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ATHELSTAN KING

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Full Name: Athelstan King
Nationality: British
Organization: British Secret Service
Occupation Agent

Creator: Talbot Mundy
Time Span: 1916 - 1953

ABOUT THE SERIES

       Athelstan King is an agent with the British Secret Service.
       The time period in which we first see the activities of this man in 1914, shortly after the country of his nationality entered what would be later called the Great War, aka World War I. The location of his adventures is the huge region called the Indian sub-continent. India has been under the control of British rule since 1857 though real dominance can be traced back nearly a hundred years before that.
       King is said to be the seventh generation of Kings to serve and at times rule in India. His father, Cuthbert King, was a Raj-bahadur (as spelled by the chronicler, Rai Bahadur otherwise), "a title of honor bestowed during the British rule in India for faithful service or acts of public welfare to the Empire (according to Wikipedia)". It was said in one of the adventures that the elder King "was considered the equal of viceroys in all except rank, and greater than any viceroy in his grip on the hearts of men".
       King is officially part of the British Army, holding the rank of captain but said to be "unattached" which I take to mean that he is not a part of any specific regiment, which makes sense being actually working for the Secret Service, but has the rank and position should it be necessary. His attitude in the military, though, is interesting in that he is respectful to senior officers as required but not overly so and definitely not worried about such things for himself.
       Being born and raised in a land different from his nationality has given King a strange outlook. Even though he has spend a good number of years in schools back in England and wears the uniform of a British officer, he has strong feelings about India and deep down supports her desire for independence. It is not hard to imagine some of his colleagues being more than a bit confused by King's duo leanings. One acquaintance somewhat snarkily opined, "He's a believer in Kismet crossed on to Opportunity. Not sure he doesn't pray to Allah on the sly."
       King seems to be a confirmed bachelor with no steady companion. He does, though, get thrown into extremely close quarters more than once with the beautiful, exotic, highly resourceful Princess Yasmini, "a law onto herself" in a remote region of the hilly northwest India. Yasmini, herself sometimes working with the British Secret Service but always for herself and her people, has entertained romantic thoughts about King but things just do not work out.
       As time proceeds, King will give up his commission and his position with the Secret Service and go into work for an extremely rich man named Meldrum Strange. This individual, who lives up his last name, has some interesting ideas about how things should work in the world and has the money to see those ideas get a chance. All he needs are enterprising men to handle the leg work and he finds them in men like King and others (Jimgrim and Jeff Ramsden are two such men). One interesting description of King can be found in one of those later adventures when a fellow point out, "Athelstan King - Englishman, but not half-bad; used to be a major in the army, but wears no monocle. Says, 'Haw, dontcherknow,' like the rest of 'em, but I'll say he's a scrapper if scars mean anything. Olive skin, burnt on from outside. Been to places."

BOOKS

Number of Books:1
First Appearance:1916
Last Appearance:1916

1 King - of the Khyber Rifles King - of the Khyber Rifles
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1916

Published in 9 issues of Everybody's Magazine, May 1916 - Jan 1917.
The year is 1914. Athelstan King is assigned the nearly impossible task of heading into the area of India's Khinhan Caves near the Khyber Pass where rumors of a jihad consisting of thousands of men has the entire area tense. It is strongly suspected that the uprising is agitated by the Turks who want to strike at Britain. He has been ordered to work closely with the beautiful Yasmini, a woman whose word is the law in her own nearby region but someone who definitely has an agenda of her own.
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2 The Nine Unknown The Nine Unknown
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1924

Originally serialized in 5 issues of Adventure, March 20 - April 30, 1923.
In 260 BC a project started by Emperor Asoka to collect all the knowledge of the world was started. After some time, all that data was collated into nine books of secret lore and nine men were chosen to guard the books. Now a priest named Father Cyprian has convinced Jimgrim and his friends, Ramsden and Ross, to find and bring down the descendants of that group who still hold the nine books.
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3 The Hundred Days The Hundred Days
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1930

Collection of novella Mohammed's Tooth, which regards the actions of Athelstan King, and novelette The Woman Ayisha, which does not..


