Pulp Heroes

The Shadow

From the Introduction to The Shadow and the Golden Master (1984):

It took nearly eight and a half years, with a total of more than one hundred and seventy novels, for The Shadow to meet up with Shiwan Khan, the Golden Master, yet that confrontation was inevitable almost from the start. To appreciate this, it is necessary to review the saga of The Shadow, which began and ended as an unfinished story, running a total of more than fifteen million words which carried it into its twentieth year before it suddenly ceased publication although further adventures were still in the offing. That marks the conflict between The Shadow and Shiwan Khan as a definite peak in the series.

The factor that rendered The Shadow series decidedly unique was that it opened with only the semblance of a plot; not just as a single story, but as one of four. Henry W. Ralston, general manager of Street & Smith Publications, had decided to produce a new magazine featuring a character to be called The Shadow, which required at least four issues to establish it as a regular periodical on a quarterly basis. To get it under way as soon as possible, Ralston instructed Frank Blackwell, the editorial director, to have someone update a leftover dime novel on a rewrite basis.

This confronted Blackwell with two dilemmas. None of his regular writers was anxious to take on a rewrite assignment; and since The Shadow was to be more of a mystery figure than a stylized private detective, the job itself raised too many complications. But I had already been thinking in terms of a mysterious character who would become a controlling force in the affairs of lesser humans, so I was naturally intrigued when he asked me if I would like to take on The Shadow. That offered the prospect of developing the character in the course of the story itself, and when Blackwell agreed that if the first story proved acceptable, I would get the order for the other three, that meant that the process could be continued right on through.

I delivered the first story within a month, following a pattern discussed with Blackwell, and went right ahead with the rest on the same basis, building The Shadow from a nebulous concept into a more solid figure who swayed the ever-wavering balance from the side of crime to that of justice. I delivered those at the rate of one a month, so when the first story, The Living Shadow, made its appearance in mid-March of 1931, I was just finishing the third novel. I turned in the fourth around the middle of April and began catching up on other work, now that I had fulfilled The Shadow quota.

One reason for pushing ahead was that I had taken on the editing of a new magic monthly, The Seven Circles, which made its appearance only a few weeks after the first issue of The Shadow. Much of my work had been the gathering and writing of new tricks and articles, as well as contacting potential advertisers. I had started that late in January, soon after delivering the first Shadow novel. So later, when it was decided to use a pen name for The Shadow stories, I was asked for suggestions and it occurred to me that it would be a good idea to combine the first and last name of two magic dealers to form a link between the two publications.

Two names were standouts on the list. One was Maxwell Holden, who had just retired from the stage to open a magic shop in New York and was doing a column for the new magazine. His specialty in vaudeville was a "hand shadow" act in which he formed life-sized silhouettes that moved across a screen. The other was U.F. Grant, of Pittsfield, Massachusetts, who invented an illusion used by the Great Blackstone in which a magician walked away from his own shadow, leaving it in full view. Since these were both devices that I intended to attribute to The Shadow as a means of baffling or intimidating crooks, I felt that the pen name of Maxwell Grant would be appropriate; so I appropriated it, with due respects to Maxwell Holden and U.F. Grant.

By May 1, however, my brief respite from The Shadow came to an abrupt end. Word came from Street & Smith that newsstands were selling out The Living Shadow, so the magazine would definitely be continued beyond the first four issues. I was to go ahead with another story at a full word rate, but with no immediate deadline; and since The Shadow was now a recognized crime fighter, the most appropriate location would be Chicago. Having plenty of data to work from I was getting under way when I received word from Blackstone that he was taking on a two-week engagement in Bermuda and wanted me to go along to do publicity and help with his show.

So I took The Shadow along as well and wrote about Chicago between times while viewing the Bermuda locale as a potential setting for future novels. This policy of writing on the rove proved so satisfactory that I continued it, taking about seven months to complete my quarterly quota of four stories. During that period, I attended a magicians' conclave in Michigan, did magic at a Lions' convention in Toronto, and traveled to Atlanta and New Orleans with the Great Raymond, doing publicity for his show.

In the meantime, the second issue of The Shadow had sold out like the first, but with a much larger print order, so with the third, the publishers decided to go monthly. I was called on to deliver accordingly and came up with six stories in four months. It was well that I did for by then Street & Smith were planning to go twice a month and offered me a contract on that basis. Wisely or otherwise I took it, and the race against time was under way.

From the first issue of The Shadow on, the editing had been assigned to John Nanovic, who, like myself, was a newcomer at Street & Smith. Since the stories had been following a general pattern, there had been very little discussion of coming plots or future development, nor radical changes in finished stories. Now, however, time was of the essence; and since The Shadow was still in a formative stage, it was possible to shape the future along more productive lines. The farsighted Mr. Ralston had foreseen all that and more. He had placed Nanovic in charge of a group of character magazines spearheaded by The Shadow, so that stories could be discussed, outlined, and fully plotted in advance, thus consolidating writing, editing, and sales toward an ultimate purpose.

