1933-05 Quest of the Spider

Cover Date: May 1933
Volume 1 # 3
Copyright Date: Friday, April 21, 1933
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Bantam Edition # 68, May 1972
Sanctum Edition # 30
Story Length: 49,400 words

WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f. 57-64.

Gimmick: The main gimmick here would be the swamp dwellers who live in the remotest parts of the wetland.

Goal: Corporate piracy is at play here as an unknown entity kidnaps the owners of various timber businesses and liquidates the properties for cash.          

Recurring Characters: Doc Savage, Monk Mayfair, Ham Brooks, Renny Renwick, Long Tom Roberts, and Johnny Littlejohn.

Huey P. Long: Arriving in the Bayou State, Doc Savage directs Renny to visit the governor in Baton Rouge. Doc informs Renny that the governor will give him a special commission as a forest ranger. The question here is just exactly who is the governor?  Without doubt the name on the mind of most individuals would have been Huey Pierce Long. This flamboyant individual had achieved national prominence and notoriety as a formidable player in popular politics. Long was a revolutionary politician. As governor, he advocated public education, providing free textbooks to local schools. Under his administration, the charity hospital system expanded. Over thirteen thousand miles of new roads were constructed. If a single expression ever existed that described Huey Long it has to be “Every Man a King.”  This aptly describes Long’s social and economic policies.

He was a strong proponent of limiting personal wealth. Under his plan individual incomes would be limited to one million dollars per year. Personal fortunes could not exceed fifty million dollars nor could inheritances be more than five million. He advocated a national annual income of five thousand dollars for every family so that they could have a decent living. Coming during an era when many families lived in abject poverty, millions looked upon Long’s policies favorably. It was a widely held belief that Long would be a candidate for President of the United States in the 1936 election. In 1932, Long was elected to the United States Senate. Taking over as Governor of Louisiana was Oscar K. Allen, Long’s chosen successor. So in reality the governor would have been O. K. Allen. But I strongly suspect that the man on most reader’s minds as Governor of Louisiana would have been Huey Pierce Long. Long’s political career ended in September 1935 when he was shot in the state capitol building in Baton Rouge. His wounds proved fatal and he died few days later from an infection.

Timber was big business in Louisiana during the Great Depression. Huge forests of old growth cypress still existed. The firm of Danielsen & Haas of New Orleans could easily have been modeled after existing lumber companies such as the Lutcher and Moore Lumber Company or the Great Southern Lumber Company.

A large portion of this story takes place in Louisiana and references voodoo and cult. One of the more famous stories dealing with the occult and New Orleans would be The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft. Dent reference to sinister and oftentimes bloodcurdling rites of voodoo and awful things in the remote swamps including human sacrifice. Lovecraft and Dent both describe the swamp dwellers as low, mentally aberrant types of mixed blood.

Dent is obviously making reference to Creole peoples when he says the swamp dwellers speak a patois of French, English, bush African, and Spanish.

The story makes no mention about crossing the Mississippi River. The Huey P. Long Bridge was still under construction and not finished until December 1935 so it was impossible to cross the river except by way of ferry boat.

Locales in the story include Lake Pontchartrain, Bayou St. John, and City Park.

Spanish moss is drying in a shed. It was mostly used for mattress stuffing.

The swamp men use blowguns with tranquilizing darts.  Several native American tribes of Louisiana used blowguns.

Doc calls the leading newspaper in town which would be the New Orleans Times-Picayune.

Gadgets: Doc uses a mind control drug that turns his captives into automatons incapable of doing anything except following simple orders.

Poisoned insects are used as weapons. Dent later expands this idea as the central plot of The Invisible Box Murders published in November 1941.

Supermachine Pistols: Quest of the Spider reveals that these armaments are made in secret for Doc Savage.  They are described as being “the smallest and most efficient killing mechanism in existence”.  Later it is explained that Doc makes them himself.

The Crime College: The followers of the Cult of the Moccasin in the Louisiana swamps are sent to northern New York State just as readily as a native New Yorker.  Patients undergo surgically induced amnesia. A deep hatred of crime in instill in each man.  Students learn a useful trade that provides them with a livelihood upon graduation and their reentry into the world.