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Lupin, Arsène. Arsène Lupin was created by the French author Maurice Leblanc and appeared in a number of stories and twenty novels and short story collections from 1905 to 1939, beginning with “L'Arrestation d'Arsène Lupin” (Je Sais Tout #6, 15 July 1905); translations and unauthorized expansions of the Lupin stories were published around the world for decades.
Arsène Lupin is the "Prince of Thieves," the Lupin for whom the category is named and on whom nearly all 20th century gentlemen thieves are consciously or unconsciously modeled. Lupin is a brilliant thief, rogue, and anti-hero, the best in France and someone who even battles Sherlock Holmes to a standstill. However, unlike many other gentleman thieves, Lupin is not a suave product of the upper class. He is a street urchin made good. As well, unlike other gentleman thieves Lupin’s true name is not well-known, so he does not maintain an alternate identity over a long period. Lupin is notorious–infamous, even–and although he does have some friends they rarely play a role in his stories. Lupin has a great deal of joie de vivre, and loves to laugh at those who deserve it, especially the police, who he views as “dunderheads” incapable of understanding him, much less arresting him.
Lupin greatly enjoys his life and his crimes. But Lupin does not commit the crimes for the money, which he does not need. He commits the crimes either because the victim deserves it, in which case the victim is someone like a murderer or child abductor who really does deserve victimization, or because a work of art or piece of jewelry is not being appreciated by its owner nearly as much as Lupin will when he acquires it. And in some of the cases Lupin commits his crimes and defies the police just for the sheer joy of the chase and the crime. Lupin enjoys humiliating the police, and his poor enemy on the police force, Inspector Ganimard, is treated with a genial contempt by Lupin. The one time that Ganimard is successful against Lupin, in Lupin’s debut, when Ganimard arrests him, Lupin adroitly turns that to his advantage, so that Ganimard comes to regret having arrested Lupin. Lupin is not amoral, exactly; he is governed by a code, of sorts, so that he does help the innocent and the victimized and repays his debts. But he is a criminal because it is fun, and he has little concern for those whose valuables he steals.
Lupin is young, handsome, quick-witted, brave, and full of spirit. He is learned but carries his knowledge lightly. He plans his crimes carefully and long in advance, but he is also good at thinking quickly when he is surprised. He is also a master of disguise, to the point where, when the police were concentrating on catching him, he took on the identity of Lenormand, the chief of the Sûreté, and for four years headed the official investigations into his own activities. As time passes Lupin works more for the side of good, solving crimes in the Holmesian style and working more closely with the police.
* I'm including the Arsene Lupin stories and novels in the Best of the Encyclopedia category because they are great fun to read and because of Arsene Lupin's archetypal status. It's fairly simple: Maurice Leblanc, via Arsene Lupin, was as influential on crime, mystery, and detective fiction in the 20th century as any other author you'd like to name. Via Lupin, Leblanc reshaped the master thief character type and made it his own, so that master thieves following Lupin's debut couldn't help but be strongly influenced by Lupin and by the Lupin stories. Lupin hugely deserves to have the entire class of master thief characters bear his name; he's one of the greatest archetypal characters of the 20th century regardless of genre. There were master thieves before Arsene Lupin, including A.J. Raffles and more obscure characters like Grant Allen's Colonel Clay and Guy Boothby's Simon Carne, but Lupin set the mold and then broke it. (It helps, of course, that Leblanc's stories, even in translation, are clever fun that have aged only minimally).
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