Copyright © 1995 by Christopher Carey
Loki in the Sunlight
As Doc Savage readers well know, Philip Jose Farmer wrote long ago in his biography Doc Savage: His Apocalyptic Life that the only villain in the supersagas to meet Doc in a return engagement was the infamous John Sunlight. He appeared in two books, Fortress of Solitude and The Devil Genghis. But the story doesn't end there... or should I say 'begin there'?
Farmer's comment that Sunlight was the only one of Doc's villains to appear twice centered the attention of Doc Savage readers on this long-fingered crook. He has re-appeared in DC comics, Millennium comics, numerous speculative articles, and even Will Murray has considered donning the arch-enemy's mono-colored clothes.
The fact is, John Sunlight appears in three of the published Doc Savage supersagas, not two. Yes, three! Strangely we find that Fortress of Solitude is not Doc's first encounter with the tenacious Sunlight. In the February 1996 issue of The Bronze Gazette, I had an article published on Doc's first adventure, Escape from Loki. In the article I attempted to get readers to delve more deeply into this subtly crafted work. Apparently, I did not succeed, because reactions were minimal, and no one made it known that I had left out the major mystery of the novel:
In Escape from Loki, John Sunlight makes his first entrance in the supersagas!
That's right! At first glance one might think, "That sounds reasonable, Sunlight must be Baron von Hessel, the evil, experimenting genius who may hold the secret of immortality." But this is not the case. Von Hessel is not Sunlight, but he is a character from Fortress of Solitude.
Many will remember the monocle-wearing "smooth customer" Baron Karl, fellow conspirator of Sunlight. He is described as a ruthless man who had "personally shot to death some fifty or so political enemies" in his own castle. Apparently he is a castle lover, as he approvingly looks over Sunlight's castle, comparing it to his own. Baron Karl is something of a playboy, though apparently not with the wild abandon of the Playboy Prince. He is a hand with women and wears "the best of clothes." He is an eloquent speaker, obviously intelligent and well-read, as indicated by his speech to John Sunlight. " 'I salute again," he said, "the man who has inherited the qualities of the Erinyes, the Eumenides, of Titan, and of Friar Rush, with a touch of Dracula and Frankenstein.' " He could not have been more right about Sunlight, and Baron Karl knows this, as Sunlight could not have had a better teacher- Baron Karl himself. His comparison of Sunlight to Frankenstein could not have been more apt either. Sunlight, who had once been a creature of the baron (as we shall see), now makes Baron Karl shake in fear. He is a monster out of his master's control. The previous master now treads lightly in the presence of his protege. Also notice that Baron Karl says, "I salute again," in his praise of Sunlight. Again? When did he salute him before?
Apparently in Camp Loki during the Great War.
The Baron von Hessel in Escape from Loki is extremely intelligent and well read. "He could quote poets, dramatists, philosophers, and scientists, both ancient and modern" and he has two Ph.D.s and an M.D. His features bear an aristocratic look and in the 1880s and '90s he inhabited his family's ancestral castle. On top of this, Doc observes that the baron was wearing a monocle, which at first appeared to him to be an affectation but later seemed to lend von Hessel a "superior air." Doc also observes the baron's "small belly bulge," which indicates that the baron enjoys the good things in life. He likes his women, too, as evidenced by the company he keeps with the voluptuous Countess Idivzhopu. These are all perfect descriptions of Baron Karl as well as Baron von Hessel.
One might think, however unlikely, that this is merely coincidence, a case of literary
archetypes perhaps. But this is absolutely not so, and the proof lies in the Baron von Hessel's taste for women- for his girlfriend is none other than Miss John Sunlight.
What? Don't believe me?
Here are some descriptions of John Sunlight from Fortress of Solitude:
Anyway, John Sunlight didn't look the part. Not when he didn't wish, at least. He resembled a gentle poet, with his great shock of dark hair, his remarkably high forehead, his hollow burning eyes set in a starved face. His body was very long, very thin. His fingers, particularly, were so long and thin- the longest fingers almost the length of an ordinary man's whole hand. . .
John Sunlight sat on a deep chair which was covered with a rich purple velvet cloth. He wore a matching set of purple velvet pajamas and purple velvet robe, and on the forefinger of his right hand was a ring with a purple jewel.
John Sunlight had few changeable habits, but one of them was his fondness for one color one time, and perhaps a different one later. Just now he was experiencing, a yen for purple, particularly the regal shade of the color...
Now consider these descriptions of the Countess Idivzhopu from Escape from Loki:
She wore an ankle-length white fur coat, white leather boots, and a Russian-type white fur hat...
