Tom Swift and His Giant Magnet
or, Bringing Up the Lost Submarine
By Victor Appleton ©1932 Book #35
Review by JP Karenko, November 2005
Note: some of the language, references & attitudes, while acceptable at the time they were written, are not Politically Correct, today.
No official summary was ever provided with any of the old Tom Swift books. However, without giving too much away, the plot can be summed up as follows:
It has been six months since the Sky Train made its successful flight. Fame and Glory have brought much new business to Swift Construction (SCC) in spite of the Great Depression. So much so, that Tom is rather annoyed that making money is getting in the way of his inventing. A local scrap yard owner comes to Tom with a desire to have a bigger better and more powerful magnet made so he can process all the metal coming through his yard more efficiently. A rival dealer who specializes in marine salvage, also approaches Tom and a competition ensues to see who gets their bigger/better magnet first. Tom, of course, is up to the task, and dives right in, literally speaking. (While working on a midnight test of the waterproof version of the magnet, he gets a blast of electricity, falls into the test tank, and nearly drowns.)
As luck would have it, he and the marine version of the magnet are in the neighborhood when the Navy's latest sub, the SVJ-13 is disabled during her shakedown and only a Giant Magnet can save the sub and crew. You'll have to find a hard cover copy of this tale to find out how things turn out, as I have been unable to find this story on line. Sorry.
The Grosset & Dunlap version of this book came in two formats: the original (and hard-to-find) brown quad format, and the more common orange binding. The brown quad format is the book's first edition, and copies of it in that format can be expensive, especially if they come with a dustjacket.
Each version of the book came with its own different dustjacket; the dustjackets for the two G&D formats are not the same, although they are very similar. The difference is very slight: on the back of the dustjacket that was on the original brown quad book the title listing only lists to DON STURDY ON THE OCEAN BOTTOM and has a picture of a tiger on the bottom-right-hand corner of the dustjacket. The back of the orange G&D book lists to DON STURDY IN THE TEMPLES OF FEAR and does not have the picture of the tiger.
Both dustjackets can be found below, for your viewing convenience. These images come from the collection of Mark Snyder - thanks, Mark!
Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)
Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person. Never fully described, in previous tales he was "portly" with a moustache and "tortoise-shell glasses." Is quite wealthy and on the board of Waterfield bank. He now carries a hollow steel cane/walking stick, as he has had problems with stray dogs while on his daily "constitutional" walks. He has ongoing issues with safely controlling the vehicles he rides in, crashing frequently. In this tome he drops a new "coupe" into Lake Carlopa after losing control on a bridge over turbid waters.
Ned Newton-Chum & companion of Tom. His description is never given. He continues in his position as Swifts' financial advisor but has apparently been promoted at Swift Construction Company. In this tale, he is now the "General Manager."
Koku-Giant manservant of Tom. Devoted, loyal, and possessed of great strength, but apparently somewhat limited cognitive facilities. Described as "savage and only half-tame." In this episode, he has a new twist on an old phobia. He can't stand fish, and is terrified of them in or out of water. We also find he loves going to the movies, which he calls the "shouting pictures." He continues as watchman & guard at SCC and his other chore of antagonizing Rad. This time, he goes too far and plays a practical joke on Rad that nearly results in injury to his rival.
Tom Swift-Intrepid inventor & mechanic. Plucky, lively, resourceful, brave and clever. Home-schooled at a college level by his father, Barton Swift. Athlete and hunter. Familiar with how to stalk game and firearms. Loves all things mechanical. In this tale he is frustrated with the "business" aspects of being an inventor and wants to be left alone to play with his toys.
Joseph Harburg-Marine salvage/dealer in scrap iron. Hostile, arrogant, threatening, unscrupulous & domineering. All-around pain in the ashcan.
Franklin Parlet-No description. Shopton scrap-yard owner. Wants Tom to build a better magnet to load and unload junk in his yards.
Eradicate Andrew Jackson Abraham Lincoln Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant. He is now going deaf and is described as "aged, decrepit, wizened and shuffling." He remains faithful to the Swift family and helps out where he can. Constant rival and antagonist of giant Koku. In this tale, his only function is as personal attendant to Barton Swift. He calls Tom "Masr."
Mrs. Mary Nestor "Missy" Swift-Radiant bride of Tom who is described as a "very pretty young woman with flashing brown eyes, and a sweet trilling laugh." Blushes easily, especially around Tom. In this tale, is Suzy Homemaker, and we find out she does not like submarines.
Lt. Joseph "Joe" Nestor, USN-Young & handsome cousin of Mary Nestor. Annapolis graduate and submariner.
Garrett Jackson-No description given, but is spry and fit for his age. (Volumes written 15 years previously, described him as an "aged Engineer.") He is now Swift Construction Shop Manager/Superintendent.
