As published in The Nine Unknown (Heathen Edition):

Talbot Mundy’s The Nine Unknown was first serialized in 1923 in Adventure, a popular and much respected pulp magazine published between 1910–1971, and of which Mundy was a prolific contributor during most of his career.

The five-part serial comprised:

Part 1: Chapters 1–4 — March 20 (Vol. 39, No. 5)

Part 2: Chapters 5–9 — March 30 (Vol. 39, No. 6)

Part 3: Chapters 10–14 — April 10 (Vol. 40, No. 1)

Part 4: Chapters 15–16 — April 20 (Vol. 40, No. 2)

Part 5: Chapters 17–21 — April 30 (Vol. 40, No. 3)

Then, one year later, on March 26, 1924, the Bobbs-Merrill Company published it as a 353-page book in the U.S., with Hutchinson following in June with their U.K. printing.

One fascinating aspect of The Nine Unknown’s publication history is that it arrived near the tail end of an insanely proliferative period of Mundy’s career, being one of 19 novel-length stories he wrote between 1921 and 1923.


Wrap your head around that!

Close this book: feel the weight in your hands, gauge its thickness, flip through the pages to ascertain their number—

Now imagine writing nineteen of these in two years.


Mind. Blown.

What’s more, one would think speed and quantity would hamper quality, but not so! While some uppity-ups are wont to dismiss this particular story as one of the lesser in Mundy’s Jimgrim series—Mundy biographer Brian Taves going so far as to call it “the most shallow and least satisfying of Mundy’s fantasies.”1Taves, Brian (2006). Talbot Mundy, Philosopher of Adventure: A Critical Biography (p. 95). McFarland and Company.—our response to those criticisms is a line borrowed, appropriately, from this story—“Chup!”—as we Heathens believe it’s masterly in its characterizations, plotting, humor, and erudition.

Mundy—scoundrel though he had been—was absolutely well read, well traveled, and well acquainted with our world of many languages; the proof oozes out of every paragraph, which is why this Heathen Edition boasts the most footnotes of any we’ve published so far—256 in total! And you’re going to need them no matter which continent you’re on as Mundy seamlessly blends English, Latin, Greek, German, French, Arabic, Hindi, and Punjabi throughout the story—sometimes even combining three languages in one sentence—add to that his manifold references to Hermetic philosophy and Greek, Roman, Islamic, Hindu, and Biblical religions/mythologies and you have a cultured potpourri that makes for, at times, quite dense reading—and we say that while eschewing absolutely any and all negative connotations! What does that mean, exactly? It’s like the difference between angel food cake and pound cake: one is light and airy; the other, thick and rich. The Nine Unknown being most assuredly of the latter.

Scoundrel, what?

Born William Lancaster Gribbon on April 23, 1879, young Gribbon seemed a rather unassuming, English, conservative middle-class kid growing up in Hammersmith, West London, until age 16 when his father’s sudden passing due to a brain hemorrhage spurred rebellion and he was expelled from school. With ever-increasing bravado, young Gribbon’s rap sheet over the course of the next 15 years became nearly as prolific as older Mundy’s literary output: fraud, impersonation, swindling, adultery, bigamy, imprisonment, even deportation from Africa! Impersonation being how he came by his most recognized pen name, itself a shortened version of an alias he used when claiming to be the illegitimate son of the Earl of Shrewsbury: Talbot Chetwynd Miller Mundy.

It seems that during this period of his life no one was ever quite certain if Gribbon was telling the truth. As they say, though, liars make the best storytellers, and in the realm of pulp, Mundy became one of the greatest.

Concerning those adultery and bigamy allegations, E.F. Bleiler notes in his book Supernatural Fiction Writers that Gribbon was a “handsome, charming, gracious, plausible, and enterprising young man—whom it was most unwise to trust with one’s money or wife.”2Bleiler, E.F. (1985). Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror Vol. 2 (p. 846). Scribner.