...she gave Savage a small and exceptionally long-fingered hand in a black elbow-length glove... Her large, dark blue eyes were as dazzling as her smile...
Her narrow hips became an unusually small waist...
Her all-white gown was the most low-cut he had ever seen...
And here came the Countess Idivzhopu, Lili Bugov, taking an afternoon promenade in a beautiful pink dress and wide-brimmed sky-blue hat and holding a pink parasol... she waved a pink-gloved hand...
The descriptions of the countess from Loki are too similar to those of Sunlight in Fortress and Genghis to be mere coincidence, especially when the countess is juxtaposed with the Baron von Hessel, whose descriptions match exactly those given of Baron Karl. As will be demonstrated, all evidence points to the fact that Lily Bugov is John Sunlight.
The critical reader might very well point out the "sky-blue hat" which the countess is wearing while she is adorned with her pink dress, pink parasol, and pink gloves. This would seem to break Sunlight's rule of wearing only one color. There are several explanations for this inconsistency. For one, the story is occurring during the shortages and scarcities of World War I Germany. It may have been impossible for the countess to obtain all those amenities that would satisfy her fashion-sense. This explanation, however, is unlikely, as her benefactor, the baron, seems able to get any supplies he needs. It may be that the countess, who was apparently a young woman at this time, was in the process of perfecting her style. She hadn't yet quite given up wearing multiple colors. The true explanation, however, probably lies in the realism with which Farmer records the adventure. The countess is not just a caricature, and certainly there were probably times when the color of her underwear did not exactly match that of her dress.
Doc observes the servants of the countess the first time he sees her. One is Zad, "at least six feet eight inches tall... a kodiak bear of a man, a bearded behemoth." Two others are apparently her maids. Remember that Sunlight's servants were the Russian Civian, "a bestial black ox to look at," and the two sisters, Titania and Giantia, who were really not Russian, but American.
Von Hessel says that the countess "thinks she's another Catherine the Great, a Cleopatra, a Ninon de Lenclos." When he goes on to say that she is not as intelligent as they were, Doc becomes angry at the baron's ungentlemanly words, and a conversation arises about women's equality. The baron states that women have as much ability as men, both mentally and physically. He drives the screws through Doc's supposedly scientific armor by his comment that "Anybody not blinded by prejudice should be able to see that." Von Hessel finishes the topic with his opinion that women won't be treated as equals "until they wage a war for equality.... Men won't give up their power over women until they're forced to do so, and they'll fight long and hard."
Then the baron moves on to the subject of power. The countess had power in Russia, he says, but she lost most of it in the Bolshevik Revolution, with the exception of her personal servants. She is now using her beauty to try to regain her power.
We can conjecture that when the countess was maimed at the end of the novel, her drive for power became insanely amplified. She was already insane, as her bloodthirsty practices in Russia indicate, but now she sought to dominate not just peasants, but the world. Without her beauty, she was forced to meet von Hessel's challenge to become the equal of men. When we next see the countess, she has changed or disguised her sex, and ultimately wants to be mother to the entire planet. She could not achieve a man's power being a woman, so she became a man. Perhaps this was at von Hessel's suggestion. Old habits die hard, however, and when she became a man, she/he still continued the odd penchant for wearing the same color. There is also the precedent set in The Devil Genghis that Sunlight was fond of changing his appearance. Sunlight's hair has changed from a black shock to pure white. Doc wonders if it has been dyed to match his white clothing. Sunlight certainly is an eccentric when it comes to his appearance, and any man with such odd fashion-sense might certainly be suspect of effeminacy, especially in the 1930s. Remember also that he is described as having a weak appearance and the face and eyes of a poet.
Much is made in Loki of the countess' ability as a seductress. The baron uses her to seduce Doc and also openly discusses that she is using her charms to get back a little of the power that she has lost. Sunlight is also manipulative and seductive. He likes to use and control people rather than killing them. It is true that the countess sadistically murdered people in Russia, but by the time of Loki she has already changed her ways. After all, manipulation can satisfy an evil heart in a way more satisfying than outright murder.
The baron's remark about the countess' lack of intelligence does not seem to fit the character of Sunlight, until we realize that Sunlight is not really working on his own in Fortress of Solitude. He needs Baron Karl for his plans, and we may assume that behind the scenes Karl is coaching Sunlight. Notice that Baron Karl escapes with no punishment. Sunlight's intelligence in Fortress and Genghis may also be reflective of the years she/he has spent with the baron. He has taught Sunlight quite a bit since her/his early years in Russia and Germany. Also, the comment on the countess' low intelligence may have been a ruse by von Hessel to manipulate the emotions of the young Savage.
