Topic Spotlight: Sexy Sheiks

By Nicola Italia on Jan 9th, 2015


Sheiks and desert sons: One of the oldest tropes in romantic fiction
The sheik has been the subject of romance novels since E.M. Hull wrote her novel titled “The Sheik” in 1919. Her novel was the basis for the silent film of the same name and starred legendary silent film actor Rudolph Valentino. The film helped solidify Valentino as the “Latin Lover” and defined his image and star status. Hull’s novel became an international bestseller in 1921 and was credited with starting the popular “desert romance” genre. Her subsequent novels included “The Sons of the Sheik” and other desert-themed books. However “The Sheik” was no mild Austen-esque romance. The novel opens in Algeria with English Lady Diana Mayo who has decided to take a month long trip into the desert using only Arab guides. Her guide is bribed and she is kidnapped by a Sheik. Diana is taken to his tent and over several months raped repeatedly. She tries to escape and eventually falls in love with the Sheik. Diana is then kidnapped by a rival Sheik before the original Sheik gets her back. A happy ending is obvious when both declare their love to each other. Controversy surrounded this book as it depicted a strong woman being tamed and raped by the hero with the heroine ultimately falling in love with her rapist. Even today, readers are divided in their love and hate for the novel. One glowing review on Amazon read, “Can’t help but love it” while another reviewer wrote, “Stockholm syndrome at its worst.” Whether you like or hate the original novel, “the sheik” is an enduring figure in romance. Recently, I did a search of the word “sheik” on Goodreads and 434 books came up. The books vary in titles which include: Sheik, Sheik Daddy, Shakespearian Sheik, The Ice Maiden’s Sheikh and The Sheikh Surgeon's Baby with categories that run the gamut from fiction to historical romance to erotica.

Since E.M. Hull published her book in 1919, there have been hundreds of books either starring a sheik or a romance surrounding a sheik which begs the question, why? Exotic locale is certainly one reason readers enjoy sheik-related novels. Romance Writers of America polled readers and 36% prefer exotic settings in their novels second only to mystery/thrillers so the exotic allure of the sheik’s native land is a definite pull. But many heroines such as the original Lady Diana Mayo are kidnapped by the sheik and are forced to submit their will to the hero. Lack of control in the heroine exhibits a strong emotion in readers as the heroine must fight her feelings for the hero and thus it becomes a battle of wills. It’s all about the chase, right? Ultimately the reason the sheik has endured as a figure in romance novels for almost a hundred years is the sheik himself. The sheik is a figure masked in sensuality and sexuality with long white flowing robes and penetrating eyes. He is a strong male used to getting his way and is oftentimes a leader who commands the respect of those around him. The heroine may be strong willed and intelligent but she will submit to him in the end. Final scene. Close curtain. As in “The Sheik,” Diana was kidnapped and raped by the sheik but finally gave herself to him and even fell in love with him. This is the power and sexual draw of the sheik. He is a figure of immense masculine beauty and power and women are drawn to him. Sexually the sheik takes what he wants and the consequences be damned. In the silent film, smiling Valentino says via the title card, “When an Arab sees a woman that he wants, he takes her!” Though some readers may be turned off or irritated by this possessive display, this masculine attitude towards sex and women is as old as time itself. The sheik may even have a harem or other lovers to pick and choose while the heroine must remain chaste and his alone. In the end, the sheik will discover that he loves the heroine and will forsake all others to be with her. In Hull’s novel, the sheik wanted revenge on English people because his English father had treated his Spanish mother badly so he abused Lady Diana. By the conclusion of the novel, he has changed and does not want to abuse Diana and is intent on sending her away to keep her from harm and himself. She would rather kill herself than be without him and threatens to shoot herself but not before the sheik stops her and declares that he will never let her go. This is perhaps the final reason that the sheik character endures. A strong man who is a leader to his people has found a woman that he must have at all costs. He will risk everything to keep his woman. What female reader can resist a strong man brought to his knees by a beautiful woman? --- About the author: Nicola spent her childhood in Los Angeles with her parents and younger sister. She graduated from university with a degree in communications and held a variety of positions in journalism, education, government and non profit. Nicola has traveled extensively throughout Europe, China and Central America. Nicola’s goal is to create rich characters with a strong male lead and a passionate female lead. She also strives to set her books in exotic places such as Arabia and Ceylon. Nicola’s novels include 'The Sheik and the Slave', 'The Tea Plantation' and 'The Sheik’s Son'. Links to her books: Amazon USA www.nicolaitalia.com


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