Thursday, September 15, 2011

Hugh Pendexter, Tiberius Smith (1907)

The full title of this comic novel is Tiberius Smith, as Chronicled by His Right Hand Man, Billy Campbell. Hugh Pendexter (1875-1940) became a prolific western writer in later years, but this early effort owes more to Jules Verne. Modeled after a fashion on great showmen like P. T. Barnum, world-traveler Tiberius Smith is a turn-of-the-century Phileas Fogg.

Tib helps four fugitives escape capture disguised as circus animals.

Tib, as he’s known by his young sidekick Billy, is often on the search for exotic wild animals. Whether leopards, apes, or polar bears, an order comes from a circus agency in New York, and the two men are off to another corner of the pre-postcolonial world. There the animals are easy to find, but the local natives are quick to take umbrage.

Thus every chapter is a different death-defying and thoroughly farcical adventure. In Mexico they are stranded in the middle of an insurrection. There they keep hostile troops at bay with the aid of a handy kinetoscope, projecting movies of marching armies on the side of a cliff.

Captured by headhunters in the Amazon, Tib engages the chief in a game of baseball, dumbfounding him with sinkers, sliders, and curve balls. Deep in the jungles of Burma, he discourages an attack of spear throwers by loading dogs with explosives. In Canada, they discover a stash of medieval armor in an abandoned fur trading post and get out of trouble by using it to skate along a frozen river with a band of indigenous cutthroats in hot pursuit.

And so on.

Abbott and Costello, 1949
All is told by Billy Campbell, a kind of James Boswell to the great man Tiberius. Reading his accounts, you find yourself looking ahead to the antics and wild excesses of the Keystone Kops, with the verbal hijinks of the Marx Brothers added in, and the buddyship of Abbott and Costello. Along with Mark Twain, you’re at the headwaters of American humor’s mainstream.

If you have the temerity to sample this novel, you’ll find the first stories lack the finesse of the later ones. Since making sense of it all relies not at all on the order you read them, start with the chapters near the end and work your way backwards.

All or nearly all of the Tiberius adventures appeared first in the magazines: Munsey’s, Saturday Evening Post, Everybody’s Magazine, and All-Story Magazine among others. Pendexter burst upon the scene in 1904 with a story in The Red Book. By 1907, the year that Tiberius Smith saw hard covers, he’d published 28 titles in the magazines. And it was just the start.

Tiberius Smith
can currently be found at Internet Archive, google books, and for the nook.

Image credits:

Illustration from the novel by Albert Levering
Africa Screams, Wikimedia Commons

Coming up:
Old West glossary, no. 20


  1. These look like they could be fun. That illustration makes me think of OZ.

  2. This is one of the few things by Hugh Pendexter that I have not read yet. During the 1920's he was one of ADVENTURE MAGAZINE's main authors and all together published around 40 complete novels and serials in the magazine. They all have a historical basis and many deal with the west and the early frontier. He has been unjustly forgotten.

  3. Sounds like a wild and funny ride. Right up my alley.

  4. Thanks for the info, Ron. I really like the illustration.