049. Conan Doyle, Professor Challenger, and The Vanisher

The Strand Magazine published a story by Conan Doyle in January 1929. The story featured the fifth and final Professor Challenger story titled “The Disintegration Machine.” The gimmick in this story is teleportation although that word is never used. Instead, the term disintegration is used along with reunite and reassembly.

Professor Challenger accompanies a newspaper reporter to the laboratory of Latvian inventor Theodore Nemor. There he learns the basic principle upon which the Nemor Disintegrator works: “The objection is an obvious one, and I can only answer that they do so reassemble down to the last atom of the structure. There is an invisible framework and every brick flies into its true place.”

We move forward to December 1936, to “The Vanisher.” There Doc Savage encounters a strange malevolent creature who has a teleportation device.

In the story wrap up, Doc Savage explains the scientific basis that makes the machine possible: Doc went on, “The nucleus of the atom is one of a moveable nature. If it is reduced to an inactive state, then moved, it will tend to assume its original relation with the nucleus of other surrounding atoms.” … “The nucleus of these atoms have a homing-pigeon instinct, apparently,” Doc said.

The U.S. edition of this story was published in February 1929 in Hearst’s International and Cosmopolitan under the title “The Man Who Would Wreck the World.”

The clincher is in Conan Doyle’s description of Theodore Nemor: He was a short, thick man, with some suggestion of deformity in his body, though it was difficult to say where that suggestion lay. One might say that he was a hunchback without the hump.

For me, there is no doubt that Lester Dent read “The Disintegration Machine” and incorporated some of its ideas into “The Vanisher.” Dent’s use of a deformed character and his similar explanation of operating principles is Dent’s way of tipping his hat to Conan Doyle.