Mind reading and other psychic topics are frequently mentioned throughout the Doc Savage series. But the specific topic of telepathy, or rather the exact use of the word, happens in only a few specific instances.
The very first time is in Mystery Under the Sea from February 1936. Doc and his men are exploring the sunken city of Taz and come across one of the records in the Central Science Library. It is a metal plate describing the principles behind mental telepathy.
The next occurrence is in The Midas Man (August 1936). A mind reading machine is the main idea driving the story. This idea escalates in March 1937 with The Mental Wizard. Here an actual human being is able to mentally control other individuals. Ost explores this idea further again with a kind of mental projection in the August 1937 issue.
A huge leap forward transpires in The Mountain Monster. The story published in the February 1938 issue of Doc Savage Magazine is different from all the prior issues in that it introduces telepathic abilities with two of the Doc Savage crew. The story explains that Monk Mayfair and Ham Brooks have been conducting private experiments in telepathic communication with extraordinary results. The subject of these successful personal trials appears again in The Devil’s Playground (January 1941) and The Headless Men (June 1941).
One wonders what influences caused Dent to interject this subject matter into the Doc Savage series. Modern readers do not have the benefit of the then current events to see what popular topics were reported in the newspapers and magazines of the era.
In 1929 Upton Sinclair published a book titled Mental Radio in which he details experiments in telepathy between himself and his wife. Sinclair went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1943. Probably Sinclair’s most influential piece was The Jungle, which was published in 1906. It was a brutal public indictment of the meat industry and was instrumental in the passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act that same year. Sinclair also ran for governor of California in 1934 as the Socialist candidate. His name was in the news. Without doubt, coming from such a prominent author, a book on psychic abilities attracted attention and put the subject of mental telepathy in the news.
Across the continent, J. B. Rhine focused more attention on the subject. Dr. Rhine was a professor at Duke University in North Carolina. Rhine created a sensation with his studies in parapsychology in the areas of extrasensory perception (ESP). Rhine conducted scientific experiments in the field with Dr. Karl Zener. The men used a set of cards that came to be named after one of the men – Zener cards. These are the familiar cards seen on many movies where ESP experiments are conducted.
Rhine published two books on the subject: Extra-sensory Perception, 1934 and New Frontiers of the Mind, 1937. He also authored an article in the Journal of Parapsychology titled Terminal Salience in ESP Performance in 1941.
One last area of interest is the connection between this subject and the lost continent of Atlantis. Telepathy was only one of the many popular themes associated with the lost super civilization. Atlantis supporters were as active and vociferous during this time as they are now.
Exactly where Dent’s interest in this topic originated is something we will probably never know.