1933-12 The Phantom City

Cover Date: December 1933
Volume 2 # 4
Copyright Date: November 17, 1933
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Bantam Edition # 10, May 1968
Sanctum Edition # 36
Story Length: 51,525 words
WHMC: The collection contains nine folders for this story, f.113-121.
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

Jules Verne and A. Conon Doyle are also contributing authors for this story. Captain Nemo took his undersea craft, the Nautilus through a submarine tunnel connecting the Red Sea with the Mediterranean long. Doc Savage takes the Helldiver through a long submarine tunnel into the heart of the Arabian Peninsula. The journey up the submerged river by Doc and his men is also very reminiscent of the journey of the three adventurers in “Allan Quatermain” by H. Rider Haggard.

The beautiful Ja understands sign language but cannot speak English. The situation is similar to that of Tarzan in “Tarzan of the Apes.” At one point in the story, Tarzan could read English but could not speak it.

An electric rail gun that uses magnetically propelled steel projectiles is used by the enemy. An article on this topic, “Electric Cannon Uses No Gunpowder” appeared in the June 1932 issue of Modern Mechanics and Inventions. The device in the story is mounted on a stand and light enough to carry.

Gadgets: Mercy bullets make their first appearance. The wind-up flashlight also appears.

A special version of itching powder is used.

Bertram Sidney Thomas (1892-1950) was an explorer and the first westerner to cross the Rub al Khali, or Empty Quarter. This is the large desert region on the Arabian Peninsula. Thomas made his crossing in 1931. The New York Times noted this in an article dated February 24, 1931.

Another explorer, Harry St. John Philby also crossed the same desert a year later. The New York Times carried an article on his adventure in a May 24, 1932, article. Philby’s journey also included a visit to the lost city of Ubar. Legend had it that this lost city was extremely rich.

Bertram Thomas wrote a book about his travels, “Arabia Felix: Across the Empty Quarter of Arabia” that was published in 1932. It may be that these articles helped fuel Lester Dent’s imagination until it fermented into the tale, we all know as “The Phantom City.”

Time Magazine published “Science: Abode of Loneliness” in the March 9, 1931, issue.

Of related interest are two more articles, “Across the Rub’ Al-Khali” by Elizabeth Monroe (Saudi Aramco World, Nov-Dec 1973) and “Lakes of the Rub’ al-Khali” by Arthur Clark (Saudi Aramco World, May-June 1989).

Dent sprinkles the text with frequent remarks from Mohallet’s men in their native tongue. An examination of “Arabic (Syrian) Self-Taught” by A. Hassam (revised by N. Odeh) reveals the same exact phrases that appear in Dent’s story. Hassam’s book was originally published in 1915 by E. Marlborough & Co., London, England.

Mohallet has to take his stolen yacht around the Cape of Good Hope instead of the shorter route by way of the Suez Canal.

This is the first appearance of Monk’s pet hog, Habeas Corpus. Inspiration for the unusual pet may lie within a series of children’s books written by Walter Brooks. Freddy the Pig was main character in 26 different books written between 1927 and 1958.  If you’re not familiar with these stories, Freddy was a pig that wanted to be a detective and had all kinds of adventures around the farm.

The first Freddy book was published in 1927 with other books following in 1930 and 1932. Additional books followed but these were after the first appearance of Habeas Corpus. Freddy was a popular character and I wonder if Lester Dent was poking a little fun and maybe tipping his hat at the same time to a popular literary character with the addition of Habeas Corpus to the Doc Savage stories.

However, the most important contributor to this story is A. Conan Doyle who wrote about Professor Challenger in “The Lost World.”

Ja’s tribe is hidden within the vast regions of the Arabian Desert. Yet, exactly like Maple White, Doc and his men arrive at their destination by way of a tunnel. Just as in Doyle’s lost land, this inhospitable spot is populated by two distinct human species – one that is modern in appearance while the other is distinctly ape-like. These two races are at war with one another.

The primitive ape-men of “The Lost World” toss their captives off the edge of their world. Correspondingly, the primitive creatures in the Doc Savage story hurl their captives off a cliff into the underground river.

Monk Mayfair and Professor Challenger share some traits. Both enjoy fighting and go into a berserker rage when doing so. Furthermore, like Professor Challenger who was a twin in appearance of the ape king, Monk Mayfair’s striking resemblance to the beast men in his story is noted. So much so in fact, that Ja initially believes him to be a dark-furred variant of the white-furred beast-men who terrorize her people.

Just as in “The Lost World,” the explorers aid the modern humans and establishing their dominance over their evolutionary inferiors. Readers should also note that Monk and Ham carry on the tradition of the Challenger-Summerlee arguments.

The native human habitations are remarkably similar in both novels:

Doyle: Along the base of these red cliffs, some distance above the ground, I could see a number of dark holes through the glass, which I conjectured to be the mouths of caves.

Dent: It was a city carved from solid rock – a mountain of stone, hewn and hollowed into walls, streets, and dwellings. The rock was a pale red in color.

The passages are unremarkable on their own but given the other parallels Dent’s stories shares with Doyle’s they become yet another solid piece of evidence. All in all, it appears a safe bet to say that Dent read “The Lost World” and incorporated some of its ideas into “The Phantom City.”