Talbot Mundy’s Life of Adventure

Apr 22, 2019 by

Tuesday, April 23, marks the 140th anniversary of the birth of Talbot Mundy. Born William Lancaster Gribbon in Hammersmith, London, Mundy truly led a life of adventure. A natural born storyteller, young William Gribbon started off as the rebellious black sheep of the family. Like many young Victorian Englishmen, he took advantage of colonial opportunities abroad in Africa and India.

These experiences gave him much fodder for his future career as an author, though his own conduct when entrusted with responsibility was considered disgraceful. Unsurprisingly, Mundy portrayed himself as a noble adventurer rather than a scoundrel. He turned to writing in 1911 and quickly found a niche in the pages of ADVENTURE using his newly adopted pseudonym.

His earliest work, including the much-reprinted “Soul of a Regiment,” drew favorable comparisons to Rudyard Kipling. He soon began making use of recurring characters such as his Hindi femme fatale, Yasmini, and the heroic British adventurer, Athelstan King. Both were featured in numerous stories and novels including the bestselling KING OF THE KHYBER RIFLES (1916).

Mundy’s growing interest in Christian Science led him into Theosophical circles. Consequently, his work took on a more mystical bent. This gradual transformation is best seen in the popular Jimgrim series featuring a recurring cast of characters whose eponymous hero is cut from the same cloth as T. E. Lawrence and soon functioned more as a critic of Western imperialism rather than an embodiment of its values.

A growing interest in Buddhism and Eastern philosophy saw Mundy’s work grow more complex and literate in its ambitions, but he never lost his ability to thrill readers. He also penned a series of historical adventures more akin to Harold Lamb than to his contemporary adventure tales, though some (particularly his adventures of Tros of Samothrace) still reflect his Theosophical ambitions. Toward the end of his life, his health and popularity had begun to decline, but he still brought a thrilling spirit of adventure and a fascination for the exotic East to many of the episodes of the long-running radio series JACK ARMSTRONG, THE ALL-AMERICAN BOY that he scripted up until his death in 1940 at age 61.

Mundy mixed with many of the most notable bohemian artists and literati of the early 20th Century. Most pulp fans know of him as an influence on Robert E. Howard (particularly on Howard’s El Borak and Kirby O’Donnell adventures). Talbot Mundy’s works have been collected in recent years by some of the leading pulp nostalgia publishers including Black Dog Books, Altus Press, and Murania Press. The full extent of his influence and literary excellence remains ripe for rediscovery at a later date.

Keep watching our website for more on the pulp greats. Then plan to attend PulpFest. We’ll be highlighting the many ways that pulp fiction and pulp art have inspired writers, artists, film directors, software developers, game designers, and other creators over the decades. PulpFest 2019 will take place August 15 – 18 at the DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel Pittsburgh – Cranberry. It’s easy to register, just click the register button below our home page banner.

(Beginning in 1911, William Lancaster Gribbon — better known as Talbot Mundy — began his thirty-year association with ADVENTURE. Over the next three decades, the magazine featured many fine covers. However, one of our favorites is the August 1911 number, with cover art by Percy E. Cowen. Published in the issue was the first of many fine short stories that Talbot Mundy authored for the magazine.

Murania Press publishes YASMINI THE INCOMPARABLE by Talbot Mundy on May 1. Altus Press published THE COMPLETE UP AND DOWN THE EARTH TALES by Talbot Mundy in December. Mundy historian and author Brian Taves hosts an active and highly informative Facebook group, TALBOT MUNDY – MASTER OF MYSTICAL ADVENTURE, dedicated to the author. DMR Books has featured “Mundy Mondays” since January as John E. Boyle reviews the author’s works in chronological sequence.)