Considering this story deals a bit with karma, it makes perfect sense that financial problems are what led Mundy to becoming an author in the first place, since his prolificacy—in all aspects of being—was likely borne of a pecuniary persuasion. History tells us he was nearly always in debt to someone somewhere, even after becoming a successful author, a fact of which he seemed keenly self-aware as evidenced by his answer to the question “What is the genesis of a story with you?” for the 1923 book Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing:

“With me, the genesis of a story is too often the need for money; or at any rate, the need for money generally has too much to do with it.”3Hoffman, A.S. (1923). Fiction Writers on Fiction Writing: Advice, Opinions and a Statement of Their Own Working Methods by More Than One Hundred Authors (p. 30). The Bobbs-Merrill Company.

How lucky for us that empty pockets and destiny led him to a typewriter! A serendipitous event that by most accounts (money troubles aside) seems to have transformed the scoundrel into a sage. One who used his hard-won, globe-trotting life experience to craft authentic, cut-above pulp fiction.

Bleiler had a theory about why Mundy’s work was so good: “How Mundy learned to write, where he picked up the skill that enabled him to leap with immediate success into one of the most difficult, most competitive occupations, can be answered only with a cliché: native ability, perhaps developed by some fifteen or sixteen years of living by telling victims plausible stories.”4Bleiler, E.F. (1985). Supernatural Fiction Writers: Fantasy and Horror Vol. 2 (p. 846). Scribner.

Now, let’s talk about why you’re really here: The Nine Unknown.

If you’re new to Mundy and his Jimgrim series, then you should know that this, depending on whose list you consult, is either the third or fourth or twelfth (or who knows really which) story of the series, and also a loose or semi-sequel to Caves of Terror, which is sometimes referred to by its original serialized title The Gray Mahatma, and the middle chapter of a semi-trilogy with The Devil’s Guard following, or, as it was originally serialized, Ramsden.

Why it matters to which list you refer is because it seems no two Mundy authorities can agree on one standardized series order—some use the published serial order, others the published book order, while some prefer chronological story order. Once you have that business sorted (good luck!), we next plunge headlong into which books are actually part of the series as some swear it comprises 17 books, others: ten, a few: twelve, a handful: eight, and on and on and on. Then, to confound further, all of these lists feature some books the others don’t. For example, some of the books on the list of 17, which one would assume to be exhaustive, does not include some of the Jimgrim books featured on several of the other, shorter lists, making the list of 17 appear incomplete—in fact, all of the lists we’ve encountered appear incomplete—so when one arrives at how best to proceed through the series as a whole it seems you get to choose your own adventure!

But, if you’re here for the Nine Unknown only, then no matter, as this story works perfectly fine as a standalone without the need for any of the preceding or succeeding titles.

As for the legendary Nine Unknown Men themselves, Mundy is credited with being the first author to bring them widespread attention in the West as next to nothing about them in English literature exists before this story was published in 1923.5Prior to Mundy, the Nine Unknown were referred to in the works of French attorney and author Louis Jacolliot (1837–1890), but most of his work has still never been translated into English. He stated categorically that the Nine Unknown did exist and is said to have presented compelling evidence to substantiate his claim. And next to nothing was mentioned afterward until Louis Pauwels and Jacques Bergier lent credence to Mundy’s story in their 1960 book The Morning of the Magicians6Pauwels, L. & Bergier, J. (1991). The Morning of the Magicians: Introduction to Fantastic Realism (pp. 32–38). Scarborough House. by claiming that the Nine Unknown were real (or at the very least a “magnificent myth”), that Pope Sylvester II7Originally known as Gerbert of Aurillac (c. 946–1003), he was a French-born scholar and teacher who served as the bishop of Rome and ruled the Papal States from 999 until his death. His legend is far too absorbing to summarize satisfactorily here, so we suggest researching him on your own. It’s wild! had in some way associated with them, and that they were the creation of Indian Emperor Ashoka who reigned from c. 268–232 BC and was the grandson of Chandragupta, the first emperor to unify most of India (sort of India’s equivalent of Alexander the Great).

The legend goes that Ashoka, after conquering a region then known as Kalinga, was so overwhelmed and appalled by the sight of the massacre in which 100,000 Kalingans perished in battle that he vowed to let all people live freely, converted to Buddhism, and declared that his future conquests would be won not by war, but by religion. Indeed, he is the only military monarch in the historical record who chose to abandon warfare after victory.

