What was the secret to Doc Savage’s skin coloring? Was it really a tropical tan or a clue to his Mayan lineage? The facts are there in the stories.
Throughout my youth when I was first introduced to the stories, I always had a funny feeling about Dent’s claim that Doc’s rich bronze color was the result of a permanent suntan. It is described as being bronzed, a “permanent” tan, the result of countless hours spent in the tropics. That is a scientific impossibility. I remembered reading articles in magazines and newspapers explaining how to get the perfect tan and being puzzled over Doc Savage’s “permanent” tan.
Just how dark is Doc’s tan? In “The Land of Terror” (April 1933) Doc is described as appearing as if he were bronze statue. In “The Lost Oasis” (September 1933) Doc and his men are confined to a pit. The skin of his men is quickly turning red from the intense rays of the sun, but Doc’s dark complexion shows little effect.
Doc encounters a farmer in “Land of Long Ju-Ju” (January 1937). The old farmer has just had an unpleasant encounter with the Africans members of the story. The farmer eyes Doc doubtfully and remarks that Doc’s skin color isn’t much different from the Africans. His bronze features have a “metallic aspect” in “Waves of Death” (February 1943). Doc has a very dark complexion.
Skin coloring from solar radiation is not permanent. No matter how much time Doc Savage spent in the sun his tan would not be permanent. No tan is permanent; the color fades once you are no longer exposed to the sun. This is the main problem that got me to thinking about Doc’s heritage. Doc Savage himself verifies this very concept in “Birds of Death” (October 1941). The subject at hand is the deep tan several of the main characters in the story possess. Doc Savage himself makes the comment that tans are short-lived in city environments.
The Mayans are always described admirably throughout the series. This is the description of the inhabitants of Arriba from “The Speaking Stone” (June 1942). These people are healthy, disciplined, and intelligent. Rather than being the sole descendants of a lost race they are an amalgam, a mixture of several races. Their skin coloration is dark complexioned with many of them sharing the same texture as Doc. Bigots would call them mongrels, but Dent puts a positive spin on it.
Another fascinating item is Dent’s description of King Chaac in “The Man of Bronze” (March 1933). Kenneth Robeson describes King Chaac’s features as being nearly as perfect as Doc’s own. The description sounds like that of Doc Savage. Elderly King Chaac is again described exactly the same in They Died Twice.
We must also consider why Dent phrased his description of King Chaac in this manner. Was he giving us a clue to a blood relationship between Doc and King Chaac? I would surmise that Doc’s mother was King Chaac’s sister, making the King Doc’s uncle and making Doc a member of the Mayan royalty.
King Chaac’s statement in “They Died Twice” (November 1942) adds to this mystery. Two times the elderly ruler uses the term “son” when referring to Doc. It turns out this word is tossed around quite a bit in the story. During Doc’s fake memory experiment, his father naturally uses the word “son”. Secret Stevens also uses “son” several times. However, Savage, Sr., and King Chaac both refer to Doc as “my son”. The elderly ruler distinctly marks out the relationship between Doc and the Mayans and the relationship between Doc and himself. Clearly the two are different. A familial relationship would explain this statement.
In “The Golden Man,” April 1941, we are told that Clark Savage, Jr. was born on the schooner Orion off Andros Island in the Bahamas. Up until now, this has been a very well-kept secret. Doc Savage is literally flabbergasted as he considered this a secret known to no living man. This could be a “red herring” tossed out to distort the fact that Doc’s actual birthplace was in the Valley of the Vanished? Using the Orion as a counterfeit birthplace would add a layer of protection in keeping both Doc’s lineage and the Valley of the Vanished secret from the rest of the world.
Two reasons surface as to why Clark Savage, Sr. kept this a secret. As Philip Farmer goes on to say in his book, “Doc Savage, His Apocalyptic Life,” the elder Savage wanted his son to be thought of as a native born American. There is only one good justification for doing this. The President of the United States must be a native born American. It is possible that Doc’s father had political ambitions for his son. It is certainly one way to exercise change and be a force for good in the world.
The other reason to keep Doc’s birth, and subsequently his lineage, secret is due to racial prejudice. During this era if you were non-white, you were subject to very severe limitations on your personal freedoms and opportunities. Clark Savage, Sr., having great plans for his son, knew that much of it would be for naught should his son be labeled as a “half-breed” by the prejudiced of that time. Many doors would be closed, stifling Clark Jr.’s career.
