THE MYSTIQUE OF THE SHEIKH
OK, so it may be a cliché, sheer escapist fantasy, the idea of being swept into the arms of a mysterious, handsome stranger and carried off to his lair, away from everyday concerns like earning a living and paying the electricity bill.
Years ago I couldn’t see the appeal myself and snickered at the idea of a sheikh hero. I’d seen those stills of Valentino and they left me cold. But then I began wondering why these stories appeal to so many women. They obviously have something going for them.
The sheikh is the quintessential male, won over despite himself by a good woman. Initially he holds all the power in their relationship and he may be ruthless in using it, which can put her in a terrible situation – something we romance readers adore.
He’s so intrigued by the heroine’s beauty/character/defiance/intelligence/stupidity in venturing into this domain that he has to have her for himself. He rules his world with absolute power. He has utter dominion over the woman he’s lured/seduced/kidnapped/rescued/found and yet we wonder, will he use that power for his own ends, or will he refrain, and meet her on her own terms? Will he relinquish that power for love?
The heroine is by definition vulnerable, even if she’s usually self sufficient and even if her sheikh isn’t the rampaging, ride-across-the-desert-to-kidnap-her sort. Whether he wears Armani and runs a multi-national company, or lives the life of a nomad, he’s a threat, the most powerful man she’s ever met.
For centuries sheikhs, sultans and pashas have intrigued audiences, perhaps in part because of Western perceptions of the sexual power play associated with harems. Think of Mozart’s ‘Escape from the Seraglio’, Edith Maude Hull’s ‘The Sheikh’ (the film version of which made Rudolph Valentino a pin up boy for so many thousands of women), Peter O’Toole and Omar Sharif in ‘Lawrence of Arabia’. Which reminds me – did I mention the clothes and the terrific horses?
The sheikh conjures ideas of untamed power, wild places, extreme wealth, independence of spirit, a warrior, sexual prowess (let’s not forget those fabled harems), old traditions of honour and exotic locations. For a backdrop think of the mysterious allure of the east, silk carpets, Arabian palaces, desert oases or even the glittering locales favoured by the ultra rich. The world is his oyster.
And so, after much research, I succumbed. By the time I’d investigated the sheikh story, read plenty, watched a few, I just had to try my hand at one.
One became two because I had such a wonderful time writing them. Now I’m contemplating another one or two further down the track. For inspiration I have photos of desert dunes, gorgeous middle eastern courtyards, a jewelled dagger, sinuously shaped coffee pots, men in flowing robes and pristine beaches. (My sheikhs live on islands and why not? It’s my fantasy after all!)
Have you read a sheikh story? What drew you to it? And if you don’t read them, why not? I’d be fascinated to hear.
Annie’s first two sheikh stories are The Sheikh's Ransomed Bride (US July 2007) and For The Sheikh's Pleasure (UK and US August, Aus September 2007). Check out the Pink Heart Society review of Ransomed. If you want to see a couple of the pictures that inspired her as she wrote, go to her website at http://www.annie-west.com/ and check out the book pages for those two stories. She also has a contest running if you want to try winning some free sheikh reading!
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