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Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd
Talbot Mundy
Insight Studios Group -- Legendary Library, 248 pages

Talbot Mundy
William Lancaster Gribbon was born near London, England, in 1867. Expelled from school at 16 he ran off to Germany to join a travelling circus. After returning home in 1897, he spent time in India doing relief work and as a newspaper corespondent. Back in England in 1903, broke and under suspicion of shady stock deals, he married, escaped arrest, and joined his new wife in South Africa. She returned to England, while he claimed to have worked his way to Australia on a series of steamers to avoid arrest. Back in South Africa in 1904 under the alias Tom Hartley he led a life of an ivory poacher, cattle rustler, grifter and womanizer, some of which he retold in his early novel The Ivory Trail (1919). Besides being intimate with a number of native women, he also began a torrid affair with a hard-drinking and married woman of the British aristocracy. Upon being divorced by their spouses, Inez and William, now using the alias Talbot Chetwynd Miller Mundy, married. Mundy was to marry thrice more, under similar circumstances. In 1909 Inez and Talbot moved to New York City, where, after recovering from a beating at the hands of some seamy poker players, Mundy spent some time homeless before being taken in by a reporter who loaned him a typewriter.

He sold his first story, "A Transaction in Diamonds," to The Scrap Book in 1911, but soon began publishing regularly in Adventure where most of his major works were to appear. The classic short story "The Soul of the Regiment" in the February 1912 issue of Adventure established Talbot Mundy as one of the preeminent adventure writers of all time. His first novel, Rung Ho! was published in 1914. His works include the classics King of the Khyber Rifles (1916), Guns of the Gods (1921), Om: The Secret of Abhor Valley (1924), The Devil's Guard (1926), and Tros of Samothrace (1934). His last novel, Old Ugly Face, was published in 1940, shortly before his death from the complications of diabetes.

Mundy was frequently compared to Rudyard Kipling and H. Rider Haggard, but over his career his writing had increasingly strong elements of Eastern mysticism largely absent from theirs. Like Haggard's tales of Africa, Mundy's tales of Africa, India and the Middle East all bore the evidence of his first-hand knowledge of the sites, and customs of the people he wrote of. His heroes were equally capable of fighting or, unlike Conan and his ilk, bluffing or waiting out their way out of a dicey situation. Mundy's heroes were, as his biographer Brian Taves put it, "philosopher-adventurers", frequently pondering the meaning of life and destiny. Talbot Mundy became involved in Theosophy in the early 20s and wrote many articles in The Theosophical Path, and a posthumously published book outlining his philosophy of life: I Say Sunrise.

Recently renewed interest in Mundy has led to the publication of scholarly works on his life and writings: Talbot Mundy: Messenger of Destiny edited by Donald M. Grant (1983); The Last Adventurer: The Life of Talbot Mundy (1984) by Peter Beresford Ellis and the upcoming Talbot Mundy, Philosopher of Adventure by Brian Taves.

ISFDB Bibliography
Insight Studios -- publisher
Pulp Rack Website
Talbot Mundy E-Text: The Theosophical Path
Talbot Mundy E-Text: Om: The Secret of Abhor Valley
Talbot Mundy E-Text: King -- of the Khyber Rifles
Film Commentary: King -- of the Khyber Rifles (1953)

Mark Wheatley
Mark Wheatley is an internationally known illustrator, writer, editor and publisher. He has won the Inkpot and Speakeasy awards and has been nominated for the Harvey and Ignatz awards. His illustrations, chosen for inclusion in the Spectrum selection of the best in fantasy and science fiction art, has also appeared in magazines, books, comic books, and games. Currently he is writing for Troll Tales, a new television series being produced in Denmark, and developing an online daily comic strip. He has collected Talbot Mundy stories for over 20 years.

Mark Wheatley Website

Frank Cho
An increasingly popular illustrator, Frank has been nominated for the National Cartoonists Society award for book illustration and has won both the Scripps Howard and Charles Schultz awards for cartooning. His daily comic strip, Liberty Meadows, is syndicated around the world and is also published as a comic book from Insight Studios Group. Frank is an avid student of golden age illustrators and pulp fiction.

Frank Cho Website

Past Feature Reviews
A review by Georges T. Dodds

Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd Combine the best adventure writer of the 20th century, a lavishly and beautifully illustrated edition of some rare tales of one of his greatest fictional heroes, and a thoroughly researched introduction by Brian Taves, currently writing a literary study on Mundy, and you have a book that no fan of adventure literature can be without. Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd collects the novellas "The 'Iblis' at Ludd" and "The Seventeen Thieves of El-Kalil" set in Palestine and first published in Adventure in January and February 1922.

