Doc Savage

If he’s so damn smart, why does he need those flunkies?
All they do is get captured and require rescue, anyway.

Anyone hear that little trilling noise?

Doc is a man without a childhood. He keeps the boys around to recreate the experiences of boyhood that he never was able to experience - the bickering of Ham and Monk, and so forth - and to assuage his subconscious fears of inferiority by demonstrating, again and again, that he is smarter than they are, and that therefore he is not a failure.

He is recreating his family of origin. He cannot express himself emotionally towards even his friends (let alone act on his incestuous feelings towards his cousin, Pat), in the same way that his father rejected him in favor of an idealized version of the perfect son. Doc sets impossible goals for his son surrogates just as his father did for him.

Add to that the repressed homo-erotic dynamics of the six of them, none of whom are able to form or maintain stable relations with women, and you see that they need each other to feed off their maladjustments.

The trilling noise is a masturbation substitute. Doc only does it when he is under stress.


PS - Ted White wrote a Captain America novelization called “The Great Gold Steal”. Monk appears in that as a bad guy.


I have book number two, but am holding off reading it until i pick up number one.

What explains the change in Doc by “The Hate Genius”?
What’s your favorite Doc disguise? I like the alligator suit.

Those are some insightful observations there, perhaps carried a bit too far but basically sound.
(I don`t see any obvious signs of incestous feelings for Pat, she was a pest wanting to tag along with him and his pals.)

On a practical note, the five aides and Pat helped as assistants, carrying out assignments, and were also people he could trust completely (hard to find). But basically they were a surrogate family he gathered around himself.
He also kept in touch with many of the experts who had raised, seeming to see them as uncle figures.

Doc suffered a serious skull fracture in THE DERELICT OF SKULL SHOAL, which nearly killed him and left him a lesser man for years. He lost many of his skills and much of his knowledge, and he began slacking off on his daily two hour exercises.
In the WW II books, even before this injury, a decade of violent and horrifying adventures had definitely started to wear him out.

Reviews of all the Doc Savage books, with comments and speculation (such as Doc being half Mayan) can be found on my website by clicking on the icon below.

I think the whole subject of brain damage is under-studied. Philip Jose Farmer kept track of the number of times Monk was knocked out in the series, and it is a wonder he can walk, let alone maintain a career as a chemist and crime-fighter.

The same could be said about Tarzan, who was constantly being knocked out by grazing gunshots to the skull.

I have not read the entire Doc Savage series, so I couldn’t speculate about “The Hate Genius”. My favorite moment in the books I have read is where Doc knocks out a man-eating shark with his fist, thus causing a religious conversion in the criminal the shark was about to eat.

Tars Tarkas - it doesn’t really matter what order you read the books in. The first one sets up some of the psycho-dynamics of the Doc Savage situation, as well as explaining where he gets his money and why he speaks to his associates in Mayan when he wants to keep their conversation secret (shades of the Navajo code-talkers of WWII), but most of them are the same.

I am definitely off to the doc hermes home page to read the reviews. I also recommend Philip Jose Farmer’s double Ace novel of Doc Savage on one side, and Tarzan on the other, named (respectively) “The Bronze Devil”, and “Lord of the Trees”, where PJF says that Doc sold out to a secret conspiracy of immortal Stone-age bad guys in return for their immortality formula. So did Tarzan, who also mentions in passing that the whole episode where inherent nobility keeps Tarzan from eating the flesh of the native who killed his mother, Kala, was made up by Edgar Rice Burroughs, and that Tarzan never had any compunction against cannibalism.

An alligator costume? Must have been a big alligator. I was always surprised by “Kenneth Robeson” mentioning what a giant Doc was, although he mentions Doc’s real height and weight in the first book. He must have grown later.

