The Land of Terror | Red Snow
Recently I finished reading Red Snow. This adventure has always been one of my favorites. The story kept reminding me of The Land of Terror since it employed a similar device with the “Smoke of Eternity”.
As l read, some curious ideas began taking place. Perhaps there was a connection between the two stories? The first noticeable thing was the similarity between the guns used to deliver the substance.
The aliases used by the villains were another oddity. The villain’s name in The Land of Terror was Kar while the villain’s name in Red Snow was Ark. The two names are simple transpositions of the letters or to be more specific each is an anagram of the other. Was this more than an odd happenstance?
Down in the Florida Everglades, in Red Snow, the Baron Lang Ark takes great pride in telling Doc that this is not his real name. He also brags to Doc that he is a famous man. What exactly is he famous for doing? Certainly his fame is not of a public nature. Could it be that he is the man who invented the Smoke of Eternity?
Possibly Ark was the real inventor of the Smoke of Eternity and Oliver Wording Bittman only supplied him with the raw material. Bittman’s death was a serious problem for Ark. His supply of the raw material was now cut off. Ark would be unable to refine additional quantities of the disintegration compound since he never knew the location of the source. This would account for the connection between the names. Bittman, appreciating irony, simply adopted a variation of Ark’s name as the pseudonym under which he ruled his gang.
Given that Ark knew that it was possible to destroy matter using the Smoke of Eternity he could have sought to develop an artificial method to achieve the same effect. Hence, the difference in color of the two munitions. The first substance, made from naturally occurring materials was gray in appearance but the synthetic material is red.
The Smoke of Eternity resembles a modified version of the Red Snow. The substance used in The Land of Terror was pretty crude compared to the destructive agent shown in Red Snow. Even so, the results were very impressive.
Supposedly, in The Land of Terror, the land within the crater of Thunder Island was destroyed at the end of the story. This occurred when Doc Savage tossed the suitcase containing Kar’s supply of the Smoke of Eternity into the mud lake. It is assumed but never verified in the story that the flood of hot mud completely inundated the crater floor. Did Doc Savage knowingly perpetrate a hoax on his aids?
We know he did not share every secret he had with his men. One needs only turn to the Fortress of Solitude to verify that argument. Possibly Doc believed it would be in the best interest of all if everyone believed the crater floor had been completely decimated by the mud flow.
Even without any collusion on the part of Doc Savage, the crater destruction seems to be a gross exaggeration of events in my opinion. Firstly, it seems extremely unlikely in the geologic history of the crater that similar incidents had not previously happened yet the flora and animal life were thriving. My opinion is that the desolated area was limited to a relatively small portion of the habitat. Secondly, consider the very nature of the Smoke of Eternity. Recall the incident early on in The Land of Terror where a plane drops a baseball size container of the Smoke of Eternity on a bridge Doc is using.
Not only was that section of the bridge destroyed but also the water underneath was consumed so rapidly that a pit appeared in the lagoon. This same thing may have taken place within the mud lake on Thunder Island. The fact that the destruction of Thunder Island is never officially verified leaves a lot of things up in the air.
Remember, one survivor of Kar’s gang was left marooned on the island. Perhaps he escaped? There are many possibilities. Was there another plane secreted at a different location inside the crater? This would have been a most prudent thing to do. We know a large corral was built around the landing strip in order to protect the plane and men. Having a second plane at a second location would be very plausible and smart. Then there is the change the marooned gangster could have located an old lava tube that breached the outer wall and provided access to the ocean.
Once outside the crater, he was picked up by a Japanese whaling vessel, which had a military observer on-board, as they were also conduction intelligence operations for the conquest of the Pacific. Hearing the survivor’s story the military man would quickly recognize the many uses of such a substance for a nation soon to be at war.
The possible scenarios are endless. Here is the story I favor. Ark was a chemist and actually developed the Smoke of Eternity from samples provided to him by Oliver Wording Bittman. To outward appearances Ark was working for a chemical concern in New Zealand. But in reality, Ark was a member of the Black Dragon’s Society and was a secret agent of the Empire of Japan. At this time Ark was under a death sentence for exceeding his authority on a prior mission. Ark had escaped and was in hiding. Having developed the Smoke of Eternity, Ark now had a real bargaining chip to earn a pardon for himself. Through his contacts in the Black Dragon Society, he contacted the Japanese military and things began happening.
Bear in mind the situation when Doc and his crew arrived in New Zealand. Oliver Wording Bittman had been away in search of the native New Zealanders who had taken Jerome Coffern and Kar to Thunder Island months ago. He returned shaking his head.
Doc Savage mistakenly believes this is the work of Kar’s gang. It is not. The fear expressed by Bittman is real. Japanese operatives have kidnapped the expedition members in an attempt to locate the source of the basic raw material used in manufacturing the diabolical disintegration agent.
Sometime after Doc Savage and his men left Thunder Island a Japanese military expedition mounted an exploration of Thunder Island. This was most likely achieved via an aircraft carrier type submarine. This vessel was a prototype of the aircraft carrier submarine later put into service by the Japanese Navy for use in bombing the Panama Canal locks during World War II.
