Over the sixteen years the Doc Savage stories were published there were many changes. Doc Savage began as a larger-than-life character. Doc Savage was everything a man could be and still be a man. The adventures were supreme and outstanding. Gradually, the stories changed, and Doc Savage became more and more of an average man rather than the superman of the early years.
One potent factor in the series’ decline is novel length. Stories printed in 1933 had an average length of 50,000 words. Six years later, after a steady decline, the average length for 1939 stories is barely 39,000. There is no sharp, sudden decline. Instead, a pernicious ebbing away of essential story structure and background material occurs steadily during this period.
The decline continues. Wartime paper shortages were likely a contributing factor. By 1943, the average dips below 34,000 words per story. The Cold War begins in 1946 and the average moves lower to 30,700 words. It is a sad affair. The next three, and final years see even lower counts: 1947 – 29,000; 1948 – 28,500; 1949 – 27,500. The stories have devolved from the novel format of 40,000 words or more to a long version of a short story called a novella.
The Man of Bronze weighs in with 51,100 words in March 1933. Sixteen years later, the final story, Up from the Earth’s Center, finishes the series with a paltry word count of 27,600. It is an astonishing diminishment. Story size has for all intents and purposes been cut in half. There is a certain skill and craft involved with producing concise and precise documents. The later Doc Savage stories do not fall within this category.
To put a picture with this decline simply visualize words as muscle. Beginning in 1933 Doc was weighing in around 250 pounds of solid muscle and bone. By the end, with the novel length cut nearly in half, Doc would weigh in at an emaciated 140 pounds.
Without doubt some good stories were printed during the decline, but not very many great stories. The early stories were larger-than-life. Doc Savage was everything a man could be and still be a man. The adventures were supreme and outstanding. The later adventures were like seeds that never received the proper amount of water and sunshine required. They germinated, grew, and matured, never producing a fruit equal to their parents. They never had a chance.