I wish we could have heard more about Doc’s associates. We never learn much about most of them. Once you figure out Renny pounds his fists thru doors, that pretty much sums up his character. Monk is a little bit more fleshed out, but the rest are pretty one-dimensional. Do any of the books tell us anything more about any of the others? Ham Brooks was a Harvard Law School graduate, and a brigadier general in WWI, but that is pretty much it.


In “Whatis of the Spider” the simple minded Cajun minons of the Spider and indeed his Aides (who think Doc dead) are fooled by Doc crawling about in an alligator costume.
BTW, “Big Arkie” was a 12’ feature of the Little Rock zoo for many years. He washed up in a flood from Louisiana. To my knowledge, no one checked to see if Arkie was a costume occupied by a man of bronze.

Shodan–You mean “The Mad Goblin”, not “The Bronze Devil.” Of course, if you really want your mind blown, read “A Feast Unknown” which, shall we say, takes a very unusuall view of the private lives of Tarzan and Doc.

Speaking of Farmer, he also points out that, while Doc is incredibly well learned in almost every field, his associates are specialists in theirs. For example, Johnny is the foremost expert in archeology; Doc trusts Johnny to know more details about this field than himself. Ditto with Monk and chemistry, Rennie and engineering, Ham and law, and Long Tom and electricity.

Doc’s height was variable. At different times he was said to be anywhere from 6’3" to 6’11". Farmer posits that, thanks to yoga training, Doc had incredible control over his muscles, and could expand and contract his spine at will. He was probably around 6’6". Generally, people didn’t notice how tall he was, because he was so well proportioned. It was only when he stood next to you that you realized what a big guy he was.

I began looking for that, and they seem more like yes men to me; like Kirk and Spock, the actors having to share credit.
“They’re aigs, aren’t they?”
“Yes, Captain, eggs”.

At best they explain things for the reader when Doc is busy wearing an alligator suit.

Yes, of course, “Mad Goblin”, not “Bronze Devil”. I actually got the volume off my book shelf and realized my mistake.

Doesn’t Dent say in the first novel that Doc is 6 feet tall and 200 lbs.? A fairly big fellow, especially since it is athletic, but not much bigger than me.

In “The Spook Legion”, Doc disguises himself as a boxer, and Dent says it is the way that he holds himself that makes him appear smaller than his real size. I always thought that if I were a bad guy, and wanted to avoid Doc in disguise, anyone over six foot was dead meat, but that would eliminate lots of villains in the rest of the books.

For the record, my favorite of the novels I have read is “Fear Cay”. I always wanted to locate a reliable source of sylphium tea. I am surprised Dent never identified that as the reason Doc could keep going for decades.

Sort of like the immortality formula Tarzan discovered, so that he and Jane and Nkima could be on active service in WWI and WWII.


Any word about the novels being re-issued?

There seems to be almost no chance of the books being reprinted in the near future. Recently there was talk of a Doc Savage film with Arnold Schwarzeneggar but that (perhaps fortunately) has failed to materialized.

Conde Nast, which holds the copyright to the old Street & Smith pulps, has shown absolutely no interest in arranging for reprints even though publishing houses have been trying to arrange this. A lot of discussion among fans considers things like payments to writer`s estates and various corporate deals preventing any progress being made, but no one seems to know for sure.

As for the five aides, they may have been overshadowed in Doc`s presence, but each was an acknowledged expert in a demanding field and they drew enormous fees when working…enough to allow them to wander all over the world when their bronze hero called.

I’m probably not telling y’all anything you don’t already know, but there was a Doc Savage movie back in the '70s, starring Ron Ely, who also played Tarzan on TV.
There also was a Marvel comic book series in the '70s-'80’s. I never followed it or the novels you write of, so I never found out how he became the Man of Bronze. Was he born that way?

Read you on the newsgroup, dr hermes.
Was the hit-on-the-head thing an explanation you guys came up with or an “official” one? Was the change “really” writer styles, or a publisher decision, like the Hardy Boys no longer carrying fireamrs?