The lone survivor of Bittman’s gang was captured. The explorers also obtained small amounts of the raw material. Both were returned to Japan. Exhaustive chemical analysis provided an understanding of the mechanism upon which the disintegration principles worked. The primary problem now was the very basic fact that the amount of raw materials available was inadequate for any significant military application. The main source of the raw material on Thunder Island was now covered by parts of the boiling mud lake.
Tedious research revealed that the mechanism of destruction could be achieved synthetically through the use of certain radioactive elements, primarily radium. Unfortunately for the Japanese military, useful quantities of radium were not available in Japan. In fact, the rare element was virtually unattainable as the United States controlled what essentially was the entire stockpile in the world. Considering the events taking place in China at that time, it was unlikely the Japanese Empire could obtain radium in useful quantities from America.
Ark had escaped his death sentence by his amazing discovery but redemption was not yet complete. He was ordered to go to America and set up an operation there so that the process could be developed using local radium sources. Their mission was to manufacture a sufficient supply of the material to enable his unit to wage an undeclared war against the United States. The goal was to cripple the U. S. leadership while the main Japanese military acted in the Pacific. Only then would Ark be fully pardoned from his death sentence. Subsequent events are described in Red Snow.
This is all very fun and it is exciting to speculate about the similarities in the two stories. Maybe Dent was thinking about a connection between the two when he wrote Red Snow. I like to think so but probably what happened was he later thought of a different angle to use with the dissolving compound and took it from there. Both stories are a great treat for any Doc Savage fan.
The Mystery on the Snow – Land of
After finishing Red Snow I began reading Land of Always-Night. Not too far along into the story I began having another one of those deja vu feelings. The first thing that struck me was Ool’s description concerning the disappearance of the Lenderthorn Expedition. Ool claims that the expedition was attached by black, shapeless ghost-like creatures and that his companions disappeared without a trace.
There was a strong echo of familiarity in these words. Where had I read something very similar to this before? After a few minutes I realized something like this had happened in Mystery on the Snow when Kulden was explaining the supposed disappearance of Ben Lane and his other companions to Doc Savage. Here Kulden claims the men were attacked by invisible creatures that killed and ate his companions.
First we have an expedition in the frozen Canadian wilderness. Then unknown and unseen forces attack the expedition. Finally we are told that the other members of the expedition simply disappeared or were eaten by some invisible creatures. In both cases the narrator of the story is lying – Kulden on the one hand and Ool on the other. Another correlation is the use of lighter-than-air ships in each story. Doc’s dirigible is employed in Land of Always-Night while Stroam’s gang uses a blimp in Mystery on the Snow.
In all there are three strong similarities: the locale, the story about the disappearances, and the use of lighter than air craft. Like Red Snow and The Land of Terror, I suspect these are just plot elements that Dent recycled along the way. But was that all there was to the story? I examined the two stories and began formulating a hypothesis. Was there more than coincidences at play here? There just might be. Here’s a simple timeline of possible events that involve both stories:
In the end we are left we are again left with two options to choose from – plot cannibalization or an untold part of the Doc Savage saga. The former is probably correct but the aficionado in me prefers the latter explanation.
The Squeaking Goblin | Terror Takes 7
In reading a Doc Savage adventure today a certain passage caught my eye.
Well yes, I thought, there was a
very familiar ring to this description. It was August 1934
and only the eighteenth adventure in the series.
Memories of a ruthless and dangerous foe solidified into a
spectral image of a ghostly figure dressed as described
above — The Squeaking Goblin! Even though it sounds
appropriate for The Squeaking Goblin, the above
quote comes from Terror Takes 7. More on that story
later, for now let’s talk about the Goblin.
The passage got me to thinking more about this favorite tale. There were a couple of technical details that always intrigued me early in the story when Chelton Raymond’s yacht is moored in the vicinity of Bar Harbor, Maine. The first appearance of the Goblin seems to put Chelton Raymond in too many places too quickly. One minute he on the shore shooting at the yacht and the next he is back on the boat. Not only did he have to swim out to the boat underwater and get aboard undetected, he had to also change from the Goblin costume and dry off.
The next incident occurs shortly afterwards when the detectives onshore discover the Goblin creeping around. They are struck by the fact that his clothes are dry. This is very fast work for one man.
The next quirk happens when Chelton Raymond is “killed” by the Squeaking Goblin. Everyone hears the unique report of the Goblin’s rifle. After we eventually learn Raymond was actually the Squeaking Goblin, it would seem that he fired that shot when he was lying in the boat. Yet, no one saw him pitch the rifle overboard. This seems odd. Exactly who did fire that shot?
Doc and his men fly back to Raymond’s yacht after spending some time searching for Jug Snow and his men. Practically as soon as Doc and his men arrive on the yacht, Monk spots the Squeaking Goblin. During the excitement, the contents of Raymond’s private safe disappear and the Squeaking Goblin makes a clean getaway.
How exactly did Chelton Raymond, who is really the Goblin, get back to his yacht so fast? Even considering the time lost by Doc and his men searching for Jug Doc feels confident they can still beat Jug back to Raymond’s yacht. So, it seems unlikely that Chelton Raymond has had sufficient time to get back to the vicinity of his yacht, hide his boat, and swim underwater to his craft.
