Sunday, February 28, 2021

Leslie Charteris - The Saint

 Thanks to the pandemic and to Kindle Unlimited, I've now read the entire ouevre of The Saint,  Leslie Charteris' creation.  Well, all but one, which I had to find elsewhere. Charteris didn't want his first Saint novel to be remembered, and it is in general not available.

At one of its last reprints, Charteris wrote:
It has been out of print for more years than I can guess at, and with no complaints from me. Personally I would have been very happy to leave it quietly in limbo: I was still under 21 when I wrote it, more than fifty years ago, and I am no more anxious to parade it than any other youthful indiscretion. Looking at it now, with absolute objectivity, I can see so much wrong with it that I am humbly astonished that it got published at all. In extenuation, it was only the third book I'd written, and the best I would say for it is that the first two were even worse. However, I can't deny writing it, its existence is a historical fact, and I suppose that anyone who is interested enough in backtracking into Simon Templar's and my own adolescent beginnings has a right to access to the awful truths.
As to why Simon Templar, the Saint, was created:
....the fiction world today needs a Saint more than it ever did. For too many years now that scene has been dominated by the "anti-heroes" — those grim gray operators in a sunless sub-culture where global issues are worked out with totally unemotional pragmatism, those hapless uninspired puppets manipulated and expended by ruthlessly dedicated little brothers of Big Brother. It made morbidly fascinating narrative, but it never gave anyone a lift until it climaxed in the hypergadgeted parodies of 007 extravaganzas. 
I was always sure that there was a solid place in escape literature for a rambunctious adventurer such as I dreamed up in my own youth, who really believed in the oldfashioned romantic ideals and was prepared to lay everything on the line to bring them to life. A joyous exuberance that could not find its fulfilment in pinball machines and pot. I had what may now seem a mad desire to spread the belief that there were worse, and wickeder, nut cases than Don Quixote. 
Even now, half a century later, when I should be old enough to know better, I still cling to that belief. That there will always be a public for the old-style hero, who had a clear idea of justice, and a more than technical approach to love, and the ability to have some fun with his crusades. That is how and why the Saint was born, and why I hope he may eventually occupy a niche beside Robin Hood, d'Artagnan, and all the other-immortal true heroes of legend.

I'd say by and large, the author's objective is achieved.  But it is possible to have too much of a good thing.   One expects characters to become wiser as they age, and when they don't, it is sad.  

...He had been his own unique globetrotting blend of pirate and adventurer for enough years now to know that he would go on in the same freewheeling ways as long as there was still strength in his body and a new vista of ungodliness over th enext hill.

That was how it was with the Saint, just as for others life might me inconceivable except as a doctor or chartered accountant or in any of a thousand other worthy and stable roles.  The Saint saw the necessity for these, and was grateful that others wanted to occupy themselves thus, and to lead conventional and settled lives, leaving him to live out his own notions of buccaneering chivalry and justice for as long as it pleased him; to ride the high winds of adventure, changing little with the seasons or the years; here and there dipping into new valleys, fighting new battles, or fighting again the old ones under new skies, but always, and above all, remaining free.

He had the potential to settle to a humdrum existence like any other man, but it remained a potential, like any other man, but it remained a potential, like that of a winged seed staying always aloft.

Those who had worked with him, that select handful of men, and one woman, who had shared his ideals all those long years ago -...- they had once been the same, and had floated as free.  But one by one, when their time had come, they had ceased to float, and had dropped to the ground, and put down roots , and settled.

Once, such a precarious and fateful time of choice had come for Simon Templar also, when he found himself poised in the air, becalmed, and it was with a great emptiness, at the time, that he had chosen as he knew he had been fated to choose from the beginning, and had watched as the person for whom he would have given up anything but his destiny, and who understood that as well as he did himself, went on her golden way.

And so he continued to follow his own star as the years had rolled on....

 At some point this looks like more like a adrenaline addiction than joyous exuberance.