The Mystery on the Snow – Land of Always-Night

After finishing “Red Snow” I began reading “Land of Always-Night.” Not too far along into the story I began having another one of those deja vu feelings. The first thing that struck me was Ool’s description concerning the disappearance of the Lenderthorn Expedition.  Ool claims that the expedition was attached by black, shapeless ghost-like creatures and that his companions disappeared without a trace.

There was a strong echo of familiarity in these words. Where had I read something very similar to this before? After a few minutes I realized something like this had happened in “Mystery on the Snow” when Kulden was explaining the supposed disappearance of Ben Lane and his other companions to Doc Savage.  Here Kulden claims the men were attacked by invisible creatures that killed and ate his companions.

First we have an expedition in the frozen Canadian wilderness. Then unknown and unseen forces attack the expedition. Finally we are told that the other members of the expedition simply disappeared or were eaten by some invisible creatures. In both cases the narrator of the story is lying – Kulden on the one hand and Ool on the other. Another correlation is the use of lighter-than-air ships in each story. Doc’s dirigible is employed in “Land of Always-Nigh”t while Stroam’s gang uses a blimp in “Mystery on the Snow.”

In all there are three strong similarities: the locale, the story about the disappearances, and the use of lighter than air craft. Like “Red Snow” and “The Land of Terror”, I suspect these are just plot elements that Dent recycled along the way. But was that all there was to the story? I examined the two stories and began formulating a hypothesis. Was there more than coincidences at play here? There just might be. Here’s a simple timeline of possible events that involve both stories:

In January 1934, Ool appears in Point Barrow, having come in off the frozen ice. His appearance is unusual and striking. The Syndicate Stroam controls has agents throughout northern Canada and Alaska. Ool’s extraordinary appearance and behavior brings him to the attention of a Syndicate agent. By February 1934, Ool has been brought to New York City and introduced to Stroam. Here he is subjected to an exhaustive debriefing. Stroam’s organization is very interested in the scientific advances of Ool’s civilization. After several weeks analysis it is decided to mount an expedition to the Land of Always-Night.

This expedition’s purpose would be to obtain scientific advances that could be put to profitable use in the outside world. Of particular interest to the Syndicate are Ool’s descriptions of the “cold light”, liquid air manufacturing plants, and the manufacture of synthetic materials from basic raw materials.  During his stay in New York, Ool makes the acquaintance of Watches Bowen, who is Stroam’s agent for that locale.

April 1934 sees the expedition outfitted and heading for the Land of Always-Night. It is thought that the hidden civilization must be in the frozen Canadian northwest based on Ool’s account of his trek to Point Barrow, Alaska. During the outfitting period, the prospector Ben Lane comes to the attention of the Syndicate. After a short but intense debate it is decided to change the expedition’s goal and locate the Benlanium source first.  On the surface this seems the more prudent thing to do, as the search area is smaller and the goal more certain.

Syndicate agents intercept the genuine Captain Stonefelt on his way to his new posting at the Snow Mountain post in the Northwest Territory. Stroam assumes the identity in order to better keep an eye on the situation and maintain control.  Finally, May 1934 sees the events documented in The Mystery on the Snow.  Ool is not directly involved in these events and is waiting at a supply camp for Stroam to resume the expedition to the Land of Always-Night. Learning of Stroam’s death, Ool travels back to New York City with the few remaining survivors of Stroam’s organization.

Back in the city, Ool renews his acquaintance with Watches Bowen. Ool convinces Bowen to follow in Stroam’s footsteps and secure the secrets and subsequent rewards of Ool’s advanced civilization for himself.  The unusual pair set out in late 1934 to search for the lost civilization. In early 1935, they locate the entrance but the terrain is so rough that they are unable to land. Travel over the frozen icepack is deemed too risky and it is decided to secure a lighter-than-air ship as was planned in Stroam’s original expedition.

The Lenderthorn expedition simply disappears as Bowen’s gang returns to New York City in an attempt to locate a blimp or dirigible. Several weeks are spent in an unsuccessful effort to locate this item. Craft are available but Watches Bowen simply does not have the necessary finances at his disposal to obtain one. It is decided to steal Doc Savage’s dirigible.  This takes us into March 1935 and finishes up the story with the events of the “Land of Always-Night.”

In the end we are left we are again left with two options to choose from – plot cannibalization or an untold part of the Doc Savage saga. The former is probably correct but the aficionado in me prefers the latter explanation.