30 September 2014

The Shadow in The Thunder King

The Thunder King (1941)
Walter B. Gibson writing as Maxwell Grant

The 1940s were a lesser decade for the Shadow than the previous one. Perhaps principle Shadow author Walter B. Gibson was fatigued, and the changing tastes of the reading audience toward comic books was dictating creative choices at Street & Smith inimical toward making the character as great as during the halcyon days of the ‘30s. Readership numbers were slipping, leading the publishers to attempt gimmicks to lure new readers. One of these tricks was moving the character of Margot Lane, invented for The Shadow radio program, into the supporting cast of the novels. Margo Lane (Gibson preferred the phonetic spelling) debuted in The Thunder King, the feature novel in the 15 June 1941 issue of The Shadow Magazine.

Margo’s origin is… nothing. Gibson drops her into the story without explanation. She comes “as is” from the radio adaptation, making it obvious that Gibson did not want her in the novels at all, and Street & Smith pressured him to include her so any newcomers who only knew the radio show would find a familiar cast when they picked up an issue of the magazine. The regular readers in the letters column complained about the Margo Lane appearing, but she would remain an important member of the Shadow’s agents for the rest of the pulp run.

27 September 2014

The Shadow in The Ghost of the Manor

The Ghost of the Manor (1933)
Walter B. Gibson writing as Maxwell Grant

Too much time has passed since I spent quality time with the Shadow. The last time was over a year ago, when the 1994 film was slated for its first Blu-release. Since the last Shadow novel I read was a character-driven and realistic noirish drama (Road of Crime), the obvious choice now is to turn toward the Gothic and mysterious realms of the Shadow’s adventures.

The Ghost of the Manor (originally published in The Shadow Magazine for 15 June 1933) uses many of the traditional trappings of the “Old Dark House” sub-genre. As author Walter B. Gibson demonstrated repeatedly, the Shadow could fit into any crime genre without stretching. However, the character was uniquely at home in two: super-crime fighting tales (The Cobra, The Voodoo Master, The Black Hush), and Victorian-style gloomy mysteries (The Grove of Doom). The Ghost of the Manor is a good example of the latter, culled from the early years of the magazine when Gibson could seem to do no wrong. It won’t satisfy the action crowd, but it’s definitely the mystery fan’s kind of Shadow adventure.

Gibson makes the subgenre for this novel clear from the opening chapters with one of the famed clich├ęs of the “Old Dark House” tale: relatives of an eccentric rich man gather in a grand manor home late at night to hear the reading of the recently deceased’s will. The dead man in this case is millionaire Caleb Delthern, one of a long line of Deltherns who have inhabited the halls of a mansion in the city of Newbury for centuries.

At the nighttime gathering, the family lawyer reveals Caleb Delthern’s last will and testament to the surviving grandchildren, with one of the five in absentia (but who has named Lamont Cranston as his proxy… interesting). The will dictates a property split, with the eldest surviving heir receiving half of the thirteen million dollar inheritance and the other four dividing the remainder. Squabbling immediately ensues, and that’s when the sudden eruption of ghostly laughter through the hall sways Winstead Delthern, the principle inheritor, from denying his absent cousin Warren Berringer his share of the wealth.