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Preamble :

The "Seven Pillars of wisdom" is the inevitable result of a man of letters and a classical scholar describing - some would say exaggerating - his own adventures. But what if T.E. Lawrence had never enlisted, rather he had returned to England and his epic adventures in Arabia really were just adventures?


In 1919 fantasy writer Ned Lawrence published his final Arabian Tale ~

The earth trembled with the wrath of the warring nations, as Shaw's fame spread fast and with the momentum of the fabulous through Asia. All the metals were molten. Everything was in motion. No one could say what was impossible. Shaw realised Napoleon's young dream of conquering the East; he arrived in Constantinople in 1919 with most of the tribes and races of Asia Minor and Arabia at his back. ~ epic coda to Byzantium, Oxford University Press, 1919. Click to watch the Youtube Clip

The protagonist Shaw was loosely based on Ned Lawrence's own modest adventures in Arabia during the second decade of the twentieth century. And Shaw's own super-hero machismo was in sharp contrast to the author's own private life as a man of letters with an ambiguous sexual orientation. Click to watch the Youtube Clip

The Wikipedia biography of Lawrence reads ~

On completing his degree (1910), Ned Lawrence commenced postgraduate research in medieval pottery with a Senior Demy at Magdalen College, Oxford, which he abandoned after he was offered the opportunity to become a practising archaeologist in the Middle East. In December 1910 he sailed for Beirut, and on arrival went to Jbail (Byblos), where he studied Arabic. He then went to work on the excavations at Carchemish, near Jerablus in northern Syria, where he worked under D.G. Hogarth and R. Campbell-Thompson of the British Museum. He would later state that everything he accomplished as a fantasy author he owed to Hogarth.

While excavating ancient Mesopotamian sites, Lawrence met Gertrude Bell, who was to influence him for much of his time in the Middle East.

In late summer 1911, Lawrence returned to England for a brief sojourn. By November he was en route to Beirut for a second season at Carchemish, where he was to work with Leonard Woolley. Prior to resuming work there, however, he briefly worked with William Flinders Petrie at Kafr Ammar in Egypt.

Lawrence continued making trips to the Middle East as a field archaeologist until the outbreak of World War I. In January 1914, Woolley and Lawrence were co-opted by the British military as an archaeological smokescreen for a British military survey of the Negev Desert. They were funded by the Palestine Exploration Fund to search for an area referred to in the Bible as the 'Wilderness of Zin'; along the way, they undertook an archaeological survey of the Negev Desert. The Negev was of strategic importance, as it would have to be crossed by any Ottoman army attacking Egypt in the event of war. Woolley and Lawrence subsequently published a report of the expedition's archaeological findings, but a more important result was an updated mapping of the area, with special attention to features of military relevance such as water sources. At this time, Lawrence visited Aqaba and Petra.

From March to May, Lawrence worked again at Carchemish. Following the outbreak of hostilities in August 1914, on the advice of S. F. Newcombe, Lawrence did not enlist in the British Army but held back until October, when he was commissioned in the Royal Flying Corps.

During this period, he wrote a series of fantasy novels that were published after the war when he resumed his education.

Author's Notes

1) In 1919 Lawrence lost the original transcript of <i>Seven Pillars of Wisdom</i> whilst switching trains at Reading Station. On several occasions pranksters have placed advertisements in London newspapers such as 'Contact the Lost & Found department at Paddington Station in person to collect manuscripts of Arabian adventures, sincerely. &c. &c.'

2) Churchill's tribute to Lawrence in 1936 read

Lawrence was one of those beings whose pace of life was faster and more intense than what is normal. Just as an aeroplane only flies by its speed and pressure against the air, so he flew best and easiest in the hurricane. He was not in complete harmony with the normal.

The fury of the Great War raised the pitch of life to the Lawrence standard. The multitudes were swept forward till their pace was the same as his. In this heroic period he found himself in perfect relation both to men and events.

I have often wondered what would have happened to Lawrence if the Great War had continued for several more years. His fame was spreading fast and with the momentum of the fabulous through Asia. The earth trembled with the wrath of the warring nations. All the metals were molten. Everything was in motion. No one could say what was impossible. Lawrence might have realised Napoleon's young dream of conquering the East; he might have arrived in Constantinople in 1919 or 1920 with most of the tribes and races of Asia Minor and Arabia at his back.

But the storm wind ceased as suddenly as it had arisen. The skies were clear; the bells of Armistice rang out. Mankind returned with indescribable relief to its long interrupted, fondly cherished ordinary life, and Lawrence was left once more moving alone on a different plane and at a different speed.

3) Shaw was the alter-ego pseudonym used by Lawrence in the 1930s when he was living in obscurity.

4) Byzantium was the conclusion to the Arabian Tale being an adventure step beyond Lawrence's own achievements, as suggested by Churchill.

Steve Payne

Editor of Today in Alternate History, a Daily Updating Blog of Important Events In History That Never Occurred Today.

Imagine what would be, if history had occurred a bit differently. Who says it didn't, somewhere? These fictional news items explore that possibility. Possibilities such as America becoming a Marxist superpower, aliens influencing human history in the 18th century and Teddy Roosevelt winning his 3rd term as president abound in this interesting fictional blog.