1940-07 The Flying Goblin

Cover Date: July 1940
Volume 15 # 5
Copyright Date: Friday, June 21, 1940
Author: William G. Bogart
Editor: John Nanovic
Story Length: 35,252 words
WHMC: There are no materials for this story.
Recurring Characters. The entire Iron Crew are all present in this story.

The Flying Goblin by Kenneth Robeson
The Black Arrow (Bill Barnes) by George L. Eaton
Troller Twins by Norman A. Daniels
Editor’s Page
Letters From Readers
Doc Savage Club

This story was submitted in December 1939. That is three months after World War II began. It was published in the July 1940 issue of Doc Savage Magazine which appeared on the newsstands on June 21, 1940. The story features Doc and his crew traveling across France to Switzerland. By the time this story hit the stands, the Battle of France was nearly over with Germany taking control of most of France. The facts make the European portion of the story ludicrous. This could have all been avoided by a simple rewrite changing the locale to South America.

June 23, 1940

Beginning with the July 1940 issue, fans are subjected to five ghosted stories in a row. This “reign of terror” is only broken by Dent’s story titled “The Men Vanished” even though it is not one of his best. The gadget in this story first appeared in “The King Maker.”

The Crime College: The most remarkable thing about this story is the appearance of failed crime college graduate Birmingham Jones. Considerable speculation has arisen concerning the final disposition of Mr. Jones. My personal opinion is that Doc Savage simply turned him over to the authorities where he was tried, convicted, and executed for the murders committed in this story.

The story starts out with a nod to “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” by Washington Irving. The Doc Savage story uses Sleepy Hollow, a village on the Hudson River some thirty-odd miles north of New York City as the place where the flying goblin is first sighted.

“The Flying Goblin” gives readers a glimpse of the crime college. It is no longer so remote that an unknown car cannot simply drive up to the gate. The story begins with the escape of one of the patients.
Birmingham Jones turns out to be an odd patient. His hobby, it appears, is killing people. He is a particularly bloodthirsty individual. He is also the first person to flunk out of the Crime College. Birmingham Jones’ therapy is unsuccessful because of certain head injuries he had received earlier in his criminal career. I guess he has a mental short circuit of sorts that blocks any kind of medical treatment.

For a story with a Crime College graduate taking center stage “The Flying Goblin” is pretty flat. Birmingham Jones, who has the potential to be the most interesting character in the story, has a limited appearance. One of the more debatable items in the book is the ultimate fate of Mr. Jones. Near the end of the story Doc explains that Birmingham Jones will not return to the Crime College.

“All understood what the bronze man meant.”

The last sentence is the kicker. Just what did the man of bronze mean? Was Doc going to euthanize him? Was Birmingham Jones going to get an express ticket to hell courtesy of Doc Savage? This may appear to be a complex problem but, in my opinion, it has a simple answer. Birmingham Jones had committed two murders on the high seas. There was a witness to this crime.

At the time of the novel, murder was punishable by death in practically every major country in the world. I feel confident that Doc Savage simply let the legal authorities handle the situation. It should also be noted, at least in the US criminal justice system, that executions followed close behind convictions during this era.

The history behind Birmingham’s Jones “enrollment” in the Crime College is also another untold adventure.

The mysterious goblin in this story is a remotely controlled rocket. This concept was first used in “The King Maker” with a heat-seeking missile which appeared in the June 1934 issue of Doc Savage Magazine. This version of the device is enormously powerful. At one point, after a cellulose plant was targeted, the Black Tom explosions of 1916 are mentioned. This was an incident that occurred on July 30, 1916 when German saboteurs detonated approximately 2,000,000 million pounds of ammunition that were in rail cars and barges at Black Tom Island just offshore from Jersey City. Debris from the explosion fell over one mile away. Deaths were minimal with four reported killed. Property loss exceeded $20,000,000.

July 31, 1916

The ocean liner Sea Queen goes missing. Doc Savage uses radio direction finding to locate liner.

“The S O S signals from the Sea Queen came from that point,” he said. “And that circle indicates a small island two hundred miles off the coast of France, in the Atlantic.”

It would have been more logical if Bogart had chosen a small unnamed island near the Azores. That would have put the liner some 1,200 miles away from France. Apparently, William Bogart did not have access to a world atlas.

The Sea Queen is described as the “greatest liner afloat.” In reality, this distinction would go to the S. S. Normandie, a French passenger ship that entered service in 1935. The Normandie was docked in New York when World War II began and was interned for the duration. For several months, the three largest passenger liners, NormandieQueen Mary, and Queen Elizabeth, were docked one beside the other:

The manuscript collection at the University of Columbia in Missouri has nothing on this story. That indicates to me it is a product of William G. Bogart with little to no tinkering by Lester Dent. And brother, does it show! The next story in the series in “Tunnel Terror” by Bogart.