The Greatheart Silver Problem
by Art Bollmann
Ever since the days of Buntline and Dumas, there has been a
long tradition of thinly disguising the exploits of real people under
a thin veil of fiction. Many scholars have devoted a great deal of
time and energy into separating fact from fiction in a number of
works that have been taken as mere entertainment, rather than history.
Among scholars, one of the most heavily contested documents has
been the book "Greatheart Silver" by P.J. Farmer. Some scholars, such
as Dr. W. Eckert of America, have questioned the veracity of this work, while provisionally accepting it.
Others, such as Dr. Mengel of Australia, have argued that some
version of the events are true. This essay will argue that both of
them are wrong.
At first glance, it would appear that Eckert is correct. The
opening document in this book, "Showdown at Shootout" describes the
violent death of a number of heroes, including thinly disguised
versions of the Shadow, Doc Savage, James Bond and many others.
Subsequent history has shown many of these heroes to be alive.
Mengel has speculated that this event was an elaborately
staged hoax. Although this may be possible, it still seems to
strain credibility, especially when one considers that Savage had
been missing from the public eyes for decades when the event happened.
Despite this, we cannot dismiss the historicity of Greatheart
Silver. Military records exist concerning him, and so do elaborate
genealogical records, which show him to be related to the pirate,
Long John Silver, and to the cowboy, Silvertip. The truth is, as
usual, both much simpler and more complex than it first appears.
In order to explain this, we must turn first to one of the
greatest intelligence agents the world has ever known, the man
tentatively identified as A.K. Rassendyll and best known as the
Shadow. A master of what came to be known as disinformation, the
Shadow utilized a vast array of media, including books, film, radio
and comics to present a number of conflicting accounts about his
identity. At various times, he was presented as a radio show host, a
millionaire playboy who could turn invisible, a green suited
superhero and a man with a hideously scarred face. One of the most
interesting things he ever did, however, was to adapt a variant of an
old alias, that of Phwombly, and masquerade as a senile, unbalanced
remnant of his former self. (One is almost tempted to say he was a
'shadow" of his former self.)
It is unknown why he did this, but it is documented that he
did so by none other than his nephew, Cordwainer Bird. This disguise
is also the one used in his adventure with Silver.
But this adventure never really happened? Right?
Probably not. We must remember that this adventure was
written by none other than THE Philip Josť Farmer. Although a truly
commendable scholar, Farmer in the past has not shown himself to be
above collaborating with his subjects in the interests of justice.
That he helped the Shadow spread disinformation about himself is well
documented. (For example, Farmer once spread the rumor that the
Shadow, G-8 and the Spider were the same person. It seems that the
Shadow was trying to create as much confusion about himself as
possible at that point in history.)
As has been mentioned, it is unknown why the Shadow did so.
Certainly, he still had many enemies, including the true Lamont
Cranston and the remnants of the spy organization CYPHER. He also
had to conceal the existence of the kingdom of Shamballah, and may
have been attempting to prove conclusively that he had never existed.
But, for whatever reason, he contacted Farmer, who was in the
process of writing a series of biographical articles about Greatheart
Silver. With Silver's consent, he made the first one a purely
fictional account of a great shootout involving the deaths of a
number of thinly disguised real people. This aided the Shadow's
purposes, with the public confused as to whether the Shadow and a
number of other figures were dead, fictional characters or something
And the confusion has continued to this day.
Ellison., Harlan "The New York Review of Bird"
Farmer, Philip Josť, Greatheart Silver
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All rights reserved. The text of this article is copyright 2001 by the author, Art Bollmann. No copying or reproduction of this story or any portions thereof in any form whatsoever is permitted without prior written permission and consent of the author.