There is no mention of a boat when Doc and his crew fly in. Surely that fact would have been mentioned in the story if there were indeed any type of craft moored to the yacht. If Raymond came by car he still had to swim from shore. Plus the fact that he had to get from the place where he was supposedly killed — an island — to a car in the first place. Remember, before landing at the yacht, Doc’s men searched the cove with binoculars from the air, looking for Jug. If a car was close by, it seems they would have noticed it from the air. How do we account for this?
One possible explanation would be an accomplice, some person who was fully aware of the Squeaking Goblin mystery and completely in on it. This individual could account for the Goblin being in so many places, so quickly. Who could such a person be? Perhaps a Mr. R. Jones-Field, who has a summer home on an island off the Maine coast, who has a leather stocking outfit complete with coonskin hat? The same Mr. Jones-Field who plays a significant role in Terror Takes 7.
Exactly what kind of person is Mr. Jones-Field? The reader learns exactly the kind of person Jones-Field is. He is a thief and would-be murderer. The account Jones-Field tells about his relative, Cultus Field, is a smoke screen. It is a lie. It is also very different from the one told earlier by Cultell about the suit belonging to an ancestor who was cursed. This is a considerably different version from that later told by Jones-Field where he explains it away as a joke.
Jones-Field has made a fatal mistake in keeping his Squeaking Goblin costume. It is true he viewed it as a good luck piece. It was a charm to him, he thought. He was one of an exceptional class, someone who had mixed it up with Doc Savage and escaped unscathed and unseen. Jones-Field is the unknown accomplice who aided Chelton Raymond. He escaped once but like all too many criminals he wanted more. His insatiable greed has led to a second encounter with the Man of Bronze. This outcome is considerably different from their first meeting. Justice has finally caught up with Mr. Jones-Field.
The Thousand-Headed Man | Ost
Readers get a real treat in July 1934 when Doc and his crew visit the city of the Thousand-Headed Man cult in the steamy jungles of Indo-China. The entire situation is a complete mystery to the man of bronze until he captures Sen Gat. While still in London, after injecting the gang leader with truth serum, Doc slowly extracts information from the oriental mastermind. Sen Gat reveals the existence of a lost city hidden deep in the jungle. The citizens prospered until something terrible came out of the jungle and into their city. So terrifying was this menace that the entire population fled and completely abandoned the city, never to return.
Now, let us move forward in time and space to August 1937, to the island of New Guinea some 2,500 miles distant, and a story titled Ost. Doc Savage and his men make their way through the jungle and finally reach the lost city of the Ost. Stranded explorer Martin Space explains much of the mystery away.
The Ostians are the remnants of a race that once populated a city in what is now Indo-China. Space reveals that the people fled from a plague, making their way to New Guinea by boat. Doc recognizes their language as a tribal dialect of Indo-China.
Is it possible that the Ostians are the same people who fled from the lost city in The Thousand-Headed Man? Was the frightful pestilence they fled from really the dreadful plague of the Thousand-Headed Man cult?
One of the things Sen Gat revealed to Doc Savage under questioning was that the city’s former inhabitants “were very learned.” That could also be said about the Ostians as their leaders have spent centuries in intellectual pursuits.
The one glitch in the story deals with the time. Sen Gat describes the period the city was abandoned as several hundred years ago. Martin Space explains that the Ostians arrived about two thousand years ago. There’s a big difference between a centuries and millennia. But then again, Sen Gat is simply repeating local legend. He might be wrong. Johnny examines the Pagoda of the Hands and judges it to be seven or eight thousand years old. The place has been abandoned for what is described as “ages.” That could be two thousand years. It sure seems to be more than a few centuries.
So there you have it, two big coincidences. There’s the Indo-China connection and the fact that both groups were “learned.” That’s probably all it really is, just a coincidence, but it’s nice to dream.
The Pirate of the Pacific | The Feathered Octopus
Over the last year and some odd months I have been reading the stories in original order. It has been very enjoyable and has resulted in some new insights along the way. While reading The Feathered Octopus from September 1937 certain similarities with a previous Doc adventure came to light. Of course, the obvious solution is to simply pass it off to plot cannibalization. But that is not a satisfactory situation. My preferred method is to find linkage between the two stories and extrapolate until a logical answer is found.
In July 1933, Doc Savage was involved with The Pirate of the Pacific. In this story, an old friend, Juan Mindoro, seeks Doc’s help in preventing a coup in the Luzon Union. It’s pretty clear that the Luzon Union is in actuality the Philippine Islands with the capital city of Mantilla paralleling the actual capital of Manila.
At the head of this plot and master of a Mongol horde is the pirate leader Tom Too who began his career on the Chinese coast. We learn Tom Too heads an impressive organization utilizing many men. So much so that he plans on seizing control of the Luzon Union in a bloodless coup. Once in control, the pirate government would then systematically loot the country while appearing to maintain a legitimate government to outside observers.