But is John Sunlight really that smart? He doesn't seem to be. His whole plan hinges on the technology he has stolen from Doc. Without it, he's just another villain with grandiose ambitions. Baron Karl is the one smart enough to get away. And Sunlight's plans fall apart quite easily in Genghis. Sure, he has the seductive powers to initiate a plan, but he doesn't seem to have the genius to hold his scheme together.
Most likely, the countess is the baron's underling in a deeper mystery about which we have few clues to go on. While the countess/Sunlight is not what she/he seems to be, the baron is even more of a mystery, Loki reveals that the baron certainly is a "smooth customer," with his secret experiments, strange international connections, and knowledge of an alleged elixir of immortality.
There are veiled hints in Loki that the countess was probably also privy to the immortality elixir. When von Hessel questions what the countess will do when she becomes old and ugly, he abruptly changes the subject. Also, when Doc is about to interrogate the countess at the end of the novel, she is set upon and maimed by a Russian from her past before Doc can ascertain what she knows. It seems that she may have known something about the elixir and that she was working with von Hessel in the grand scheme. The truth is, if we concur that her back was broken and she was paralyzed from the waist down, as Doc learns later in his investigations, she must have known about the elixir. The elixir must have had regenerative properties that could heal her nerves, or else the baron was enough of a medical genius to cure her paralysis by some other means. Or more likely, the report of her paralyzing injury was faked. Remember that Doc got his report on the baron and the countess a long time later. The fake paralysis was probably the first step that Lily Bugov took to start a new identity as John Sunlight. This is why it is stated in Fortress that Sunlight is not Russian. Bugov was a Russian, but when she changed her identity to Sunlight, she/he became unique in the world, a nation unto her/himself. After all, one of Sunlight's big ambitions was to do away with nationalities.
It is interesting to note that Sunlight surrounded himself with Titania and Giantia, women whom Dent describes as "such amazons." He states in Fortress that "all their lives men had been scared of them." Dent also says that they had never been afraid of any other man except Sunlight. Perhaps this is because Sunlight wasn't a man! Then Dent makes a curious statement: "But they [Titania and Giantia] did not worry about Sunlight" (the italics are Dent's). What does he mean by this? First Dent states that the sisters are afraid of Sunlight, then he states that they do not worry about him. Dent must be indicating that they do not worry about Sunlight in a sexual sense. Even though they fear the terrible power he wields, they do not fear that he will make sexual advances toward them- because he is a woman! In addition, the presence of the two muscular women with Sunlight seems to fulfill the Baron von Hessel's statement that women also have the potential to match the physical ability of men. Ham would vouch for this- because of Titania, the dapper lawyer's dashing smile is now missing a front tooth. The baron's prophetic statement is also borne out in the apparent physical strength of the weak-looking Sunlight.
Intimations that Sunlight is really a woman can be seen in the fact that Doc was so intimidated by Sunlight. Doc, as we all know, can't read women and they constantly pose a threat to his ability to solve a case. If Doc has encountered Sunlight before, as the countess, at some point he must surely have recognized him for what he was. At this point, all of Doc's defenses must have shattered. Not only had a woman made away with his one of a kind death dealing devices, but it was the very woman with whom he had had his first intimate encounter. "The Eternal Feminine," Doc reflects in Loki after being with the countess, "was incomprehensible and unpredictable. More the latter than the former." How unpredictable he could not have guessed.
The final clue that the baron and the countess will return in the following supersagas is the big one at the end. Farmer writes, "But Clark Savage was not certain that he would not hear from the baron again. Nor from the countess. Both had reason to hate him." What a way to end a novel if it wasn't true!
Fans have long been craving a return of John Sunlight. Like the devious creature that he is assumed to be, Sunlight has managed to slip himself in for his last bow- right under our noses.
There are still deeper portents in Loki which I believe revolve around characters like Murdstone, who wasn't what he seemed to be, and the fact that the baron was such a mysterious figure with numerous intelligence dossiers on him. But that puzzle can't be solved without a detailed structural analysis of Farmer's other works.
The point is, John Sunlight appears in three of the Doc Savage supersagas: Escape from Loki, Fortress of Solitude, and The Devil Genghis. Sunlight is joined twice by Baron Karl: In Escape from Loki and Fortress of Solitude.
Let us end this discussion by pondering a line from Fortress of Solitude:
"No one knew what he was, exactly."