Ole Doc Methuselah Essay - Critical Essays

Analysis

As Robert Silverberg points out in his introduction to the 1992 version of this collection, the Methuselah stories came early in L. Ron Hubbard’s career and show evidence of his involvement with John W. Campbell, Jr., the editor of Astounding Science-Fiction, and the group of young writers Campbell attracted, among them Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov, L. Sprague de Camp, A. E. van Vogt, Theodore Sturgeon, Fritz Leiber, and Lester del Rey. Hubbard was also writing fantasy stories for Unknown, another Campbell magazine. By the time he started writing for Campbell, Hubbard had already published numerous stories in pulp fiction adventure magazines such as Thrilling Adventures, Phantom Detective, Cowboy Stories, Top Notch, Argosy, Western Stories, Popular Detective, and Five Novels Monthly. He had also written screenplays for the adventure movie serial “The Secret of Treasure Island.” In addition, Hubbard knew other pulp fiction writers such as Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, and Edgar Rice Burroughs.

More than his other science fiction, the Methuselah stories show the influence of Hubbard’s days writing pulp adventure fiction, particularly Westerns. Many of the stories contain elements typical of a Western: the loyal sidekick, the oppressive local villain, land speculation schemes, monopolies on natural resources, shoot-outs, and pretty young women in distress. The world that Methuselah inhabits is the galactic frontier, and this world has many of the same qualities as the frontier of the nineteenth century American West—lawlessness, petty feuds, outlaws, and first attempts at civilization. Methuselah wears a bright gold costume, rides around in a gold ship, and carries a blaster that he uses as deftly as any film cowboy ever used a six-shooter.

As Robert Silverberg mentions in his introduction to the collection, when “Ole Doc Methuselah” first appeared, the reader-response poll that Campbell published each month reported that it was the most popular story of the October, 1947, issue of Astounding Science-Fiction, finishing just ahead of the final installment of Hubbard’s “The End Is Not Yet.” Campbell characterized the story as “fun rather than cerebral science-fiction.”

Soon after the last of the Methuselah stories was published, Campbell published Hubbard’s nonfiction essay “Dianetics, the Evolution of a Science. Hubbard’s book Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health (1950), soon followed, and Hubbard left off writing science fiction for nearly thirty years.