How William Lancaster Gribbon Became Talbot Mundy, by Brian Taves

Talbot Mundy was a name chosen. Typically, especially for adventurers of the period who were not especially pleased at their actual identity, or wanted to add an aura of mystery to their name, he adopted a new name (not a pseudonym; Walter Galt was his only known pseudonym.) He and his parents were incompatible even before he first ran away from home; they were traditional bourgeois high-church Tories who supported British imperialism. On every one of those counts, young William Lancaster Gribbon was opposed to their beliefs (and grew more so with age, for instance see his views on the Middle East--he and his brother were actively on opposite sides of the Zionism vs Arab self determination issue, as first spelled out in my introduction to Jimgrim and the Devil at Ludd, and subsequently in my biography). While there was some "reconciliation" in later years--off and on correspondence with his brother--Mundy never stayed under the family roof of either his brother or sister.

By contrast, during a difficult time in the 1930s, Talbot and his wife were taken in as summer guests by cousins, the Mundys, from whom he had taken the name as a youth. They had become acquainted during his colonial years, before coming to America. The Mundys were fascinated by Oriental traditions, and intrigued by theosophy--just the opposite of his own childhood. It was no accident that young Gribbon chose the name Mundy. I tracked down these Mundy relatives, as I reveal in my biography.

Today the brother's family still considers the noncormist of the family a "notorious" for failing to live up to Gribbon and Rule-Britannia expectations. The Mundys, by contrast, while English also, honored their cousin as a writer, believing Om a classic, recognizing the philosophical teaching as well as the spellbinding narrative that continues to draw readers over a half-century after Talbot Mundy's death.

So often, back then, a person's family beginnings and ancestry governed the person they could become. For an individual, especially an adventurer in Mundy's time, a transformation was typical; it allowed a fundamental change in identity, to begin life anew, to sever ties with the past, to place mistakes behind. William Lancaster Gribbon became Talbot Mundy no less than T.E. Lawrence sought to evade publicity by taking the name Shaw. William Lancaster Gribbon found that his ability to begin anew as Talbot Mundy was part of his own belief in death and rebirth, the reincarnation of the soul, for his own new identity allowed him to come to America and become the writer whose fame has so long outlasted his own death.

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COMPILED BY BRIAN TAVES