A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

Etidorhpa: The Strange History of a Mysterious Being

Illustration from ‘Etidorhpa’

When John Uri Lloyd wrote Etidorhpa, or The Ends of the Earth: The Strange History of a Mysterious Being in 1895, it was originally circulated privately only among friends as a source of entertainment. The tome later went through eighteen editions and was translated into seven languages.[1] Some parents even began to name their daughters ‘Etidorhpa’ (Aphrodite spelt backwards, though Lloyd’s reasoning for this is never given). An admirable publication history for what David Standish calls ‘easily  the weirdest hollow earth novel of all’’[2] by an author who has been accused of using his own pharmacological stock to influence his writing.[3] In truth, Etidorhpa is a mixture of narratives; adventurous for the many perils encountered as the narrator descends into the Earth, Spiritualist for its Dante-esque theme while examining the nature of the human spirit, and didactic for its tracts on contemporary scientific theories. Though not dogmatically religious, Etidorhpa embraces Spiritualism, the pseudo-scientific religion that emerged in the later part of the Nineteenth century as practitioners attempted to use the scientific method to delve into the soul and afterlife.

The framing of Etidorhpa is one of the most complex in the terra cava field, which can leave readers confused as to which narrator they are reading at any given moment. Where many tales employ a secondary narrator/editor to add distance from the original, rendering unto their character sceptical sanity, and in turn an air of plausibility because they can disown the more dubious aspects of the relation, Etidorhpa utilises a tertiary narrator in the form of Lloyd himself, who offers paratextual essays and footnotes. This trinity of layers provide the text with ample room to editorialise upon certain topics outside the flow of the central story in order to build upon the scientific logic that lures the reader into accepting the narrative’s believability. It is also an interesting parallel to the tripartite title of the novel: ‘Etidorhpa’, the inverse of a goddess’s name, ‘The Ends of the Earth’, a fantastic geographic reference, and ‘The Strange History of a Mysterious Being’, giving readers some expectation of the style of narrative to follow. In an era when long, descriptive titles for novels was passing out of style, Lloyd’s use of such a protracted description distracts from its fictional nature to imply the reality of a journey undertaken and recorded for global revelation.

Beginning from the centre of the story, the primary narrator who undertakes the journey into the Earth is unnamed (thought to contemporary readers, perhaps recognised as being William Morgan, suspected of being kidnapped by Masons earlier in the century), calling himself only ‘I-Am-The-Man Who-Did-It’.[4] I-Am-The-Man goes on to relate his experiences to the secondary narrator, Llewellyn Drury, who is compelled to record and publish the narrative on pain of death. Frequently throughout the text, Drury interrupts I-Am-The-Man in order to question him on some scientific aspect of the tale, and debate ensues. Lloyd, the tertiary narrator, claims to have received the manuscript from Drury and taken it upon himself to publish it, with a few editorial footnotes and illustrations to add veracity. In later editions he included more material, such as a letter from I-Am-The-Man and information about one Professor Daniel Vaughn whose works greatly influenced Lloyd, so that readers would know Vaughn was indeed a real individual. One is left to question whether Lloyd is then indeed a part of the story, or whether his additions can be considered paratextual.

Before I-Am-The-Man is led underground through a cave in Kentucky by an eyeless Virgil, it is explained to him that ‘Spiritualistic investigations, unfortunately, are considered by scientific men too often as reaching backward only. […] Man must yet search by the agency of senses and spirit…and he who refuses to bow to the Creator and honor his handiwork discredits himself.’[5] What follows are hundreds of pages of scientific and spiritual inquiry as I-Am-The-Man moves deeper into the Earth in his narrative, while debating his journey with Drury in the secondary narrative and forcing Drury to test the scientific validity of I-Am-The-Man’s observations. These experiments and research topics are fully detailed in Drury’s narrative. Though again not explicitly Christian in its intent, Etidorhpa uses ideas from Spiritualism to navigate new scientific theories for the reader’s benefit. Large tracts are given over to discussions about the nature of volcanoes, light, motion, energy, and gravitation. Detailed experiments, easily replicated at home by the reader, are demonstrated by Drury and I-Am-The-Man, such as beakers and tubes that illustrate the movement of water through the Earth (chapter 27). The tangible professor Daniel Vaughn is written into the text to explain his theory on gravitation (which conforms to what I-Am-The-Man claims about the interior of the world) to Drury, and Lloyd includes both footnotes to this, and a paratextual essay on Professor Vaughn’s life, certifying to the reader his existence. These experiments stand alongside rhetorical debates about proving/disproving the essence of the human soul and consciousness and warning against materialism overtaking the hope of heaven. I-Am-The-Man states, ‘One man of science steals the body, another man of science takes away the soul, the third annihilates heaven’,[6] reminding readers that for all the study of the physical world being presented, this should not be at the expense of the human spirit.

As Etidorhpa began to disseminate among a public both interested and confused by what they were reading, Lloyd found himself answering inquiries about the nature of the book, in which he did nothing to refute the notion that he was not the author of a fiction, merely a publisher, as demonstrated in this letter to one of his subscribers in 1895, dating from the first publication.

Dear Prof Buck,
Please accept my thanks for your very kind letter. I have no hesitancy in saying that you will see in and through this book, much that is covered to most persons. Neither do I hesitate to say that in bringing this book before the public I bring to myself care and troubles that you cannot forsee and that I appreciate highly your words of encouragement.
It matters little who recorded the words, nothing at all, the question that concerns me is have I done my part creditably? A work must be done well or done over again and I hope that this will not have to be repeated by another person.
Some of us come into the world to teach, we cannot evade our destiny. Whether we teach from our own selves or from others, is of no moment, the important point is whether we teach properly. Will the result of our instruction tend to elevate the thought of others and thus lead to truth and self humility, to love and charity?
Etidorhpa is not an idle creation. The mission of this book is unseen by most of its readers. The thought current will be felt though by every reader and it pains me to appreciate the fact that to some the beauties of the work will serve but to deepen their hatred of conceptions holy and sublime. I will send Prof Crawford a copy complimentary in your care and will be pleased to have him read it and drop me a line. He will not agree with some portions.
You speak of taking the volume to which you subscribed. Please do not do so from any sense of obligation. While I feel that you can make good use of an extra copy, still, I do not want you to pay for a book simply because you sent in a subscription.
Today, or tomorrow, all the books for Cincinnati or vicinity will be delivered.
Very Sincerely Yours
John Uri Lloyd[7]

Lloyd is insinuating that he is only fulfilling a mandate or ‘destiny’ and is publishing Etidorhpa despite the troubles it will bring down on him. This is the same sort of claim we find in other works, such as Al-modad, that the author is merely a prophet fulfilling their moral duty to publish ‘the truth’ for public enlightenment.


[1] Neil Harris. Cultural Excursions: Marketing Appetites and Cultural Tastes in Modern America. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1990). 151.

[2] Standish, Hollow Earth, 218.

[3] Marcus Boon, The Road of Excess: A History of Writers on Drugs. (Harvard, MA: Harvard University Press, 2002), 228.

[4] John Uri Lloyd. Etidorhpa: The Strange History of a Mysterious Being, 8th ed., (Cincinnati: The Robert Clark Company, 1897), 42.

[5] Ibid., 95.

[6] Lloyd, 193.

[7] ‘A Letter about Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd in 1895’. < http://www.oocities.org/lloydeclectic/lloyd2buck.html> Accessed 01.08.2012.

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