Doc`s lessening of stature was (in real world terms) an editorial and publishing decision that the writers were mandated to carry out. The main author, Lester Dent, who essentially had developed the characters from an editorial proposal, had been showing signs of toning down the superman aspects anyway. (He was aching to restore the wild gadgets, though, which Dent himself loved coming up with.)

The idea that the skull fracture (read the book and youll see that Doc himself expected to die) reduced the bronze mans abilities and knowledge seemed evident after reading the books in close succession. Im sure this has occurred to other fans, its not my original insight. I do think that at the same time, Doc began to skip his workouts. He never quite regained what he had lost.

Doc Savage was raised by teams of experts from all over the world to be an expert in every possible discipline. From infancy, he went through a rigorous two hour exercise set daily, making him what he was. This was his father`s project, to create a modern Galahad, to fight crime and help humanity. Clark Savage Jr was almost a scientific experiment and we should be glad he turned out the way he did...if he had become bitter or aggressive, not much could have stopped him from becoming the worst villain in fiction.

“If he’s so damn smart, why does he need those flunkies?
All they do is get captured and require rescue, anyway.”
For the first 30 or so novels, carnivorousplant, Doc’s aides often had tasks to do with the adventure at hand. For example, in “The Czar of Fear” (1933), Monk & Renny used their military training to rally the people against the Green Bells and the ouside agitators, Long Tom used his electrical engineering skills to track down the Green Bell’s underground radio station, Johnny looked for the Green Bell’s underground base, and Ham tried to squash murder charges against Doc. However, it seemed that in many of the 1930’s novels, the aides served purely as comic relief and captives. However, in the (much better, IMO) WW2 and postwar novels, his aides played much more prominent roles and were quite competent in their own right. Docl couldn’t have rescued Winston Churchill in “The Lost Giant” without Monk and Ham’s help. Johnny does a very credible job of tracking down Jonas Sown in “The Screaming Man” while anyone who doubts Long Tom’s competence should read “Terror Wears no Shoes.” Check out “Measures for a Coffin” in which the focus is on Monk and Ham as they track down a diabolical gang that has kidnapped Doc.

I basically agree with Dr. hermes; he kept his aides around because you need people you can trust when you’re going up a mad genius with a private, well-equipped army.

I must disagree that they were mere yesmen. If Monk disobeyed Doc’s injunctions against killing once, he did it 20 times in the novels. Ham and Long Tom try to trick Doc in “The Pharoah’s Ghost.” Renny blatantly disobeyed Doc in “The Pure Evil” by deliberating killing a bad guy. Ham warns Doc in “The Talking Devil” that’s he making a big mistake (and Doc came to agree with Ham). Ham and Monk were resentful in several adventures against Doc’s admonitions to pay less attention to babes and more to circumstances lest they find their heads blown off.
I would say his aides agreed with Doc so much because events proved that he was rarely wrong.

Shodan: I disagree with your analysis. As was stated several times in the WW2 novels, love of excitement was the glue that held six very unusual men together. I think it’s in “The Ten Ton Snakes” that Renny muses that none of the six have many living relatives or close friends outside the other six.
I don’t think it’s that they were incapable of forming stable relationships with women, but that they loved excitement much more than sex and romance. After all, Monk was capable of getting engaged to Princess Amen-Amen and Ham was capable of a serious engagement in “The Purple Dragon.” Long Tom fell in love several times (“The Green Octopus” and “The Green Eagle”). Johnny seems to have gotten along well with women. I would say Renny is the closest thing to a misogynist, but even he fell for a couple of the babes.
“He cannot express himself emotionally towards even his friends.” Bullshit. Read “The Polar Treasure” or “Peril in the North” or “Whiskers of Hercules.” I would also remind you the novels were written in the '30’s and '40’s when ALL men, not just superheroes, were expected to be stoics.

