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The Mystery of the Lost Doc Savage Novel

The possibility of a lost Doc Savage novel is a tantalizing one. Yet it is a real one.

In a December 1948 letter to Daisy Bacon, the final editor of the DOC SAVAGE magazine, Lester Dent wrote that rather than writing an outline or complete novel and then having to go back and revise it according to Bacon’s instructions–as he had done with both The Green Master and Return From Cormoral–he would instead suggest plot ideas to her, and then work on them based on their discussion.

Dent’s relationship with Bacon, seems to have been a troubled one. Although Bacon wanted a return to the pre-war Doc Savage, she frequently asked Dent to re-work his plots; Return From Cormoral, for example, was written from Dent’s revised second outline–essentially a third outline–for the story.

Dent starts off the letter “I was well into the outline for the Doc”, which Bacon had agreed he start in her letter of late November, when he decided he “should put the outline aside” to pitch plot ideas to her. One was the idea for Up From Earth’s Center, which became the last novel published in the magazine.
Return From Cormoral and Up From Earth’s Center are the final two published Doc Savage stories. So what was the outline Dent set aside?

A March 1949 letter by Dent to Bacon probably holds the answer. In it, he relates the idea that Will Murray would later turn into The Frightened Fish, so Up From Earth’s Center had been completed and Dent was thinking about the next issue; it had been nearly three months since Bacon had given Dent the go-ahead for Up From Earth’s Center. Late in the letter, Dent states that a “submarine novelet” in a recent SATURDAY EVENING POST “murdered the plot [he] had prepared”.

That story was “Intercept at Dawn“, by Alec Hudson, and concerned the smuggling of an atom bomb into New York City on a freighter in the employ “of a certain nation”–the unnamed Soviet Union, the only country besides the U.S. that was suspected to have the bomb at that time. That nation intends to declare war on the U.S. at three p.m. on July 18, and detonate the bomb ten minutes later. The freighter is sunk in the north Atlantic, prior to its delivery, by an American sub and the bomb is detonated by the crew of the freighter to destroy the evidence of the plot.

Dent seems to have felt the plots similar enough to abandon his story. Ultimately, it was a moot point, for the last Doc Savage story had been published, though neither Bacon nor Dent knew it at the time.

How close to completion was Dent’s novel? We can’t be certain, since no copy of the outline or story is known to exist. Will Murray, an acknowledged Dent authority–possibly the pre-eminent one–says he has made an exhaustive search for it, and found nothing. This seems to suggest that the plot made it no further than the outline stage.

But consider that more than three months had passed since Dent first mentioned the outline, and only one novel, Up From Earth’s Center, had been written in that time. Dent routinely wrote a Doc Savage novel in two or three weeks. This left more than two months during which he could have been turning the outline into a novel. If Dent hadn’t worked on the plot since December, why was he so upset about the publication of the “submarine novelet”? He’d invested very little in the story, if that truly was the case. Obviously, he hadn’t given up on his story by that time.

Unfortunately, we will probably never know the answer to the mystery of the lost Doc Savage novel.

With thanks to the Western Historical Manuscript Collection at the University of Missouri-Columbia Continue Reading →

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The Ice Genius

“The most momentous discoveries are sometimes made by accident, so history tells us.
The navigator Christopher Columbus, considered a great man today, set out to discover a short cut to the East Indies, and stumbled upon the New World, hitherto-unknown.
It was an accident. Ignorance of the world’s spherical shape resulted in the great discovery. That Columbus died in abject poverty matters not a whit. The world changed forever because of him.”

Thus begins Will Murray’s The Ice Genius. In 1996, Murray wrote “Phantom Lagoon takes place circa 1939, as does The Ice Genius, which will feature the return of a major Doc Savage foe. I haven’t placed them exactly in my Doc chronology, which is based on the order Dent wrote the novels as opposed to the Street & Smith publication order.”

If you have any information on this novel please write me at Continue Reading →

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The Phantom Lagoon

A wise man once observed that trouble has walked around in skirts since the beginning of things.
This particular wise man did not proclaim such a thing in so many words, but every man knows it to be true. Particularly seamen know this, just as they know to batten down their hatches and furl sail when the wind strengthens and becomes strange.

Will Murray, “Phantom Lagoon takes place circa 1939.” The working title of this novel was “Hell Cay”.

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The War Maker

Fiana Drost was the first one to discover the terrible black thing that could not be seen, touched, smelled or explained.
The thing was in fact not known to be black, but was only supposed to be black. Rather, a smothering impenetrable blackness was the predominent sensation of those who came into contact with the impossible darksome thing and lived to speak of it. Or perhaps it was after all black. No one could say–not even those who stared directly into the blackness and heard the beating of its leathery wings.
It was confusing to say the least.

From Will Murray’s introduction to the 1996 publication of the first four chapters of The War Maker:

“The War Maker is based on the unused portions of the outline to The Devil Genghis–which is most of it actually!– and falls neatly between Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis. It’s designed to tie up a lot of loose ends left dangling when those novels were spaced apart, defeating Dent’s plan to run them as consequtive adventures.”

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The Infernal Buddah

“The mad mystery of the Infernal Buddha, as it came to be called, started east of Singapore, which is a speck of an isle off the lowermost tip of Malaysia. It was a fitting day for a mystery to begin, there being a fog, which was highly unusual for that part of the South China Sea.”

The Metal Master was started, abandoned and then re-written from scratch.Will Murray took the notes of that novel to write The Infernal Buddah. Murray abandoned the novel after writing four chapters when Bantam dropped the series. Murray then published the those chapters on Larry Widen’s website until Bantam sent a cease-and-desist letter.

Murray wrote, “The Infernal Buddha is set in 1937, during the time of the Japanese occupation of Manchuria. It takes place after my The Whistling Wraith, which follows Lester Dent’s The Sea Angel. ”

This novel was also based in part on Davis’ first outline for Land of Fear.

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