Friday, July 15, 2016

Forgotten Books: Ki-Gor--and the Stolen Empire - John Peter Drummond

Man, if I had the attention span of a six-week-old puppy, I might be dangerous. This observation is prompted by the fact that I posted a JUNGLE STORIES cover here on the blog a couple of weeks ago, as part of the Sunday Morning Bonus Pulp series, which led to a discussion in the comments about the Ki-Gor novels featured in that pulp. I recalled reading the first one in the series a while back, liking it, and blogging about it, a post that concluded with my stated intention to read the second novel “soon”.

Well, that was more than five years ago.

But better late than never, or so they say, which brings us to “Ki-Gor—and the Stolen Empire”, from the Summer 1939 issue of JUNGLE STORIES. As you may recall, the blond giant Ki-Gor is really the son of English missionary Robert Kilgour, who grew up in the jungle after his father’s death. In the previous story, Ki-Gor met and rescued beautiful, redheaded American aviatrix Helene Vaughn, who was captured by Arab slavers after her plane crashed. The second story picks up pretty much where that one left off. Helene wants to get back to civilization, but Ki-Gor has more in mind that she’ll stay and live with him in the jungle. To help convince her that’s a good idea, he builds her a treehouse in a giant baobab tree. Before anything can get settled between them, though, they encounter a sinister American who’s trying to set up his own little empire in the middle of equatorial Africa. There’s also a lost city, a remnant of an ancient Egyptian colony, involved in the story. (Africa, as we all know, is lousy with lost cities.)

Clearly, the Ki-Gor stories are imitations of Tarzan, although they seem to me to be influenced more by the Johnny Weissmuller movies than by Edgar Rice Burroughs’ novels. The first one was published under the author’s real name, John Murray Reynolds, while this one appeared under the house-name John Peter Drummond. However, while there are some stylistic differences, my hunch is that this one is Reynolds’ work, too. It’s rather sloppily written in places with a number of continuity errors, and some of the action is described so sketchily that it’s really lacking in drama. The villain is woefully underdeveloped.

However, there are some interesting things in “Ki-Gor—and the Stolen Empire” as well. Helene is a great character. She’s not as much of a bad-ass as Ki-Gor, of course, but that doesn’t stop her from trying. She gets right in the middle of some of the fights, mowing down bad guys with an Enfield rifle. The relationship between her and Ki-Gor is a little odd, too. There’s no real chemistry, no passion between them. I suspect that will change as the series goes on, but at this point they’re more comrades-in-arms than anything else. The climax of this story tries to be big and dramatic and almost succeeds, and the sacrifices made by some of the characters are genuinely touching.

From what I’ve read, this series gets wilder—and better—as it goes along. While I’m tempted to skip ahead, I think I’ll continue reading them in order for now. I have the first dozen stories in reprint editions from Altus Press. I just hope it won’t take me five years to get to the next one. At that rate I’ll never even make it to the crazy stuff! (Although the next one is called “Ki-Gor—and the Giant Gorilla Men”. That sounds promising . . .)


George said...

I'm a big fan of Altus Press. I'm not familiar with Ki-Gor but your review inspires me to order the books! Right now!

Keith West said...

My understanding is that there were back-up stories in the original pulps that haven't been reprinted in the Altus Press editions. Can anyone speak to this?



Walker Martin said...

Keith, go to and search for Jungle Stories. They have reprinted about a dozen complete issues for $14.95 each. These reprints contain the back up stories, some of which are quite well done. Dan Cushman for instance was one of the better writers of the shorter stories. also lists many complete reprints of JUNGLE STORIES.

Charles Gramlich said...

I've read one or two of these at some point but don't remember very well.

Samuel Wilson said...

I've read some Ki-Gors from the Forties that were entertaining. By then the regular cast had been expanded to include N'Geeso the pygmy and Tembu George, the American boxer turned Masai chieftain, who provide a lot of comedy-relief banter in the Monk and Ham (if not Mutt and Jeff) manner but are cool characters in their own right. It looks like there's a lot of Ki-Gor to be easily had so I'll probably try more soon.

Charles R. Rutledge said...

The stories tend to be really good or really bad, without much middle ground. Some of the later ones are excellent. 'The Silver Witch' is probably my favorite.

Keith West said...

Thanks, Walker. I'll check them out.

And since it's on topic, Howard Andrew Jones had this post about the next volume of the collected Ki-Gor stories a few hours after James posted.

Anonymous said...

There are also several full-count issues of JUNGLE STORIES free online (copyright apparently not having been renewed on these, and perhaps not on any of them); see

Denny Lien

James Reasoner said...

Altus Press has also reprinted (in two volumes) the complete adventures of Dan Cushman's Armless O'Neil. Many of these yarns first appeared in JUNGLE STORIES, the others in ACTION STORIES. They're great reading, too.

S. Craig Zahler said...


Great Saunders cover for sure!

This is pretty good issue, but I must point out that the Ki-Gor story in this issue is the very, very worst story. It's just sloppy and obvious at all times. Please read Dark Terror---which sets up a fun character named Taboo Dick with a really interesting racket and gimmick. Moreover, Lost White Race of the Hidden Plateau in that issue is really good lost race fiction and would have stood out in Argosy. It's actually my favorite story the I've read in this magazine.

Yes, The Silver Witch is good Ki-Gor, but my favorite is actually from the issue that was pictured on this site--- Warrior Queen of Attilla's Lost Legion, which is like a Norvell W. Page take on ER Burroughs and quite frantic. Beware the staring apes!

Howard Jones said...

Oh, the later ones are definitely stronger and better, but you're a few years out at this rate. I'd say about a third of them are really outstanding, for what they are. I went on about the glories to be found in the good ones at length a few years ago:

Howard Jones said...

Keith, I think there was a collection of some of the "one-arm O'Neill" stories, by Cushman, a few years back. That's the only reprint collection based on the Ki-Gor back-up features I'm aware of.