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Tuesday 8 March 2011

Pulp Buddhism

Om Mani Padme Hum, besides being a Tibetan Buddhist mantra, was the battle-cry of that unlikeliest of all pulp heroes, the Green Lama. Created by Kendell Foster Crossen for Double Detective magazine in 1940, the Green Lama was a crime-fighting Buddhist monk. Interesting as this sounds, the Green Lama's Buddhism was simply a gimmick to make the character stand out from other similar pulp heroes such as the Shadow, the Spider and the Phantom Detective, and the stories never showed any real understanding of Buddhist ideas or beliefs. But there is a much better example of Pulp Buddhism...

Seabury Quinn's novelette "Living Buddhess" appeared in the November 1937 issue of Weird Tales. Like most of Quinn's stories in that magazine, it featured his occult detective Jules de Grandin (there are over eighty de Grandin stories, some better than others... this is one of the better ones). Unlike the Green Lama's author, Seabury Quinn gives a convincing Buddhist background to this story -- in particular describing the way that, in certain parts of Asia, core Buddhist beliefs became interwoven with older superstitions and rituals.

The villain of the story is a centuries-old Buddhist priest who, reluctant to be reincarnated every time into the body of a new-born baby, discovers a way to transmigrate his essence into an adult of his choice. As you might guess from the story's title, his latest "victim" is a woman -- a young American socialite named Sylvia Dearborn. With the aid of a knowledgeable Buddhist friend, Jules de Grandin eventually succeeds in defeating the evil priest and restoring Sylvia to her normal state. But before then, while she is still "possessed", Sylvia has the habit of chanting "Emdap Inam Mo"... the Buddhist equivalent of Satanists reciting the Lord's Prayer backwards!


Anonymous said...

How in the world do you dig up this interesting stuff?!

Andrew May said...

That's exactly how I feel when I read someone else's Fortean blog (or read Fortean Times, or listen to a talk on the subject). I suppose everyone has a tiny bit of obscure knowledge they can use to impress others!