#193 "The Invincible Shiwan Khan"
Vol. 33, No. 1
Submitted: 08/28/39 under the same title
Author: Walter Gibson
Review date: Nov 23, 2007
THE INVINCIBLE SHIWAN KHAN was published in the March 1, 1940 issue of The Shadow Magazine. The Shadow's ultimate foe returns for his third encounter with his black-cloaked nemesis. And this time, he's brought a phalanx of mongols, mystics and assassins to aid him in his sinister undertaking. The Shadow will be tested to his utmost in this thrilling pulp tale.
Yes, Shiwan Khan is back, and he's meaner than ever. In Shiwan Khan's first visit to America, he was bent on world conquest. He sought aircraft and munitions. He was defeated by The Shadow. In his second sojourn to America, he sought unique inventions. Inventions that could be combined into one hitherto unheard-of diabolical device. Again, he was defeated by The Shadow. Now he returns to New York for the third time. Once again he enters the realm of The Shadow, in preparation for some new ghastly scheme. Once again The Shadow is called to battle his most powerful and most hated enemy: Shiwan Khan!
In Shiwan Khan's first visit to New York, he used flashing lights to capture the psychic processes of his victims. In his second visit, he used various sounds to mentally enslave inventors. This time around, he uses odors to connect him with his prey. He sits in his new lair, hidden in the twisty maze of passages below the opium den of Lew Dow, using a variety of aromas to ensnare his victims.
Lovely young Beatrice Chadbury is abducted by Shiwan Khan as she prepares to leave New York by train. Not physically abducted, but mentally. When she smells the odor of lilacs, her brain weakens and everything fades. As in a trance, she hears a voice - the voice of Shiwan Khan. He takes control of her mind, and she becomes another person. She's no longer Beatrice Chadbury; she's Lana Luan, his Chinese servant. A servant that he adds to his legion of other minions.
Poor young Beatrice had a previous run-in with Shiwan Khan. She had been forced to obey Shiwan Khan when he first visited New York in the 1939 story "The Golden Master." She took on the persona of Lana Luan that time, as well. The Shadow freed her from mental bondage in that story, but now he must rescue her once again.
Shiwan Khan has returned to New York with an army of underlings. There are giant Mongols who will fight with their immense strength. There are delogs, men who have no fear, for they have visited bardo, the land beyond. There are naljorpas, scrawny little men in turbans. These spidery creatures are assassins, wiry denizens of the Orient who possess mystic powers. But these aren't enough; Shiwan Khan needs more servants. He needs some like Beatrice Chadbury, now Lana Luan, who can move about in public and deliver his packages.
These packages are being delivered to men of power. Men of great knowledge. Men who want something. And whatever it is that they want, Shiwan Khan provides it. In return, the men recognize Shiwan Khan as their master. Ralph Fayden receives jade from Shiwan Khan's emissary - the most lustrous and exquisite jade in creation. In return, he pledges himself to Shiwan Khan. Hiram Selsby, white-haired inventor, receives Bronzium, the lost metal of the ancients - something he has sought for years. He becomes a disciple of Shiwan Khan as well. And there are many others.
Shiwan Khan is gathering men of genius who will pledge themselves to him. And women, too! He plans on taking them to his fabulous golden city of Xanadu, founded by his illustrious ancestor, Kubla Khan. Hidden in the heart of Asia, beyond China, beneath the mountains of Sinkiang, each will undergo training to become a delog - one who has visited the land beyond and no longer has fear of death or the future. With their lives prolonged to centuries by his secret methods, they will spend the centuries creating themselves into superminds such as the world has never known. There, through measureless, deathless years they shall create a new dominion that will spread to all the world!
It's up to The Shadow to stop him. But The Shadow can't do it alone. He will need all the assistance he can get to overcome his most dangerous and potent enemy. Assisting The Shadow in this story are his agents Burbank, Moe Shrevnitz, Harry Vincent, Clyde Burke, Cliff Marsland, Hawkeye, Jericho Druke, Myra Reldon, Dr. Roy Tam and Dr. Rupert Sayre. That's quite an assortment of agents, but then this is the most dangerous foe that The Shadow had never faced.
Myra Reldon is The Shadow's secret weapon. He sends her in as an undercover agent to work for Shiwan Khan. Myra Reldon first appeared in the 1937 story "Teeth of the Dragon." Now she's back, and she dons her Oriental disguise as Ming Dwan and allows herself to come under the sway of Shiwan Khan's mental powers. But before she knows it, she is no longer a tool of The Shadow. In fact, she no longer remembers her previous identity of Myra Reldon. She is Ming Dwan, faithful servant of Shiwan Khan.
