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Khaled: A Tale of Arabia by Francis Marion Crawford

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message 1: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
I was introduced to this awesome and beautifully written novel as I began collecting and reading the Ballantine Adult Fantasy series some thirty years ago.

Already a fan of authors such as Edgar Rice Burroughs, H. P. Lovecraft, Robert E. Howard, etc - authors who wrote wonderful adventure and horror stories - Khaled was a bit different for my reading genre of the time.

And yet, in another way it was like coming home. For in my youth I had also read a volume of Sir Richard Burton's The Book of the Thousand Nights and One Night, 1882–84, published in nine volumes.

Ah! I know this, I thought. The Arabian Nights! Wonderful tales of love and deception and murder and adventure and.... well, everything under an Arabian sun, including afrits and magic lamps and treasures luring men to their dooms.

For anyone who has ever enjoyed one of those tales (remember Aladdin?) Khaled will be a welcome glimpse into the past when you might have devoured one of the many translations of Scheherazade's tales.

But do not be deceived, nor should you make any preconceptions about Khaled. This is no child's tale. It has romance. And death - of a surety.

Khaled is the story of an afrit (a genie) who falls in love. For his part, Khaled wishes the chance to win her hand (for - is he not doomed to be blasted into nothing when the trumpet announces the resurrection of the dead?)

Allah -- and Asrael, the angel of Death -- grant his wish. But there is a catch. Soulless, he must win her love and affection or he will die and be doomed -- unable to join the chosen in Heaven.

The tale is is poignant from Khaled's perspective, as he cannot tell her his story, of how he used to watch her as an invisible spirit, of how he came to love her, and what it will spell for him should she not return his affection.

We shall revisit this topic shortly, and explore the author, Francis Marion Crawford (Khaled was his favorite of all his writings, BTW). In the meantime, the story is available from Gutenberg as well as a free kindle download from Amazon, for those wishing to participate in reading this volume.



message 2: by Chris (last edited Jun 11, 2018 12:13PM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
Francis (F.) Marion Crawford was one interesting cat. He was an American author who was reared in Rome, Italy where he lived most of his life – a real man-of-the-world who traveled broadly, living at one time in India – an experience eventually leading to his writing one of his most famous novels – Mr. Isaacs. He is known to have traveled extensively across Europe and America where he attended sundry universities, returning frequently to America, the homeland of his parents – Thomas and Louisa.

His father, incidentally, was a famous American artist who designed the sculpture, Armed Freedom, that has adorned the Dome of the Capitol in Washington DC since 1863. Thomas didn’t live to see his statue reared, however, succumbing shortly after completing the design and full-sized plaster model. Interestingly, the eagle and feathers atop the statue’s head are often misinterpreted as being representative of the Native American, when in reality the helm gracing the fair goddess’ head is of Roman influence.

Crawford’s prolific pen knew no bounds, the man writing true-life accounts of his own experiences, horror tales, fantasies, romances, novels of life in Italy and even writings delving into the Sicilian mafia, to the tune of over 40 novels, a play and a host of short stories.

It was his own self-professed favorite, Khaled, which introduced me to his works, a novel which came to me in the form of the Ballantine Adult Fantasy Series December 1971 release of his Tale of Arabia. This particular edition, published under the Sign of the Unicorn Head, bears an excellent forward by the captain of the BAF helm – Lin Carter. It was also graced with artwork by an artist I had already learned to appreciate – Gervasio Gallardo.

Besides Lin Carter, the works of Crawford come highly recommended by another, perhaps more well-known, source, this being none other than the late horror/fantasy author, H. P. Lovecraft. Lovecraft raved about Crawford’s ghostly and spectral tales in his acclaimed Supernatural Horror in Literature . Listen as Lovecraft lauds Crawford’s artistry:

For the Blood Is the Life touches powerfully on a case of moon-cursed vampirism… The Dead Smile treats of family horrors in an old house and . . . introduces the banshee with considerable force. The Upper Berth, however, is Crawford’s weird masterpiece . . . one of the most tremendous horror-stories in all literature...”

