Thursday, November 29, 2007

What was Doc Savage's Birthday?

{I want to give a special thanks to Savageology scholars Chuck Welch and Jeff Deischer. Their critiques of the earlier editions of this blog led to the correction of several errors. I think the argument in this revised version is that much stronger because of their input. Thanks, Chuck and Jeff!}

One of the enduring mysteries of the Doc Savage Super Sagas is on what day Doc Savage was born. It is generally agreed that Doc was born in 1901, that the events in The Man of Bronze (March, 1933) occurred in March 1931, and that Doc had not yet reached his 30th birthday. There are two major theories about his date of birth. Based on a comment in No Light to Die By, Philip José Farmer fixed the date as November 12, 1901. Chuck Welch alleges that the known weather patterns around Andros Island on that date do not match what is written in The Golden Man (April, 1941) and he places Doc's birthday on November 7, 1901 based on his analysis of Peril in the North (December, 1941). You may follow his reasoning here at Doc Savage Info: Happy Birthday, Doc Savage.

Jeff Deischer has claimed that the internal evidence in Peril in the North fixes Doc's birthday in late May between the 25th and 31st. He prefers Doc's birth year between 1906 and 1910 because of the description of his training and the lengths of time mentioned in some of the Super Sagas in the 1930s. You may follow his reasoning at Doc Savage Info: That Stormy Night.

With regard to Doc's apparent youth in the 1930s, I believe that was due to the anti-aging Formula that his father developed in 1925 and cannot be used to establish Doc's true age or that of his aides who also shared it.

Julien Puga V in his article When Did the Legend Start? in The Bronze Gazette Volume 17, Issue 51 (September, 2007) champions the date May 25, 1901 and gives very convincing evidence to back it up based on material from Peril in the North. He builds his case on the prior work of Jeff Deischer while adding some of his own refinements.

It is my general policy on Wold Newton Questions to go with what Phil Farmer wrote unless there is some serious need to do otherwise. I like the material that Phil has used to connect Doc Savage to Tarzan and Sherlock Holmes. So in this case, I have to go with Phil.

The internal date mentioned in the Sherlock Holmes story The Adventure of the Priory School (1903 ) indicates that the kidnapping of Lord Saltire occurred on Monday May 13th. Based on the story, the flight of James Wilder (aka Clark Savage Sr.) from England was on Wednesday May 22st the day after Holmes last spoke to the Duke of Holdernesse.

May 13 fell on a Monday in 1901. The closest other years when May 13 fell on a Monday were 1895 and 1907. Also Lord Saltire was 10 years old at the time of the story and his parents had been married in 1888. This is compatible with 1901 as the year of these events and is not compatible with the other years. A birth year of 1901 would also make Doc Savage 16-17 years old in 1918 and would be consistent with his serving in the Great War as Dent clearly states in The Man of Bronze. Many able-bodied young men at 15 or 16 could pass for 18 or older and during World War I and World War II many such young men lied about their age and volunteered to fight. Any year later than 1901 would not be credible, especially in the light of the events documented in Escape from Loki which was an authorized work and is officially part of the Super Saga Canon.

The proposed date of Doc's birth around May 25, 1901 is therefore not possible. It is too soon after the Priory School affair. There is no way that a wind Schooner could have arrived in the Caribbean that quickly, especially since the best evidence indicates that the Wilders met Hubert Robertson in France after May 22nd and departed from there a few days later. Nor is it possible for the Priory School affair to have occurred in any other year than 1901 except for 1895 or 1907 neither of which are compatible with the published material in the Super Sagas, Escape from Loki or The Adventure of the Priory School.

But there is no question that Doc celebrated his 40th birthday in late May, 1941. The internal analysis of Peril in the North confirms this. The analysis from Dreischer and Puga is so detailed that I will not reproduce it here but TRUST me, it is a slam-dunk. The most telling piece of internal evidence is that during the story, the Midnight Sun is seen over Greenland. This can only occur between May 25 and July 25 of 1941. This rules out any possibility that the story could have occurred in November. In light of what we demonstrated in the previous paragraph, how is that possible?

Well, we need to remember that James Wilder, and his wife Arronaxe were on the lam from the law. They were trying to hide their identity from the authorities. That situation did not change after Arronaxe had died. James was a wanted criminal. It would be only natural for 'Clark Savage Sr.' to claim that his wife had given birth to their child while she was on board the Orion in Marseilles on May 25, 1901. It was a known fact that James Wilder and his wife did not leave England until May 22nd, and they spent several days on the run. It is also very likely that Wilder knew the trail of their departure could be traced by the police after the 25th before they effectively disappeared in France and eventually left on the Orion with Hubert Robertson.

We must also remember that in The Golden Man, Doc Savage clearly believed that no one living knew that he had been born on the Orion near Andros Island. It follows logically that whatever report of his birth had been given to US Authorities did not reveal the true location where he was born. This must have been done deliberately to conceal the real facts and the family's identity. There is therefore no reason to assume that the true date would have been given either.

Besides, no one outside the couple themselves even suspected that Arronaxe was pregnant at the time that they left England. In May, she would have been in her 3rd month of pregnancy and in Victorian attire, no one would have noticed her condition at that point. Consequently a child born so soon after the Priory School affair would not have been linked to the fugitive couple.

