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

in between.

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.