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4 Jungle Jest Jungle Jest
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1931

Collection of three novellas originally published in Adventure. All three concern the adventures of Cotswold Ommony, British adventurer. The first one has the man deeply involved in a matter alongside a young Athelstan King. The stories are:
Benefit of Doubt
Treason
Diana Against The Ephesians

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NOVELLAS AND SHORT STORIES

Number of Stories:2
First Appearance:1925
Last Appearance:1925

1 The Gray Mahatma The Gray Mahatma
aka Caves of Terror
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1922

Published in Adventure, Nov 10, 1922.
Athelstan King joins with Jeff Ramsden (a friend and confederate of Jimgrim) as they team up with - sort of - the Princess Yasmini to go up against the Gray Mahatma, an impressive prophet of the Kali-Yug (age of darkness). That noteworthy opponent is planning on using his ancient dark arts (or sciences) to force the independence of India from all foreign forces.

2 Benefit of Doubt Benefit of Doubt
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1922

Published in Adventure, Dec 10, 1922.
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3 Mohammed's Tooth Mohammed's Tooth
Mohammed's Tooth
Written by Talbot Mundy
Copyright: 1923

Published in Adventure, December 10, 1923. Reprinted in the collection The Hundred Days.
Jeff Ramsden is kidnapped along with an American girl in the war-torn region of northern India. To get them both back, Jimgrim and friends join with Athelstan King, aka the King of the Khyber Rifles. The ransom demand plays a major role in the adventure.

MOVIES

Number of Movies:2
First Appearance:1929
Last Appearance:1953

1 The Black Watch The Black Watch
Director: John Ford
Writers: James Kevin McGuinness, John Stone
Actors: Victor McLaglen as Donald King, Myrna Loy as Yasmani, David Rollins as Lt. Malcolm King
Released: 1929

"Captain Donald King of the British Army goes to India just as World War I breaks out, convincing his comrades that he is a coward. In reality, he is on a secret mission to rescue British soldiers held prisoner there."

2 King of the Khyber Rifles King of the Khyber Rifles
Director: Henry King
Writers: Ivan Goff, Ben Roberts, Harry Kleiner
Actors: Tyrone Power as Capt. Alan King, Terry Moore as Susan Maitland, Michael Rennie as General Maitland, Guy Rolfe as Karram Khan
Released: 1953

"A half-caste British officer in 19th-century India battles the prejudices of both his Army colleagues and the local populace while trying to help put down a rebellion led by a greedy local ruler."
Note: other than the name of the movie and the location of the action, this has nothing to do with the original book.

COMIC BOOKS AND GRAPHIC NOVELS

Number of Stories:1
First Appearance:1953
Last Appearance:1953

1 King - of the Khyber Rifles King - of the Khyber Rifles
Published by Classis Illustrated
Contributors: Sy Moskowitz (pencils and inks)
Copyright: 1953

Published in Classics Illustrated #107, May 1953.
Faithful graphic depiction of the original tale in which Athelstan Mundy is undercover to the mountainous region of India's northwest to quell a rising rebellion and planned jihad.

MY COMMENTS

     It is interesting that when I think of author Talbot Mundy's numerous adventure stories which either fall firmly in the international intrigue genre or brush close enough to qualify, I think of his Jimgrim character first. Yet Athelstan King came first and has two movies made of his adventures (albeit one being mostly name only).
     I like King's attitude with his being a part of the British ruling force and yet having leanings quite the other way. I especially like the couple of adventures he has with the alluring Yasmini.
     The King stories are darned good yarns. They can be wordy at times and they definitely reflect a time that was hardly politically correct nowadays. They do deserve to be remembered and occasionally enjoyed.

GRADE

My Grade: B+

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