Turning back to The Feathered Octopus let us explore that situation. The villain here is a Chinese pirate known only as Hi Lar. This pirate leader is shown to be absolutely ruthless. We learn he is married to the beautiful Eurasian, Lo Lar who was born amongst and grew up in the Chinese pirate culture. Hi Lar comes to Doc’s attention through a plot to obtain controlling interest in World-Air Air Lines. The idea is to control the pacific air routes and then move into the continental U. S. air routes and take them over by sabotaging competing lines and undercutting fares thus driving them into bankruptcy.
How are these stories similar? The villain in each case is purported to be a Chinese pirate. Both stories begin in New York and end in the Pacific. Both plots revolve around the idea of taking “legal” control of an institution – the Luzon Union on the one hand and the airline industry on the other by illegal means.
Now, what is the connection between the two stories? Some four years after the events of Pirate of the Pacific, a new pirate leader rises up to terrorize the Pacific. How did one man assemble a powerful and impressive organization in such a relatively short period? Obviously Hi Lar took over the leadership of Tom Too’s organization. How was this accomplished, especially knowing the fact that Hi Lar was really the American, Burke Benbow? Why would the pirates be so ready to accept a leader from outside their own culture? This seems highly unlikely on the surface. The Eurasian woman, Lo Lar is the key here. We know that Lo Lar was born and raised in the pirate community. But there has to be more to it than that for the pirates to accept Benbow as their new leader. When Hi Lar orders the execution of his sister along with Doc Savage’s men, we learn that Lo Lar is the real power behind the throne when she secretly countermands that order and is obeyed without question.
My theory is that Lo Lar was some relation to Tom Too. I cannot discern enough information from the stories to speculate what the exact relationship was and whether she was a wife, sister, or even Too Too’s daughter. Benbow’s nefarious nature came to the pirate’s notice and became Lo Lar’s interest. Becoming acquainted with the American, Lo Lar fell in love with Benbow and he then became the new pirate king. Naturally this is all circumstantial but it makes for some interesting thoughts.
The Mystery Under the Sea | The Midas Man | Resurrection Day
We know of at least two highly advanced scientific ideas that existed in the sunken city of Taz. One was the breathing compound around which much of the story revolved. The other was the plaque describing mental telepathy, which Doc Savage examined in the Central Science Library. Doc Savage slowly translates the record which is a description of a machine to read minds! It is exactly the premise upon which The Midas Man (August 1936) is developed. In that story, we encounter one Hando Lancaster, purported inventor of such a device. Throughout the story we are lambasted with Lancaster’s lamentations about his life’s work being stolen away.
Eventually, Doc Savage catches up with Lancaster and gains access to the mysterious device. What is the first thing out of Doc’s mouth upon examining the extraordinary machine? “Your life’s work, eh?” Doc asked.
“Eh” — that sounds like sarcasm to me. Why would Doc strike such an attitude? Because Hando Lancaster was not the striking inventor he purported to be. Granted he showed a certain amount of intellect but he had not invented the mind reading device. Rather, he had simply followed the instructions as described on the Taz tablet.
Let us go back to Mystery Under The Sea (February 1936) at the sunken city of Taz. The mental telepathy plate that Doc and Seaworthy had examined was in the process of being packed for removal. Obviously this plate was not lost but was removed from the city. And while it seems that Captain Flamingo and his gang were all annihilated by Topping, it also appears that Seaworthy’s entire crew managed to escape. It would not be a major feat to secrete the telepathy plate in a safe place for later recovery. We also know that Doc and his men stayed around for a full thirty days after the disaster in an attempt to salvage the records stored therein.
It would be logical to assume that some type of accord was reached between Seaworthy and Doc Savage such that Seaworthy’s crew assisted in the salvage operation. Recovering the mental telepathy plate and smuggling it back to civilization would be a simple feat if men were going back and forth between the Caribbenda.
My guess is that Seaworthy was not involved in this maneuver. Instead, one of the crewmen was acting independently. Probably it was someone who knew who enough about the prior plates and how to get them deciphered. Someone who had high expectations from the expedition only to see it all come to ruin. This was one fellow who had decided he was not coming home empty handed.
Finally, let us not forget that Seaworthy was once Captain Flamingo’s second in command according to Diamond Eve Post who financed the expedition, So you can see the crewmen we are talking about are all cut somewhat from the same cloth. Seaworthy and Diamond Eve Post certainly were not motivated by altruistic ideals. It is doubtful that the crew embodied any of these selfless emotions.
Going back to The Midas Man and the story’s culmination we find that Hando Lancaster has a secret laboratory on an old ship that is part of the war-time fleet tied up in Chesapeake Bay. This maritime hideout strengthens the connection between some renegade mariner on Seaworthy’s crew and the current gang running around in The Midas Man. Someone had to know about these old ships and have enough knowledge about them to know that they would make a first-rate hideout.
There also seems to be a lot going on that the reader is not aware of. The first odd thing is Doc’s perusal of the president’s chair at the Castello Mining Corporation. The only link Doc had to telepathy was his little visit with Hando Lancaster. He knew nothing of Johnny’s experience. Doc looks the room over and selects the chair for examination. “We will examine that chair closely,” Doc Savage said.
