Friday, July 9, 2010

Forgotten Books: TROS by Talbot Mundy

I bought this book back in the 70s while in the grip of Robert E Howard Mania, but never got around to reading it. Talbot Mundy, you see, was one of Howard’s favorite writers, and one of the mainstays of the magazine he most admired - Adventure.

I wanted to see where Howard got his inspiration, and how he developed that powerful, rhythmic style that kept me (and so many others) coming back for more. But somehow the book remained uncracked.

So why read it now? Two reasons. One, my tastes have changed. I’m now much more interested in historical adventure than in sword and sorcery.  And two, I read a collection called In A Righteous Cause, the first published volume of Black Dog Books’ Talbot Mundy Library.

In a Righteous Cause showed me what Howard discovered so long ago, that Mundy is a master storyteller with an infectious style.  I’ll have a full review of that book tomorrow, but today I want to talk about Tros.

This work has a complicated publishing history. It appeared first in Adventure in 1925-6 in nine long installments. The saga was published in hardcover in 1934, and came to a whopping 949 pages. Avon made it more manageable in 1967, cutting the book into four volumes, of which Tros is the first. Zebra took it on in the 70s, in the wake of the Howard boom, but generally botched it, and their editions (issued under different titles) are best avoided. The best deal going today (unless you choose to read the free version online) is probably the one-volume trade paperback published by Black Mask press in 2008.

As I've so far read only this first Avon volume, I know only one quarter of the story. Here’s the quick version: The action takes place somewhere in the neighborhood of 55 BC. Julius Caesar (the villain of the piece) has conquered Gaul and set his sights on the land of the Britons. Having recently captured Tros and his father (a Prince of Samothrace and master of the Inner Secrets of the druids), Caesar attempts to force them to aid in the invasion. Tros and his pop, of course, have different ideas, and instead help the Britons foil Caesar’s plans.

The story is rich and colorful, and includes a fascinating visit to the city of Lunden, where the great hall of a blue-painted guy named Caswallon (the nearest thing they have to a king) occupies the future site of St. Paul’s Cathedral.

Here’s our first look at Caesar:

He was hardly thirty-five, but he looked very bald and very old, because the barber was not through with him and he had not yet bound on the wreath he usually wore. His cheeks looked hollow, as if the molars were missing, and the wrinkles at the corners of his mouth twitched slightly, as if he were not perfectly at ease.

Nevertheless, he was alert and handsome from self-consciousness of power and intelligence. He sat bolt upright like a solder; his smile was suave, and his eyes were as bold and calculating as a Forum money-lender’s. Handsome, very handsome in cold and studied way, he seemed to know exactly how he looked - dishonest, intellectual, extravagant, a liar, capable of any cruelty and almost any generosity at other men’s expense; above all, mischievous and vicious, pouched below the eyes and lecherously lipped, but handsome - not a doubt of it.

Tros himself is of Conan-like proportions, if not bigger, and displays considerably more intellect. He resists the advances of wily women, avoids strong drink, and does not believe in killing. All this puts a cramp in his fun, to be sure, but makes him a more complex and layered character. Tros is also an initiate in the mysteries of the druids, which I assume play a greater part in the rest of the story.

Bottom line: I’m hooked, and will be pushing on to complete the saga. There are also two sequels, of sorts. Queen Cleopatra (1929) features Tros as a secondary character and in The Purple Pirate (1935) he serves as admiral of Cleopatra’s fleet. I have a lot of good reading ahead of me.

The full-length epic Tros of Samothrace is available as a free ebook from Project Gutenberg of Australia. Click HERE to open. 

Today: More Forgotten Books at pattinase
Tomorrow: In a Righteous Cause


Ayishazain said...

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Deka Black said...

Well, Robert E Howard was my first contact with pulps. And i am still interested in sword & sorcery. i read othe type of stories, yes (too much of something oneself like is bad). But S&S remains as my favourite genre.

Mundy seems one of these writers suffering of the lack of justice what is be forgotten by many. :8

By the way, nine parts of the serial,. must be one of the longest in pulp history!

pattinase (abbott) said...

As always a wonderful review.

George said...

Talbot Mundy is a terrific writer. I read the TROS books long ago, but perhaps I should read them again. I have fond memories of the series. Great review!

Cullen Gallagher said...

I've heard a lot about Mundy -- after reading this review, I think I need to start looking around the used bookstores to see what I can find.

Evan Lewis said...

Sword and sorcery is addictive, Deka, and held me in its grip a long time. Every time a re-read a Conan, Kull or Solomon Kane story I'm tempted to dive back in. But I tried re-reading a Moorcock book recently and was too bored to continue.

Richard R. said...

I have that same book (the first cover you show) um, somewhere around here in a box. I inherited it from someplace, and as I recall I tried to read it but for reasons not remembered now didn't get very far. I probably wanted something like Fafhrd & Grey Mouser and it was not that. For some reason, I associate this book, WORM OUROBOUROS and CASTLE OF ONTRONTO together. I guess I got the three of them from wherever TROS came from, probably all billed as something like "classic fantasy" or somesuch moniker.

