Recently I finished reading “Red Snow.” This adventure has always been one of my favorites. The story kept reminding me of “The Land of Terror” since it employed a similar device with the “Smoke of Eternity.” As l read, some curious ideas began taking place. Perhaps there was a connection between the two stories? The first noticeable thing was the similarity between the guns used to deliver the substance.
- “The Land of Terror”: The hand clutched convulsively and drew out a strange pistol. This was larger even than a big army automatic. It had two barrels, one the size of a pencil, the other a steel cylinder more than an inch in diameter. The barrels were placed one above the other.
- “Red Snow”: Back in the cabin, the passenger fumbled with a long case and brought out what resembled a grotesque air rifle. This had a barrel of moderate size, but below that was another cylinder of much greater diameter, the latter fastened in place with set-screws and clamps.
The aliases used by the villains were another oddity. The villain’s name in “The Land of Terror” was Kar while the villain’s name in “Red Snow” was Ark. The two names are simple transpositions of the letters. Was this more than an odd happenstance?
Down in the Florida Everglades, in Red Snow, the Baron Lang Ark takes great pride in telling Doc that this is not his real name. He also brags to Doc that he is a famous man. What exactly is he famous for doing? Certainly his fame is not of a public nature. Could it be that he is the man who invented the Smoke of Eternity?
Possibly Ark was the real inventor of the Smoke of Eternity and Oliver Wording Bittman only supplied him with the raw material. Bittman’s death was a serious problem for Ark. His supply of the raw material was now cut off. Ark would be unable to refine additional quantities of the disintegration compound since he never knew the location of the source. This would account for the connection between the names. Bittman, appreciating irony, simply adopted a variation of Ark’s name as the pseudonym under which he ruled his gang.
Given that Ark knew that it was possible to destroy matter using the Smoke of Eternity he could have sought to develop an artificial method to achieve the same effect. Hence, the difference in color of the two munitions. The first substance, made from naturally occurring materials was gray in appearance but the synthetic material is red.
The Smoke of Eternity resembles a primitive version of the Red Snow. The substance used in The Land of Terror was pretty meek compared to that in Red Snow. Even so, the results were very impressive.
- “The Land of Terror”: Nor did the dissolution stop with the human body. The concrete walk immediately below was becoming ashen vapor as well. The trowel-smoothed upper surface of the walk was already gone, revealing the coarse gravel below. As by magic, that, too, was wafted away. Rich black earth could be seen.
- “Red Snow”: The pits spread, the powder caught up by the wind, and the whole sidewalk to a depth of four or five inches, well below the foundation of courser stones, was pulled away in dust before Doc’s eyes. Grass and turf followed, then limbs began to fall off the trees, to turn into cerise particles.
Supposedly, in “The Land of Terror,” the land within the crater of Thunder Island was destroyed at the end of the story. This occurred when Doc Savage tossed the suitcase containing Kar’s supply of the Smoke of Eternity into the mud lake. It is assumed but never verified in the story that the flood of hot mud completely inundated the crater floor. Did Doc Savage knowingly perpetrate a hoax on his aids?
We know he did not share every secret he had with his men. One needs only turn to the Fortress of Solitude to verify that argument. Possibly Doc believed it would be in the best interest of all if everyone believed the crater floor had been completely decimated by the mud flow.
Even without any collusion on the part of Doc Savage, the crater destruction seems to be a gross exaggeration of events in my opinion. Firstly, it seems extremely unlikely in the geologic history of the crater that similar incidents had not previously happened yet the flora and animal life were thriving. My opinion is that the desolated area was limited to a relatively small portion of the habitat. Secondly, consider the very nature of the Smoke of Eternity. Recall the incident early on in “The Land of Terror” where a plane drops a baseball size container of the Smoke of Eternity on a bridge Doc is using.
Not only was that section of the bridge destroyed but also the water underneath was consumed so rapidly that a pit appeared in the lagoon. This same thing may have taken place within the mud lake on Thunder Island. The fact that the destruction of Thunder Island is never officially verified leaves a lot of things up in the air.
Remember, one survivor of Kar’s gang was left marooned on the island. Perhaps he escaped? There are many possibilities. Was there another plane secreted at a different location inside the crater? This would have been a most prudent thing to do. We know a large corral was built around the landing strip in order to protect the plane and men. Having a second plane at a second location would be very plausible and smart. Then there is the change the marooned gangster could have located an old lava tube that breached the outer wall and provided access to the ocean.
There he was picked up by a Japanese whaling vessel, which had a military observer on-board, as they were also conduction intelligence operations for the conquest of Asia. Hearing the survivor’s story the military man would quickly recognize the many uses of such a substance for a nation soon to be at war.
The possible scenarios are endless. Here is the story I favor. Ark was a chemist and actually developed the Smoke of Eternity from samples provided to him by Oliver Wording Bittman. To outward appearances Ark was working for a chemical concern in New Zealand. But in reality, Ark was a member of the Black Dragon’s Society and was a secret agent of the Empire of Japan. At this time Ark was under a death sentence for exceeding his authority on a prior mission. Ark had escaped and was in hiding. Having developed the Smoke of Eternity, Ark now had a real bargaining chip to earn a pardon for himself. Through his contacts in the Black Dragon Society, he contacted the Japanese military and things began happening.
Bear in mind the situation when Doc and his crew arrived in New Zealand. Oliver Wording Bittman had been away in search of the native New Zealanders who had taken Jerome Coffern and Kar to Thunder Island months ago. He returned shaking his head.
- “A ghastly thing!” he said hollowly. “Every man who accompanied Jerome Coffern and Kar has mysteriously disappeared in recent months.”
Doc Savage mistakenly believes this is the work of Kar’s gang. It is not. The fear expressed by Bittman is real. Japanese operatives have kidnapped the expedition members in an attempt to locate the source of the basic raw material used in manufacturing the diabolical disintegration agent.
Sometime after Doc Savage and his men left Thunder Island a Japanese military expedition mounted an exploration of Thunder Island. This was most likely achieved via an aircraft carrier type submarine. This vessel was a prototype of the aircraft carrier submarine later put into service by the Japanese Navy for use in bombing the Panama Canal locks during World War II.
The lone survivor of Bittman’s gang was captured. The explorers also obtained small amounts of the raw material. Both were returned to Japan. Exhaustive chemical analysis provided an understanding of the mechanism upon which the disintegration principles worked. The primary problem now was the very basic fact that the amount of raw materials available was inadequate for any significant military application.
Tedious research revealed that the mechanism of destruction could be achieved synthetically through the use of certain radioactive elements, primarily radium. Unfortunately for the Japanese military, useful quantities of radium were not available in Japan. In fact, the rare element was virtually unattainable as the United States controlled what essentially was the entire stockpile in the world. Considering the events taking place in China at that time, it was unlikely the Empire could obtain radium in useful quantities from America.
Ark had escaped his death sentence by his amazing discovery but redemption was not yet complete. He was ordered to go to America and set up an operation there so that the process could be developed using local radium sources. Their mission was to manufacture a sufficient supply of the material to enable his unit to wage an undeclared war against the United States. The goal was to cripple the U. S. leadership while the main Japanese military acted in the Pacific. Only then would Ark be fully pardoned from his death sentence. Subsequent events are described in “Red Snow.”
This is all very fun and it is exciting to speculate about the similarities in the two stories. Maybe Dent was thinking about a connection between the two when he wrote Red Snow. I like to think so but probably what happened was he later thought of a different angle to use with the dissolving compound and took it from there. Both stories are a great treat for any Doc Savage fan.