That’s it -- just a look over the room and straight for the chair. Does it strike anyone that this an odd place to start a search? It would be unless you already had a pretty good idea of what you were searching for.
Then we get to the part in the story where the villains learn that Doc Savage has already figured out the entire scheme and even knows who the boss is. At the story’s conclusion Monk queries Doc about the villain’s identity. Doc Savage explains that the suicide of Lancaster's business partner Castello points the finger of suspicion in his direction.
Now Lancaster might have been under suspicion but that hardly squares with the statement the clandestine mind readers gave when they discovered Doc had it already figured out. Obviously Doc Savage knows a lot more about this entire situation and Hando Lancaster in particular than he is letting on. In recovering the errant plates Seaworthy took away from Taz on his first visit, Doc encountered clues that pointed to the mental telepathy plate. Subsequent investigations put him on the trail of Hando Lancaster and brought about the ensuing events detailed in The Midas Man.
But that is not the end of Doc’s secret connection with Taz. Let us return to the amazing sunken city of Taz. What do we know from this? First that the boxes the plates are stored in contain many plates. Secondly, that one plate alone can be very valuable. That leads us to believe that the entire scientific process is documented on that one plate. Lastly and perhaps most importantly we learn that Seaworthy took a “set” of plates back with him on his first visit.
Now exactly what constitutes a “set” could be the subject of much debate. My guess is that it would be one of the cases like the one Doc examined. So it does not seem too far a stretch of the imagination to think that Seaworthy might have many valuable plates in his possession. What other information could be contained within those metal plates? Moving on to November 1936 in the Doc Savage universe we arrive at the events recorded in Resurrection Day. Doc explains that he can bring one man back to life and the process requires chemicals that take years to refine. But is this really true? Does it actually take ten years to ferment this elixir of life? Perhaps this is only a cover story. If in fact such a process existed and was readily available there would be a stampede of people digging up cemeteries in the hopes of restoring life to a deceased loved one. Chaos would result from such a situation. Was it also a coincidence that this amazing scientific discovery came about after Doc’s undersea adventure in Taz?
We know Seaworthy had several plates. At the story’s conclusion Doc returns to the Caribbenda to find that his men have everyone captive and under armed guard. Seaworthy is not in a position to exert much influence at this point. My supposition is that Doc Savage took possession of the remaining plates once they returned stateside. The resurrection formula was on one of the plates. Exactly how Doc got the plates from Seaworthy and Diamond Eve Post is another issue. That could have occurred in any manner of ways from a voluntary action up to a “visit” to the Crime College.
Those missing plates were simply too dangerous to remain unaccounted for. Based on the two plates we do know about — the breathing formula, and telepathy — it just would not be prudent to not recover them. In some ways the Central Science Library of Taz was a precursor to Doc Savage’s own Fortress of Solitude. Just as Doc would later recover the missing devices John Sunlight took from the Fortress, so too would he recover the missing plates Seaworthy possessed.
That wraps it up for another Secret Sequel.
Haunted Ocean | The Motion Menace
Moving on to May 1938 and The Motion Menace we find a huge secret organization located in Manchuria that is about to embark upon the conquest of Soviet Russia. This organization is headed up by a group of exiled Russian scientists and professors. To simply say this group is angry at their treatment by the Soviet government would be a mammoth understatement. The Elders, as they are known, have at their disposal an ultra effective weapon that will allow them to act virtually unopposed in their plans.
What has all this to do with any other Doc story? Recall a Mr. Kama Dbhana whom we encounter in Haunted Ocean back in June 1936. Mr. Kama hails from San Tao.
Renny heard Mr. Kama say he came from San Tao. The engineer had heard of San Tao while he had been supervising a great tunnel in western China. He recalled San Tao was an isolated, little known, but immensely wealthy, mountain province of southern China.
Who could possibly be backing Kama Dbhana in his attempt to obtain the power from the Man of Peace and to what purpose? In the course of the story we never learn anything about Kama’s backers. I would suggest that Kama was an agent of the Elders and they were extremely concerned that the instruments of the Man of Peace would prevent them from using their inertia weapon to conquer Russia. In fact, the Man of Peace states that his purpose is to eliminate war from the face of the earth. The Elder’s plans will all come to naught if this is successful.
During this time, the Elders are headquartered at San Tao, which is located in southern China. After Kama’s defeat, the Elders relocate to Manchuria, which at this time is now controlled by Japan.
The Empire of Japan is only too happy to secretly assist in an attack on Russia. The Japanese authorities are cheerfully unaware of exactly how much power the Elders will ultimately possess and that they will eventually become a target for conquest once Russia is completely subjugated.
Safely ensconced under the clandestine protectorate of the Japanese Imperial Army, the move serves a two-fold purpose – to foil any attempt by Doc Savage to locate them and to move closer to Russia for the coming attack. This is backed up by the fact that Captain Wizzer mentions they have been working on the Manchurian location for two years.
And it has been almost two years since the events of Haunted Ocean, a curious coincidence to say the least.
It is fascinating to note that Doc makes an inquiry to the Soviet secret police, the OGPU, and receives information confirming that Ky Halloc is not a member of that organization.
