Writings In Bronze by Will Murray (book review).

August 25, 2017 | By | Reply More

Will Murray is an expert on Doc Savage. I mean a real expert, having written many articles on the subject and his book, ‘Writings In Bronze’, features 50 of them, 5 new to this volume.

The opening article is also the biggest, exploring the man behind the publishing company pen-name Kenneth Robeson, Lester Dent. It was his contract that allowed him to select his own ghost-writers when he was getting bored although would rewrite or even just take the ideas for the rewrite. The many aspects of writing any Doc Savage tale was to have many ingenious escapes throughout so needed a particular kind of writer. Something I needed to be reminded of was what kind of man Les Dent was. Don’t imagine a timid author. Dent had some of the proportions of his famous character and an adventurer himself. Not altogether successful in the likes of searching undersea wrecks for treasure but not afraid to take the plunge and wise enough to stop when his ship nearly capsized in bad weather.

Much of Murray’s analysis is looking at the writing styles in the Doc Savage stories and identifying the ghosties as the records weren’t always complete, especially as publishers Street & Smith also recruited the odd ghostie themselves. With 181 books in its original run and a radio series, that’s a lot of material for one person and Dent wrote 165 of them. Totally engrossing as Murray tells more about these writers, the best description is from one of them saying ghosting was done to make some quick cash than for artistic merit. Then again, this was in the days of pulp fiction and often short deadlines. Dent’s own fee was $700 a book, of which a ghostie would get $500. Considering the rewrites, it must have been difficult for Murray to identify them but a lot of it was in describing Doc’s gold-flaked eyes and other odd details did make it easier.

You really do get a massive introduction of Doc Savage from this book, including a 182 book checklist. Doc’s history, as Murray, points it out shows he gets less invincible with age. It’s a shame really that Lester Dent never chose for Doc to have a relationship as the Savage legacy would die with him. Well, unless cousin Pat Savage married and had children.

If you want to see the distribution of Doc’s team over the stories, this is also available. I hadn’t realised that not all of them were with him on every adventure. A look at the potential loves that Doc steered away from also makes for interesting reading. After the death of his mother, it’s understandable that he has a fear of placing a woman in a place of jeopardy. In many respects, I blame his father for not ensuring his son had some proper social upbringing in his training as dealing with people of either sex would have had to come up in his adventures.

Lest we forget, as Doc Savage predates the super-heroes to come, the likes of Superman and Batman’s creators borrowed several of his ideas and this continues with other characters up to the 1960s where even teams like the Fantastic Four owe something to this template. Then again, said creators were brought up on the likes of Doc Savage and other pulp characters, so why should we be surprised?

There was only a hint of this when I reviewed ‘Pat Savage: Six Scarlet Scorpions’ last month and then reminded by Will Murray himself that he had access to Lester Dent’s notes and some disused plots which he has brought to life. Not that they weren’t usable but usually the whims or, occasionally, the nature of the plot, like using snakes, was turned down originally by the publishers. You can find these books at Altus Press and how they should fit into continuity here.

Later on in the book, discovering how the copy editors would take things out or even under instruction from the editors to ensure the stories only filled 175 pages will make you think how easy writers have it today but at least the pulps had copy editors.

I did wonder about Murray’s thoughts on the George Pal’s 1975 film ‘Doc Savage: The Man Of Bronze’ where he liked it more the second time around. After reading his ‘Pat Savage’ novel, I rewatched it myself. Oddly, the film still does work and although tongue-in-cheek, I didn’t find it disrespectful to the source. Of course, it has a little corn and questionable medical practices at the end but the setting was the 1930s and still held my attention.

A lot of Murray’s articles discuss the various ghost writers used on the Doc Savage novels, mostly selected by Lester Dent himself. In many respects it must feel like being part-detective and an annoying ache that sits in the back of the mind to be solved. It does make me wonder how many other pulp series had so many ghosties or does Doc’s hold the record? Murray raises one comparison that Walter B. Gibson had no help with ‘The Shadow’ pulp series.

I’m glad Murray raised Philip José Farmer and how well he got on with him. The little tit-bit that Farmer’s emphasis on background detail than story being the most insightful.

Murray raises an interesting question by examining Doc Savage’s wealth from the opening novel in that without it, he wouldn’t have been able to do his adventuring. Considering the influence Doc had on later super-heroes, it would explain why DC Comics had some of their significant characters already millionaires to short-cut that.

There’s a piece about Will Murray himself including an interview. He’s definitely one of us, especially if you’re of a particular age now. I’m glad it was included as you do need insight into what drove Murray to be so into the pulp fiction of the past.

A couple mistakes did seep in but the only significant one was in Murray’s thesis regarding ‘Mr. Spook’ which was just as likely to have been a typing error that should have been caught.

This book really is a definitive volume of the creation of Doc Savage and his team and if you want to fulfil your knowledge about the Man of Bronze then you should add this book to your collection.

GF Willmetts

August 2017

(pub: Altus Press, 2011. 435 page enlarged paperback. Price: $44.95 (US), £22.39 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-45282-254-9)

check out websites: www.altuspress.com/ and www.adventuresinbronze.com

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Category: Books, Scifi

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About the Author ()

Geoff Willmetts has been editor at SFCrowsnest for some 15 plus years now, showing a versatility and knowledge in not only Science Fiction, but also the sciences and arts, all of which has been displayed here through editorials, reviews, articles and stories. With the latter, he has been running a short story series under the title of ‘Psi-Kicks’ If you want to contribute to SFCrowsnest, read the guidelines and show him what you can do. If it isn’t usable, he spends as much time telling you what the problems is as he would with material he accepts. This is largely how he got called an Uncle, as in Dutch Uncle. He’s not actually Dutch but hails from the west country in the UK.

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