Jean de La Hire

Jean-de-La-HireAdolphe d’Espie (1878-1956) was the son of Count Célestin d’Espie and his wife Marie Maillol (the sister of the sculptor and painter Aristide Maillol). He was born in Banyuls-sur-Mer (Pyrénées-Orientales), and inherited the title of count on his father’s death. His main pseudonym as a writer was Jean de La Hire; he supposed that La Hire, one of Joan of Arc’s companions, was an ancestor. Under that name he wrote his classic novels but also his science fiction; his serious historical novels, like Mirabeau and Sainte Thérèse d’Avila he published as Edmond Cazal; his war novels were by Commandant Cazal; as Arsène Lefort he wrote his historicals of sword-play and derring-do; and he used the names of Alexandre Zorka, André Laumière and John Vinegrower for his romances.

He studied at Béziers, and founded there the literary review L’Aube méridionale. He published several novels before his military service in Marseilles in 1900, and then moved to Paris and continued to write well-received novels. He found the Bibliothèque indépendante in 1905, and then edited the Librairie Universelle from 1905 to 1906.

It was the publication of his first science fiction novel, La roué fulgurante (1908), which was very successful, that determined him to write popular fiction for the mass market. La roué fulgurante was itself an interesting book; Stableford claims it to be the first story of alien abduction. The abductors travel through the solar system in what is remarkably like a flying saucer; after the flying saucer boom of the late 1940s, it was republished as Soucoupe volante.

La Hire is best known for his invention of the Nyctalope, the first true super-hero in science fiction, whose true name was Léo Saint-Clair. His origins are in L’Homme Qui Peut Vivre dans l’Eau [The Man Who Could Live Underwater] (1909), which features Léo’s father Jean Saint-Clair, but he himself first appears in Le Mystère des XV [The Mystery Of The XV] (1911) (translated by Brian Stableford as The Nyctalope on Mars). (Le Mystère des XV was Le Secret des XII in 1954, for some reason.) After the Great War he reappeared in Lucifer (1921–22) (translated by Stableford as Nyctalope vs Lucifer); there were to be fifteen more books. Saint-Clair is effectively a cyborg: he has an artificial heart, artificial night vision, and other powers; he devotes himself to fighting villains and the occasional alien.

La Hire wrote much else, including large numbers of books about the adventures of Boy Scouts, for the juvenile market; some of these had science-fictional elements too. His novel Sainte Thérèse d’Avila (1921), which he considered his best book, caused considerable scandal, because he interpreted her religious ecstasies in sexual terms. It was translated into Spanish, and then widely attacked in the Catholic world. It was put onto the Index, and solemnly burned in a courtyard if the royal palace in Madrid, in the presence of people such as the papal legate and King Alfonso XIII. La Hire then wrote (under his Edmond Cazal pseudonym),  L’Inquisition d’Espagne (1924); that was put on the Index as well. 

He fought in the Great War; when the Second World War came along Jean de La Hire became closely involved Pétain’s Vichy Government, writing books which were openly pro-German. He was imprisoned as a collaborator after the War, and forbidden to publish; his pseudonym John Vinegrower appeared as his attempt to evade the ban. He died in 1956 in Nice; his lungs were weak since he had been gassed while serving in the First World War, and it is said that his final illness was connected with this.

Brian Stableford has so far translated five of Jean de La Hire’s books: The Nyctalope vs Lucifer (2007); The Nyctalope on Mars (2008);  Enter the Nyctalope (2009); Return of the Nyctalope (2013); The Fiery Wheel (2013).

My information comes from the Encyclopedia of Science Fiction; from Wikipédia; and from Pierre Versins, Encyclopédie de l’utopia, etc. I find it fascinating that the entry in the Dictionnaire de Biographie Française (fascicule 109, 1995) gives quite a detailed account of his life up to 1905: there is nothing after that. In other words, as soon as he started publishing popular literature, he is no longer of interest to the editors of the Dictionnaire.


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