The mystery of how the "Golden Man" (who was the head of German intelligence) knew the secrets of Doc's birth is never solved in the Super Sagas. I think the revelation in the 1989 DC Comics Doc Savage Annual that German physician Dr. Gunter Asch was on the Orion and likely delivered baby Clark solves that mystery. We know that Asch returned to Germany and eventually worked for the Nazis. He would have made available to them the information that Clark Sr. had withheld from American authorities. Later Dr. Asch died at the time of the 1936 Olympics in Berlin.

We should also remember that in Escape from Loki, Baron von Hessel tells young Lt. Savage:

"... Never mind all that, Lieutenant. Let us discuss other matters, if you
care to. For instance, a subject which greatly intrigues me. That is, the
efforts of your father to make you into a superman. What Nietzsche called der Übermensch..."

"Yes, I know much about that. Our Intelligence has a dossier on you and Doctor Clark Savage, Senior. Quite a lengthy one. I’ll be frank with you. I wouldn’t have invited you to dinner if you’d only been some Yankee flier with more courage than brains. We may talk about your peculiar education and your father’s motives for giving it to you..."

It is clear that even in 1918, the Germans were well informed about Doc Savage's life and his father's plans for him. This could only have happened if some insider had informed them about it. That insider was likely Dr. Asch.

But how could they hope to pass off an infant born in November as one born 6 months earlier? One of things that mitigated in favor of this prevarication was the fact that Clark Jr. was a large and precocious baby who at 3 months of age could already meet the developmental milestones of a 6 month old including standing unsupported, recognizing familiar faces, baby talk, and full head and neck control. He was also the height and weight of a 6 month old. In fact, at the age of 1 year, Clark was already walking, talking, climbing, and sounding out the printed word! It would have been ridiculous for Clark Sr. to try to pass-off his son as being his true age. No one would have believed him!

With regard to the question of the weather around Andros Island, there is no reason to think that the Orion sank on the same day that Doc was born or that it sank by Andros Island.

This is what it says in The Golden Man:

The golden man seemed not to hear the inquiry. He studied Doc for a few moments, then said in a deeply impressive, solemn voice, "Since that stormy night when you were born on the tiny schooner Orion in the shallow cove at the north end of Andros Island, you have done much good, and many things that are great."

The cove on the northern tip of Andros Island was the location of the boat when Doc was born. He was born at night and there was a storm of some kind, but there is nothing that says it was a big storm or that the boat was scuttled. In fact, the Super Sagas never say that the Orion sank. That comes from Dent's notes. So it is entirely possible that the Orion may have sunk off Andros Island or somewhere else in the Bahamas at some date subsequent to November 12 in one of those pocket hurricanes for which the Caribbean is famous.

All we know for sure from the Super Sagas is that Doc's mother died before he was one year old. In the story Cargo Unknown (Summer 1944) we are told:

Doc had never known his mother; she had died when he was less than a year old.

The best evidence we have is that she did not come to America with her husband and child after they recovered the treasure from the Caribbean that was the foundation of Clark Sr.'s fortune. We know that the Duke of Holdernesse had investigators searching for his son. But he would have been looking for James and Arronaxe and not for a man and a child. Especially if he child had been born at sea when it was clear that his son and non-pregnat daughter-in-law were clearly fugitives in France at the time that the birth occurred.

Meanwhile, a small rain storm on the night of the birth which had been localized to the area of the schooner is also feasible. We must not forget that Andros Island is on the edge of the Bermuda Triangle. All kinds of odd weather patterns come up suddenly and unexpectedly there. What we know for certain is that sometime after Doc was born and before his first birthday his mother died. It is very possible that the Orion sank in the vicinity of the Bermuda Triangle where many ships have mysteriously vanished in what had appeared to be clear seas and that his mother died when it did.

So I must defer to Phil Farmer. Doc Savage was born on November 12, 1901. But on the Birth Record that his father registered with the US authorities, he used the date May 25, 1901 to conceal their identities. As a result, Doc Savage has two birthdays! One is his LEGAL birthday and the other is his REAL birthday. Being a larger-than-life hero, he is entitled to both of them.


Arthur C. Sippo MD, MPH said...

Chuck Welch has informed me that despite the update to my article, he stands firmly behind his proposed date of November 7, 1901 for Doc Savage's birthday. I have provided references in the article to Chuck's article on this and also to the work of Drescher and Puga.

I hope that those who are interested in this topic will read the relevant articles including the original material in "Doc Savage: An Apocalyptic Life" By Phil Farmer. Then you can decide for yourself what you believe to be the true birthday of the man of Bronze.

As Phil Farmer has said in his Tarzan biography, "Disagreement is the heart of scholarship." If we all agreed on everything, there would be no call to write new articles. Maybe we could get a panel discussion going on this at a future Doc Con.


Doc said...

I hope Savage fans never agree 1005 on anything in the canon. What would be the fun if we did?

You brought up some good points that must be addressed in any research.

I have great confidence in my work on Doc's birthday, but that was more than seven years ago. Any researcher worth his or her salt needs to look at their work with fresh eyes.

Unfortunately, that's something I don't have time to do right now, but rest assured I'll revisit the topic soon and get back to you.

Thanks for add your scholarly work to the field.

Arthur C. Sippo MD, MPH said...


It is a pleasure to be part of this community. I have been virtually obsessed with Doc Savage for over 40 years. I felt especially pleased when Phil Farmer showed his love of the character through his Wold Newton work in the 1970s. For a long time I thought that there were very few of us who cared about this stuff. I am now finding like minded brothers with whom I can share my thoughts. Thank you for for all your work in this area. I look forward to more scholarly exchanges in the future.


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