1937-09 The Feathered Octopus

Cover Date: September 1937
Volume 10  # 1
Copyright Date: Friday, August 20, 1937
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic
Story Length: 41,643 words
WHMC: The collection contains eight folders for this story, f.443-450.
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story. Pat Savage also appears in this story.

The Feathered Octopus by Kenneth Robeson
Murder’s Guide by Norman Daniels
South Sea Magic by William G. Bogart
A Film in the Bush by Carl Jacobi
The Well of Fire by George Allan Moffatt
Jujutsu – Here’s the way to put it into use.
Test Your Wits

Doc Savage Club

  • Look at the Nations
  • Wild Game
  • Ancient Gold
  • Pacific Island Terror
  • Public Enemy Becomes a Hero

From Our Members

The main plot of the story is the takeover of World-Air Air Lines through a subterfuge.  Doc Savage has been kidnapped and the company stock is being bought in his name.  World-Air Air Lines may be a pseudonym for Pan American Airlines.  In the story, Doc Savage and his men head across the Pacific in a large seaplane that exceeds the Pacific Clippers in speed and fuel capacity.  Doc flies the same route as the Clippers starting in San Francisco to Hawaii to Midway Island to Wake Island and then to Guam.

Martin M-130 China Clipper

Pan American Airlines began cargo transport across the Pacific with mail and cargo in late 1935.  Passenger service was offered in October 1936.  

November 1936

“China Clipper” was a Hollywood film based on Pan American Airlines.  The movie featured several prominent actors such as Pat O’Brien and Humphrey Bogart. It was released August 22, 1936.  The climax of the show features a perilous flight across the Pacific.

Pat Savage is kidnapped by Hi Lar and his men and flee westward in a seaplane.  Doc Savage goes on a nationwide radio broadcast seeking help finding Pat and offering a $25,000 reward for any useful information. Ham Brooks flexes his legal muscles when the plane Hi Lar’s gang was using is discovered.  Several people unjustly try to claim the reward.  Doc tells Ham to sic his law firm on them and strike fear in their hearts for being dishonest.

The story mentions the Wall Street seaplane port.  This was created in 1934 by the City of New York.  Two large seaplane ramps costing $35,000 were constructed and exhibited at the New York Navy Yard.  The ramps will provide space for thirty seaplanes and flying boats.

July 1934

Hi Lar’s gang flees across the Pacific to their home base on Ral Island.

One of the characters is Burke Benbow, the defrocked owner of a small Pacific airline.  Long Tom falls for Burke’s sister, Lam Benbow.  He then suffers competition from Johnny.

The story gives some details on the racial makeup of Hi Lar’s gang.  Dent repeatedly states that the gang is comprised of Orientals, Polynesians, Eurasians, and “white men.”  In my opinion, Dent was noting the international complexion of the gang.  In particular, he was modeling Hi Lar after the more famous Chinese villain, Fu Manchu from the stories by Sax Rohmer.  When Renny first talks about the Feathered Octopus, the first nationality he brings up is Chinese.  Hi Lar’s gang has the smell of the Si-Fan about it.

One of Hi Lar’s agents describe the criminal leader in a manner not dissimilar to Fu Manchu:

“Like an Oriental, as much as all Orientals look alike. He’s old. Thin. Hideous. You know how Orientals get when they grow old and have led a hard life. He’s just a skinny old devil, with a monster’s brain. Likes weird stuff.

The Mask of Fu Manchu, 1932 – Boris Karloff as Fu Manchu

The Fu Manchu character was immensely popular appearing in both print and movies.  The stories were written by Arthur Henry “Sarsfield” Ward under the pen name Sax Romer.  Many of the stories were serialized in the Collier’s magazine in the United States. At the time “The Feathered Octopus” was printed, there were eight books available in the Fu Manchu series.

