The Traditionalism of Jean Raspail

John Tanton


It is always the soul
that wins the decisive battles.

''In 1951, during a trip to Tierra del Fuego, in crossing the Strait of Magellan, I found, in the space of an hour, under the snow, in the wind, one of the last boats of the Alakalufs. I will never forget it.''

This vision — these survivors of a people forgotten by God in an inhuman climate — would never leave Jean raspail. His books are haunted by it, and it is at the heart of the Patagonian myth created by raspail, made so real that it almost lives. It also sparked his romantic imaginings.

He was 25 then, living the adventure of his first book of travels Tierra del Fuego to Alaska. In it he explores the two poles of the American continent — seeing and experiencing the greatness between them.

Jean raspail favors naked, rocky, limitless landscapes. These are the writer's landscapes, populated and animated by the imagination's whim which brings meaning to the unfolding story. They are internal landscapes, seen only by the author and the characters he projects onto these empty spaces.

For always — or almost always — the characters in Jean raspail's novels disappear. If they don't disappear, they dream, which is the same thing. Whether they flee (voluntarily), are chased and pursued, or are given an order or mission, they leave. And space opens up in front of them, absorbs them, like the time of which they lose track. They are not hopeless — or perhaps they are beyond hopelessness … so much so that they no longer hope for anything. It may come to pass that at the end of a long voyage a door will open, the characters pass through it, exhausted but serene, having accomplished their mission and met their destiny. It is a matter between them and God, whether or not they are believers. The essential matter is to venture forth, to undertake the search. And what is one looking for?

One gets the impression that the characters are not alone and abandoned during their protracted wanderings. One would say that someone watches over them as they discover trails and road signs. These are not easy to interpret, just small pebbles which permit progress bit by bit. Someone has certainly laid them on their path, someone never named but always present, though sometimes inattentive. Then one realizes that their march is a conquest, and the men are actually knights.

There is something of a medieval verse chronicled in this work. Better yet an echo of the legend of King Arthur.

The Seven Horsemen — after The King's Game, after Septentrion, after Who Remembers Man — appeared suddenly, in this light, as the richest expression to date of Jean raspail's work.

They are seven — imagine! — that leave the city at dusk, facing the setting sun, through the Western Gate which is no longer guarded. The only men still able to carry arms in a kingdom devastated by the worst imaginable calamities. They have received an order from their sovereign, the hereditary margrave, to go see what remains of life in these domains which flourished not long ago. ''They didn't flee, and betrayed nothing, hoped for less still, and did not allow themselves to dream.'' They obey; they are soldiers.

They are young. Colonel-Major Count Silve de Pikkendorf, who commands them, is 35 years old; so is Osmond Van Beck, the coadjutor-bishop (there must be a man of God in the troop); the three other petty officers are between 16 and 20 years of age; only Vassili the corporal and Abai the stable-keeper are older. (They're young as the heros of Jean raspail's novels often are the little boy in The King's Game, the boy and girl in The Blue Island and in Sire). With these seven horsemen he represents that which anyone steeped in history and tradition would consider the ideal society, according to the three orders the nobility, the clergy and the third estate. But, as in all harmonious societies, they are fundamentally equal.

This aristocratic view of the world is the signature of the works of raspail — it is readily evident in Sire. It is the sought-after dream of a society of upright citizens driven by noble sentiments honor, and loyalty to the chosen cause — with the opposite as well arrogance, pride, contempt. These are contrasted further with the virtues of self-respect, gallantry and courage. Thus Jean raspail makes it understood that he does not share the ''values'' of the modern world. He finds refuge in his imaginary worlds, in his timeless stories which, however — because nothing is simple — speak of today. ''Never,'' he said, ''will I write a historical novel about the Templars of the 12th century; but about the Templars of today, yes.'' And so it is that the conjured-up calamities that led the kingdom of the Seven Horsemen to ruin is a transposition of actual evils epidemics, violence, drugs. In addition to these evils are ''the others,'' the Chechens that prowl about at the borders and infiltrate — reminiscent of Camp of the Saints, and the infernal vision portrayed in the last pages of that book.

A stack of books does not necessarily constitute a great work. The ten books that Jean raspail created from 20 years of writing, these constitute a great work because an ambition and great expectation live within them, and because they were born of great spirit and vision

[The Social Contract (Winter 1994)]

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