The Nine Unknown – Talbot Mundy
This is a 1923 adventure novel by Talbot Mundy. It’s a moderately entertaining read, but the writing is surprisingly heavy for a work that was originally serialized in Adventure Magazine. It has the kind of plot that makes you want to read quickly, but the writing is so dense that you can’t really skim through it. The frustratingly large cast of characters is made up of protagonists from Mundy’s other works, and as I haven’t read anything else by Mundy, I repeatedly found myself having to consult the first chapter in order to figure out who was who. By the end of the novel I had figured out that the team of good guys consists of a Sikh, a Muslim (with several interchangeable sons), a Christian priest, a strange Indian man and four white guys. The white guys are the heroes from other books by Mundy. I’m sure his fans would have loved this crossover, but I could barely tell these lads apart.
This dream team was assembled by the priest to help attain a mysterious set of books that contain some terrible knowledge. These books are kept by a very secretive and mysterious secret society known as the Nine Unknown or the Nine Unknown Men. The priest intends to burn the books as soon as he gets his hands on them in order to keep the public from ever reading their secrets. Naturally enough, the Nine Unknown don’t want to let this happen. (I found the priest’s name, Father Cyprian, quite intriguing; Saint Cyprian of Antioch was an alleged sorcerer and author of several grimoires. Can we be sure that he really wants to burn these books?).
Also thrown into the mix are a fake Nine. These impostors share the protagonists’ goal of attaining the books, but they want to do so for their own benefit. These lads are trained killers and hypnotists and cause some serious problems for the good guys (and the original Nine, who actually seem pretty chill once you get to know them). Fires, jailbreaks, trips to a brothel, talking corpses, unruly mobs and vicious battles ensue.
Ok, so an adventure novel about a secret society and a set of mysterious books that features hypnotism and chatty corpses sounds like the kind of thing that you’d expect to find reviewed on this blog. However, the really interesting thing about this novel is not the text itself but the conspiracy theory that grew out of it. You see, there are people out there who have come to believe in the literal existence of the Nine Unknown.
The internet is full of confused references to this book and the conspiracy theories it inspired. Most depict that the Nine as guardians of society, withholding dangerous information about nuclear physics to protect humanity from itself. This much is revealed or at least suggested by the end of the novel. But you’ll find many websites that claim that Mundy’s novel mentions the specific topics of the forbidden books being sought by Father Cyprian. The topics of the nine forbidden tomes are supposedly propaganda, physiology, microbiology, the transmutation of metals, communication (both terrestrial and extra-terrestrial), gravitation, cosmogony, light and sociology.
You see, the problem here is that the topics of the books are never given in Mundy’s novel. Like many of the best conspiracy theories, this idea has its origin in Pauwels and Bergier’s Morning of the Magicians. While the two Frenchmen don’t actually claim that the list comes from Mundy’s novel, the passage in question (or at least the translation of this passage) certainly makes it seem like Mundy had given the list. The supposed topics of the Nine books are almost definitely of P+B’s invention. Also, in the passage in question, they quote Mundy, and although I am working with a translation (presumably of a translation), the quote is not to be found in The Nine Unknown. Looking up the quote online only brings up links to Pauwels and Bergier’s text. I’m not entirely convinced that Pauwels and Bergier made up the quote, but given the rest of their body of work, it really wouldn’t surprise me if they had.
Aside from Mundy, Pauwels and Bergier’s only other source on this topic is Louis Jacolliot, a man whose ideas of Agartha, a city in the centre of the world, I have previously come across in Arktos. (Arktos is a wonderful book, but it’s basically a compilation of some of the worlds craziest conspiracy theories. Unsurprisingly, it contains many references to the work of Pauwels and Bergier. It also contains several references to Om, another novel by Mundy.) P+B say of him; “Jacolliot states categorically that the society of Nine did actually exist. And, to make it all the more intriguing, he refers in this connection to certain techniques, unimaginable in 1860, such as, for example, the liberation of energy, sterilization by radiation and psychological warfare.” Note that Jacolliot died more than 30 years before the novel was written, so his knowledge of the Nine would be very interesting if it was real. However, while Pauwels and Bergier claim to have found information on the Nine Unknown in Jacolliot’s work, they fail to mention the specific text in which they found this information. I have not read anything by Jacolliot, but other people have, and as far as I know, nobody has found the section alluded to by P + B. Mundy’s novel is then, as far as any sane person has been able to tell, the earliest mention of the Nine Unknown.
A big chunk of Pauwels and Bergier’s section on the Nine Unknown has to do with the Nine’s origins. Apparently they were founded by Emperor Asoka (Ashoka). You will notice however, that all respectable sources (examples 1, 2, 3) on the Emperor completely fail to mention the Nine. Is that because the Nine have suppressed this information or because it’s a load of bollocks? I’ll let you decide.
Since Pauwels and Bergier’s book came out, the Nine Unknown have become key players in the world of occultism and conspiracy theories. They pop up everywhere. Anton LaVey thanked them in the dedication that was included in the first editions of the Satanic Bible. According to Frank Lauria’s Doctor Orient Series (expect a post on same soon), the Nine are a benevolent group of mystics including the immortal Count De Saint Germain. They even appear as rockstars in the Illuminatus! Trilogy.
Mundy’s text has been widely available for almost a century, and you’d think that anybody writing about the Nine Unknown would have started with reading this book. Unfortunately, judging by the articles I’ve seen online, this has not been case. If you want to read it yourself, it’s available online. However, nearly all of the copies of the text I found online were incomplete, missing several pages at the very end of the novel. Here is a link to the complete text.