1936-02 Mystery Under the Sea

Cover Date: February 1936
Volume 6 # 6
Copyright Date: Friday, November 15, 1935
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Story Length:  45,292 words
WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f. 343-350
Recurring Characters.  This story features Doc, Renny, Monk, and Ham.  Johnny is in Europe and Long Tom is in South America.

Mystery Under the Sea by Kenneth Robeson
Steel Jaws by Paul Randell Morrison
The Marerao Necklace by George Allan Moffatt
The Invisible Trail by Charles Green
The Doc Savage Method of Self-Development

Doc Savage Club

  • Reawakening
  • Air Trappers
  • Disagrees
  • Pour Water on Oil
  • Matto Grasso, Jungle Supreme
  • From Our Members

The gimmick in this story is a sunken city in the Caribbean that very much resembles Atlantis.  At one point in the story Doc Savage amazes Diamond Eve Post by correctly identifying the name of the ship they have been secreted on. She asked if he was a clairvoyant. Dent may have been giving us a little clue with this bit of dialogue about clairvoyants, a word he used three times in the story.  Many of the readers of this 1936 story would quickly think of a fellow named Edgar Cayce. Who was this person and why would the editors at Street & Smith feel the need to disassociate their magazine with Atlantis? Cayce is often referred to as The Sleeping Prophet and was very active and popular during this time period.

Washington Post – February 2, 1935

Cayce was born in 1877. Around the age of six or seven he began experiencing visions. In 1901 Cayce began giving psychic readings. During 1931, Cayce gave a psychic reading in which he first described the “Lost Continent of Atlantis”. Atlantis was a fertile subject. Here, and in subsequent reports, he described the lost civilization as having existed some ten thousand years ago in the general vicinity of the Caribbean. According to Cayce, this vanished empire was a super-civilization that was vastly technologically superior to that of the modern era.  Atlantis and its history was one of Cayce’s fundamental themes and he apparently provided a great deal of detailed information concerning the lost continent.

Cayce predicted that the records of Atlantis, “The Hall of Records”, would be found in a secret chamber located beneath the Sphinx. He described the Egyptians as descendants of the Atlanteans.  

Moving forward, the reader finds an Egyptian connection to the lost city of Taz. Doc Savage describes the architecture of the city as “Egypto-Mayan”.  Digging further into the Doc Savage story we see some amazing science at work. There is a compound that allows men to remain underwater, without breathing, for extended periods of times.

But the discoveries become even more astounding. Arriving at the Central Science Library of the sunken city, Doc and his men discover a hundred or so stone cases made of hard black stone. Opening one of these cases they find it contains many metal plates. The plates are extremely unusual and are described as some strange black metal, as intensely black and shiny as emerald. Doc translates one of the plates. The treatise purports to explain, in scientific terms, the principles by which mental telepathy operates!

Dent’s yarn is running a close parallel to several of Cayce’s predictions Atlantis, an advanced civilization, telepathy, the Hall of Records or Central Science Library, along with an Egyptian style design.  The Central Science Library is an amazing building and worthy of special attention. The walls are solid stone twenty feet thick. Even more incredible is the roof. Doc Savage describes it as probably the largest single block of stone ever employed in construction work. Strangest of all, this colossal slab seemed not to lie over the top of the room, lid-fashion, but was cut to fit inside the walls. What held it up could not be discerned.

Indeed, what does hold it up? Could Dent be alluding to some type of levitation principle? Cayce described the use of a levitation technology to move the huge stone blocks used in the building of the great pyramid.  Another astonishing fact is revealed when Doc Savage translates one of the records in the Central Science Library. Of all the possible subjects that could be covered, this one just happens to deal with mental telepathy.  That idea shows up six months later in the August issue in the story, “The Midas Man.”

Near the end of the adventure Doc Savage discusses the disposition of Taz’s amazing scientific wealth.   As usual, Doc wishes the discoveries to be put to use for the public good.  Coincidentally, Edgar Cayce steadfastly maintained that his psychic abilities could never be used for personal gain but only for the benefit of mankind.