I darn near bought IN A RIGHTEOUS CAUSE, but had too many other books stacked up to read, including KING, OF THE KHYBER RIFLES. I'm looking forward to your review tomorrow, though it will undoubtedly result in a trip to Black Dog to spend some more money. Not a bad thing!

Thanks for this great review. I'm tempted to find the paperback and give it another try.

Richard R. said...

Yes, I agree with that assessment of Moorcock. I gave my collected Moorcock volumes away to someone who will enjoy them.

Deka Black said...

Is a matter of tastes, i suppose. Moorcock, to me, is very fun and entertaining writer. The first Corum trilogy, for example, is great. There is better works. And worse too.

In the end what matters is keep respect forthe works what help build us as readers.

(By the way. i never was able to hate a writer if made me had a good time)

Deka Black said...

Sorry, i forgpt to say, i mean NEVER.

Deka Black said...

Richard, you did good. for example, i did the same with my Asimov books. I'm aware this make mad plenty of people, but i cant't stand Asimov, really.

Evan Lewis said...

I don't mean to dis Moorcock. I read and enjoyed every one of his s&s novels back in the 80s, and there were a lot of them. His style just no longer appeals to me. I should try Fafhrd & the Mouser again.

I read The Worm Ourobouros back then, too, and don't remember a dang thing about it (except the cover).

Deka Black said...

ah! I see. Sorry if i offended you Evan. Fahrd & the Mouser... here is the same problem as happens with many writers: edited long years ago and out of print :(

Ouroboros... i've readed it. left me bewildered.

Evan Lewis said...

No offense taken!

Martin Edwards said...

A friend of mine is a huge Mundy fan. So far I've resisted, but you've almost persuaded me to change my mind.

George said...

Here's an interesting analysis of the TROS books on AMAZON.COM:

Here's a little help on the various editions of Tros, March 25, 2006
By Robert Bruce Scott ""Scotty"" (Dallas, Texas) -

Tros of Samothrace is one of the best books I have ever read. I recommend it with the highest of praise. If I can have a coffin with a book shelf in it, the Tros series and the Lord of the Ring series will be buried with me.

Being as there are already a lot of reviews, I thought I would help out concerning the various editions of Tros - many are mentioned in the other reviews and it's confusing. Are we talking about one book, 3 books, 6 books, etc!

Here's the scoop: (Information is based on my personal experience and Donald Grant's book "Talbot Mundy: Messenger of Destiny".

1. The first editions of "Tros of Samothrace" were single volumes. Appleton-Century produced the 1st American version (1934) and Hutchinson & Co (1934) produced the 1st English versions. Good copies are usually quite expensive and I have never seen one with a dust jacket even though both versions had one.

Tros was also printed in parts in magazines

2. Gnome Press (1958) produced a single volume version. This can be found and is cheaper than the 1st editions and can be found with a dust jacket. Cheaper but not inexpensive.

3. In 1967 Avon Books divided Tros into 6 paperbacks - Helene, Helma, Tros, liafell are 4 of the 6 titles. As single books these are easily found - both in used books stores and on ebay. With diligence you can come up with all 6 titles.

4. In 1976 Zebra paperbacks produced Tros in a series of 3 volumes (essentially combining Avon's 6 books into 3). Tros of Samothrace, Avenging Liafell and The Praetor's Dungeon are the three titles.

5. The picture shown by Amazon is most likely the Appleton-Century hardback 1st edition cover without dustjacket.

6 Finally, there are actually 2 seperate additonal books that are part of the Tros saga. These are "Queen Cleopatra" and "The Purple Pirate". Both were published in various hardback and paperback versions. The easiest and probably cheapest way to find them is as the Zebra paperbacks. Zebra paperbacks published and marketed all 5 paperbacks at the same time in 1976.

"Queen Cleopatra" was actually the first novel that Tros appeared in. "Queen Cleopatra was first published in 1929. Tros has a small but significant role in the book however it's mostly about Cleopatra and Julius Caesar. This book, while written first, can easily be considered to be the 4th Tros book in regards to chronology. The first Tros of Samothrace book has Tros interacting with Caesar during his first two attempts to invade Britain.

"The Purple Pirate" is the 5th book and final book in the Tros saga.

Recommendations: Being as the hardbacks are harder to come by and usually very expensive for a decent copy, I recommend trying to obtain the zebra paperbacks. These are easier to find. Amazon may be able to find them for you. Quite often you can find them on Ebay. Being as most people who have read Tros tend to do so more than once, these paperback copies will usually be reading copies at best. If you haven't read the Tros series yet, buy the Zebra books and see if you like it. Just don't blame me when you love it and have to possess more than just a reading copy.

Personally I possess the avon paperbacks, the zebra paperbacks and a Hutchinson 1st edition with no dust jacket.

I hope this helps.


addendum 2009: Leonaur Press is publishing Tros of Samathrace in a new set of hardbacks. Based on the first two (buying them as I can afford them), this seems like a very nice set.

Evan Lewis said...

Thanks George!

Jerry House said...

When Robert Bruce Scott wrote that the Avon editions of Tros is divided into six books, he mistakenly included The Purple Pirate and Queen Cleopatra in that total. The four titles mentioned comprise Tros of Samathrace entirely.

As Evan mentioned, the Zebra editions are best avoided, although the cover art is way cooler than that of the Avon editions.

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