New Walter Utt Historical Novel Provides a Satisfying Conclusion


(system) #1

A generation of readers who enjoyed the historical novels of Walter Utt, the beloved Pacific Union College history professor who died in 1985, may be surprised at the appearance of No Peace for a Soldier, published recently by Pacific Press. That generation may be mystified at the reappearance of Armand de Gandon, who, it may be recalled, was the French Protestant hero of Utt’s earlier volumnes The Wrath of the King (1966) and Home to our Valleys (1977).

The newly released volume No Peace for a Soldier, includes The Wrath of the King and new material, previously unpublished, which continues the narrative to the year 1688. A companion volume, Any Sacrifice but Conscience, also recently published, includes Home to our Valleys (1689) and additional new material which brings the saga of Dr. Utt’s fictional hero to a satisfying conclusion in 1691.

The truth is that an extensive and neglected manuscript, left incomplete at the time of Dr. Utt’s death, holds the key to the fate of Armand de Gandon, recounting his further adventures and the fate of his Huguenot companions.

The successful synthesis of the unpublished narrative and the earlier volumes is the work of Helen Godfrey Pyke, Christian writer and novelist, whose own career was touched by reading Walter Utt’s novels, resulting in her book A Wind to the Flames, about an Albigensian protagonist named Walter. Helen Pyke has not only found the “voice” of Walter Utt, but she achieves a seamless and satisfying progression from the 1685 revocation of the Edict of Nantes dramatized in The Wrath of the King to an eventful conclusion and escape from France by Armand in 1691 (Any Sacrifice but Conscience.) Between these events is the heroic but improbable success of less than 1000 Waldensians and others in the recapture of the valleys and mountain strongholds of Savoy, retold in the first section of “Any Sacrifice…”

The historical accuracy of these accounts might be compared to the meticulously documented naval exploits of the fictional Captain Jack Aubrey in the novels of Patrick O’Brien (Master and Commander and others). If you are appalled at the idea of mercenary Huguenot officers, be aware that a large minority of French officers were Huguenot nobility whose profession was soldiering, some of whom fought also for the Dutch Republic as well as for William of Orange, who became William III of England. The heroism of these officers was supported by their Reformed beliefs, and they usually fought for Protestant princes. The battles of conscience in the mind of Armand de Gandon, who turns his back on honors in the court of Louis XIV, are representative of his generation of Protestant nobility. (1)

Finally, if you find it difficult to put these books down, you will find company in the comments of Martha Utt-Billington, Dr. Utt’s widow, who has confided that she was compelled to finish reading “the rest of the story,” much of which she had never previously read. Join a new generation of Walter Utt fans who find these stories of devotion, adventure, and of brutal state suppression of religious freedom simply impossible to lay aside.

1. Trim,D. Huguenot Soldiering c.1560-1685: The Origins of a Tradition (In Press)

Dr. Bruce Anderson writes from Angwin, California.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at http://spectrummagazine.org/node/614