But at heart, Crawford was more of a romantist. Indeed, most of his novels centered around romance and the Italy he dearly loved. Although he wrote some serious pieces (about Catholicism, the Pope, etc), he preferred to write to entertain.

It must be noted that at the time Khaled appeared, Arabesque tales of romance and adventure were ‘all the rave’. Amongst the most notable of these is perhaps William Beckford’s Vathek (also published under the BAF colophon) which appeared a century earlier, itself inspired by Antoine Galland's translation of The Arabian Nights.

Non-embedded Sources:

message 3: by Chris (last edited Jun 12, 2018 05:32AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
I thought it might be interesting to post the full Gervasio Gallardo cover art he painted for Khaled, and an image of the paperback edition published under Ballantine's Unicorn colophon I have.

Gallardo's artwork always fascinated me - it's so strange, and chock full of detail. An excellent collection is Ballantine's The Fantastic World of Gervasio Gallardo.



message 4: by Chris (last edited Jun 12, 2018 06:14AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
While researching F. Marion Crawford I found that his father, the artist, was nearly as interesting as was his son, the writer - and discovered where Crawford possibly obtained his drive and inspiration to create.

On this site, it tells how Thomas Crawford was driven by a relentless muse:

* * *

" . . . Crawford . . . was a highly inspired artist. He . . . kept a room above his studio full of small clay sketches and sculptural ideas that came to him while he was working on larger projects."

Historian Albert Gardner wrote: “The flow of his ideas was of such force and insistence that he often had to stop work on his monuments to dash off these little models. Sculptural ideas seemed to rise spontaneously and intuitively at Crawford’s bidding. He hit off his marble epics as a poet would turn a graceful stanza,’” . . .

* * *

Crawford wrote of himself: “I regret that I have not a hundred hands to keep pace with the workings of my mind."

It would appear that F. Marion didn't fall far from the tree.

message 5: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
July 3 will mark 6 weeks since the opening post for those who wish to discuss this novel.

message 6: by Alex (new)

Alex | 12 comments This sounds fantastic. Bad work month for me though...


message 7: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
Alex Nguyen wrote: "This sounds fantastic. Bad work month for me though...


Alex - no problem. These threads aren't going anywhere, so feel free to revisit it when it's convenient. It's a great story.

message 8: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
Chris is right! That's the great thing about these internet discussion groups. The conversation is always here waiting to be continued!

message 9: by Chris (last edited Jul 03, 2018 10:28AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
Here there be spoilers

Readers, please be warned, that by continuing beyond this point you might come upon spoilers! :)


Okay, that said, everybody remember the old song, My Favorite Things? Whiskers on kittens and warm woolen mittens?

What are some of your favorite elements of Khaled?

For my part, one of the elements I always enjoy in this story is the Arabesque ambiance which I feel Crawford pulls off charmingly and eloquently. He totally nails it. You really get a sense of this Araby romance set in Riad (present day Riyadh, Saudi Arabia) from the very first sentence. Hark:

Khaled stood in the third heaven, which is the heaven of precious stones, and of Asrael, the angel of Death.

The settings are magical, with one being able to taste the dusty desert caking one's throat, and hear the busy bustle of the city of Riad. The clangor of war is in your ear as Khaled swings his sword in battle for his beloved Princess Zehowah. Crawford certainly mined his experiences in India which were then expertly interwoven in this tale as he penned it.

A genie, a princess,
and swordplay with finesse
Angels and harems
and Arabesque environs
Red Desert dust and locusts galore
These are just a few of the things I adore...

