74. Purple Pirate


Tros of Samothrace became an instant hit when published as a thick novel in 1934. Mundy no doubt had the pleasant experience of seeing his publisher come begging for a sequel. Sequels are but a moment’s work for a seasoned pulp writer. A new string of stories started appearing in Adventure in May 1935 and were collected into book form the same year.

More bibliographical shenanigans here. The third novella is titled “The Purple Pirate.” The original hardcover, both the American and the British, decapitated the article, giving the book the oddly naked title of Purple Pirate. Gnome followed suit. The many paperback editions that followed starting in the 1970s respected the author’s choice; all were published as The Purple Pirate.

As indicated by the story originally titled “Cleopatra’s Promise,” the book’s action moves to the court of Caesar and Cleopatra, Tros also appears as a minor character in Mundy’s Queen Cleopatra, a long novel published in 1929 with no preceding magazine publication. Completists can find it cheaply online either in the first edition or as part of the series of paperbacks that Mundy’s long works were chopped into. All three original hardbacks are pricey in dust jacket, though.

Tros was a bestseller and Purple brought in even more money, none of it making much of a dent in the free-spending Mundy’s bank account. His awesome swiftness as a writer proved a better fit in radio. He earned his living during the last five years of his life by writing around 700 episodes of Jack Armstrong, All-American Boy, about as far away from any of his previous work as, well, science fiction would have been.

Cover art by John Newton Howitt

Gnome Notes

The publication date of Purple must have been contrived to conspire against future bibliographers. No surprise that as a reprint it lacked a copyright registration date. Truly odd is that no Library of Congress catalog number was applied even retrospectively. Unlike the Gnome edition of Tros, this Gnome edition doesn’t show up in the catalog at all. That’s as odd as it sounds. The last title Marty Greenberg copyrighted was Undersea City on July 1, 1958. The next was Path of Unreason on July 25, 1959. Inside that year-long gap is darkness. (The two Judith Merril anthologies that just squeeze in were copyrighted by the original publisher, Dell Books, not Gnome.) Purple, Tros, and Starman’s Quest require outside scraps of data to deduce publication dates.

The first newspaper mention is from the Moline [IL] Dispatch on April 15, 1959, when Purple is included in a listing of library additions. That falls comfortably between Starman’s and Path but is the only mention of the book in the United States for the entire year of 1959.

In Canada, however, several papers in 1959 reviewed the book as by published by Burns and MacEachern. That would be the first of eight Gnome titles reprinted by them over the next two years. The ISFDB only lists two (along with a post-Gnome 1964 release of The Unpleasant Profession of Jonathan Hoag) but diligent search of uncooperative newspaper databases reveals another half dozen. Acting on the extremely likely presumption that the Canadian edition would follow rather than precede the American, that puts Purple’s publication as no later than September 1959.

The small point that decides the issue for me is that Purple has an earlier back panel that doesn’t bother to mention either Mundy book, while Path’s lists both. Ergo, Purple came first.

As with Tros, Greenberg apparently got hold of the original printing plates, because the type and pagination is identical to the Appleton-Century first edition. Oddly, he used a much thinner and more attractive white paper stock that hasn’t darkened with age, a contrast to other Gnome books of the era.


Floyd C. Gale, Galaxy Science Fiction, February 1960
Tros has all of Conan’s attributes plus one: though a superman, he is only human. Conan never has inner thoughts or fears; Tros is plagued by them. Additionally, each chapter head holds pearls of wisdom from his introspection, as did the former book, that constitute a culture’s code of ethics in themselves.

Frederik Pohl, If, January 1960
Tros is always exciting. What’s more, Mundy always does his homework – if his historical facts are sometimes false, it is because of license, not ignorance.

Contents and Original Publications

• “Battle Stations!” (Adventure, May 1, 1935).

• “Cleopatra’s Promise” (Adventure, June 15, 1935).

• “The Purple Pirate” (Adventure, August 15, 1935).

• “Fleets of Fire” (Adventure, October 1, 1935).

Bibliographic Information

Purple Pirate, by Talbot Mundy, 1959, [no copyright registration], Library of Congress Catalog Card Number not given, copyright registration [none]. back panel #36, 367 pages, $4.50. 5000 copies printed. Hardback, black cloth, spine lettered in silver and red, Fantasy Classic Library on spine replacing Gnome. Jacket design by W. I. Van der Poel. “GNOME PRESS EDITION 1959” stated on copyright page. Printed in the United States of America. Back panel: 35 titles. Gnome Press address given as P. O. Box 161, Hicksville, N.Y.


None known.

True first edition

New York: D. Appleton-Century Co., 1935.


Purple Pirate, black cloth, silver and red lettering