The Ten Commandments

There has been some discussion as to the relationship of religion to the Doc Savage novels. For myself, there is absolutely no doubt that the basic Judeo-Christian principles are embodied in the stories. In support of my opinion, I offer forth the following example of how the basic tenants of the Ten Commandments are a part of the basic moral lesson taught in the series.

From the very first adventure, “The Man of Bronze” the reader hears a rebuttal of heathen beliefs.  King Chaac explains the elder Savage had instructed him what could be nothing other than the Christian religion with a reference to judgment day.

Doc never curses much less uses God’s name in vain.  Similarly, the prohibition on adultery is not an issue. Very little is ever mentioned about his mother in the stories, but it is exceedingly clear that he honors his father.

Relating to keeping the Sabbath day holy, the stories never specifically mention Sunday, but it is interesting that the gold shipments are always called for at high noon on a seventh day.

Doc does not kill, steal, covet, or bear false witness.  Doc follows a policy of not taking human life. Criminals are sent to the crime college for rehabilitation rather than death row. Doc and his men use mercy bullets rather than the more lethal lead kind.

Often while pursuing some criminal Doc must make use of someone’s car. He always returns the vehicle and pays for its use.

Doc receives untold wealth from the Mayans. He could simply keep it all once he had it, but he honors his agreement so that the Hidalgo government and the Mayan tribe receive their fair share of the wealth.

Many times, Doc gives misleading answers to questions. Dent goes out of his way to explain that Doc is technically telling the truth.   This is explained very well in “The Invisible Box Murders” (November 1941). The distinction between deceiving a man, and not actually lying to him, was one which Doc Savage was careful about. Monk and the others were moved gleefully to declare that Doc Savage had never actually told a lie.

There are many more religious references in the series.  Monk Mayfair references Jesus of Nazareth while discussing candidates for the revival process.  Monk explains that Doc’s help would not be required in that instance.

Doc Savage himself in “The Pirate’s Ghost” delivers the most religiously orient speech in the entire series. 

“No belief of mankind has stood the test of ages with unshaken strength as this one has,” he continued. “And it is not enough to pass the phenomena off by saying that man, wishing to live forever, conjures up belief in everlasting life to mentally console himself. It is more profound than that. It is deeper. The utter foundation of all religions.

“Certainly we know that the Christian religion, for instance, is based on actuality. Nor has any scientist ever proven, for example, that one word of the Scriptural Bible is false. Hence, in the face of such overwhelming evidence, we who are here in this room are hardly justified in saying there cannot be existence in some medium after death.”

And just as certainly, these passages are now viewed as being very politically incorrect in our golden age of political correctness. But nonetheless, they are a part of the stories. Any attempt to pass them off as simply something an editor inserted as part of the “party line” is nothing less than revisionism of the worst kind.

There are other references to Christianity in the stories. In Ost there are two references to Christ.  In “The Mental Wizard” we meet a captive who was a missionary spreading Christianity some twenty years earlier. Doc assumes a disguise in “The Freckled Shark.”   A reference is made about Christians and lions but more interesting is the name Doc chooses as an alias.   Christ is also known as the Prince of Peace. The word “peace” is central to the Christian religion. Henry is derived from the German Heimerich and means “home ruler.”  So one could interpret the name “Henry Peace” as the head of the house of Peace.

Lanta, in “The Other World,” explains her people are currently observing a religious holiday.  Lanta explains that she believes her people are more sincere in their observances of such days than the outside world.  Dent is tossing a little Sunday school in with the story.

Albert Jones, in “They Died Twice” (November 1942) enthusiastically explains the idea of using his “memory machine” to retrieve the teachings of Christ.  Jones, in his growing excitement, stepped forward and put a hand on Doc’s arm as he continued, “Think of it! Think what it would mean to Christianity, for instance, to have clear memories, memories as clear as a photographic record, of the days of Christ and His teachings. Think what that alone would mean to this troubled world today!”

Finally, I would like to quote a passage from “Lester Dent: the Man, His Craft, and His Market” by M. Martin McCarey-Laird. The passage pertains to remarks Dent made to wounded soldiers at a rehabilitation center in Springfield Missouri: “Doc Savage is made up of the limb-to-limb strength of Tarzan — but without the call; the scientific detecting ability of Craig Kennedy; the clue-following ability of Sherlock Holmes; and the morality of Jesus Christ.” (Springfield Daily News, 1 December 1944).

That wraps it up. In a lot of ways, the Doc Savage adventures read like the Old Testament. Malevolence comes upon the land and there is much suffering. But in the end, evil is vanquished and good prevails.

Punishments in the Old Testament frequently take on a severe form. Correspondingly, in the Doc Savage novels justice often appears as a harsh mistress for those who are on the wrong side of the line. I believe that Lester Dent was writing something just a little more special than some type of cheap entertainment designed to be read and then tossed aside.

The stories themselves are sublime. The moral lessons taught therein are often of a subtle nature rather than preachy. These are the reasons the stories remain popular even though it has been seventy years since the first adventure appeared. The machines and technologies in the stories are outdated but the lessons are timeless.