Dent references Clark Savage, Sr., and Alex Savage in his writings. However, nary a word is ever mentioned concerning the mothers of either Doc or Patricia Savage. The closest the reader ever comes to being acquainted with Doc’s mother is a casual mentioning that his strange career was chosen for him by his parents and not just his father. It is a strange omission.
Doc Savage – The Man of Bronze! The title says it all. Here is a hero for white America who is not blond and blue-eyed. Instead, he is a man of dark complexion, who is a great surgeon, a master scientist, and a physical marvel. He is a superman who is supremely modest and who foregoes any semblance of a normal life in pursuit of justice for all. Who would not admire such a man? What child reading the adventures did not wish that his skin was also a rich bronze color? Dent was subtly showing Americans that not all heroes were lily white.
Readers are told that Pat Savage is Doc’s only living relative in “The Laugh of Death” (October 1942). Three months later the author reveals that Pat is one of “Doc’s few living blood kin.” It can be argued this is simply an editorial oversight. It can also be argued that the author is revealing Doc’s heritage in small bites. Doc’s statement concerning Pat is based on his own personal knowledge. While the author’s statement of fact in “The Time Terror” reveals that Doc may not know all the facts about his relatives. Patricia Savage has the same physical features as Doc. Her skin and hair coloration are described in “The Time Terror” (January 1943) as being the same as Doc’s. Her eyes even have a touch of the same gold coloration as her famous cousin.
It seems apparent that Alex Savage accompanied his brother on the first trip into the Valley of the Vanished or the two returned together on a subsequent visit. While in the valley, it is evident that Alex also married one of the Mayan women, who became Patricia’s mother. The pedigree of Pat’s mother is unknown. Apparently, she was not close enough to the royal line to be entitled to hereditary wealth, as was her cousin.
King Chaac tells Doc that his father taught him English. Clark Savage, Sr., and the ruler Chaac must have spent many months together in order for him to later speak the language so well. We also find that Princess Monja speaks excellent English, and we are left to wonder who taught her. Either her father had learned it well enough to teach it to her, which implies a lengthy stay by Doc’s father or else Savage Sr. taught it on a subsequent return visit.
Getting back to the Valley of the Vanished, why would these people give a perfect stranger a fortune in gold – for the good of mankind? Then why didn’t they make this arrangement with the elder Savage and commence this great benevolent undertaking twenty years earlier? Clearly, King Chaac had great respect for Savage, Sr. so why didn’t he get the gold then? Doc was a Mayan prince, and as such, was entitled to use the gold to undertake whatever operation he so desired. Savage, Sr. was only an in-law and had no such rights. The young prince had to grow to adulthood before being entitled to exercise his rights as a Jaguar prince.
Didn’t you ever wonder why Doc didn’t marry Princess Monja? It just seemed to be a really good match. We are told that Doc just couldn’t afford to take the risk of having someone close to him who would end up as a target. This may have been a legitimate concern in the earlier stories. It becomes laughable when, in the later stories, Doc begins dating.
It is possible that the real reason they never married was because they were related. If Doc was a Jaguar Prince, being related through his mother’s lineage then he and Monja would be cousins. My initial conjecture on this relationship was that Doc was King Chaac’s nephew, being the son of the King’s sister who married Clark Savage, Sr.
Comments in “The King of Terror” now make me wonder if the blood relationship is stronger than this. In that story the author reveals this about the Mayans in Hidalgo.
No living person is more important to these descendants of ancient Maya than is Doc Savage.
This is an incredible statement! Logic would seem to dictate that this person would be the King. Is it possible that Doc Savage’s mother was King Chaac’s daughter? Is it possible that Doc is next in line to become King of the Valley of the Vanished? “The Golden Peril” (December 1937) presents more evidence of the high rank Doc holds. During the war council, Doc sits as an equal at the head of the table with King Chaac. The reunion scene (Chapter Fifteen) in The Golden Peril when Doc and his men return to The Valley of the Vanished is poignant. It is one of the most touching and romantic scenes in the entire series. King Chaac is speechless with emotion. The reunion between him and Doc is super-charged with feeling. Princess Monja is suffering the pains of a love that can never be fulfilled. Her love is without hope.
It is not unrealistic to believe that Doc is completely oblivious to his ancestral relationship with the Mayans. The bronze man is not even aware of the reason why his father chose to raise him in the manner he did in preparation for his career. It is a fact stated in many stories during the forties. Hence the idea that Doc might not be fully informed on his paternal ancestors is not at all improbable.
The Valley of the Vanished is filled with mysteries. Only during the third trip to the valley did Doc learn of the “high” Mayans living in the valley. What the actual facts are relating to Doc’s heritage remains part of that mystery.