A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

Al-modad: Life scenes beyond the polar circumflex; a religio-scientific solution to the problems of present and future life

This small tome, printed on bible-thin pages between only slightly thicker sheets of paper with miniscule text, seems almost over priced at $1.00 in 1892; calculating for inflation[1], this book would cost almost $24 today. Even putting an advertisement on the back cover for a photography shop in Cincinnati does not appear to have helped in reducing the cost. It is unknown if any editions beyond this one exist, or how widely this dense novel sold. The front cover is also littered with biblical quotations, and one from Confucius, which seems out of place. As a subtitle, Al-modad goes on to clarify that it is about ‘Life scenes beyond the polar circumflex; a religio-scientific solution to the problems of present and future life’. Even an author is not blatantly listed, stating only that it was written by ‘an untrammelled free-thinker’, a rather egotistic nom de plume. History has been left to assume that the publishers, M. Louise Moore and M. Beauchamp (of which no information exists) were the true authors.

Beyond the paratextual quotes on the cover, the inside cover, below the copyright notice, is a note from the publisher, addressed directly to the reader:

Any purchaser of this book who will submit in proof in writing, either from a scientific or scriptural stand-point, to show that any theory herein presented is false will receive the price paid, with the thanks of the publisher. This is not intended as a challenge, but from a sense of veneration for the truth and of honest, fair dealing, as also to stimulate a spirit of candid, unprejudiced investigation.

This is an extremely unique statement to make, an address not from the author, per se, but the publisher (which I interpret to be one in the same) in an attempt to cultivate the trust and empathy of the reader to build veracity for the narrative. Just as important is what goes unsaid: the publisher makes no offer to correct any wrong information in the narrative, only asks to be informed (and furnished with proofs) of error and will pay the dollar spent on the book. Establishing credibility is also made through appeal to the reader’s intellectual ego by suggesting they question what they are reading: ‘Hearsay could never have satisfied me, nor should it ever satisfy you. Accept no theory unsupported by reasonable, tangible, demonstrative proofs’ (pg. 80).

In addition to this ‘Special’ notice inside the cover is the 14 page Publisher’s Preface (which would more aptly be called the ‘Authors’ Preface’) that goes on to establish the frame of the narrative. By substituting ‘Publisher’ for ‘Author’, the assumed neutrality of the former title is transferred onto the latter, which most readers must presume to have a bias. From the start, the publisher disavows any hand in the narrative, claiming only to have published it as part of ‘a solemn pledge given to a dying comrade’ (pg. 1). This ‘apology’ continues, ‘not to shun the criticism and possibly ridicule from which even prophets and poets are not wholy [sic] exempt, but to disclaim any right to merit from any benefit that may be conferred upon human society in the promulgation of ideas’ (pg. 1). So now the Publisher is comparing this work to those of ‘prophets’ and ‘poets’ and dismissing doubts or condescension as par for the course of great minds. And this is only done because the Publisher feels unworthy of taking any credit for the ‘benefits’ derived from the reading of Al-modad. This framing device has been seen in other works, such as Mizora, Etidorhpa, and The Smoky God. The preface goes on to introduce the Publisher’s nameless family, and their encounter with Almodad Moetaend, the author of the manuscript, in November of 1879.

The pace of the book is uneven, starting with a long narrative about Almodad’s time in Africa, where he was captured by cannibals and forced to consume human flesh to preserve his life amongst his captors. This opens up a chance to compare the eating of human flesh with the eating of any flesh (pg. 40) – adding another tale of vegetarianism to the hollow earth canon. Because exploration is never disinterested, Almodad discovers gold while in Africa, but is more concerned with obtaining freedom than scooping up a few nuggets. He has time to makes mention, though, that he could exchange that gold for the commodities of civilisation, like books and education (pg. 45) to improve the lives of Africans and put a stop to their cannibalism. Eventually escaping to Portugal, and then England, Almodad, finding himself friendless and penniless, takes on a dangerous expedition to the Arctic, which is finally gotten to on page 58. Only a few pages later, Almodad and a companion, through misfortune, are swept away into a Symmes Hole.

