Jules Verne Forum



talbot mundy

From: Brian Taves <btav~at~loc.gov>
Date: Wed, 5 Apr 2006 19:33:26 -0400 (EDT)
To: jvforum <jvf~at~math.technion.ac.il>

I wouldn't normally bother the forum with a publication not directly
related to Verne, but numerous generic and thematic topics in this book
overlap with Verne studies, and I know so many of you on the Forum, so

        In 1895, 16-year-old Talbot Mundy fled the strait-laced Victorian
upbringing of his native England for a life of adventure. He crossed the
entire northern frontier of India, into Tibet, spent four years in Africa,
and traveled the Middle East in the wake of World War I.
        Colonial odysseys of the time led most writers to echo Rudyard
Kipling's support of British imperialism, Sax Rohmer's "yellow peril," or
Joseph Conrad's bleak "heart of darkness." Not Mundy. His
fantasy-adventure books challenged assumptions of Western cultural
        Mundy's writing was based in Eastern religious teaching, informed
by his membership in the Theosophical Society in San Diego,
California. There he wrote Om--The Secret of Ahbor Valley, Tros of
Samothrace, and Queen Cleopatra.
        Radio won him an audience of millions of daily listeners in the
1930s. Such classic Mundy novels as King--of the Khyber Rifles have also
been adapted for the screen.
        Talbot Mundy: Philosopher of Adventure is the first scholarly
examination of this influential writer, and an appendix includes the
original publication of all of Mundy's work.

        Brian Taves has authored six books on aspects of popular culture
and media, including The Romance of Adventure: The Genre of Historical
Adventure Movies. Taves, who earned his Ph.D. at the University of
Southern California, is a film archivist at the Library of Congress.

Talbot Mundy, Philosopher of Adventure
A Critical Biography
Brian Taves
1ISBN 0-7864-2234-3
photographs, appendices, notes, index
310pp. softcover (7 x 10) 2006

Published by McFarland:

(for $31.96, 20%off)


Excerpt from Preface:

        Preconceptions of empire adventure view it as a genre that
uniformly celebrates the hegemony of white imperialists and Western
culture, at best with a minor, patronizing glimpse of Eastern
"exoticism." Countless studies have relied on the example of Rudyard
Kipling as the model of such literature during the late 19th and early
20th century. However, there was a significant counter-example, largely
overlooked: an Anglo-American writer who also achieved wide
popularity. While writing for the same readers and within a similar
framework, he was not only overtly anti-colonial but one who also
championed Eastern philosophy and culture.
        Talbot Mundy (1879-1940) spanned the interval between Victorian
classicism and the modernist era, writing 45 novels, most appearing in
multiple editions during his lifetime. Mundy's short stories and novels
have been translated into such languages as Armenian, Danish, Dutch,
French, German, Hindustani, Hungarian, Japanese, Norwegian, and
Swedish. Equally well-known in his time were short stories and serials in
magazines, and he penned 156, including essays and poems, in addition to
hundreds of radio scripts. Utilizing the genres of adventure and fantasy,
he used as his settings the contemporary colonial locales of Africa, the
Middle East, and especially India and Tibet,. Mundy's writing reflected
his own youthful years roaming these regions, and his firsthand
observations of occult teachings. His spiritual interests led him to
explore a wide variety of faiths, becoming especially involved in
        Mundy was more than a mere writer of diverting tales; through his
literature he was engaged in a lifelong discourse on philosophy and
religion. Long before Eastern religious ideas became diluted and
mainstream under the label "New Age," he effectively translated such ideas
as karma and reincarnation into a western idiom in such classic tales of
India as King--of the Khyber Rifles and Om--The Secret of Ahbor
Valley. These and other stories of Lamas and Tibet, such as The Devil's
Guard, Black Light, and Old Ugly-Face, situate Mundy as one of the first
prominent genre writers to chronicle such teachings from a sympathetic,
understanding viewpoint. They paved the way for an acceptance of new
literary norms, as epitomized by James Hilton's Lost Horizon. From 1925
to 1936, Mundy changed literary expectations again when his Tros of
Samothrace saga of imperial Rome departed from conventional portraits of
Caesar and Cleopatra to offer a feminist, anti-imperial critique of the
foundations of Western thinking. Mundy's books continue to find new
readers; 25 titles, including two published for the first time
posthumously, have been issued over 50 times in the 65 years since his
        My principal goal has been to investigate an important author who
will need to be acknowledged in future studies as one who flourished
despite defying all the "rules" supposedly dictated by the genre and
publishers at the time. Yet these deliberate decisions also kept Mundy
from the bestseller status achieved by authors like Sax Rohmer, who framed
the East as an "other" and menace to the West. Joseph Conrad provides the
closest parallel to Mundy of a major adventure author, sharing
philosophical concerns, but without the religious overtones so vital to
Mundy. This sensibility, and Mundy's hopeful conclusions, also placed him
outside the realm of the bleaker currents of literary modernism
represented by Conrad's "heart of darkness."
        I traveled to the various locales where Mundy resided in the
United States and England, walking in his footsteps to better understand
the man, thereby uncovering a variety of local resources which have helped
to fill gaps in his life story. These have ranged from the Hammersmith,
London neighborhood and Rugby School of his birth and youth in
England; from New York City to Norway, Maine; from Reno, Nevada to San
Diego, California; from Manchester, Connecticut to Anna Maria,
Florida. Significant archival resources have been provided by New York
Supreme Court records; the court records and attendant newspaper publicity
surrounding Mundy's attempted 1923 divorce in Reno, Nevada; the
Theosophical libraries in Altadena and Point Loma, California; the
Bobbs-Merrill and Curtis Brown papers at Indiana University; the J. Lloyd
Eaton Collection at the University of California at Riverside;the Rose
Wilder Lane papers at the Herbert Hoover Presidential Library; the Library
of Congress; the Charles Scribners Sons papers at Princeton
University; the Fox and Universal scripts at the University of Southern
California; the University of California at Berkeley; the Jerusalem News
at the Boston Public Library; the Anna Maria Historical Society; the
Arthur Sullivant Hoffman papers at Pennsylvania State University; the
Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Library; the British Film
Institute; the Wincenty Lutoslawski letters; the Nicholas Roerich
Museum; and most notably the private collection of Mundy's stepson,
Richards Ames, by his marraige to his wife Sally. I have had complete
access to the Ames papers, and am especially grateful for the unfailing
kindness and patience of his widow, Betty Ames.
        Most of these sources were unknown until found during the research
for this book. No one previously seems to have comprehensively looked
into Mundy's writing for film or radio, although the limited resources on
the latter medium have long been in existence. By contrast, the Thomas
H. Ince papers (relating to Mundy's 1923 employment in Hollywood) did not
become available until 1998. The manuscript of Mundy's film treatment of
Rung Ho!, entitled FIFTY-SEVEN, only emerged for a brief time in the
1980s, in the hands of a series of dealers, before it was abruptly sold
(after my own examination for this book) to an unknown collector, rather
than an archive.
        I first began reading Mundy when I was in high school, and
realized that he was an author meriting serious interest. Beginning
university studies permitted locating many rarer Mundy stories as well as
discovering the dearth of information about him. Beginning the research
that would eventually culminate in this book allowed me to receive
first-hand the recollections and insights of many who knew Mundy,
including his widow Dawn and stepson.
Received on Thu 06 Apr 2006 - 05:49:04 IDT

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