Writings In Bronze by Will Murray (2011, Altus Press)
Since the early 1970’s Will Murray has been writing about Doc Savage. I can’t imagine another person, save the late Phillip Jose Farmer, who has done as much research into the legendary Man of Bronze. Murray has authored new Doc Savage books and even been responsible for getting an unpublished Doc into book form. But, until now, most of his writings have been hard to find, as they were done for small and specialized publishers.
For those unfamiliar with the subject matter, Doc Savage was a pulp hero with his own magazine from 1933-1949. Each magazine (monthly, but the publishers did go to bi-monthly for awhile) contained a novel length adventure of Doc and his five aides. Doc battled evil geniuses, found lost cities, and helped those who needed it. Starting in 1964, Bantam Books began republishing the adventures in paperback form. This continued until 1991. Over the past few years, the original texts of the books have begun appearing issued by Nostalgia Ventures.
This year Altus Press released a compendium of Will’s writings on Doc Savage. Titled Writings in Bronze, it features Will Murray on the cover in a very “Doc” pose. The entire book is designed to look like a Doc Savage Bantam reprint from the 1960’s. There’s even a series number up in the right hand corner. I heard Murray interviewed last year on The Book Cave podcast and he described this collection as a “bedside book”; something to read a bit a time. Too bad James Bama, who did the most impressive of the Bantam Doc Savage covers, didn’t do a cover illustration.
Clocking in at 435 pages, there’s more information on the history of Doc Savage than most Doc fans even knew existed. From Murray’s earliest fanzine writings to his latest commentaries on the facsimile reprints of Doc Savage magazine, this is a very inclusive book and a must-have for any fans of bronze. There’s even a copy of his 1979 college thesis, “Doc Savage: The Genesis of a Popular Hero”.
In the 1970’s, Murray was give access to the files of Lester Dent, the author of the vast majority of Doc Savage novels. He’s used this privilege to figure out the identities of all the other writers working under the Street and Smith house name of “Kenneth Robeson”. He digs even further in “The Duende Doc Savage Index” to list a chart showing who wrote each adventure, the date it was submitted and the actual publication date. He even examines the papers of Lester Dent on file at the University of Missouri to see what passages were omitted by the magazine’s copy editors.
The level of detail in these writings can best be summed up by “Doc Savage and the Lost Valley of Eternity”. In this article, Murray analyzes a pre-Doc Savage outline for a book by Lester Dent. The novel, which was pitched as a serial for a pulp magazine, contains some eerily similar plot devices later use in the first Doc Savage novel, The Man of Bronze. But what puts Murray above and beyond the typical researcher is his analysis of Lester Dent’s mood based on the level of type. Murray comes to the conclusion that Dent composed the outline over three different stages, perhaps due to personal issues.
Other surprises await the dedicated reader. Such as the revelation that Dent made “Ham” Brooks, a lawyer and one of Doc’s sidekicks the brunt of a lot of jokes because he hated lawyers. Much has also been made as to how the creation of Doc Savage was a group effort between the editors of Street and Smith, but Murray feels the most of the genesis came from the fertile mind of Lester Dent, who, growing up on an isolated ranch, was forced to use his own imagination for entertainment.
“Remember the Doc Savage Movie Disaster?” from 1992, takes on the bomb which was Doc Savage:The Archenemy of Evil. A movie which died a quick death at the box-office in 1975 is still remembered and hated by a legion of Doc Savage fans. I remember the frustration in actually trying to see the thing. It was scheduled and advertised in my home town, but never played the summer of it’s release. And well do I remember staring at the coming attractions poster at the Belmont Auto Theater for Doc paired with The Last Days of Man on Earth (Doc and Jerry Cornelius: now there’s a match made in fictional heaven). I even tried to see it at another Drive-In the following November, but was snowed-out. Murray has some rare and kind words for the film, but admits that no amount of editing could have saved it.
My one complaint about the book is a lack of history of the various fanzines which spread the word of Doc. The articles are attributed to “The Bronze Gazette”, “The Doc Savage Reader”, “Doc Savage Quest”, etc.but there is little information on who published them or how long they were in print. As a former fanzine editor, I’ve always been intrigued by the people who kept the flame burning in those dark days of spirit duplicators and mimeographs.
Writings in Bronze will be the book to consult in the years to come when anyone desires knowledge of Doc Savage or his creators. It stands next to Phillip Jose Farmer’s Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life as a look into the world of depression pulp hero. Highly recommended.