1935-12 The Fantastic Island

Cover Date: December 1935
Volume 6 # 4
Copyright Date: Friday, November 15, 1935
Author: Lester Dent and Ryerson Johnston
Editor: John Nanovic
WHMC: The collection contains seventeen folders for this story, f. 326-342.

The Fantastic Island by Kenneth Robeson
Blood-Red Diamonds by Laurence Donovan
Shadow Over Shanghai by Beech Allen
Javelin of Fear by Avin H. Johnston
The Doc Savage Method of Self-Development

Doc Savage Club
Code of Honor
The Oldest City

The seven folders in the Lester B. Dent collection at the University of Columbia in Missouri indicates a substantial rewrite of the material by Lester Dent.

This story shares some traits with the 1932 movie version of “The Most Dangerous Game.”  Both stories make a play with shark infested water, channel markers that are in the wrong place.  In the original story, the count’s name is Zaroff.  The count in “The Fantastic Island” is named Ramandadoff.

In each story the playing of the piano by the Count is a foretelling of death.

It is clear that the Doc Savage story is based on the movie version rather than the original  short story. In the movie the ship is led onto the reef by false channel markers.  In the short story, the protagonist, Rainsford, falls overboard.

“The Most Dangerous Game” originally appeared as a short story by Richard Connell in the January 19, 1924 issue of Collier’s.  It is an extremely popular short story. Neither the Count’s organ playing or “shark infested” waters are mentioned.  Indeed, in the original story, Rainsford swims around the island with no problems.  In the movie, many of the crew perish from the sharks after the ship sinks.

The use of poisonous centipedes in the first part of the story is unusual.  Attacks using poisonous insects and vermin are more at home in the Fu Manchu stories by Sax Rohmer.  There are rumors of the Galapagos Islands giant centipede growing as long as 24 inches.

The adventure largely takes place on an unnamed island in the Galapagos archipelago.

The Canal Zone is used as a refueling point.

Doc’s plane flies over Cocos Island on their way to the Galapagos.  A small point is made referring to a treasure hunting expedition on the island.  Cocos Island has been the focus of countless treasure hunting expeditions.  It is the supposed hiding place of the treasure of the pirate Benito Bonito.  An even bigger hoard, the Treasure of Lima, is purported hidden there.

The lizards in the story are described as iguanas. However, their behavior is more in line with that of the Komodo dragon.

Wild pigs figure into the story.  These are peccaries  and are different from wild boars.  The smaller size goes in line with Bergmann’s Rule which associates smaller size with closeness to the equator.

Doc and his men encounter a trap on a jungle trail whereby a knife is attached to a branch and tied back with a thread.  Once it is broken it will stab the person waling on the trail.  It is one of the same devices used in the movie.

A later book, “Holes” (1998) by Louis Sachar incorporates the idea of digging holes in a dry lakebed seeking a lost treasure.

The “thumb-hole death” used in the story appears again as a cruder version in “The Thousand-Headed Man.”

Readers of “The Fantastic Island” first published in December 1935 may recall that significant portion of the story occurred on a remote location in the Galapagos Islands. The story bears several similarities with a popular movie of the time, “The Most Dangerous Game.” One of the plot devices in the story that was not in the movie involved prisoners chained to posts digging holes in the ground.

The island’s evil master also uses the illusion of giant lizards to create an atmosphere of fear. It was later revealed that the villain was seeking a treasure aboard a ship that covered by a volcanic eruption.

There is also a more modern story that involves a similar plot. Prisoners are forced to dig holes in search of a lost treasure. “Holes” was written by Louis Sachar and first published in 1998. The book became a film in 2003.

The protagonist of the story is young Stanley Yelnats who is wrongly arrested and sentenced to a term at a Texas camp for youthful offenders. The camp warden requires every prisoner to dig a hole each day in a dried lakebed.

Prisoners must watch out for the poisonous, yellow-spotted lizard which inhabits the dried lakebed. Readers are eventually told that a century in the past a small boat with a treasure aboard sank in the lake and was never recovered. The warden is looking for this treasure.

Both stories share several points:

  • Prisoners are forced to dig holes.
  • Lizards play a menacing role.
  • A boat is buried underground.
  • The goal is a lost treasure.
  • The seeker has no moral claim to the treasure.

It is an interesting coincidence.  Both books are an excellent read.