011
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