With The Shadow, ideas came fast as a result of this coalition. Crimes became more varied, The Shadow acquired new devices, stories with an Oriental background gained occasional precedence, and output zoomed so rapidly that I was six months ahead of schedule. Not only was the pressure off, this gave John Nanovic a backlog of a dozen stories to choose from, which in turn sped my output, since I could turn out stories of a similar type or background in rapid succession before going on to something else.

Most important during this formative period was the question of villains. Avid readers of The Shadow Magazine began listing villains from the very start, but very few of them were worthy--or unworthy--of more than passing notice. Mostly, they simply crossed paths with The Shadow to their own deserved misfortune, although there were some whose schemes were so fiendish that they demanded rapid counteraction on The Shadow's part. But by the time the magazine was entering its third year, it was evident that crimedom would be on the way out unless a new breed of supercrooks arose to match The Shadow's might with machinations of their own.

An early example of this was found in The Red Blot, symbolizing a master crook who appeared in the issue of June 1, 1933; while several months later, three superfoes, The Wealth Seeker, The Black Falcon, and Gray Fist, succumbed to The Shadow in three successive issues. They were followed by The Cobra who lived up to his title with the aid of highly vicious subordinates called "Fangs" who tried unsuccessfully to combat The Shadow's agents. By then, readers were writing in to say how greatly they appreciated this wave of supervillainy, but the best compliment of all was one I received in person without the donor's knowledge.

In New York, I went to see a movie involving scenes of the Parisian underworld. One set showed a stone-walled chamber, with heavy doors and stone steps winding into view from a darkened corner. While I was admiring this sinister architecture, I heard someone in the row behind me confide to a companion in a hushed, awed tone: "It looks like The Cobra's lair!" It did, too, and the fact that a reader had realized it before I did simply pleased me all the more.

Other superfoes followed at intervals in the persons of The Crime Master, The Condor, and The Python. That was more than forty years ago, yet only recently I saw a Gothic novel entitled The Shadow of the Condor, which proves how far the long arm of coincidence can carry. But the real breakthrough came with The Voodoo Master, dated March 1, 1936, which marked the end of The Shadow's fifth year and was the ninety-seventh novel in the series. The Voodoo Master, whose real name was Doctor Mocquino, was so wily that even when defeated he twice escaped The Shadow's toils to return for two more matches before finding oblivion.

This represented the second stage in the development of The Shadow, an expansive period during which he encountered a variety of supervillains and a series of fantastic situations involving battles to the bitter end. With The Shadow Unmasks, in which the cloaked avenger resumed a true identity which he had up to then--August 1, 1937--kept strictly a secret, the constant readers gained an inside knowledge of their favorite hero that added new zest to his incredible quests. To those "in the know," it seemed a certainty that this presaged the advent of a supervillain whose aims, capabilities, and resources would be comparable to those developed by The Shadow, but geared for evil instead of good.

It took more than two years with a total of more than fifty novels before that happened; but The Shadow was not idle meanwhile. After disposing of a formidable candidate known as The Murder Master, he met up with a five-man cartel known as The Hand and eliminated them one by one in intermittent stories, despite the fact that each seemed to profit by the mistakes of his predecessors and therefore became more formidable than those who went before. To test his expanding powers further, he disposed of three more supermen of evil, The Lone Tiger, The Vindicator, and the Wizard of Crime, who put him in fettle for the test to come.

That was provided by Shiwan Khan in The Golden Master of September 15, 1939. Since The Shadow in his early years had visited Tibet, there to acquire hypnotic powers that helped him to triumph over fiends of crime, it stood to reason that his nemesis--if he should ever have one--would have to come from that mystic land in order to challenge The Shadow on his home ground. Shiwan Khan not only came from Tibet, he claimed that he owned it, along with outlying territories, which made him formidable, indeed.

Even The Shadow wondered how far he had defeated this superfoe and marked the case as "Unfinished" in his archives, to which, as Maxwell Grant, I had sole access and therefore can vouch for his uncertainty. So it seemed likely that the two would meet again, which they did, in Shiwan Khan Returns, dated December 1, 1939; and now, after forty years, readers who missed one story or the other--or both--will find them in their original form in this combined volume.

Walter B. Gibson     
Maxwell Grant     

Join The Shadow Club!

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For more on The Shadow, visit Lurch & Deeann's Highlights on the Shadow page, or click on The Shadow Web Ring link on my main Pulp Heroes page.

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© 2000 by Clark J. Holloway.