Who in this secret organization could be so forthcoming with information to a famous capitalist? Recall from January 1935 in The Mystic Mullah where a Texas native, Oscar Gibson, admits to being a member of the Russian secret police. Not only is he a member but he also confesses to being one of its four highest officials. Here then, is the probable source of Doc’s information.
Finally, there is one last oddity, Viscount Herschel Penroff. He is described as a small elderly gentleman with a white mustache and snowy Vandyke.
The Viscount is head of an important and powerful international banking house. This description of Penroff puts me in mind of another person – Boris Ramadanoff from The Fantastic Island in December 1935. Renny describes Ramadanoff as an “Old-fashioned little guy with a black cutaway coat and a black Czar-of-Russia mush all over his map.”
Is there a connection between the two? Surely Penroff would have been in a position to handle the financial matters of the Ramadanoff family. Also, there may be more to this than a mere business relationship. A familial connection may exist with Penroff being the Ramadanoff’s uncle on the maternal side. Penroff is a high official in with the Elder’s organization and while it is never explicitly stated, he is likely himself a Russian expatriate.
Well, that’s pretty much it. Again, this is all speculation based on circumstantial evidence but it is fun to try and connect the stories in this way rather than attributing it to recycled plots.
The Seven Agate Devils | The Mountain
February 1938 takes Doc Savage and his men
to the mountain wastes of Alaska in The Mountain
Monster. In a fertile mountain valley, a
strange monster menaces a large government sponsored
settlement program. Newly relocated residents are
terrified and with good reason. Several of their
numbers have been discovered dead — horribly mangled by
some unknown force.
Local legend tells of a hideous monster that lives in a dark mountain redoubt. This foul creature periodically comes down from the mountain, rendering and tearing human victims in its mad desire to kill and maim. In the end, the terrible creature is exposed. Rather than some dark beast left over from another age it is simply a fake. The Mountain Monster is only a machine, albeit a horrible one. It is something right out of a Hollywood movie production. Yes, exactly like a Hollywood movie monster, which brings up the point of where exactly such a mechanical creation could be obtained?
Let us step back in time some year-and-half earlier to May 1936 and a Doc Savage adventure titled The Seven Agate Devils. In particular let us go back and meet a Mr. Del Ling of Solar Productions, a large Hollywood movie concern. Here is an outfit that is perfectly capable of producing such a mechanical marvel.
But exactly how would the criminal gang in The Mountain Monster get such a device? Well, we learn that Mr. Ling is connected with a spy ring. Coincidentally, this is exactly the same kind of business the gang in The Mountain Monster is operating. But is it really so strange? Aren’t the two concerns in exactly the same business? The international spy ring is the connection between the two factions. Solar Productions is part of the organization described in The Mountain Monster. Old Dan, the chief villain in The Seven Agate Devils was a lieutenant in the organization run by Soung Percill in the later adventure. From his position and association with Del Ling, Old Dan was able to have Solar Productions produce the puppet-like spectacle that was later to be known as the Mountain Monster.
The Derrick Devil | The Call of Cthulhu
On the surface, The Derrick Devil appears to be a typical Doc Savage adventure from February 1937. We are treated to a story that includes the entire crew Doc, Renny, Long Tom, Monk, Ham, and Johnny along with the two pets, Habeas Corpus and Chemistry. The story centers about a plot to take over the Indian Dome oil field in the sage region of Oklahoma by creating a panic.
Two criminal partners have a plan to terrorize the oil producers in this area by creating the impression that amoeba-like creatures are coming to the surface from deep inside the earth. These primitive creatures fall upon any unfortunate person and immediately devour them. All that is left is the victim’s clothes and a mass of discolored grease that resembles old lube grease of the type used around the oil drilling equipment.
The two villains are operating through a front company, The Best Bet Oil Corporation, and buying up all the leases in the field. The overall idea is to create a situation whereby it appears impossible to operate in the field. Owners would be happy to sell their apparently worthless holdings for pennies on the dollar. The villains would later step in with new equipment and defeat the menace. They would be left holding millions of dollars worth of oil leases, which they basically got for nothing.
Two gangs are at work here. The first is a newly formed gang, headed up by Enoch Andershott and Alonzo Cugg. They are after the oil leases with a scheme to devalue the wells and then buy at reduced prices. The second outfit is long established and headed by the near legendary bandit leader, Tomahawk Tant.
The other main character in the story is Vida Carlaw, who partnered with Reservoir Hill, firsts encounters the amoeba creatures. It is Vida’s call for help to Doc’s headquarters in New York City that sets the man of bronze and his five companions on the trail of the mystery. Hill, incidentally, is the secret identity of the criminal outlaw Tomahawk Tant. In the end, the two gangs wage a deadly fight in an oil tank farm. As could be expected, the villains all come to a bad end when one of the oil tanks catches fire and explodes.
The story is your basic Doc Savage adventure. It is exciting and a pleasure to read. Especially appealing is the appearance of the entire cast in the story. One thing in the yarn did pique my interest. There seemed to be something more to the primitive amoeba creatures. After some consideration it occurred to me that they reminded me of something from a Lovecraft yarn.