Mrs. Baggert-Majordomo & housekeeper of the Swift Manse. In charge of "several" maids. Mother figure, she loves Tom like a son. Conspicuously absent during the last few stories, she is now visiting her sister.
Capt. Blake, USN-NFN or description. Commander of Submarine SVJ-13.
Barton "Bart" Swift- On the dust jacket of Chest of Secrets, his appearance is remarkably like that of Robert E. Lee, but with glasses. Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor, master machinist and holder of numerous patents. In this episode, he is only described as "old and feeble." Now being attended full-time by Eradicate Sampson. No significant role in this tale.
Masked Midnight Marauder-Later determined to be a disgruntled discharged employee. (See Jim Dunberry, below.) Drugs Tom, steals the plans for the magnet. &.sets fire to the lab.
Watchers In The Dark #1-Night time security force that guard the shops during 2nd & 3rd shift operations. Come in response to a burglary.
Tredwell-Pattern Shop-NFN, elderly.
Mortimer-NFN or description.
Jansen-NFN or description.
Larimie-NFN or description.
Choo-Choo Chums-Run the work train that tows Tom's magnet to a test on the shore of Lake Carlopa.
Bill-NLN or description. Work train engineer.
Jim-NLN or description. Fireman/stoker.
Assorted State Troopers-No names or descriptions. Aid in rescue of Mr. Damon.
Watchers In The Dark #2-Additional night time security forces that guard the shops during 2nd & 3rd shift operations. Come in response to a fire in Tom's lab.
Parker-Casting Shop-NFN or description.
Javison-NFN or description.
Unnamed Other-NFN or description.
Thornton-Blueprint Shop-NFN or description.
Variden-Brass Shop-NFN or description.
Jim Dunberry-The Masked Marauder-No description, except married with a child. Disgruntled ex-employee, discharged for theft. Wants to "get even" for losing his job. Steals the magnet plans, sets a fire and intends to extort money from Tom for the safe return of the purloined blue prints.
Mrs. Dunberry-NFN or description. Terminally embarrassed by her husband's actions.
Good Eats Gary-Faceless Negro cook on Harburg's Salvage Barge 'A' who distinguishes himself by providing delicious hot meals to the workers.
Captain Marsden-Skipper of Tow Tug 'A'- NFN or description.
Captain Blaker-Skipper of Salvage Barge 'A'- NFN or description.
'Sparks' Rothven-Radio operator on Barge A. No description.
Commander Ellison, USN-Commander of rescue task force trying to raise SVJ-13.
Clifton-NFN or description. Barge A Boss.
Destroyer Dan, Capt.USN-Faceless & nameless Navy Destroyer Driver.
Menagerie of Menacing Marines-Storm aboard Barge A to "request" assistance from a recalcitrant Joseph Harburg.
Jensen-NFN or description. Barge B Boss.
As is usual lately, many of these characters (especially the ones introduced late in the story) do not rate any development or even a description. They are brought forth and discarded after they do their bits to make the story flow. The (hopefully humorous) alliterative names are my "inventions" to make reading these reviews a bit more fun.
The magnet that is invented by Tom Swift is "giant." Current <sic> technology of the day was represented by electromagnets in the 36 to 60 inch range. These are capable of lifting several thousand pounds of ferrous metal, especially if it was in a solid mass, such as a steel casting. No diameter or other dimensions were specified, but Tom's magnet was able to lift "thousands of TONS" of metal at a time. ( See Errata.) It operated from a DC dynamo producing 2500V and was air-core and light weight for its' size. The magnet is so strong that the derrick and lifting cables are now the weak links in the system.
It also produces a magnetic field so stupendous that a "negative shield" had to be developed to keep it from attaching itself to the derrick. Insulated rubber suits had to be worn by operators, for protection. It could also suck coins right through a pants pocket, which made it unique, as the specie of the day was limited to copper, silver and gold. Steel pennies did not show up until WW2 (1943) and the familiar "nickel" coin is non-magnetic.
Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata
Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of all the modern gadgets that I've come to take for granted. It also has given me a grasp of just how technologically and culturally unsophisticated the average reader was in the early 1900's.
Attitudes and Prejudices- Some clews (although that term is no longer used) that were detected as to the author of this tale: This tale reeks with the usual coincidences that are required to allow the story line to progress and also requires significant foreboding, (bordering on clairvoyance,) to prepare for events that make the plot come out.
The author's engineering knowledge is adequate, and some techno-things are actually described correctly. (See Fact vs. Fiction, below.) There is a large amount of padding in the story that boosts the page count, with æ of a chapter devoted to how a magnet attracts iron. Language remains a mix of modern slang and older English. (Centre is used twice, and several "sort-of's.") The author has discovered the Navy, but has ranks mixed up with Commanders bossing Captains and Task Force Commanders riding Destroyers when Cruisers are part of the flotilla. A "helpful" editor may have transformed a British Commodore into a Commander, but the boss sailor in most task groups usually always rides the biggest thing around. (The accommodations are better...) Except for the boo-boo above, I'd call this author "Navy Nick." There is a change in the "look and feel" from the last few episodes.