  • 1913 – “The Insidious Dr. Fu-Manchu”
  • 1916 – “The Return of Dr Fu-Manchu”
  • 1917 – “The Hand of Fu-Manchu”
  • 1931 – “Daughter of Fu Manchu”
  • 1932 – “The Mask of Fu Manchu”
  • 1933 – “Fu Manchu’s Bride”
  • 1934 – “The Trail of Fu Manchu”
  • 1936 – “President Fu Manchu”

One other noticeable trait of Lester Dent is present in this story.  He uses the term “white men” to describe some of the gang members.  Nine of those times it is used in reference to race.  The other usage of “white” refers to objects.  This trait often appears in other stories where Dent uses a particular word, and it is reused (or overused) multiple time throughout the story.

This story mentions that Hi Lar got his start on Got his start in the Bias Bay pirate hang-out on the China Coast.  There is book titled “I Sailed With Chinese Pirates” by Aleko Lilius which was first published in 1930. Lilius was one of those adventurous journalists who traveled to exotic locations in search of material. At one point in the book, Lilius visits the pirates at Bias Bay and meets the pirate queen, Lai Choi San who seems to be a good prototype for pirate queen Lo Lar.

Seabury Grandin Quinn – author of the Jules De Grandin stories.

The story climax involving the giant Pacific octopus is exciting but not without precedent.  There is a Jules de Grandin’s story, “The Isle of Lost Ships” which also features an octopus.  This first appeared in the February 1926 issue of Weird Tales.

  • In both stories there is a balcony overlooking the creature’s lair.
  • In de Grandin’s story, victims are thrown off the balcony into the water.  In “The Feathered Octopus” the victims are chained to a stake at the water’s edge.  The balcony figures prominently in the Doc Savage story when Hi Lar and Doc fall from it into the pool while fighting.
  • The island is located in the same general location in both stories.
  • Both stories involve pirates and both Lo Lar and de Grandin’s villain descend from a pirate lineage

There is also a Peter the Brazen story titled “The Octopus of Hong Kong” by Brett Loring.  This story was published in the March 31, 1934, issue of Argosy.  The female villain, Lotus Burma, is known for feeding her enemies to her pet giant octopus.  She is part of a criminal empire with her half-brother, Hassan Barbarossa, who is the ruler of a piratical dynasty.  It is reported that Argosy was Lester Dent’s favorite magazine.  This story may have provided the germ for “The Feathered Octopus” but Jules de Grandin’s earlier story shares more similarities.

Speaking of octopuses, the cover of “The Feathered Octopus” features Doc Savage in a dramatic underwater battle.  This cover was modified and reused for issue eight of the Street & Smith Doc Savage comic book.

There is another mystery with this story.  Jumping ahead six months, we find that a close examination of the cover for the March 1938 edition of “The Devil on the Moon” raises some interesting questions. This cover features Doc Savage and a woman who is likely Pat Savage administering a hypodermic shot. The subject is an exotically dressed woman who appears to be of Eurasian extraction.

There is a female character who matches the cover description. The female character on the cover is very reminiscent of the stunningly beautiful Lo Lar in “The Feathered Octopus.” Lo Lar is described in that story as being a breath-taking beauty of Eurasian extraction. The woman depicted on the cover of “Devil on the Moon” fits the description of Lo Lar. She certainly does not match any character depicted in that issue’s story.

Truth serum is used profusely in both stories. However, there are only two female characters in “Devil on the Moon” and the serum is not used on either one of them. Notably, Lo Lar turns out to have a strong resistance to the truth serum used by Doc Savage. It does not work even after they doubled the concentration.

On the surface, it appears that Street & Smith ended up with two covers for the same story. How this happened is a mystery. There may be another explanation for this situation. There may have been a misunderstanding by the artist with an “octopus” cover and a “truth serum” cover and a mixing of the two stories. Strange things happen all the time in business. We don’t know the reason why, but it is apparent the cover for “Devil on the Moon” does not match the story.