As the last issue in the pulp run of Doc Savage magazine, its publication heralding the end of the hero pulps in 1949, the story Up From Earth’s Center has achieved something of mythic status. On the surface, its themes are worthy of that status — after 16 years of epic storytelling, the inference was that Doc Savage would take his fight against evil to Hell itself. The cover literally depicts Doc grappling with Satan.
And yet beyond these surface indicators, the very concept is extraordinarily out of place for the Doc Savage series. The formula for Doc’s adventures had often been one that featured apparently supernatural or mystical menaces, which were invariably shown to be false fronts for phenomena or devices relying solely on scientific explanation. Granted, some of the science was pretty far out there, but Satan and Hell, in their literal incarnation, were never on the horizon.
Would the same formula prove true for Up From Earth’s Center? Perhaps, and perhaps not. Even after multiple readings, that ambiguity remains, which makes this last story one of the most unique in the entire Doc Savage canon, completely aside from being the final story.
Today, Up From Earth’s Center can be acquired and read relatively easily. It has been in print three times: the original pulp magazine, a reprint in Doc Savage Omnibus #13 from the early 1990’s, and most recently, in the Sanctum run of pulp reprints. It is available in electronic formats ranging from epub to pdf. But there was a time within memory of many Doc Savage readers (including myself), when there was only one way to read the story: by reading the original pulp itself.
Not so easy…and that added to the myth. The very concept of being able to read the story required a quest to find that pulp magazine from 1949.
I learned about the story in the 1970’s, when I read about it in Philip José Farmer’s “biography”, Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life. In Chapter 18, “Some of the Great Villains and their World-Threatening Gadgets”, Farmer concludes the chapter with a rather lengthy description of Up From Earth’s Center.
It begins thusly:
Whatever the reasons, though there were some fabulous devices used by wicked men during World War II and after, the villains seem pale compared to those who went before them. Except for a few, Doc’s enemies lacked true apocalyptic stature.
But in the last recorded supersaga, Up From Earth’s Center, Doc may have run into somebody, or something, even he could not win out against. he did escape from his antagonists, but the implications are that they had powers which did not depend on gadgets and which no gadgets could successfully combat in the long run.
Up From Earth’s Center is a very strange tale.
With that, Farmer set the stage for several pages of description and discussion of the story. But again bear in mind, at the time Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life was published, there was — except for the small (and enviable) circle of people who either owned or could borrow that pulp — no way to read the full story Farmer was describing. Somewhat akin to a modern book mentioning an archaic manuscript that held the deepest secrets of life, but the only known copy had been in the Library of Alexandria.
To a reader of Doc Savage in the era of the 1970’s to the 1990’s, this of course grew the mythic status of Up From Earth’s Center to even greater size: it was, unquestionably, a Holy Grail.
But to return to the original question posited at the beginning of this article, was the story itself worthy of such stature? That remained to be seen.
to be continued…