Tom Swift In The Land of Wonders
Or, The Underground Search For the Idol of Gold
By Victor Appleton ©1917 Book #20
Review by JP Karenko, August 2005
Full-color image from the collection of James D. Keeline
White Quad and Duotone image from the collection of Mark Snyder
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:
The story begins with the usual conflict: Tom has had enough of adventure and swears he is going to stay home and live the life of a sedate scientist, working on his many patent applications. He spots a magazine article written by Professor Bumper (See TS & Big Tunnel #19 ) describing a fabulous underground city containing a large gold idol. Tom's attitude is "Hrumpf! Gold. Underground city. Savages. Lions. Tigers. Bears. Been there, done that." Next thing we know, Professor Bumper and Mr. Damon show up. It takes about 4 pages to turn Tom around, but not for the usual reasons (i.e. wealth, fame, glory and excitement.) It seems a young, handsome, rival archeologist--one Professor Fenimore Beecher--is also interested in said idol. His plan is to give a part of it to Mary Nestor, Tom's sweetie. This is as an enticement to upgrade her betrothal to a real professional--none of this common inventor stuff. Jealousy rears its' green-eyed head, and we are shortly thereafter off, willy-nilly, to the land of big alligators and bigger mosquitoes.
The story is nearly a rehash of the City of Gold, except the personal issues eclipse mere avarice in this tale. You can get the details on line at: TomSwiftintheLandofWonders
Cast of Characters (More or less in order of appearance)
Tom Swift-Intrepid Inventor, Hero, and now, betrothed love interest of Miss Mary Nestor.
Ned Newton-Chum & constant companion of Tom, has given up his position at the bank to become both financial advisor for the Swifts and CFO of Swift Construction.
Professor Swyington Bumper-Originally introduced as a bald, skinny, short and semi-bumbling archeologist/ quintessential mad-scientist type, he is now apparently taking his AADD medications regularly. In this tome he is now quite focused, no longer scatterbrained and easily distracted. Actually sounds learned, most of the time.
Mr. Wakefield Damon-Elderly & eccentric adventurer and traveling companion of Tom & Ned, whose main purpose in life seems to be blessing everybody and everything near his person.
Mrs. Baggert-Housekeeper. Kindly, and "loves Tom like a son." Employed by the Swift family for 15+ years at the time of this story. She is short of stature and has to stand on a soap box to kiss Tom goodbye on one of his voyages.
Professor Fenimore Beecher-Young, handsome & unscrupulous. Professional rival of Prof. Bumper. Acquainted with Nestor family. Has designs on Mary.
Koku-Giant manservant of Tom. Devoted, loyal, and possessed of great strength, but apparently somewhat limited mental facilities. Antagonist and rival of Eradicate.
Eradicate Sampson, A.K.A. Rad-Aged stereotypical Negro manservant given over to the ravages of advanced age as he is an ex-Civil War Era slave. Constant antagonist of Koku. His faithful mule Boomerang is not mentioned in this episode.
Barton Swift-Widower. Wealthy and conservative. Inventor master machinist and holder of numerous patents. Mr. Swift, has failed in his health and is described as "old and feeble." Walk-on part in this tale.
Miss Mary Nestor-Love interest of Tom. Plucky, courageous, intelligent and engaged to Our Hero, since 'plans" regarding Tom are mentioned. The Nestor family previously resided in Mansburg, but apparently have now moved to Shopton.
Mr. & Mrs. Amos Nestor-Mary's parents. No descriptions given. Mrs. Nestor's first name and description are never mentioned. Amos is apparently quite excitable and jumps to bad conclusions about Tom, in spite of having had his life saved by Tom in both the Wireless Message and Wizard Camera adventures.
Officer Newbold-NFN or description. Shopton beat cop. Assumed Irish and burley from combination of mild brogue and stereotype. Passing mention.
Cousin Myra-NLN or description. Relative of Mary Nestor. Resides in Fayetteville. Passing mention.
Crewmember, SS Relstab-Distinguished only by being lost overboard in a Caribbean gale.
Senor Val Jacinto-Spaniard with brilliant white teeth and black moustache. Hired by Prof. Bumper as guide and labor leader for jungle trek. Treacherously abandons Tom & Co. up a river without a paddle, or a boat to use it in, either. Originally thought to be in the employ of Prof. Beecher, he is later found to be a simple mercenary and thief.
Senor Alligator Bait-Indian porter. No name or description given. Killed by alligators after falling out of boat. Tom attempts to save him with Electric Rifle.
Senor Tolpec-NFN or description given. Indian porter, brother of Sr. Alligator Bait. He defects from Jacinto's camp and helps Tom & Co. find civilization after they are abandoned in jungle. Grateful for Tom's attempt at saving his kin.
Host of Indian Porters-Members of Tolpec's tribe. Extras.
Tal the Tiger Treat-Indian laborer working for Prof. Beecher. Saved from a hungry leopard by Tom using the ER again.
Valdez the Sneak Thief-- Indian laborer working for Prof. Beecher.
Goosal-Grandfather of Tal's wife. Indian wise-man who has been to the underground city.
Professor Hylop-NFN or description. Professional rival of Prof. Bumper. Vindictive over an old sleight.
Mr. Hardy-NFN or description except "least disgruntled of Prof. Beecher's party."
