1933-09 The Lost Oasis

Cover Date: September 1933
Volume 2 # 1
Copyright Date: August 18, 1933
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Bantam Edition # 6, April 1965
Sanctum Edition # 7
Story Length: 47,300 words
WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f.90-97.
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

This story forms a sequel with “The Sargasso Ogre.” It centers on a mysterious diamond mine and slavery, but the heart of the story revolves around the pirated airship, Aeormunde.

Amy Johnson: The female aviatrix, Lady Nelia Sealing, in the story is likely patterned after Amy Johnson. She was the first woman aviator to make a solo flight from London to Australia. Upon her return to England, she was greeted by crowd of one million fans and awarded the rank of Commander of Order of the British Empire (C. B. E.). Dent may have taken particular notice when she set a new record for flying from London to Cape Town in November 1932.

Doc recovers a fabulous fortune in diamonds. The next story values the treasure at an amount equal to the value of some small European countries. The gems in the story are described as diamonds of the “first water.” This is a technical term used in the grading with gems of the first water being clear or translucent like pure water and of the best quality.

Yuttal and Hadi-Mot appear physically like a criminal version of Laurel and Hardy.

The airship Aeromunde is likely based on the French airship Dixmude. The Dixmude was built as LZ 114 for the German military and was renamed L-72 by the French. The craft was turned over to the French government in 1920 as war reparations.

Time Magazine published an article on February 2, 1931, titled “Aeronautics: Ghost Ship.” It reports plans by French authorities on a possible expedition into the vast Sahara Desert. They propose to travel some 300 miles south of In Salah in central Algeria to a region not yet visited by European explorers to search for the Dixmude’s wreckage. This is all fueled by insistent desert tribesmen who reported having seen the airship drifting south after it was missing in December 1923.

The thought of a gigantic airship lying wrecked in the remote vastness of the Sahara Desert is extremely romantic but unlikely. Initial reports described burnt wreckage floating near Sicily (“Aeronautics: Wreckage,” Time Magazine, January 14, 1924). The Special French Navy Commission had previously concluded the Dixmude burned over the ocean after being struck by lightning (“Aeronautics: Lightning,” Time Magazine, Monday, February 4, 1924). Residents of Sicily reported seeing a glow in the sky at the same time.

The wreck of the USS Akron (ZRS-4) which occurred during severe weather on April 4, 1933, was also prominently discussed in the news of the era.

During the final hours of the Aeromunde’s flight to the lost oasis Doc and his men cut the gas bags in order to release the lifting gas (hydrogen) and bring the ship down.

Construction of the gas bags, or ballonets, is an interesting topic. Hydrogen molecules are extremely small. Hence, any encapsulating material for the gas must possess especially tight and leak-proof properties. Zeppelins present a much more difficult problem than do balloons. Air ships are designed to stay aloft for days or even weeks. Balloons only have to provide a relatively leak-proof envelope for a few hours so the integrity of the gas bag is not as critical an issue as it is with a zeppelin.
Ultimately the material of choice for lining the gas chambers was goldbeater’s skin. The type used in zeppelins was a thin membrane removed from the intestine of oxen and cattle. Shortages during World War I forced Germany to experiment with other animals such as pigs. Production of one square meter of goldbeater’s skin took fifteen oxen. German airships built during the Great War used a minimum of 20,000 sheets to a maximum of 30,000. An impressive number of animals were required, along with a sizeable infrastructure, in order to produce and process the necessary material in sufficient quantities to be useful.
Source: Balloon Fabrics Made of Goldbeater’s Skin by Captain L. Chollet from L’Aeornautique, August 1922.

Dent may have been tipping his hat to the fabled lost city of Zerzura. Situated deep within the unapproachable recesses of the harsh desert west of the Nile River, this mysterious oasis was said to be filled with gold and gems. Some locations placed it in western Egypt while others moved it further west into the Libyan wastes.

The city was rumored to be white like doves. Others called it the “Oasis of Little Birds.” Several explorers searched throughout the region for the lost city including Britain Ralph Bagnold and the Hungarian cartographer Ladislaus Almasy.

An interesting article titled “Searching for Zerzura” by Robert Berg appeared in the December 2002 issue of Saudi Aramco World

Yuttal saves himself from a knife wound because he wears chain mail beneath his clothes.

Carnivorous plants surround the lost oasis. Literature is filled with accounts of man-eating plants.

Vampire bats play the part of a mysterious weapon for the first part of the story. The movie adaptation of Bram Stoker’s novel, Dracula, was a huge sensation when it appeared in 1931. “The Vampire Bat” was a film released on January 10, 1933, in which a giant bat is supposedly draining the blood from the local villagers.

Finally, there is a 1940 movie starring Bela Lugosi as an embittered scientist who thinks he has been cheated and underpaid for his inventions. In revenge, he creates a breed of giant bats that he uses to kill his employers. The basic idea is similar to the trained bats in “The Lost Oasis.”