1942-06 The Speaking Stone

Cover Date: June 1942
Volume 19 # 4
Copyright Date: Friday, May 15, 1942
Author: Lester Dent
Editor: John Nanovic

Cover by Emery Clarke 
WHMC: There are seven folders available in the collection, f. 749-755.

The Speaking Stone by Kenneth Robeson
The Spy Master by George L. Eaton

Doc Savage Club
Letters from Readers

Shangri-La of the Andes

The year 1933 was a landmark one for fans of the Doc Savage series.  “The Man of Bronze” debuted with the March issue of Doc Savage Magazine.  Another important story was also published that same year.  It was “Lost Horizon” by James Hilton.  Many readers of the man of bronze may be surprised to find that this famous tale also has a connection to the amazing exploits of Doc Savage and his extraordinary band of adventurers.

Hilton’s tale hinges upon a secret valley deep in the Himalayan Mountains.  The story’s protagonist is a young Englishman named Hugh Conway who is the Queen’s Consul in Baskul.  Due to a revolution, Conway and three other persons are being evacuated to safety in a small airplane.  In short order a mysterious pilot hijacks their craft at gunpoint and heads into the rocky crags of the Himalayas with his four prisoners.

After an arduous journey, the four companions arrive at the lost valley of Shangri-La.  Conway finds himself strangely at peace within the stony fortress.   To simplify a long story, the place is revealed to be a secret community of scholars.  It is like a small private college exclusively populated by the best teachers and brightest students.  Conway, along with his three fellow travelers, has been drafted into this elite society.

Doc Savage has his headquarters on the eighty-sixth floor of a large skyscraper in New York City.  The room’s completeness of two things – the scientific laboratory within and the enormous library of books always impress visitors to this eagle’s nest.  It is an impressive place, but it is surpassed by the facilities of another location.  Readers of the Doc Savage series are aware of the existence of a remote sanctuary utilized by Clark Savage as a place of refuge and research.  Hidden in the frozen wastes of the arctic, it is his fortress of solitude.  It is the place where Doc isolates himself to better facilitate scholarly research and experimentation without distraction.

Like Doc Savage’s eighty-sixth floor headquarters, the monastery of Shangri-La sits high above the valley it protects.  It could be said that Shangri-La is the fortress of solitude for civilization.  It serves as a sanctuary whereby the light of learning might survive the warfare and destruction wrought by men in the outer world.  This begs the question of whether Doc Savage author Lester Dent got the idea for a hidden retreat from Hilton’s tale.  That seems unlikely as the fortress is first mentioned in the second story, “The Land of Terror” (April 1933).  “Lost Horizon” was published several months later.

Hilton won the Hawthornden Prize for the story, which became an immediate commercial success.  The writer came to America in 1935 to assist with the screen version of the story, which was directed by Frank Capra.  The movie was released in 1937.

So what does all this have to do with Doc Savage aside from the parallels with the fortress of solitude?  Let us move forward to June 1942 and a Doc Savage story titled “The Speaking Stone.”  In this adventure, Doc is summoned to South America to aid the secret Arriban civilization that has been hidden in the high Andes for centuries.

The order of events is different than that in Hilton’s story but are essentially the same and easily recognizable.  In other instances, Dent has turned events on their heads to be the exact opposite. In both stories a utopian civilization is hidden high in the mountains and is unknown to the outside world. A messenger seeks Doc Savage out on a small Pacific island but before he can communicate with him he dies.  Similarly, in “Lost Horizon,” the pilot who brings Conway’s group to Shangri-La dies shortly after they crash-land near the hidden valley.

Long-term residents of both Shangri-La and Arriba die if away from the sanctuary for any real length of time.  The residents of Shangri-La enjoy extreme old age, but if they leave the protection of the valley their body soon ages to its actual age followed by death.  Death for any Arriban who remains long at lower altitudes is due to a peculiar altitude sickness caused from living at extreme altitude and brought on by the increased air pressure of the lower regions. Unlike most traditional lost civilizations that are isolated and closed to the outside, these two retreats engage in secret trade with the outer world and recruit new citizens from it.

The material treasure of Shangri-La is the gold deposit in the valley, which incidentally provides the financial means to purchase goods from the outside world.  Yet their real treasure is the reservoir of esoteric knowledge they possess.  Similarly, the Arribans possess a treasure based on esoteric knowledge.  But their secrets are of a more practical nature as they have a technologically advanced civilization.  They actually wish to use their technology to pay for outside goods.

Residents of both cultures enjoy a healthy life to advance ages.  Dent plays a little trick on his readers when Doc Savage first meets the queen who is described as being very aged — as if she were two hundred years old.  During a melee, Doc meets the queen’s young daughter and mistakenly wonders if the ancient queen has suddenly grown young.  This is a twist on “Lost Horizon” whereby the residents go from youth to advanced age, in particular, the beautiful Lo-Tsen who transforms from a youthful princess to the full realization of her seven decades after leaving the valley. In both stories, the outsiders travel by plane but end up crashing short of the destination causing the passengers to endure the fierce winds and bitter cold of the mountains.

Dent has a little more fun with a play on words.  The ruler of Shangri-La is the High Lama.  Dent uses the term with the introduction of llamas used as beasts of burden throughout the Andes.

Dent uses Terrence Wire to play the part of Hugh Conway.  In “Lost Horizon,” Conway leaves from the valley in a rash act.  He later regrets his actions and seeks to return to the hidden paradise of Shangri-La.  Terrence Wire also wishes to go and live in the hidden city of the Arribans and become one of them himself.

The ruler of Arriba is referred to as the Queen Mother of Wisdom.  This is exactly the commodity Father Perrault seeks to preserve in the remoteness of Shangri-La.   Here we shall stay with our books and our music and our meditations, conserving the frail elegancies of a dying age, and seeking such wisdom as men will need when their passions are all spent.  Doc Savage comments on the Arribians: The most intriguing thing of all, the bronze man explained, was the mental attitude, the philosophy of life, which they had managed to mold by so many years of isolated, and rigorously guided, life.

The Tibetans name the high mountain overlooking the lost valley Karakal.  The name means blue moon.  The key clue in Dent’s story is a small blue stone.  This is Dent’s “blue moon.”

In both stories, the sun is the key to success.  The valley of Shangri-La is geographically oriented in such a way as to maximize the warming rays captured from the sun.  Similarly, Arriba employs a sophisticated system of solar heating to make life possible on their high mountain redoubt.

Hilton describes Shangri-La as a beautiful place both in vision and smell.  Tuberose is prized for its attractive and aromatic white blossoms and grows on the lowlands in the mountain valley.  Conway enjoys the delightful odor as it rises up to the heights upon which the monastery resides.  Dent tips his hat to the tuberose in his own story: roses are cultivated by the Arribans in their greenhouses.

It seems clear enough that Dent based “The Speaking Stone” on the events in “Lost Horizon.”  Dent was not simply adapting another writer’s story into a Doc Savage adventure.  Dent was paying homage to “Lost Horizo”n and made it plain this was indeed the story to which he was making slanting references.  If there were any doubt of the basis upon which “The Speaking Stone” was based, it is dashed by Dent’s use of roses to mimic the tuberose of Shangri-La.  The rose scent is emphasized by the way in which the villains use the aroma of roses to mask the odor of poison gas.