Lost Civilizations and Found Adventures:
Doc Savage and the Lost City of the Monkey God
- The Lost City of the Monkey God
By Douglas Preston
Grand Central, 2017. HB
- The Man of Bronze
By Kenneth Robeson
Street & Smith, 1933. Bantam, 1964. Sanctum, 2008. PB
Anyone who knows me knows I read voraciously and always from different genres/types of books at the same time. My wife always says I am nuts, because I have a mountain of books beside me and often read a chapter or two from one before switching to the next book and then the next. As insane as it sounds, it keeps me sane to have some daily balance between fiction and nonfiction, poetry and prose. I also never get burned out stylistically by reading a hundred mysteries in a row, for example. There is another upside as well: I often find strange connections between totally unrelated things. I hope to explore some of these connections in this ongoing column of Lost Civilizations and Found Adventures.
Today we are making an inquiry into one of the greatest archaeological successes of the past decade, the discovery of The Lost City of the Monkey God. Douglas Preston does an excellent job explaining the backstory of this and giving a first hand account of the expeditions in the last few years that led to the discovery of a whole new civilization in the jungles of Honduras along with several cities, including the legendary Ciudad Blanco (“White City”) or City of the Monkey God, as it is also known. Dangers abound in this book and it reads like a real life Indiana Jones adventure, complete with gunfights and snake attacks. I warn you, if giant, venomous snakes scare you and massive carpets of crawling cockroaches horrify you, then never set foot within these jungles.
Though this amazing story has appeared in all major news outlets and was broken via reports through National Geographic, whom Preston was writing articles for and helped fund the exploration, it is laid out in this book for the first time. The discovery itself is remarkable, given that in the current age of overcrowded, Know-It-All-ism we live in, hardly any unexplored places are left on earth. La Mosquitia, an unincorporated region of Honduras is one,
“…of the last unexplored places on earth. Mosquitia is a vast, lawless area covering about thirty-two thousand square miles, a land of rainforests, swamps, lagoons, rivers, and mountains. Early maps labeled it the Portal del Inferno, or ‘Gates of Hell.’”
As early as 1526, Hernan Cortes reports of an advanced civilization hiding in the jungles here, with cities and population as dense as the Maya and Aztec Empires. However, the extremely rugged region remained largely unexplored until the advent of new satellite and Lidar technology made it possible to reveal and pinpoint the cities hiding beneath the jungles. Preston reveals how the team he accompanies used the very latest, classified technologies to crack one of the oldest archaeological mysteries on earth.
Which brings me to Doc Savage, who is a fictional character, but ties directly to this tale. Doc Savage was an adventurer, a super-scientist and explorer, who traveled the world with a team to “right wrongs” and stop evil doers, but also to help poor, repressed, and aggrieved indigenous peoples wherever they found them. Many of his adventures focused on the discovery and attempted exploitation of Lost Civilizations by modern-day criminals. The very first book, The Man of Bronze, examines the discovery and protection of a lost city of ancient Maya, who fled from the Conquistadors into a mountainous stronghold hidden in the jungles of Central America. This Valley of the Vanished was located in the fictitious republic of Hidalgo, which is analogous to Honduras, whose capital he named Blanco Grande (what are the odds). What I found astounding was the fact that Lester Dent (the author of most of the Doc Savage adventures) writing an adventure yarn in 1933 accurately locates his lost Maya civilization in virtually the exact spot where a team of scientists just discovered an actual lost city. The details are unnerving, down to the Valley of the Vanished itself. Dent describes it as an impassible ring of needle-like, jungle covered mountains with one cleft through the wall, cut by a river, which leads into the oval valley, on whose floor flows the river with a pyramid and other structures lining its banks. In The Lost City of the Monkey God, Preston reveals that in 1997 when the satellite team reported on their findings on one of the targets (T-1), they said:
This valley is completely surrounded by very steep mountains with the exception of one small “cut” through the mountains that allows access. There are two small streams that flow through the valley. It is a perfect spot for a settlement…kind of reminds me of the movie, “Shangra La”!
This sounds astoundingly similar to Dent’s hidden Valley of the Vanished. After the later Lidar scans and expeditions to the unnamed T-1 valley, they did indeed find remnants of a lost city, though there was no gold pyramid guarded by a hidden tribe of ancient Maya.
In his book, Preston often relates this exciting quest to Indiana Jones, and the discovery of a lost civilization to either Shangra-la or Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Lost World. But I disagree, as one of which is located in Asia and the other in South America. I found it to be much more exact a match to the world of Doc Savage, being very, very similar to the hidden valley civilization described of The Man of Bronze. Perhaps, if he has never read them, Preston should peruse a few of the Doc Savage tales and them update the next edition of The Lost City of the Monkey God with the reference. I think this truly astounding tale of modern science and adventure echoes perfectly the scientific excitement of the old Doc Savage pulp adventures. I highly recommend The Lost City of the Monkey God. It reads like a modern thriller, with all the high technology, history, politics, archaeologists, spies, drug runners, gun battles, and danger you could dare to cram into the latest, wildest fiction. Yet, it is so much better in that it is true. But then, truth is always stranger than fiction.