Needless to say, there was some major controversy around Cayce’s predictions and readings that continue to exist even to this day. Could this be the reason the Street & Smith editors did not want to use Atlantis in “The Mystery Under the Sea” and removed all references to the word?  The Atlantis hullabaloo had been permeating the radio and print media for the prior five years. “The Mystery Under the Sea” was written in 1935 and published in February 1936. It is very possible the folks at Street & Smith did not want the magazine, and subsequently their company, to be linked in the public’s mind with such a controversial figure as Cayce. Street & Smith had the reputation of being one of the most conservative publishers in the pulp magazine business.  It did not help Cayce’s reputation when he was arrested in New York on a charge of “pretending to tell fortunes.”  The charges were dismissed when Cayce appeared in court on November 16, 1931, where it was explained to the court that Mr. Cayce only worked with members of his association.

Dent  bought a sailboat, Albatross, in 1934 on which he and his wife Norma lived on it for several years while they sailed the Caribbean. Interestingly, Edgar Cayce had stated that the area around Bimini was the remnants of the lost civilization of Atlantis. Dent may have first heard about Cayce via this connection and decided to incorporate this theme into one of his novels.  Dent mentions several locations in the Bahamas such as Nassau, Great Isaac, and New Providence.

Another possible inspiration for this story goes back to Dent’s days sailing around the Bahamas.  In 1692, large portions of the settlement at Port Royal, Jamacia, sunk underwater as a result of a large earthquake.  Significant portions of the area sank during the incident and remain underwater to this day.  Two years before this happened, large portions of Jamestown on Nevis in the Virgin Islands was destroyed by an earthquake with most of the city sinking into the sea. 

The character of Stanley Watchford Topping is undoubtedly based on the naturalist Charles William Beebe who was a popular and flamboyant character of the time.  Doc Savage notes that Topping had a radio show.  The September 11, 1932, issue of  The Kentucky Post has an NBC radio program listing featuring William Beebe and his description of a descent into the waters of the ocean.  Beebe followed this up with a radio report from the depths of the ocean talking to the world via radio some two thousand feet deep.

William Beebe was also the author of several books and was featured in the pages of the National Geographic Magazine in the December 1934 issue.  Beebe had also famously mounted an expedition to the Sargasso Sea in 1925 aboard the ship Arcturus.  The scientist was in search of the reported thick mats of sargassum in order to study the marine life of such an environment.  These are the same time of mats of weed Doc Savage and his readers encountered in the October 1933 story, “The Sargasso Ogre.”

1925 – William Beebe aboard S. S. Arcturus

Books by William Beebe
1906 – “The Bird, its Form and Function”
1918 – “Jungle Peace”
1924 – “Galapagos: World’s End”
1927 – “Pheasant Jungles”
1934 – “Half Mile Down”

The story refers to Paradise Beach on Long Island.  There is also another Paradise Beach at Nassau in the Bahama.

Dent tosses in a reference to Jules Verne and Atlantis with a character named “Twenty-Thousand Leagues Verne.”  Jules Verne visited the sunken city of Atlantis in his story “Twenty-Thousand Leagues Under the Sea” first published in novel form in 1873.

The female character in the story is named Diamond Eve Post.  The name likely comes from a colorful character of an earlier generation, Diamond Jim Brady.  James Buchanan Brady was a flashy and well-known character in New York City of the early 20th century.  He was flamboyant and noted for his love and wearing of diamond jewelry.  This is spot on with Dent’s description of Diamond Eve Post: One thing in particular caught their eyes: her jewels. Diamonds—on her fingers, on her throat, circlets of them about her wrists. They were all large stones.

Brady died in 1917 but his legacy inspired a 1935 movie titled “Diamond Jim.”  His life was also immortalized in a 1934 book titled “Diamond Jim, The Life and Times” by Parker Morell.  It should be noted that there are numerous types of diamond rings, necklaces, and earrings that are described as “diamond eve.” 

However, there is another possibility.  Mae West had first starred a 1928 Broadway show titled “Diamond Lil.”  This story was eventually retold as a movie in the 1933 production of “She Done Him Wrong.”

Doc and his men use sign language to communicate with one another.

A smoke screen is used to escape from the Carribenda.  This is similar to the scene in an earlier adventure, “The King Maker” from June 1934.

The oxygen compound shows up in some later stories.  Mental telepathy appears in a big way in the August 1936 issue featuring “The Midas Man.”