...about Khaled

message 10: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
Fully agree a lot of this tale's appeal comes from how solidly he sets you in the exotic environment of the Arabian Nights. That formal manner of speech, easy to do poorly, and just this sense of restraint is what impresses me about the beginning. That, and of course the incredible dilemma that Khaled puts himself in which I hope we will discuss in more detail.

message 11: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I would agree with Will, for me it is the central dilemma of the story that makes this so great--but I'm sure we'll talk about that much more later. The other thing that constantly impressed me was the strength of Khalid's faith. He is not a "let God handle it" type of personality, and yet, at his fundamental core he believes that all outcomes are as Allah wills. This trust in God is the core of Khalid's character and it is fascinating how this simple and sincere faith impacts the other people in the novel. By the way, love the poem, Chris!

message 12: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
It's a love story with a major quandary for Khaled so, heck yeah, the dilemma - and his and Zehowah's constant debates over what love is - are certainly some of the more gripping elements of the story. First and foremost for me, however, when it comes to these Arabian Nights style tales, is that it has to have the faithful ring of one. And this one does.

But since the dilemma has been brought up, how do you think Khaled feels about his decision to become human throughout the course of the story? Was it worth waiting "ten months and thirteen days" for Azrael to notice him after he is later met with rebuttal after rebuttal from the woman whose hand he'd hoped to win?

I wonder if, there at the last, he hadn't wished he'd remained a genie. Sure, there's the whole better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. But poor Khaled suffers bitterly at her seeming inability to love him. At the last he had decided to make no efforts to save himself beyond what he could do with his own sword because he no longer cared what happened to him if her love wasn't part of the deal.

message 13: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
You know, I think Khaled is very disappointed that Zehowah doesn't love him, and he's certainly depressed at the end, but his amazing faith still sustains him. It seems to me that he is able to accept Allah's will even when the turn out isn't more. And I would guess that he would credit Allah and his faith for the happy ending as well.

message 14: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
Indeed, it's a remarkably faith-driven character arc, and I think both Khaled and Zehowah are sincere, no games. He loves her loyally and his failure to attract a response tells me something, I guess love isn't about keeping up with favors or gifts even when though of course it often results in that. But the two become closer, and admire each other more as the story moves on. Zehowah in the end comes to love him out of... astonishment, I suppose, as much as anything else. He simply surprises her, when in fact he's become fey in the classic western sense (or like the samurai)- he is reckless whether he lives or dies, and that opens her heart. Dangerous lesson! But terrific storyline.

message 15: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
Great responses. I like Will's perceptive angle on why she finally falls for him - pure astonishment.

The fact that they are both so open and honest is really refreshing. No games, no lies. She could have easily told him what he wanted so desperately to hear and had him eating out of the palm of her hand - yet she didn't. I love that.

And most men (myself included) find it difficult to confess feelings for a woman when rejection is almost certain. Yet Khaled was rejected time after time. He just adjusted his tactics - from trying to impress her by defeating her enemies, to trying to make her jealous with a foreign woman.

But this story is not without deception, eh guys?

message 16: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I have to admit that I couldn't quite figure out why Zehowah finally fell in love with Khaled. It happens in a very real way when he stops trying to make it happen. It's sort of like that saying that you find love when you're not looking. It's very dramatic, but Will's explanation actually rings true on some level.

As to deception, there certainly is plenty. Even Khaled and Zehowah try to be deceptive at points, but they suck at it--too basically honest to pull it off.

message 17: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
I'm not sure I would agree that Khaled or Zehowah are outright deceptive. He is totally bound by his deal, and she at first came off like she was playing a game (to not know or feel love) but I saw the point later on (real echo of what you saw in softer form from the "Aladdin" movie with Jasmine! Minus the tiger-bouncer). And yes, whenever Khaled and Zehowah talk they do sort of put on roles, and it's marvelous how they suck at it, which really increases the reader's sympathy.

But for deception- come now, we must discuss the real snake in the grass of the story, this little trollop Almasta! I was clenching my fists every time I read about her.

message 18: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
William wrote: "But for deception- come now, we must discuss the real snake in the grass of the story, this little trollop Almasta! I was clenching my fists every time I read about her. ."

