Pseudonym of UK-born writer William Lancaster Gribbon (1879-1940), resident in the USA from 1909. His early life is obscure, though it is known that during the decade before 1909 he was a petty criminal, ivory poacher and confidence trickster in Africa, being twice imprisoned. Soon after his emigration to the USA he published his first story, "A Transaction in Diamonds" for Adventure in 1911. His first two novels, Rung Ho! (1914) and King – of the Khyber Rifles (1916; vt King, of the Kyber Rifles 1917 UK), do not foreground any supernatural elements, though the latter features an Avatar of the Goddess, includes a trip through a Labyrinth into the kind of Underground world which features in many of his later books, is set in Oriental-Fantasy venues and introduces characters like Athelstan King of the Secret Service. King features in Caves of Terror (1922 Adventure as "The Grey Mahatma"; 1924), the first of the loosely linked sequence usually known as the Jimgrim/Ramsden series for its two main protagonists – James Schuyler Grim or Jimgrim, a US secret agent, and Jeff Ramsden, who generally serves as narrator: the book-length "Moses and Mrs Aintree" (1922 Adventure), The Nine Unknown (1923 Adventure; 1924), The Mystery of Khufu's Tomb (1922 Adventure as "Khufu's Real Tomb"; 1933), The Devil's Guard (1926 Adventure as "Ramsden"; 1926; vt Ramsden 1926 UK) and Jimgrim (1930-1931 Adventure as "King of the World"; 1931; vt Jimgrim Sahib 1953).
TM was a follower of Theosophy, and the Jimgrim/Ramsden sequence is based on the Theosophical supposition that various occult sciences and manifestations come into this world as evidences of an ancient, Atlantis-derived wisdom which the world has forgotten, guarded in the present by cadres of Secret Masters; men like Jimgrim can aspire to grasp this wisdom through various Quests in which their integrity and toughness strike a chord in the wise men who supervise us. This relationship between the mundane present and an occluded past is perhaps most strikingly visible in The Nine Unknown, in which the eponymous secret masters (who had seemed evil in Caves of Terror) are revealed as manifestations of the Good and an opposing cadre of nine Kali worshippers attempts to do wrong by generating confusions between themselves and the genuine sages.
In later volumes, like The Devil's Guard – constructed as a Quest for Shambala (see Shangri-La) – Jimgrim begins to climb the ladder of understanding, and the sequence becomes increasingly mystical. Jimgrim introduces many sf devices into a Fantasy-of-History frame, and climaxes in Jimgrim's world-saving Christ-like self-sacrifice.
Other novels which exhibit a similar sense of the relationship between the present and the past include: Om: The Secret of Abhor Valley (1924); Black Light (1930); Full Moon (1935; vt There Was a Door 1935 UK); and The Thunder Dragon Gate (1937), which is associational, though its sequel, Old Ugly Face (1940), returns to a Tibet conceived in Theosophical terms as a fount of supernatural wisdom from long ago.
Many of TM's novels – perhaps 25 further titles in all – are tightly constructed adventure tales, mostly set in the East, and only intermittently infused with anything more than a hint of the fantastic. TM's other series known to genre readers is Tros of Samothrace, various segments of which were published 1925-1935 in Adventure. It comprises (in terms of internal chronology) Tros of Samothrace (1934 UK; vt in 4 vols as Tros 1967, Helma 1967, Helene 1967, and Liafail 1967; new vt in 3 vols as Lud of Lunden 1976, Avenging Liafail 1976 and The Praetor's Dungeon 1976), Queen Cleopatra (1929) and Purple Pirate (1935). There is Sword and Sorcery in the long saga, during which Tros battles against Rome in Britain and Egypt, though he finally aids the conquerors before setting off on his last voyage, during which he hopes to travel to the ends of the earth.
TM told implausible tales with a clean-cut momentum, and with a seductive attention to plausible detail. [JC]
William Lancaster Gribbon