As with nearly all hollow earth narratives (except for Interior World) a native population is to be found. And as with nearly all of the narratives, they are described as a uniformly handsome race, with ‘beardless faces, firmly modelled feminine features, beautiful clear complexion and perfect similarity, in form, stature, dress and deportment’ (pg. 72). Heaps of qualitative praise is lavished upon these interior beings, for their ‘physical, intellectual and moral perfection’ because it is impossible ‘to comprehensively describe the people, their manners and customs’ (pg. 78). However, the bulk of the book is given over to just this task, rather than developing a comprehensive plot, another feature of these hollow earth narratives. Utopian in aspect, the purpose of the tale is to have the author/narrator merely move through the society of the interior inhabitants while comparing it to contemporary surface society and all its ills.

Throughout the narrative there are frequent addresses made toward the reader. Finally reaching dry land, Almodad makes an interesting statement: ‘To the reader’s imagination I submit the experiment of surmising what our feelings were when we stepped upon this verdant shore’ (pg. 68). This is explicitly drawing in the audience to put themselves into the situation, reminding them by direct address that they are reading a ‘true’ tale. Often the reader is challenged to reflect upon what they are being told, such as ‘Reader, are you prepared to accept this theory?’ (pg. 185). This breaking of the fourth wall is also accompanied by occasional notes from the ‘publisher’ on issues both political and ecumenical. On page 77 is a long note that delves into the blasphemy of giving money to God, with biblical references for the reader to verify the publisher’s argument.

The religious aspects itself seem clear from the beginning, and Al-Modad[2] is a descendant of Noah listed in the book of Genesis, the name taken to mean something along the lines of ‘measure of God’.[3] What becomes more interesting is that rather than being a strict Judeo-Christian interpretation of the Bible, the narrative goes out of its way several times to point out that the Old testament should not be read as literal, but allegorical: ‘The book called the bible is not a litteral, but an allegorical history’ (pg. 146). Almost the entirety of the thirteenth chapter is given over to scriptural analysis. Though this is not quite the religious fantasy adventure of The Sovereign Guide, Judeo-Christian philosophy makes up a significant portion of the text.

The closing of the frame is unusual; the ‘narrator’ decides to include a nine page appendix adding yet more information about his ‘intra-mundane friends’ (pg. 203) that was not already covered, including ‘Property Rights’, ‘Conjugal Mateship’ and ‘All Matter Composed of Living Entities’. The ‘Conclusion’ is from the ‘publisher’, summarising Almodad’s departure from the interior of the earth, his return to the surface to find his family gone, and being left to wander the world until stumbling upon the ‘publisher’ and relating the tale. Almodad suffers the same depressing fate of many prophets: disbelieved, impoverished, homeless and friendless. Only because of the publisher’s promise are we even made aware of this ‘wonderful narrative’ (pg. 216).

As Bleiler summarises, this is ‘a thesis novel designed to help the common man and also to reconcile Scripture with science’.[4] He also calls it a ‘rare curiosity, but highly eccentric’ (pg. 517), which is to say the least. Little other criticism can be found about Al-modad, and nothing about the theorised authors, as the novel does not appear to have even been printed more than once. Bleiler is correct in his summation, though, that the intent of the novel was to reconcile emerging science with biblical dogma, and the hollow earth setting is one of convenience rather than conviction of its existence.

[2] Alternately spelled Almodad’ or ‘Elmodad’.

[3] Taken from Hitchcock’s Bible Names Dictionary published in 1870, meaning that the authors may have had a chance to read the book and take the name from it. http://christianthings.com/reading/biblena.html. Accessed 8/11/2011.

[4] Bleiler, Everett F. Science Fiction: The Early Years. (Kent, OH: Kent State University Press, 1990). P. 517.

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