Yes, the elephant in the room of deception. Almasta sure knew how to work it. Her poor husband, Abdullah, might have stayed a good fellow were it not for her machinations. I'm betting he regretted the day Khaled wed her to him, as it cost him everything in the end.

The poor slob really never stood a chance, she was far too advanced for a simple tribesman. And I feel Khaled would have never placed poor Abdullah in such a dangerous situation with needle-girl if he'd guessed how conniving Almasta was, and how easily led astray was her husband.

I was never sure of her origins. I read on Library Thing that she is of Central Asia - but Crawford's description of her, makes her sound more Western European to me:

"Khaled saw that the one was certainly more beautiful than the rest, for her skin was as white as milk, and her eyes like the sea of Oman when it is blue in winter. She had also long hair, plaited in three tresses which came down to her feet, red as the locusts when the sun shines upon them at evening, and not dyed."

She sounds Irish to me.

According to this article, she would have been quite rare insofar as her looks were concerned, and as a captive in the tale's time setting, very valuable. Certainly an expensive gift to give to a goat herder.


This was another neat article I came across researching Almasta's possible origins - an article that maps the densest redhead ginger populations in the world. It seems the Vulga region of Russia is second only to Ireland in redhead population. Pretty neat.

message 19: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
Wow, excellent points. I'd have to go back and make sure she wasn't ever referred to as blonde! But point made, she's a Westerner, and I have no doubt a "Christian" in the sense of a foreigner/pagan/infidel. I kept wondering why I didn't find myself more offended, being Christian myself because that would certainly be all the rage with any Arabian Nights type tale set today. Almasta DOES make overthrow plans, is ruthless, and of course doesn't truly care about Islam except as a tool to use in her schemes. But on balance I simply hated her, I wasn't offended at how she was handled.
Chris, do you have any background on the author's religious beliefs? I make assumptions based on the name, you told us he traveled the world and wrote it in 1891.

message 20: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod

I feel the same as you about Almasta - she's an easy character to hate. I found Zehowah's father's character amiable, and her later slaughter of him unconscionable.

She does fit the medieval 'damsel in distress' figure carried off by Saracens, as it were. But, her personality makes it impossible to feel sorry for her in her predicament. If she was sold to a 'black sultan' for a large sum for him to while away his afternoons with, it'd be only what she deserved.

As to Crawford's beliefs, I believe he was Catholic. From Online-Literature, we have:

"In 1884 he travelled to Constantinople, where in the French Catholic church of Pera he married Elizabeth Christophers Berdan, daughter of General Hiram Berdan."

message 21: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I think I had a different reaction to Almasta than either Will or Chris. I did have sympathy for her. This is a woman who had been kidnapped from her home and sold into sexual slavery. (I always pictured her coming from Russia--don't know why.) She was trying everything she could do to overcome her slavery and rise to the top of the society that had imprisoned her. (I suspect she would have done the same in her own land if she had not been captured.) So yes, she kills and plots against people we like, but what did she owe any of them? They are her captors. Bringing them down any way she could is actually noble and honorable. She acts as if she loves Khaled, but I believe she thought that he was going to end up being the Sultan and thus he was her best route to power. I don't believe that Zehowah would have survived long if Khaled had married Almasta. It would be very easy to take this same book and turn it into a tragedy by writing it from Almasta's POV. She is undertaking a task worthy of Hercules in seeking to get the better of those who have kidnapped and enslaved her.

That being said, she's clearly the primary antagonist of the novel and she makes a great antagonist because she hits Khaled at his greatest weakness. Had she been a man challenging him, he would have had no problem killing her, but he really doesn't know how to deal with Almasta and let's face it, she almost pulls him down and succeeds in taking over. So she makes a great "villain" but to my mind, even though Crawford succeeds in making me dislike her, she's really a heroine just as much as Khaled is a hero. Khaled is more of a positive hero and she's more of a vengeance type, but think of Conan in the first movie--he's seeking revenge the whole time and isn't that really what Almasta is doing?