H.G. Wells in his tome The Outline of History, we believe, sums it best: “For eight-and-twenty years Asoka8Not a typo; Wells leaves the h out. worked sanely for the real needs of men. Amidst the tens of thousands of names of monarchs that crowd the columns of history, their majesties and graciousnesses and serenities and royal highnesses and the like, the name of Asoka shines, and shines almost alone, a star. From the Volga to Japan his name is still honored. China, Tibet, and even India, though it has left his doctrine, preserve the tradition of his greatness. More living men cherish his memory today than have ever heard the names of Constantine or Charlemagne.”9Wells, H.G. (1920). The Rise and Spread of Buddhism, The Outline of History, Vol. 1 (pp. 432-433). The Macmillan Company.

Additionally, Ashoka decided that men should never use their intelligence for evil purposes, and any advancements in science, technology, and psychology should be secreted from humanity in order to save it from itself, so he founded what many believe to be the world’s first and most powerful (and most exclusive!) secret society to guard those advancements from dissemination: The Nine Unknown.

How the hierarchy of the Nine Unknown is structured is explained well enough by Mundy in this story, so we won’t spoil that. What isn’t explained as well is what comprises the nine books (that are always being rewritten) and for which one of each of the Nine is responsible. We spoil nothing by including what has come to be the most widely agreed upon list:

Book One: Propaganda

Book Two: Physiology

Book Three: Microbiology

Book Four: Alchemy

Book Five: Communication

Book Six: Gravity

Book Seven: Cosmogony

Book Eight: Light

Book Nine: Sociology

What we Heathens find particularly interesting, is that Mundy tells us in Chapter 19 that a tiny sliver of the hidden or occult10The word “occult” derives from the Latin occultare meaning “to hide” and/or occultus meaning “secret.” knowledge from these nine books was disseminated by the Nine because they thought humanity was ready, “But the time was not ripe. They who learned were faithless and self-seeking, so that from that one secret that escaped there sprang the whole evil of witchcraft, sorcery, necromancy, black magic, hypnotism, what is now called ‘mob psychology,’ the black art of propaganda, and inventions that are even worse.”11On p. 279 of our edition.

The propaganda bit is what caught our eye because it was only four years after this story was published, in 1928, that Edward Bernays published his still widely influential book Propaganda, whose opening paragraph broadcasts most of what you need to know about the work as a whole: “The conscious and intelligent manipulation of the organized habits and opinions of the masses is an important element in democratic society. Those who manipulate this unseen mechanism of society constitute an invisible government which is the true ruling power of our country.”12Bernays, E. L. (1928). Organizing Chaos, Propaganda (p. 9). Horace Liverlight, Inc.13Fun fact: Edward Bernays is the great-uncle of Marc Bernays Randolph, the co-founder and first CEO of Netflix.

Which is the exact thing the legend tells us Ashoka sought to curtail with the creation of the Nine Unknown—and something that makes you wonder about the true validity of the legend, and how much Mundy actually knew because, well, it all seems too precise, doesn’t it? Maybe even too precise to be coincidence? During the writing of The Nine Unknown, Mundy had not yet joined the Theosophical movement, but, as evidenced by the story’s many philosophical elements, he was very much leaning in the direction of Theosophy, itself rooted in Hermetic philosophy, which teaches that there are no coincidences only patterns unrecognized.

To cement Mundy’s stance on the matter, he stated in a letter to a friend, “The Nine Unknown reaches the fringe of a mystery, which I know to exist, but which many people seem to find it to their interest to say does not exist.”14Taves, Brian (2006). Talbot Mundy, Philosopher of Adventure: A Critical Biography (p. 95). McFarland and Company.

Ultimately, though, it’s up to you, dear reader, to decide for yourself exactly how much of this story is fact and how much is fiction. . . .

Now, for some lighter fare: if you’re not familiar with this story, or Mundy’s work, then likely by Chapter 3 or 4, if not sooner, it may occur to you, “This feels a lot like Indiana Jones.” Our first thought, actually, was Indiana Jones meets Ocean’s ElevenJimgrim’s Nine, if you will. The Washington Post’s resident book critic, Michael Dirda, has even stated, “The Nine Unknown is an occult thriller for fans of the Indiana Jones movies.”

