Dr. Joyce Kinkead
on The Devil's Highway
Copyright 1979 by Joyce Kinkead.
Used by Permission.
Continued from previous page.
The novel is a scientific thriller, "an extremely grim and fearsome
specimen of its kind; . . . the book has a grisly fascination which should
keep many a reader enthralled and on edge until the dreadful Dr. Munsker's
doom is finally sealed."
Dr. Munsker, the "little Monster" as he calls himself,
is a mad scientist whose Arizona desert laboratory underneath a volcanic
cone rivals the mad scientists' hideouts of British suspense writer Ian
Fleming (1908-1964). Dr.
Munsker, a hideously deformed dwarf with a huge head and a large mental
capacity, discovers a new force in nature, similar to electricity, which
he calls "ethericity" (Devil, p. 144).
With it, he hopes to annihilate mankind.
His bitter hatred of the race is based upon the cruel treatment he
received as a child, for he is the son of a Chicago prostitute and an
unknown father (Devil, p. 216).
Drawn into Munsker's evil plan is Fred Ramsey, a brilliant graduate
student, who comes to Pacific University to study science under Professor
George Weston, a famous scientist and Fred's idol.
Unknown to Fred, Weston is an agent for Munsker, the student he had
taught and whose genius eventually towered over the professor.
Fred begins his scientific research for Weston rather disturbed by
the professor's lack of emotion, his idealism, as well as his concern for
wealth. The professor's
daughter, Alma, is also disturbed by her father's attitude change;
nonetheless, she and Fred soon fall in love and plan to marry. However, before they can act, Weston tempts Fred with a
demonstration of "ethericity" which can disintegrate an object
or restore it to its original form (Devil, p. 133).
Fred is convinced of the value of the force and goes to the main
laboratory, supposedly in Chicago, actually to work on the project.
Filled with scientific enthusiasm, he ignores Alma's protests and
Fred's destination is not Chicago, however; it is the desert
laboratory southeast of Yuma, Arizona, across the Mexican border.
He is amazed at his new environment but accepts it eventually in
his enthusiasm for scientific progress, unaware of Munsker's true purpose.
The other workers at the laboratory are devoid of emotion, and
Fred, too, is finally brainwashed so that he has thoughts only for his
When Alma receives a letter from him breaking off their engagement,
she realizes that Fred has become a scientific machine like her father.
She and Fred's cousin fly toward the Devil's Highway area, where
they suspect that Fred is being held. Munsker, sensing the danger of the two people, uses his mysterious
force to cause the plane to malfunction.
Then he neutralizes the pilot's brain. Alma is able to parachute to safety, and munsker and Fred plan to
use her in their scientific experiments though these experiments may cause
her death. During one such
experiment, Alma's pure spirit somehow overcomes Munsker's evil spirit,
and the mad scientist disintegrates. With Munsker's death, Fred, Professor Weston, similar agents
worldwide, and the laboratory worker are freed from Munsker's control. The novel concludes almost two years after Munsker's destruction
with the arrival of Fred and Alma's first child, who represent science
mixed with humanity, Wright's idea of balanced science.
Although the love story of the novel is typically Wright, the last
half of the book devoted to the maniacal super-scientist is thrilling
horrifying. The scientific
equipment Munsker uses is awe inspiring for 1932, but it has little impact
on readers of the 1970s who live in a society which has nuclear power. Though the methods are outdated, Wright's concern about the
boundaries of science is a theme which remains current; people still
wonder whether or not scientists care less for humanity than for the
"god of science" (Devil, p. 249).
Munsker is power hungry, a possible effect of scientific research
when the scientist works with unknown forces. Professor Mills warns Fred of the possible evil of science:
I believe that a really great scientific mind above all others
needs the balance of a great ideal. I
am convinced that all scientific advancement, if not attended and
controlled by an adequate spiritual development, must, in the end, work
havoc with the human race. (Devil,
Fred begins as an idealistic scientific researcher, he does not "keep
the doors of his mind . . . open to . . . spirituality, beauty, art in all
forms, love of truth, honor, nobility of purpose, the emotional
relationship, friendship, family affection, . . . actual forces as real as
electricity" (Devil, p. 104).
He subverts his idealism to the importance of scientific
researching, disregarding his friendship and even his love.
Wright's warning about scientists, spoken by a clear-eyed
newspaperman, presents the theme of this novel:
by the same token I think you meddlesome scientists had better leave it
alone. If this world and all
actually is mostly nothing but whirling forces and manifestations
of energy about which you say yourself scientists know nothing, you'd
better quit fooling with it. You
might drop one of your scientific monkey wrenches into the machinery and
cause a heck of a wreck, or you might start something you couldn't stop. (Devil, p. 36)
speaker loses his live in one of Munsker's experiments. The authors have one purpose for this novel--to make scientists
aware of humanity and to warn them about interference with nature's laws.
As a work of fiction, the novel excites the reader with its demonic
picture of a scientist unleashed and gone mad, but it loses some of its
power because of its dated scientific equipment and its rather typical
love story involving purity triumphing over evil.
The spiritual victory does not fit the rest of the thriller and its
scientific apparatus. The
Devil's Highway is the strangest novel in the Wright canon which
normally focuses on church, nature, or good character.
Yet, in a sense, this novel is an extension of his religious theme,
for it presents to the reader the idea that mankind cannot tamper with
nature or refute God's laws, both of which as truths Wright views as
The three novels included in this chapter are explicit examples of
Wright's commentary of society. Although
he includes a love plot in all of these books, the underlying purpose of
the novels is to present Wright's message on three social subjects.
Helen of the Old House presents Wright's views on the labor
movement. He advocates a
unified force of labor and management.
Without unification, strikes and foreign influences can cripple the
country. In The Eyes of
the World, Wright criticizes writers and artists who sacrifice
themselves and their work to gain success.
His criticism is pointed directly at writers of realism and
naturalism, who he thinks have corrupted the country's moral standards.
The Eyes of the World is also his retaliation for the
criticism he received as a sentimental writer.
The Devil's Highway makes one clear statement:
scientists should never put their work before humanity.
The results of science devoid of humanity and religion can be
disastrous. In these novels
Wright clearly but subtly is the preacher.
Copyright 1979 by
Used by Permission.