The law has had run-ins with Shiwan Khan before, so they know full well his evil. And the law is most anxious to help in the search for Shiwan Khan. The search and defeat. New York Police Commissioner Ralph Weston and ace Inspector Joe Cardona are present to help capture the golden master. Even FBI man Vic Marquette shows up to assist. And it will take all their combined efforts to thwart Shiwan Khan's sinister schemes.
Shiwan Khan possesses powers never before seen in Shadow pulp mysteries. He controls strange mystic powers of the Orient. He can turn others into his mental slaves, subjecting them to his insidious bidding across vast distances through projection of thought alone.
Let's examine the mystical powers that Shiwan Khan commands. He controls the naljorpas, scrawny little men who have followed him to New York from the Himalaya Mountains on the borders of Tibet. These men are human electric eels, who can deliver a staggering jolt even without human contact. They have been tortured to remove all sensations of pain from their systems. And they control the phurba, a long-bladed knife that seems to have a life of its own. The phurba is supposed to be an enchanted dagger, possessing the power of delivering death of its own accord. And we see it in action many times throughout this story.
These naljorpas also control the power of invisibility. As one Hindu mystic explains it, "I shall assume the trance condition of samdhi. When my thoughts are stilled, no eye can observe me." And thus, the man can sit motionless in a room unnoticed. Virtual invisibility! Of course, their weakness is that they can't do anything while invisible. Once they move, or even think, they become noticed... visible. So while it's an impressive trick, it's not very useful.
In the radio version of The Shadow, our hero could cast a broad hypnotic spell and render himself invisible to others. This was a much more useful power than that wielded by the naljorpas, because while invisible, The Shadow could move about, think, talk and take action. But this was the pulps, not the radio show, and the "hypnotic" type of invisibility familiar to radio listeners only appeared in one pulp story, 1949's "The Whispering Eyes," the last of the pulp magazine stories.
The Shadow in this story does possess some pretty amazing powers of his own, though. It is alluded to that he also possesses some of the powers wielded by the naljorpas. At the climax of our story, The Shadow explains to Shiwan Khan's hostages that anyone who practices, could produce telepathic ability. "The Shadow spoke with a tone of confidence, indicating that he was practiced in the method that he mentioned." So, although we don't get to see him use it, we are told he does possess the power of telepathy.
The 1994 Shadow movie was based on bits and pieces of the four Shiwan Khan novels, selecting The Shadow's most feared adversary for its antagonist. Just as Professor Moriarty was to Sherlock Holmes, so is Shiwan Khan to The Shadow. One of the things the movie used from this particular pulp story was the enchanted dagger known as the phurba. It is reputed to possess the power of delivering death of its own accord. In brief, the blade supposedly possesses life, given to it by the mystic influence of a naljorpa. In the movie, the phurba actually lived. In this pulp story, however, it's made clear that it is only rumor. The knife acts "as though" alive. But it isn't.
Twice in this story mention is made of messages written by The Shadow that disappear. It was well known in the pulp stories that when The Shadow wrote messages to his agents, the ink would quickly disappear after being exposed to the air. What was very rarely mentioned, is that there also appeared on the paper a hawkish silhouette of The Shadow, which also faded quickly. It's mentioned in this story, and was used in the 1994 movie as well. Exactly how this image was created, was never explained in the pulps. In the movie, they showed Burbank using a rubber stamp to affix the image to the paper. Although this never happened in the pulps, I thought it was a well-though-out touch that seemed logical.
As you read this story, you'll encounter your fair share of political incorrectness. There are enough slanty eyes, bulging teeth and other racial stereotypes to make you cringe. But author Walter Gibson tries to balance the scales somewhat by having Dr. Roy Tam and his contingent from Chinatown acting in protagonist roles. They save the day at story's end, and go to show that the Chinese not only make sinister adversaries but valuable allies, as well.
Of course, with the advantage of hindsight, we know even before starting to read this story that Shiwan Khan escapes in the end. We know that because we know he returned three months later in a fourth pulp mystery. But even knowing that going in, that shouldn't stop you from enjoying this tale. And enjoy it you will.
If you're going to read this story, do yourself a favor and read the previous two, first. The four of them, in their original order, were:
"The Golden Master" September 15, 1939
"Shiwan Khan Returns" December 1, 1939
"The Invincible Shiwan Khan" March 1, 1940
"Masters of Death" June 15, 1940.
This story, and the other three in the series, is considered to be among the very best of The Shadow pulp mysteries. And justifiably so. It's wonderfully weird and exciting. It offers the pulp thrills that you expect from The Shadow. It's a superb example of what made the pulp magazines so popular.
Click here to return to the Reviews page.
Legal Statement of Copyright Notice