Mundy Monday: Leiber’s “The Glory of Tros”


In 1983, Fritz Leiber wrote an appreciation of Tros for Donald M. Grant’s Talbot Mundy: Messenger of Destiny.  The following excerpts are taken from that book; although Leiber’s essay is only three pages long, he manages to pack a great deal of information into that short space. 

Talbot Mundy’s Tros of Samothrace is one of the half-dozen novels I have re-read most often in the course of my life, or rather during the thirty-eight years since I first devoured it. Such books inevitably become parts of our lives, closely interwoven with all our thoughts and actions…I recall when I first bought Tros seeing a great pyramid of the thick book-bricks in their bright yellow jackets touched with scarlet occupying all of a Denver department store window.

Leiber felt a number of connections that drew him into the book, but the big draw was the title character.

The main attraction of Mundy’s Roman novels is the character of Tros himself, a Greek mystic and man of action, who comes from the Aegean isle [of Samothrace] with his father to warn the Britons to resist Caesar at all costs. The two of them, along with Mundy’s Druids, represent the mystery religions and secret brotherhoods of the East and a universal wisdom, to which Caesar opposes his fascist and totalitarian vision of Rome ruling the world...Caesar is the villain of the book, a cruel and lecherous opportunist, but courageous, witty and charismatic.

But it is Tros who engages Leiber’s attention:

Tros is an Odyssean character, by temperament an explorer seeking to widen horizons, whose ambition is to sail around the world, but also a freedom fighter who never breaks his word (though he is a serpent for guile). He is a dauntless fighter, a swordsman without peer, and a resourceful leader of men, a wise disciplinarian who knows how to inspire men and win their affection. Above all, he is a man who cannot pass by injustice. And he is a doer! In the course of the book he outwits clever Caesar a half dozen times, almost single-handedly beats a band of Northmen who become his faithful followers, and builds a supership…”

“In short, Tros is a superman, but one made considerably more plausible and attractive than most by his scholarly and mystical abilities, his scientific and exploratory aspirations, and his willingness to grapple with moral problems, fight injustice, and succor the weak. In fact, I do believe that it was this idealism of Tros that made him so popular in the Thirties, when Fascism was on the rise and greed, duplicity and cowardice seemed to rule the dealings of nations – much in the same way as Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings appealed to a youth weary of similar conditions in the Fifties and Sixties. I know that he appealed that way to me.

John E. Boyle is the author of Queen’s Heir and Raven’s Blood, the first two books in the Children of Khetar fantasy series.