As many of you know, I have a little thing for collecting old books, particularly those about Tibet. Mostly, this means books that are written by explorers or missionaries, and which can be rather stuffy and self-important. Recently, however, I’ve stumbled across a new type of Tibet-related book: pulp fiction. That’s right, cheap, crappy mystery novels set in the magical and mysterious land of Tibet!
So far, I’ve only come across three of these, but they’re all pretty juicy. The first was William Dixon Bell’s The Secret of Tibet, a piece of juvenile fiction that follows the adventures of two American aviators lost in ‘the sacred lamaseries of forbidden Tibet’. The duo discover a lost race, solve some mysteries, and generally have a good time. If this plot sounds familiar, it might be because James Hilton’s Lost Horizon, the piece of fiction that introduced the world to Shangri-la, also follows the adventures of some stranded aviators who discover a lost race. The Secret of Tibet was published five year’s after Lost Horizon, and a year after Frank Capra’s film adaptation. Nobody said that pulp fiction had to be original.
Next in the lineup is Clyde Clason’s The Man from Tibet. This 1939 mystery takes place in Chicago, but the plot is features a mysterious Tibetan manuscript, and an even more mysterious academic who deciphers it. Who knew academics could be so exciting? Lastly, we have Stuart in Tibet, a 1949 adventure by Neil Buckley. This novel chronicles the stories of a British agent who becomes involved in a dispute between the Tibetan and Chinese governments over rival candidates to succeed the recently deceased Dalai Lama. Despite being a work of popular fiction, it displays a striking awareness of Tibetan political controversies, while simultaneously propagating Imperialists notions by having a western intelligence agent sort things out. The cover is great. We’ve got a dashing American in monk’s robes brandishing a gun, protecting the Dalai Lama, who is seen cowering in the background. What’s not to love?
So that’s it, a little bit about a couple of books I came across recently. If anyone reading this knows about any other books along these lines, feel free to let me know! And keep your eyes peeled for some updates to this post, as more of these gems come to light.
Bishop, Peter. 2001. “Not Only a Shangri-la: Images of Tibet in Western Literature.” In Imagining Tibet, ed. Thierry Dodin and Heinz Räther, 201-221. Boston: Wisdom Publications.
This article has a good discussion of the vision of Tibet found in western fiction, even referring to Stuart in Tibet.
I’ll post more references here, as I come across them. Feel free to let me know about anything I’ve missed!
8 Replies to “Pulp Fiction in Tibet”
How Tibet in comic books? That’s comparable to pulp fiction.
There’s a new series called “The Great Ten.” Issue #1 was not a great read, but it is topical. It is about a PRC superhero team with a Tibetan member who is caught in the middle when they are told to put down a Tibetan uprising.
I was curious about Batman’s training in Tibet, from the movie . . . :
“Batman’s journey to Tibet, and his ninja training, were both elements introduced into the comic book by writer James Owsley in Batman #431 (March, 1989). The series editor, Denny O’Neil, made the issue part of the Batman Writers Bible that he would hand out to each new writer on the series, thus confirming the story’s place in canon.”
Also, Tintin in Tibet is a classic . . .
A quick search of the Marvel Comics wiki site reveals a few interesting gems. In particular, Hulk volume 1, number 5, (published in 1963) has the Hulk defending Lhasa from an evil Chinese general.
As for Batman, apparently his training in Tibet paid off, as he uses thögal (a Dzokchen meditation) to fake his own death in Batman 681. The Dark Knight’s practices don’t have all that much to do with actual thögal, but it is the comics.
For further reading:
Marvel Comics about Tibet
DC comics about Tibet
Well. I just got my hands on an issue of Batman 431, which IMDB claims contains the beginning of Batman’s association with Tibet (click here for the reference, then search for ‘tibet’ to find it on the page). Oops, Tibet never shows up. Batman does train in a snowy part of North Korea in this issue, but nothing about Tibet. So if anyone reading this happens to know what issue introduces the ‘Batman trains in Tibet’ motif, please let me know.
If you are into finding references to Tibet in comics, you might as well read about the character Dr Strange created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko. Dr Stephen Strange (first appearance in Marvel’s Strange Tales #110 in mid-1963) was trained either in Tibet or the Himalayas by the “Ancient One”, an old sage who transmitted him all his knowledge about “magic”. The run by Ditko in Strange Tales has become legendary, although his depiction of the Himalayas/Tibet (and monasteries) is quite telling about how these region were “seen” in the mid 60’s by guys in the Marvel offices in NY! There are regular references to Tibet and the Himalayas in the stories of he great Dr.
Thanks for the suggestion! I will definitely look out for this. I’ve picked out a few comics to look through, and will be posting something about them in the next few weeks…. Once interlibrary loan gets them to me.
I found your page as I am reading “Stuart in Tibet” right now. Intrigued by your collection of old books on Tibet as I have a small collection of my own, about half of which I’ve read so far…
Along the pulp line, you may also want to seek out “The Atom Chasers in Tibet” by Angus MacVicar, “Sue in Tibet” by Doris Shelton Still, and “The Rose of Tibet” by Lionel Davidson…
Check out the: The Third Eye by Lobsang Rampa
It’s worth having a read of The Lost World of Everest by Berkeley Gray if you run into a copy.
Three British climbers intent on the conquest of Everest instead fall into an extraordinary verdant Himalayan valley unknown to the outer world. This is no Shangri-La, however, and the chaps meet with a few unpleasant surprises and have to fight their way out. One incident is their meeting with descendants of survivors of the Indian Mutiny.