Now for those of you who aren’t familiar with H. P. Lovecraft, here is a little background information. Lovecraft wrote numerous horror stories in the early part of the last century. Many of his stories centered on the concept that millions of years in the past the earth had been ruled by powerful and ancient creatures from beyond time and space. Wars were fought between these alien races. Some of the creatures were destroyed, others retreated deep underground, while the survivors built a colossal city on an island in the Pacific Ocean and were ruled by the great Cthulhu. Eventually a natural cataclysm overtook the island and submerged it deep under the Pacific waters where the creatures sleep in timeless slumber awaiting the day they are awakened and resume their reign over the earth and the creatures living on it.
Millions of years before this transpired the Old Ones inhabited the earth. These alien beings built structures on a huge scale. In order to do so, they created an organic life form to perform these Herculean tasks. These creatures are called Shoggoths. In Lovecraft's story At the Mountains of Madness a Shoggoth is described thusly. They were normally shapeless entities composed of a viscous jelly which looked like an agglutination of bubbles, and each averaged about fifteen feet in diameter when a sphere. They had, however, a constantly shifting shape and volume throwing out temporary developments or forming apparent organs of sight, hearing, and speech in imitation of their masters, either spontaneously or according to suggestion.
Lovecraft explains that the Shoggoths developed intelligence and rebelled against their creators. The Old Ones had used curious weapons of molecular and atomic disturbances against the Shoggoths, and in the end had achieved a complete victory. Further into the story we come across the following. Pictures of this war, and of the headless, slime-coated fashion in which the Shoggoths typically left their slain victims, held a marvelously fearsome quality despite the intervening abyss of untold ages. Reading further we come across this passage. I came only just short of echoing his cry myself; for I had seen those primal sculptures, too, and had shudderingly admired the way the nameless artist had suggested that hideous slime coating found on certain incomplete and prostrate Old Ones those whom the frightful Shoggoths had characteristically slain and sucked to a ghastly headlessness in the great war of resubjugation.
Now comes an interesting hypothesis. Could the amoeba-like creatures in The Derrick Devil be immature Shoggoths? Here is how the Doc Savage story describes the creature. The thing going into the oil well casing had substantial reality to it, that was certain. It was not transparent, like a jelly. It flowed as some jellies will melt and flow when dropped on a hot stove. It was going into the sixteen-inch casing.
Another interesting item is the reaction of the flowing jelly creatures to artificial light sources. The creatures in the Doc Savage story retreat before artificial light sources. If we accept the appearance of the creature at the Andershott-Cugg mansion as genuine, regardless of Andershott’s ultimate motives, then we have another curious fact to toss around. This attack occurred in full daylight. Hence, we can say the creatures are not adverse to sunlight, only artificial light. This takes us back to the Lovecraft story where the rebelling Shoggoths were subjugated though the use of energy weapons. Is the reaction of the jelly devils to artificial light a vestige of a racial memory? Do the creatures have an instinctual fear of energy weapons as a result of their defeat in the War of Resubjugation?
Another noteworthy trait is the jelly devil’s speed. At the Andershott-Cugg mansion, Doc Savage attempts to cut off a piece of the creature before it retreats under a locked door. The creature is simply too fast and Doc fails to obtain a sample. This animal is extremely fast. Monk especially is amazed at the animal’s speed.
The gruesome discovery of the partial remains of two of Tant’s men brings up another point. Parts of the torsos, arms and legs of the victims were missing. There was a mysterious substance resembling common lubricating grease under the body fragments. Police refuse to explain what the greasy material is. This is also the same description of the mangled human remains found at the Seminole Field incident. One wonders why the victims would be members of a rival gang. We learn the leader of the jelly monster gang had approached Tant about forming a partnership. Tant found the proposed arrangement not to his liking and rejected the offer. It would appear that Tant had his men out looking for the rival gang. They had the misfortune to be caught.
Examining the condition of the remains points to curious similarities with the Lovecraft story. Is this the same type of death the Shoggoths dealt to the Old Ones? --This sucking off of appendages?
An analysis of the slime found at the oilmen’s home leaves the police chemist confused. It is something more than just slime. It is digestive juices. Interestingly the police chemist attempts to go into detail about the substance but Doc cuts him off short by suggesting that there is no need for further discussion. This brings up an interesting point. Did Doc Savage have some secret knowledge of what the juices were? Was Doc aware of the Old Ones? Was it his purpose to quell discussion of the matter and end it there rather than have it lead to other unpleasant speculations?
During Doc’s visit to the oilmen’s home and during the encounter with the creature Andershott’s dog is simply terrified at the presence of the jelly creature. The sledge dogs in Lovecraft’s story are equally disturbed in the presence of the Old Ones. While there is no direct contact in the story between dogs and Shoggoths it is not illogical to suppose that the canines would react in a similar way to something so alien.
Toward the end of the account, the Jelly Devil gang captures all of Doc’s men. Johnny gets a much too close-up look at one of the creatures and is thoroughly convinced it is genuine. This is a very powerful point in favor of the creatures being authentic. Johnny is professor of natural history in addition to his expert knowledge of geology and archeology and his opinion carries a lot of weight.