Much of what made H. Rider Haggard's African tales of the great white hunter Allan Quatermain, or Arthur O. Friel's tales of Amazonian adventure was that both had spent a significant period of time in these regions. Similarly, Mundy had spent close to six months in Palestine in 1920, including trips to Damascus, Syria, to interview King Feisul (who granted him permission to use him as a character in one of his books), to Hebron (a.k.a. El-Kalil) to visit the tomb of Abraham, and to Cairo and the pyramids. While in Palestine, he was also involved in relief efforts, served as editor of the Jerusalem News, and was involved in local diplomacy. It is this first-hand knowledge of the people, sites, and the political situation that allowed Mundy to produce such wonderfully true-to-life stories set in the Middle East, of which 11 appeared in Adventure in 1921 and 1922.

Mundy's forte wasn't simply good research; Mundy was a born storyteller. Besides his predilection for creating tall tales around his early life as a scoundrel, Mundy could create larger than life heroes. Unlike creations like Robert E. Howard's "Conan" or Edgar Rice Burroughs' "John Carter of Mars," Mundy's heroes, while courageous and plenty brawny when the situation required it, were capable of bluffing, playing one enemy versus another, and exploiting the character flaws of foes, and the fortes of his associates -- traits largely absent in other adventure heroes of the time. Also, like Mundy himself, his characters pondered the meaning of life, of destiny, a spiritual development that would mold their characters and set them apart from the typical pulp heroes.

In the two short novels in Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd, Jimgrim, an American expatriate working for the British forces in Palestine is sort of freelance spy/diplomat/detective sent in to problem areas to resolve things. In "The 'Iblis' at Ludd" Jimgrim fights corruption in the British command structure, and a strange apparently leprous Dervish leader and his band of thieves. Jimgrim uncovers and defuses a plot to steal arms and munitions from the British and incriminate innocent Zionists. The theme of the exotic and hypnotic dance of the Dervish leader, is one that Mundy used more than once; in particular it served Grogham, the ill-fated hero of Mundy's "The Soul of the Regiment" (1912), to keep himself and his men alive among the natives of Egypt and the Sudan. In "The Seventeen Thieves of El- Kalil," Jimgrim is sent to Hebron to defuse a situation where the Moslem population, led by a family of thieves, is intent on slaughtering the Jewish population. It takes all of Jimgrim's savvy to play off the different factions until help can arrive from Jerusalem. If I had one warning about the stories for today's readers it is that while Mundy could hardly be accused of racism, his characters' views do reflect 1920s attitudes about the ethnic/religious groups of the region.

Besides Mundy's great stories, Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd is graced with 4 lovely colour plates (a signed plate is included in the deluxe edition), and line-drawn end papers by Mark Wheatley, as well as 4 black and white plates and a number of chapter headers by Frank Cho. Cho's line drawings are very much in the style of the pulp magazines of Mundy's era, though he has wisely not attempted to duplicate the unique style of Joseph Clement Coll, the illustrator of many of Mundy's early novels. The introduction "From Jerusalem to Jimgrim: Talbot Mundy in the Middle East" by Brian Taves reveals a lot of new information about Mundy's stay in Palestine and presents several rare photographs of Mundy along with Sally Ames, who was later to be his 4th wife.

Insight Studios is planning to reprint 29 volumes of Mundy stories and novels, many never before published in book form. If I had one caveat about this, it is that, for marketing purposes, several works previously published in book form will be retitled for the series (creating the potential for a great deal of bibliographic confusion). However, if all the publications in the series live up to the quality of Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd we can pardon the publishers this slight offense.

If you still don't believe that Talbot Mundy was the greatest adventure writer of the 20th century and aren't convinced that you should run out and buy Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd, sample his classic novels King of the Khyber Rifles and Om: The Secret of Abhor Valley on the web. If after reading them, you still aren't convinced, you should opt out of reading adventure literature as a whole; it obviously isn't for you.

Copyright © 2000 Georges T. Dodds

Georges Dodds is a research scientist in vegetable crop physiology, who for close to 25 years has read and collected close to 2000 titles of predominantly pre-1950 science-fiction and fantasy, both in English and French. He writes columns on early imaginative literature for WARP, the newsletter/fanzine of the Montreal Science Fiction and Fantasy Association.


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