Also, the pulps do eventually reveal quite a lot about the aides and their backgrounds, but it is in dribbles spread out over the last 100 or so novels. As Farmer maintained, you do get a complete, 3-D psychological profile of all the major characters, but only after reading all 182 books. (For example, you learn that Johnny began using big words as a way to draw attention to himself and then they became his secret addiction.

dr. hermes: I play to check out your web site, but must go to work now as duty calls in a shrill, unpleasant voice. However, I reread “The Derelict of Skull Shoal” last year and I don’t recall that skull fracture being that bad. I must reread it again. BTW, I thought Derelict had one of the most suspenseful openings of any Doc Savage novel, but it’s a pity Dent couldn’t sustain it.

Hi, Peyote Coyote -

Consider the most frequently applied description of Clark Savage, Jr. - “bronze”. Not “golden”, but “bronze”.

It seems pretty obvious to me that this is a clear identification by Doc with the Olympic bronze medal - not the first place finish, but the third - as high as you can go to be distinguished, but still not first or almost-first.

If that isn’t a subconsciously repressed inferiority complex, I don’t know what is.

Add to that his refusal to carry a gun. Guns are common phallic symbols, and Doc symbolically castrates himself by refusing to carry them. Why? Because he does not want to “rely on them”. He does not trust his stunted sexual feelings, and his father has inculcated so deeply a distrust of those feelings that he has to excise them.

And the guns that his son surrogate/helpers carry do not fire normal bullets. They are “mercy” bullets - as close to “shooting blanks” as Doc’s twisted Freudian feelings will allow. And those bullets put people to sleep - another blatant reference to sexual failure.

Doc is refusing his son surrogates the sexual fulfillment denied to him by his father. This is why Ham and Monk, who have a long-running feud with each other, are the closest to Doc. It is those two who he allows to express his subconscious resentment against his father, as far as his over-developed conscience will allow. By rescuing them, he is symbolically attempting to reforge his relationship with his father, who abandoned him by dying, and attempting to recreate a situation where he could express his feelings to his father.

It’s pretty clear that Doc is a rather unhappy and poorly adjusted individual. It is fortunate that his life situation allows him to act out the purging of his negative feelings, or they could turn inward to alcohol or drugs, or compulsive sexual acting out.


Hmmm…and what about this heavy reliance upon disguise?
Has that anything to do with his frequent disappearances, letting his minions believe him to be dead?

No, I dont think these speculations are feasible, although they are interesting. Doc is described as bronze rather than golden because his skin LOOKS bronze, not golden. Theyre not the same. And he never refers to himself that way, it`s the newspapers and the underworld who call him that. (His bronze skin is explained as being the permanent result of tropical exposure, but more likely he was half Mayan…which would explain why those people entrusted him with unlimited gold.)

As for the dislike of guns and providing mercy anesthetic bullets to his crew, the man IS a doctor. He`s a surgeon with a Hippocratic oath. In the first few stories, he did indeed lose his temper when his father and favorite teacher had been killed and he went on a rampage that left bodies all over the place. But shortly afterwards, he resolved never to take human life unless absolutely necessary to save innocents.

(Guns also would have made things too easy to suit him. He loved elaborate ruses and bizarre gadgets he invented himself, just to give himself more of a challenge. If he carried a pair of .45s like the Shadow, his adventures would have been over in about twenty minutes.)
Docs most commonly used weapon was a harmless anesthetic gas he carried in small glass spheres. It lost its potency one minute after exposure to the air, so all he had to do was hold his breath while the thugs keeled over. If a doctor had to fight armed criminals, doesnt this seem like the most ethical approach?

Not that Doc didnt have a dark side. One of the scariest concepts in pulp fiction was his Crime College. Crooks he captured were taken to a secret institution in upstate New York, where he performed involuntary brain surgery on his prisoners. He removed their memories, re-educated them with useful skills and false identities and often had them working for him. It must have given the five aides the creeps to have guys on the payroll who had been trying to kill them not long ago but the graduates werent aware of it.
The whole idea is unsettling.