More about Military ranks can be found at http://www.chinfo.navy.mil/navpalib/ranks/officers/o-rank.html
There was no gunplay in the last story, but in this one, Tom keeps an automatic in his desk. He also does state that he wants to "heartily smite" his erstwhile employer when the sot puts his own welfare ahead of a sub full of suffocating sailors. Emphasis is still, mainly on finances and money troubles. (After all, we are well into the Great Depression.) This is a tale where the hostile takeover is the weapon of choice for the bad guys. The other item of attitude has to do with inane behavior. Tom fires an employee for theft. The guy comes back, steals again, drugs Tom, sets a fire, and nearly causes a death. Tom says he will take him back (as an employee) "if he turns over a new leaf after he gets out of prison." Go figure. Mary goes all "clinging vine" with the old "Oh, Tom! What will we do?" routine. In previous tomes she was "plucky." Tom also has mood swings reminiscent of #18 Aerial Warship (another story where the Navy, finances and "padding" play major roles.) He is sarcastic and sneering at the beginning of the story. Maybe he knows that being drugged, drowned, electrocuted, burned and assaulted is in his future during this tale. I know it would make me cranky...
It has previously been de rigueur for Tom to "rescue" someone, anyone, at least once per episode. In this tome, he saves both Mr. Damon, and an entire submarine full of Navy sailors, including his wife's cousin.
Errata-There is a running gag throughout this series. Mr. Damon's home keeps flip-flopping between Waterfield and Waterford, NY. Sometimes it is in neither, and several times in both places, at once. This is partly due to the enforced poor communication amongst the many ghostwriters at G&D that contributed to this series.
There are now 4 distinct categories. For the 1st time since House on Wheels, in this tome Mr. D's home is not specified.
The tally for 35 volumes, to date is:
Waterfield-16, Both places-2, Waterford-10, and Neither place-7.
Typos and malapropisms were nonexistent. Nothing jumped out at me.
Tom now keeps his valuable plans and models in a simple filing cabinet. (Big cabinet, small models?) Previous tomes had these valuata stored either in the Chest of Secrets (See Vol # 28) or a special vault constructed in the following story, Airline Express. The Chest isn't all that secure, as Tom doesn't even think of doing something as simple as lag-bolting it into the floor of the building. He pays for it later when his plans come up missing. My gun safe is more secure...
Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy-
The Giant Magnet is designed to lift "many thousands of tons." Lets say we use short tons (2000#) to give Ole Tom the benefit of the doubt. A thousand tons is two million pounds. Some high volume scrap yards in 2005 can process as much as a million pounds of metal in a single work day. Lifting all that mass in one shot? Somebody has slipped a decimal point, by several places. Tom's improvements are usually 30 to 150% bigger and better than current tech, not a thousand times. This one's a stretch!
OSHA (not invented for another 37 years) would have a field day in Tom's lab. He works alone at midnight in a tank of water that has no emergency exit provision and submerges a device that operates on 2500VDC with questionable insulation. He then goes swimming, albeit accidentally. Scary!
The Wonder Book of Knowledge, my resource for all things scientific in the early 1900's indicated a large German commerce carrier submarine was built in 1916 that had an overall length of 315 ft and a gross weight of 701 tons. It could carry another 1000 tons of cargo, making it a pretty respectable "hole in the water." A wreck of this size would have made a suitable target for a Giant Magnet, but it's unlikely even a Tom Swift could have been able to raise something of this size in one chunk, even with two magnets..
A sip from the fire hose of knowledge about magnets can be obtained at http://www.pppl.gov/eshis/ESHD_MANUAL/safety/es9.0.pdf
Legalities-Tom hijacks the barges that are being used to raise a commercial wreck. This is accomplished (albeit for a righteous cause) with violence and threats over the objections of the rightful owner. I'm not a sea-lawyer, but this sounds suspiciously like piracy. The question begs as to whether the requirement to render aid in an emergency overrides the above criminal activity. In any case, Tom and Koku would be up for a couple of counts of felonious assault, in a real world.
Having the Marines storm the boat and commandeer it is another issue that I cannot address from a legal standpoint, except that I have learned that The Men With The Black Hoods and Machine Guns Are Always Right...
Geography-We have a new large city on a large river that empties into the Atlantic Ocean. It is called Harwich and has a sub base. This may possibly be Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, in New Hampshire. Between 1917 and 1941, thirty-three undersea vessels were constructed there including the famous Squalus.
There is also a real Turtle Bay. But the only Turtle Bay I could find with a Map Point search is near Houston, TX. A sea-side resort town is named Saltair. (The author was stretching on that one-almost as far as some of my puns...)
Shopton, previously a "small city," is back to being a "small village." Ned lives somewhere on the main street.
JP Karenko, 11/18/05
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