message 22: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
:: stares gap-jawed at Gil ::
:: continues to stare ::

That is going to take some thinking about. Right now I'm thinking I need to back up the truck with a whole crap-ton of "hell NO" in it. I'll admit I never gave her a fair shake, but my sympathy for Almasta evaporated very quickly. And when she killed the sultan- done. There's nothing justifies that, nothing.

message 23: by Gilbert (new)

Gilbert Stack (gilbertmstack) | 90 comments Mod
I liked the Sultan. He is unusually progressive for his time period. He gives his daughter the right to decide who she will marry and that's unusual. But Almasta is not given a choice. She is given to him. So the question is: Is it okay for a slave to kill her master? Admittedly, Crawford wants us to be horrified by the Sultan's murder and I'm playing a bit of a game with the book, judging things by a Western 21st century outlook, but I think the case could be made that Almasta killing her first two husbands is not the work of a serial murderer but a slave lashing out at those in power over her. (Strangely enough, there is no evidence in the book that she saw things in these terms, but, again, if I were to write this story from Almasta's POV that is the tact I would take. These are husbands chosen for her without her consent--in fact, she's made it clear she wants to marry Khalid--and she is fighting back against oppression.)

Back to your original point--she is the queen of deception. It is her best weapon.

message 24: by Chris (last edited Jul 20, 2018 06:38AM) (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
Gilbert wrote: "I think the case could be made that Almasta killing her first two husbands is not the work of a serial murderer but a slave lashing out at those in power over her..."

This is actually a fascinating, thinking-out-of-the-box way of looking at the character of Almasta. It almost makes me feel that Will and I fell hook, line and sinker into taking a prejudiced attitude toward her that Crawford wished -no, designed - us to take. In Gil's case, I think he said, "Not so fast."

We do not know if she was she kidnapped from her own country, as Gil insinuated to be a possibility. Yes, it's possible - but we don't have that information that I recall. Nor do we know if she was part of a large invasionary force that met its match on foreign soil (where, if that were so, she got what she justly deserved).

If she was plucking daisies in her backyard when she was taken by the Arabs, then I can definitely see that she would be deserving of some empathy, and they deserving of slaughter at her hand. Yes, any and all action on her part to survive and return to her people could then be justified. As much as I liked the sultan, he did accept her as a slave-concubine against her will, no matter how kindly and forward thinking he might have been to his own people - Zehowah in particular.

This all bears thought. Is she in the same shoes as Conan, as Gil suggested, when he sought vengeance? He was at least free, after he escaped his captors. Here, Almasta is never quite 'free', even after she is wed to Abdullah.

For, let us not forget, although in the story their religion is portrayed as one of enlightenment, members of the faith are known to beat the brimstone out of their wives, who are considered little more than chattel.

message 25: by William (new)

William Hahn | 46 comments Mod
I'll admit it's a thought. My view is that the fact of being a slave doesn't make you a good person. Almasta might never have been such a villain if she wasn't taken, but we don't have those characters around to blame. She's here, she's scheming, and especially contrasted with the danger she posed to my man Khaled and his already-desperate quest I had no patience for how she might have been a good person. After maybe five paragraphs we see in Almasta a ruthless conspirator without an ounce of mercy for anyone. Buh-bye, lady...

message 26: by Chris (new)

Chris Adams (chrisladams) | 89 comments Mod
William wrote: "we see in Almasta a ruthless conspirator without an ounce of mercy for anyone. Buh-bye, lady... ."

Haha! : ()

Agreed. She was the villain of the story. I don't think we'll ever know if Crawford intended her to be redeemed.

It would, however, be very interesting to read Gil's proposed Almasta POV, where he returns to the day of her capture, retells Khaled from her viewpoint, and then goes beyond that to see what happens to her afterward. Get on that, Gil! Will and I are waiting with baited breath to see what happens to her!

I agree, too, that Khaled is the man! Love that dude.

"My mare is my fortune, my sword is my argument and my wit is in my arm."
~ Khaled

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