REH to Tevis Clyde Smith, 22 June 1923: "I found your first letter waiting for me when I got back, also the Talbot Mundy books. I got them Monday. I've read 'King of the Khyber Rifles,' 'The Ivory Trail,' 'The Winds of the World' and have started on 'The Eye of Zeitoon.' [22 June 1923 was a Friday.] How do you like Talbot Mundy? Ranjoor Singh ('Winds of the World,' 'Hira Singh'), Rustum Khan ('The Eye of Zeitoon') and Mahommed Gunga ('Rung Ho!') are my favorite characters, native, that is; a Sikh and two Rangar Rajputs. Did you ever read 'The Man That Came Back' by Kipling? In it a phrase is used, 'Rung Ho! Hira Singh!' which is the titles of two of Talbot Mundy's books."
Robert E. Howard was in his late teens when he wrote the above in a letter to Tevis Clyde Smith. As Deuce pointed out to me, that quote indicates that REH had read three and a half novels in less than five days, so he was already an avid reader of Talbot Mundy’s work. Howard’s comment on the titles of two of Mundy’s books coming from Kipling refers to the fact that publishers often changed the titles of stories before publication. Mundy’s original title for this book was For the Peace of India.
Rung Ho! was Talbot Mundy’s first novel. It was serialized in Adventure magazine and then published in book form by Charles Scribner in 1914. Well received by the critics, the book sold well; it is a coming of age story for its hero and heroine, set against the backdrop of the Great Indian Mutiny of 1857. You can find it in any number of collections or here, at Roy Glashan’s Library.
The hero is a third-generation officer in the army of the East India Company, the immensely powerful mercantile entity that administers India for the British Crown. Both his father and his grandfather died in India; his father of wounds received in battle, the grandfather from wounds inflicted by a tiger. Upon his arrival as the lowest of officers, he is taken in hand by men who had served in his father’s old regiment of light cavalry; chief among them is the imposing Mohammed Gunga, who trains and tests this young man for the trials that he sees in his young charge’s future. What he sees is war, red war that will wrack India from one end to the other and water it with blood, and the grizzled veteran does his best to see that his protégé is ready for the challenges ahead. The heroine is the daughter of a Scots missionary who has started a school in the city of Howrah with the permission of the maharajah of that city. Her beauty and intelligence have attracted the attentions of the prince of Howrah, brother and rival to the maharaja. He is a man without scruple who will do anything to take his brother’s throne, the missionary’s daughter and the vast treasure that is the foundation of Howrah’s power.
This prince’s schemes entangle them all in a web of intrigue just as the Great Mutiny threatens to overwhelm them and drive the British out of India forever. The story moves right along, with flashing swords (a knife too), an encounter with a tiger (at close quarters) and even a number of cavalry charges. The villain gets his just deserts (under the ribs); the hero and heroine get each other. I enjoyed it and I think you might too. While it lacks the polish and the technical skill his later books have, Rung Ho! displays a number of Mundy’s strengths. Set on the edge of the Thar desert in Northwest India, Mundy vividly describes the colors, the sounds and the peoples of Rajputana and endows the desert heat with a throbbing, breathing life of its own. He also gives voice to a theme that we will see again and again in his books: his distrust of priests, in this case the treacherous, conniving priests of Shiva.
One thing more. Talbot Mundy uses the following words to describe the anger of the Rev. MacLean, the father of Rosemary, our heroine, at the end of Chapter 8:
“Then wrath took hold of him—the awful, cold anger of the Puritan that hates evil as a concrete thing, to be ripped apart with steel.”
Hmm. Does that sound like anyone we know?
We know that REH read this book, he mentions Mohammed Gunga as one of his favorite characters in the excerpt at the beginning of this post. Could these words be part of the inspiration for Solomon Kane? Remember, when you read Talbot Mundy, you might be walking in the footsteps of Robert E. Howard.
Good enough for me.