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!