And, we believe, for good reason! Once you’re familiar with Mundy’s oeuvre—especially the Jimgrim series—you can’t help but see it imprinted everywhere within the DNA of the Indiana Jones franchise, whose lineage can invariably be traced to the opulent period of pulp fiction in which The Nine Unknown was first published, but whose lineage can also be traced absolutely and directly, we believe, to the Jimgrim series through the efforts of one man: Philip Kaufman.

Kaufman was the first director that George Lucas considered for what would become the first Indiana Jones film Raiders of the Lost Ark. In fact, Kaufman’s greatest contribution to the movie, in which he received a story credit, was the suggestion that Indy should pursue the lost Ark of the Covenant.15Believed to be the most sacred relic of the Israelites, which, according to the Book of Exodus, contained the two stone tablets of the Ten Commandments. No one is certain whether Kaufman introduced Lucas to the Jimgrim books or if Lucas was already aware, but Kaufman likely provided much influence given the sheer amount of overlap that exists between the Jimgrim stories and the Indiana Jones franchise. Moreover, it’s hard to dispute the influence of The Nine Unknown on the second Indy film, Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom, given that the primary antagonists are the diabolical Thuggee cult of Kali worshipers so prominent in this story.

What we do know for certain, though, is Kaufman was definitely a huge fan of the Jimgrim series as evidenced by a screenplay he wrote in the early ’80s entitled Jimgrim vs. The Nine Unknown, which was to be the first in a series of large scale action-adventure Jimgrim films, on par with Indiana Jones, to be released in the summer of 1985 by Tri-Star Pictures. But, after the box-office failure of Kaufman’s 1983 film The Right Stuff, Tri-Star backed out of the deal, which was probably a wise decision as Kaufman’s script, while exceedingly reverent to Mundy’s work overall, is also, at times, wildly absurd and departs drastically from the Jimgrim books in inexplicable ways.

Kaufman explained, “My own screenplay went beyond (or around) the Jimgrim, Nine Unknown, and Devil’s Guard books.”16Ibid (p. 252).

We Heathens would love to see Jimgrim on the big (or small) screen, but not so much in the way Kaufman had envisioned. The Nine Unknown and the entire Jimgrim series presents such a rich and fertile palette to draw upon that anything less than a faithful, period-specific adaptation just won’t do. Besides, Jimgrim is, in many ways, the original Indiana Jones, so he and his motley cohorts—and their many occult adventures—are already primed and screen-ready.

Finally, let’s talk text.

As per our Heathen modus operandi, we’ve updated most hyphened words to reflect their modern counterparts: to-day is now today, to-night is now tonight, and so on.

We’ve also corrected myriad spelling and punctuation errors that existed in the text, which exist to varying degrees in both the original five-part Adventure serial and the Bobbs-Merrill book, which we compared against each other to ensure we were making the proper corrections—and when comparing our edition to other versions currently available at the time of this writing, we appear to be the only publisher, so far, who has corrected all of these issues, which, we hope, will make for a most pleasant read.

Also, in addition to our 256 footnotes, we have kept 36 of the original footnotes that appeared in both the Adventure serial and the Bobbs-Merrill book and have set them out using asterisks, like this.*17And if more than one original footnote appears on the same page, we increase the number of asterisks accordingly, like this.** We say “most” because some of the original footnotes were repeated with duplicated information since the serial spanned five issues, so we have condensed those so that they only appear once.

Interestingly, Brian Taves notes in his Mundy biography, “In an innovation, Bobbs-Merrill provided each chapter with a small illustration of a scene of India at its beginning,”18Ibid (p. 95). which we have honored by keeping, as we believe they lend the text an inviting atmosphere of its exotic setting. And if this truly was the first book to feature such an innovation, then how could we not include them?

All of this to say that we Heathens have labored for many months to make this not just another edition of The Nine Unknown, but the absolute best edition currently available.

We think our work will speak for itself.

And now we leave you with one final quote from E.F. Bleiler concerning The Nine Unknown, who succinctly described it as: “One of the most successful attempts to weld adventure onto the occult novel.”19Bleiler, E.F. (1983). The Guide to Supernatural Fiction (p. 376–77). The Kent State University Press.

To that we say: verb. sap.


The Nine Unknown by Talbot Mundy (Heathen Edition)