Will Murray has been writing about Doc Savage a long time.
As revealed in WRITINGS IN BRONZE, he wrote his doctoral dissertation on the creation of Doc Savage (involving writer Lester Dent and his editors at Street and Smith). He then wrote for five zillion fanzines before taking up the series with Python Isle. Writings collects his nonfiction about Doc, and it’s impressive. Though not for the casual reader: if you don’t care about some of the revisions Bantam books made between pulp and paperback reprints, or the careers of the various ghostwriters Dent employed over the years, this won’t be much of interest.
The articles are a mix of behind-the-scenes information and speculation and analysis of the stories themselves. In the latter category we have the question of whether Doc’s mother supported her son’s extensive childhood training (Murray concludes yes), the history of the Helldiver submarine, Monk’s pretty secretary (a semiregular character who vanished after Pat became the semiregular female on the team) and Doc’s relationship with Princess Monja.
The behind the scenes stuff is more interesting to me. This includes a look at the changes between Dent’s drafts and the published novels (Three Devils lost several pages so Doc and Monk end up talking about a murder that never happened), the changes in format over the years, the order in which Dent wrote the books, the popularity of Mesoamerican Lost Cities in pulp fiction and the shifts in style as the pulp market died and new editors took over. He also looks into various never-published stories, such as Dent’s outline for Python Isle (rejected on the grounds readers hated snake stories), on which Murray based his story. And there’s trivia, such as a threat by Murray Leinster’s publisher to sue over Man Who Shook The Earth ripping off Leinster’s Earth Shaker (Leinster’s letter on the subject says no, he doesn’t think so).
Murray answers a couple of questions of mine, such as why Brand of the Werewolf doesn’t have any sort of fake werewolf, just a werewolf logo for the crooks. Answer: Dent entitled it Crew of Skeletons, the editor changed it.
Another question is why after Pearl Harbor we got novels that ignored the war until Doc started trying to enlist late in 1942. To keep up with his demanding monthly novel writing, Dent worked much further ahead than I realized. The first few adventures of 1942 were stories written pre-Pearl Harbor.
Being written over several decades, the collected articles have their faults. In one, Murray concludes Street and Smith moving away from the classic pulp style was smart; in another he thinks it was foolish. In fairness, you could probably get as many inconsistencies out of my blog posts over the past decade.
And it would have been nice to have an index, for when I want to look up specific details.
The book also makes me think about how we define canon. Murray suggests the logical chronology for the adventures is the order Dent (and his ghost writers) wrote them. That makes sense, certainly more than Philip José Farmer’s (Farmer excludes World’s Fair Goblin on the grounds that Doc, being a real person in Farmer’s mythos, couldn’t have had an adventure at the New York World’s Fair in the given timeframe). But given not everyone has access to that information, I’d argue the original publication order makes more sense as canon.
Regardless of quibbles, a very impressive job
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