Meanwhile, the governmental authorities react strongly to the threat. Doc encounters a military convoy on his way to a meeting with the outlaw Tomahawk Tant. These are not simply a few trucks loaded with national guardsmen. We learn there are thousands of soldiers being deployed to the oil field to cap the wells. The wells are to be sealed with cement and lead.
The governor has declared martial law, which is not a light undertaking. The authorities apparently have decided that any additional panic created by the declaration of martial law is far outweighed by the advantage of getting the situation under control as quickly as possible. It is likely that someone in the government, someone with access to restricted information, declared an emergency in an attempt to regain control of the situation.
Doc meets up with Tant. In the ensuing encounter, the outlaw chief is captured and his secret identity as Reservoir Hill is revealed. Doc captures Tant, but in the end, the Andershott gang seizes both him and Tant. Tant reveals that the jelly devil gang first contacted him about the scheme to take over the oil fields. Throughout the entire story it seems pretty clear that Tant is convinced the jelly devils are genuine. Tant, in his identity as Reservoir Hill is plainly spooked by the amoeba creatures and their slimy trail.
After the capture of all the Doc Savage crew, one of the Andershott gang members reveals to Doc that the setup is a fake. We are told that the organisms are simply comprised of rubber balloons and that the digestive fluid is a man-made chemical compound. The gang member explains immersing the victims in acid vats creates the partially digested bodies.
I view this confession by the criminal gang as somewhat self-serving. I would imagine that the creatures were extremely difficult to control. Probably Andershott and Cugg were the only ones who knew how to fully control the beasts. It was not a secret they are likely to share with their underlings, especially if the two are more than mere criminals. The pair may have been acolytes of some secret order perhaps the Cult of Cthulhu.
Then there is the sheer magnitude of the gang’s operation. The creatures are reportedly seen at three separate locations in one night Seminole Field, Bartlesville, and at Indian Dome. These locations are relatively spread out. The police report indicates that Seminole Field is forty to fifty miles away from the Indian Dome Field. This is a pretty ambitious operation on the criminal’s part. Regardless of the reason, the gang does use mock-ups and other cover-ups when neither of the two leaders is available to control the actual creatures.
Going one step further, it would appear that the creatures were not always under anyone’s control. This is evidenced by the incident in Andershott’s home. The fact that Enoch Andershott had to tie himself to a chandelier indicates that the creature was not fully responding to its new master.
In examining the victims, it does seem a stretch to suggest that the police laboratory would not be able to distinguish the difference between a body immersed in acid and one that had been subjected to something else entirely.
In the conclusion of the story a huge battle erupts between the two gangs ending with the destruction of both gangs and their leaders. Afterwards there are no more reports of the jelly devils. Is it possible that all the creatures were destroyed in the fire? The inferno was no small affair and the creatures appeared to be little more than a viscous mass. It would seem that their bodies would leave little behind in the aftermath of a large fire.
It appears only a few of the creatures existed — maybe even only one. The creature could have been an immature Shoggoth. Another scenario could be developed whereby the creature was an adult that had been trapped beneath ground since prehistoric times. The creature had gone into a state of suspended animation and had subsisted on its own tissues over millions of years. Hence its relatively small size when compared to a full-grown Shoggoth.
There are a couple of more interesting items to explore. We are told in the Lovecraft story that the Old Ones retreated to the warmth and darkness of the inner earth in order to escape the coming ice. In the Doc Savage novel, Reservoir Hill explains an old Indian legend to Vida Carlaw. “The papoose dug the hole in the tepee floor, anyway,” said Reservoir. “An earth devil that lives in the center of the world sent his mean, red spirit up through the hole and grabbed the little papoose and ate him all up, except his grease, which would fry and sputter in the hot place at the center of the earth.”
The reader now asks the question is this tale a corruption of the fate of the Old Ones? Are Andershoot and Cugg members of the Cthulhu Cult? It is odd that the two men live together. It appears that Andershoot is the leader and Cugg is his assistant. The description of Cugg is interesting. Alonzo Cugg had big eyes with a permanent scare deep in them, and a way of holding his hands as if ready to sprint. No one knew of any reason why he had ever been scared of any one or why he should be. He seemed about one hundred and thirty pounds of skin over wires, and was about two shades lighter than a khaki shirt. Cugg is a man who is scared and he is scared all the time. Has he seen things that simply are too much for mortal man to behold?
Another interesting item is the airplane abandoned by the gang. Someone has left a strange message for Doc Savage. After much study, Doc announces that the message is meaningless and is only a ruse to delay them. Is there more to this message than we are told? Could it be a something a follower of Cthulhu wrote on the plane in an attempt to invoke the protection his unimaginable god?
There is interestingly similar subject matter in both stories; amoeba-like creatures, agitated dogs, strange hieroglyphics, flashlights and energy weapons, and mangled corpses. There is an underlying structure of fear permeating the stories. All-in-all one could make a good argument that The Derrick Devil is only a version of events and has been painted so as to dispel any uneasy feelings that might have arisen from the actual situation.