No new inventions were created or used in this tale. Tom is working on an unspecified gyroscope-based "aircraft stabilizer." This allows fighter plane pilots to keep control of their craft while attending to "war stuff," like shooting down other planes or bombing targets on the ground. It plays no part in the story.
The Electric Rifle plays a prominent role, dispatching various and sundry jungle critters. The author still will not explain how a snake can be electrocuted while leaving the victim trapped in its' coils unharmed.
Giant Cannon blasting powder is referenced, but not actually used in the story.
Commentary on Society, Attitudes, Environment & Errata
Reading the old Tom Swift Sr. series has really given me an appreciation of 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- Tom and Ned start this tale speaking in strings of (then current) slang. This goes on for several pages, until I presume the author has satisfied himself that the youthful reader of this tale considers him "cool" or "hip" or whatever passed for such things, then. Language reverts to "normal" after this initial foray. Koku's language, which changes dramatically from episode to episode, stays "Hollywood dime-store injun." We do find out that he is terrified of water and/or anything living in it. (Imagine a simple Crawdaddy causing a 9 foot 400lb giant to have a panic attack.) We also find that Eradicate can't stand bugs that bite. Extra-large mosquitoes are enough to keep him from coming along on this jungle trek. (I wouldn't want Yellow Fever or Malaria, either.) The authors have also discovered a new word-ejaculate. Most times the characters "cry" when excited. In this tome, verbal exclamations are "ejaculated." (I wonder if this is a gag to get around a bowldlerizing managing editor?)
Tom's personality faults are once again dragged into the light of day, as he demonstrates a severe jealous streak and wants vengeance against a rival male sniffing around his woman. There is also much ado about "rights" and proper conduct regarding who finds what and when, treasure-wise. On the other hand, when the bad-guys get to the treasure first, rights go out the window and Tom is ready to use armed force to displace the victors. This is in spite of the stated fact that "Tom harbors no enmity toward them."
Errata- Mr. Damon is first relegated to residing "in a nearby town." (After four books in a row in Waterford, NY, the author apparently forgot where he lived in the previous volume.) This tale moves him back to Waterfield, making the current tally of his many moves between Waterford and Waterfield stand at 10-Waterfield, 3-not recorded, and 9-Waterford, for 20 volumes, to date. The numbers don't total, because two volumes have him residing in both places at the same time. Three others (including this one) either do not specify a town name, at least initially, or have multiple references.
There were no typos or malapropisms found in this tale. Uncharacteristically good editorial care for a story-mill like G&D at the time. Most of these books read like they were thrown together overnight, but not this one.
One coordination issue had to do with reference to a previous episode ( the Big Tunnel. ) It was stated that Tom & Ned were saved from a bomb by Prof. Bumper, when it was Tom & Mr. Titus. Ned had been recently promoted at the bank and was not present during that tale.
Prof. Bumper was said to have used Cyanide to dispatch entomological specimens. Considering the risk to the dispatcher, I'd think the more common Ether would have sufficed. The Cyanide was said to cause a "painless death." Anyone who knows about the effects of Cyanide on a living organism knows it is anything but painless.
Vampires: Oh, where is Buffy when we need her??? Our Heroes suffer the ravages of a typical Hollywood bat-attack. Large, vicious, bloodthirsty, yadda-yadda. A 1 ounce Fliegenmaus with a 6 inch wingspan is only terrifying if you are up late drinking and watching old Bela Lugosi movies. Vampire bats do bite, but any given critter will only drink about 2 tablespoons of blood in a single sitting--and then only if undisturbed. The bites do look nasty, though, and can become infected. Disease is the real villain, here.
A face only a Transylvanian could love...
There is good bat-info at http://bss.sfsu.edu/geog/bholzman/courses/fall99projects/vampire.htm
Engineering and Science, Fact vs. Fantasy- In addition to the boa constrictor Tom zaps with his magic rifle, a number of river reptiles are electrocuted while in the water without harm to their human prey. Another issue has to do with the ER's effectiveness. Previously, a "maximum charge" caused no less than a whale to "disintegrate" Now, it takes 5 shots to kill the abovementioned boa, and several shots to finish a jungle cat that attacks a native, later in the story.
Once again, we have a gigantic city, buried more or less undamaged, by a landslide, earthquake or eruption. Clean streets, fresh air and intact artifacts abound. At least they didn't include the big rolling rock that blocked the entrance in the Indiana Jones movie-plus Tom apparently learns from his mistakes. This time, the secret entrance is blocked open so they have an avenue of retreat in case of disaster...
Images ©1981 by Paramount Home Entertainment
Geography- Once again, either the author had actually been to Central America, or at least had access to some good research material. The places (except the actual lost city) all exist, except for one minor bobble-Quirigua is on the Ecuadorian side of the border, not in Honduras, as is stated. See below, for a map of a likely route.
http://www.honduras.net/copan/ Investigators have not yet agreed upon the etymology of the word "Copan". Several translations have been offered regarding its meaning such as "bridge", "Capital of Co", and others say it comes from the Nahuatl language, and they add the ending "tl", thus converting it into "Copantl", which means " pontoon or bridge".
The Copan Valley is called the Valle de Reyes (Valley of Kings.) The old city (now a tourist stop) was a seat of Mayan government during the pre-Hispanic Mayan era. It is flagged, below as Ruinas de Copan.
Map of Honduras, Courtesy Microsoft MapPointJP Karenko, 8/21/05
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