1936-08 The Midas Man

Cover Date: August 1936
Volume  7 # 6
Copyright Date: Friday, July 17, 1936
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Story Length:  40,647 words
WHMC: The collection contains seven folders for this story, f.374 – 380.
Recurring Characters.  Renny and Long Tom are absent from this story.

The Midas Man by Kenneth Robeson
Pirate Pickings by Laurence Donovan
The Fur Trap by George Allan Moffatt
The Golden Key by Harold A. Davis

The Doc Savage Method of Self-Development

Doc Savage Club
Real Fight
– Death From Stars
– Forest Fires
– Jungle Poisons
– Better Lighthouses
– From Our Members

During the course of the story Doc Savage and his men employ many of the techniques and tools that are de rigueur for the series and a delight to the readers. 

  • Doc Savage trills and uses his nerve pinch to paralyze his opponents. 
  • Doc’s armored sedan appears and has special trick locks on the doors.
  • Early in the story Alex Mandebran orders his driver to slow down exclaiming We are hardly going to a fire! The same would not be true for the readers as there are two distinct explosions and fires in the story.  The gang destroys evidence and uses a chemical that burns hotter when water is poured on it.  Calcium carbide is a metal with the property. Carbide lamps that used calcium carbide to produce acetylene gas were common during this period of time.
  • Larger than usual glass anesthetic globes appear. 
  • The special chalk that is only visible under ultraviolent light appears.
  • Doc’s private hidden garage in the headquarters building is mentioned.
  • Doc uses a trick rifle to mark one of the gang’s automobiles with a special fluorescent chemical.
  • Doc Savage and Ham use a pneumatic tube to get from the eighty-sixth floor to the Hidalgo Trading Company warehouse on the Hudson River.  This is the flearun although it is not named as such.
  • Doc and Ham use his gyro which is a true gyro rather than the more common autogyro.
  • Doc Savage tells Ham to “Get the fluoroscopic spectacle devices.”  These are the special goggles that let Doc Savage and his men see in the dark. They are typically described as having black lenses the size of condensed milk cans.
  • Doc Savage uses special explosive grenades which are activated by a tiny lever on the side.  He also uses a smoke generator during one tight spot.
  • Hydrocyanic acid which has been used as an agent of death is used in the story.
  • The supermachine pistols are used on multiple occasions.  The weapons are used to fire both mercy bullets and powerful explosive rounds.

There are some points to ponder about this story.

  • Both Habeas Corpus the pig and Chemistry the ape appear.  The use of the ape makes this reader wonder if Harold A. Davis had a hand in this story. 
  • Monk plays a very small part in this story except at the climax.  Most of the action is accounted for by Doc Savage, Johnny, or Ham.

Johnny is quizzed and thinks about “Fantastic Island” which appeared in December 1935.

The gimmick in this story is a machine that can read thoughts.  It is a form of artificial telepathy which had appeared in an earlier story. Readers of “Mystery Under the Sea” (February 1936) learn that such a device was possible, we now are treated to the actual existence of one. There are many small, isolated items in the story that independently are minor but when taken all together seem unusual.

We meet a young lady named Sylvan Niles. What is odd about this you ask? Well, “sylvan” has several meanings if you check the dictionary: a wooded area, a spirit that lives in the woods, a disembodied spirit. Niles is rooted in the name of the great river that ran through the heart of the ancient Egyptian civilization. Edgar Cayce had referred to this area as being a rich green region during an ancient age. Is Dent making a subtle reference to this idea? Is her name a double entendre – a word with two meanings; one being woody Nile and referring to an ancient age when the Sahara was a lush region, or another – meaning spirit of the Nile?  Sylvan Niles makes several pointed statements alluding to mind reading and crystal balls.  The comments are sarcastic in nature but indicate that mind reading, and clairvoyant powers are in people’s thoughts. 

 Before we meet Sylvan Niles, Johnny Littlejohn has an appointment with one of the mind reading machines. The criminals use some stolen Egyptian tablets as bait to wet his whistle. Johnny ends up flat on his back inside an Egyptian mummy case while his mind is being read. The crooks want to determine what possible knowledge Doc Savage has about their criminal scheme.  One more odd little fact is the use of a “blue” cab by the outlaw gang. The Egyptian Pharaohs believed blue helped protect them from evil.

While the realm of physic phenomenon certainly calls to mind Edgar Cayce, the idea behind an actual thought machine may have been the germ of a newspaper interview given by Nikola Tesla in 1933. During the discourse, the aged scientist calmly makes his announcement.  “I expect to photograph thoughts,” announced Mr. Tesla calmly, in the same tone of voice that a person occupied with some trivial things in the scheme of life might announce that it was going to rain.  Tesla goes into a minor discussion of the idea and alluding to television as a possible mechanism for implementing this novel idea.

Nikola Tesla: The September 10, 1933, the Kansas City Journal-Post printed some amazing statements attributable to Tesla.  Tesla proposed an idea that thoughts were transmitted to the eye’s retina and could consequently be captured.

The story’s climax takes place in a backwater on Chesapeake Bay: “One of the abandoned War-time bulks, tied up in Chesapeake Bay,” Doc Savage hazarded.  There is a location in Maryland called Mallows Bay that is some thirty odd miles south of Washington, D. C.  This area presently contains over two hundred sunken hulks whose rotten remains reach up from the shallow bottom.  How did this happen you might ask?  During World War I, a shortage of ships led to legislation creating the Emergency Fleet Corporation with the aim of supplying ships.  Ultimately, the system was abused, and an enormous supply of surplus ships was created.  Many of these never saw service during the war and became part of “ghost fleets” under the custodianship of the government simply rotted away over time.

In 1929 Upton Sinclair published a book titled “Mental Radio” in which he detailed experiments in telepathy between himself and his wife.  Sinclair went on to win a Pulitzer Prize in 1943.  Probably Sinclair’s most influential piece was “The Jungle,” which was published in 1906.  It was a brutal public indictment of the meat industry and was instrumental in the passage of the Federal Pure Food and Drug Act that same year.