A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

The Phantom of the Poles: Evidence for Hollow Earth

From Reed’s ‘The Phantom of the Poles’

When William Reed wrote his opus on the impossibility of the existence of a terra firma at the Poles in 1906, Peary was only three years away from the discovery of the North Pole.[1] Unlike other works positing hollow or alternative Earth structures, Reed does not claim divine inspiration or invented pseudo-scientific evidence. The Phantom of the Poles is based upon the examination of scientific and exploratory observations and drawing (in this case, very wrong) inferences about the nature of the world. Throughout the text he cites the reports of contemporary explorers such as Peary, Franklin, Nansen and Kane as he methodically dissects a series of observed phenomena and provides explanations for each. Beyond these ‘proofs’ derived from others’ observations, Reed’s language is carefully chosen to elicit support from those of a religious, scientific, or colonial inclination.

In his introduction, Reed sets out to reassure his readers that they are not reading a work of entertaining fiction, but a serious work intended to lay bare the ‘factual’ evidence of the hollow earth. Disbelief in his work is discouraged by making a David and Goliath analogy: ‘I am aware that I also have one powerful giant to tackle; but the stone in my sling may land at the place at which it is aimed, and the giant Prejudice be laid low and be succeeded by that young stalwart General Investigation.’[2] Reed is evidently very familiar with the century-long history of hollow earth speculation since John Symmes’s declaration (as Reed himself is using Symmesian geography) and the derision which has followed it ever since. When the argument cannot be triumphant with logos, pathos becomes the enforcer. He goes on to flatter himself and the reader that his reasoned hypothesis should ‘satisfy any intelligent person’ and that his judges ‘will be the public, whom I hope to have on my side’.[3]  So should any of scientist (apparently, they are not members of the public) take issue with Reed’s conclusions, then they are, by implication, not intelligent enough to comprehend the work, and resisting the good judgment of the public. To his bold claims and appeal for public support, Reed pledges all of his honourable certitude: ‘so sure am I that my solutions of the problems given above are correct, I am willing to stake my all on their correctness. To me, the solutions given in this volume are perfectly clear. I have thought over every possible objection, and all statements are presented with certainty.’[4] William Reed, unfortunately, hypothesised wrongly, and besides interest in this text as a curiosity of contemporary amateur science writing, was never widely read again. One of the most interesting statements that he makes is in relation to the potential for the colonisation of the interior of the world, with ‘little discomfort’ for the billions that may reside within (provided that it is not already inhabited).[5] This is the carrot Reed provides for his audience; it is not enough that the earth is merely hollow; it must also be a destination, a new country waiting to be settled by enterprising spirits. Even with the potential of inhabitants already residing within, they would simply become a new market.

The first chapter lays out a list of twelve ‘problems’ Reed sees in the phenomena of the polar regions, from the aurora borealis to tidal waves, meteorites, the colour of arctic snow and the confusion of compass needles near the pole. These questions are what he endeavours to answer through the remainder of the book. The General Summary in the following chapter provides a rough explanation for each of these, with the caveat that though Reed acknowledges his ability to express his explanations may not be superb, the reader should ‘give credit to my ideas’[6] instead. By associating his work as a continuation and explanation of the observations of arctic explorers, Reed is imbuing his evidence and theories with veracity by proxy. At times he even sounds like a defence attorney, adding the qualifier ‘supposed’ before ‘Pole’[7] on multiple occasions. Each of the problems posited previously is answered succinctly, though without any supporting evidence.

The next query is concerning the great quantities of dust constantly found in the Arctic Ocean. What causes this dust? The volcanic eruptions that send up the rocks called shooting stars. One does not ask what this dust is composed of; for it has been analyzed, and found to be carbon and iron, supposed to come out of some volcano. (p. 6)

Meteorites have suddenly lost their celestial origin in Reed’s tract, and become the product of over-active volcanoes in the interior of the earth. (At no point does Reed address how dangerous these rock-throwing volcanoes might be to his envisioned inner world colony.) Volcanoes are also given credit for the production of the aurora borealis, which is simply the glowing reflection of these volcanic fires, and they are responsible . Though Reed is now known to be wrong about these suppositions, his thinking reflects the contemporary desire to apply the scientific method of observation and hypothesis to explain the nature of the world.

In longer form, each of the subsequent chapters continues to expound upon these questions and observations to varying degrees of length. The sections dedicated to the ‘Flattening of the earth at the Poles’ and ‘Length of Polar Nights’ are each only two paragraphs in length on page nine and page eleven respectively. No bone of contention is too small, as even the origin of driftwood is given two and a half pages of consideration. ‘The Auroras: Its Wonderful Variations’ goes on for nearly twenty pages, as does ‘Open Water at the Furthest Point North and South’. The longest chapters provide Reed with the opportunity to quote heavily from previous explorers and analyse their observations, the former containing information from a dozen observers of the auroras at the Poles. Interestingly, at the time Reed was writing, scientists were not far off in hypothesising that the auroras were caused by electricity caught in a magnetic force in the north pole, but Reed mentions this theory and dismisses it as ‘nothing more nor less than the reflection upon the clouds, ice, and snow of a burning volcano, prairies- or forest-fire in the interior of the earth.’[8] The same explorers are again quoted one after the other in the ‘Open Water’ chapter, providing most of the commentary with only a few additions from Reed.

Illustrations are peppered throughout the text to facilitate the reader’s understanding of the observations and world geography that Reed it attempting to present. What his words fail to do, he is hoping pictures can sustain, as any other book of science and exploration would have done at the time, even though Reed never observed any of these things first-hand. These illustrations come with commentary meant to reinforce the author’s argument. A picture of the aurora borealis on page 41 states that it was engraved based upon the descriptions of the aurora by D.L. Brainard in 1882, and instructs the reader, ‘After observing the above engraving, read what an authority says about it; then determine its origin. Will you call it electricity? If not, what was it?’ The seeds of doubt are planted in the reader’s mind about what they are seeing, and though the caption does not explicitly state that this is a volcanic reflection, no other explanation (and a dismissal of the electricity theory) is given in the text. Rhetorical questions are posited in many of the captions in order to force the reader to question their own beliefs about the nature of the Polar Regions.

Religious invocations are few, but not completely disregarded. Reed’s audience would have included readers with a literal interpretation of the Bible, and he occasionally appears to be addressing them. In the discussion on the strange inconsistencies of the compass needle near the North Pole, Reed believes that this is in fact evidence for ‘one of the powerful proofs necessary to substantiate a great truth. Man had nothing to say about making the earth: that was given to an Allwise Creator; and if, in His wisdom, it was made double, or hollow, it was for some wise purpose.’[9] This comment at once both appeals to the sensibilities of the religiously inclined, and dismisses argument against the hollow earth as heresy towards a divine plan. In claiming that the position of the earth and sun allows for two summers and two winters in the interior, this is ‘another proof of the great wisdom of the Creator, as it does away with that long, dark winter so much dreaded at the poles’.’[10] Those aspects of the hollow earth which are favourable are credited to god, while the All Mighty is left out of the discussion when it comes to the mundane or the unpleasant (like lots of exploding volcanoes and fires causing auroras).

What might be termed ‘folksy wisdom’ or ‘plain speaking’ is another aspect of Reed’s argumentative technique that would appeal to the lay American reader. When dismissing the idea that meteorites observed hitting the north pole are nothing more than rocks thrown up by volcanoes in the interior of the earth, Reed states

“Let us drop this supernatural business, and get down to common sense, and call a stone a stone, and a fire a fire. This misnaming should be done away with forever. Our children should be taught differently, and the sooner the better. The laws of the universe are absolute and immutable, and no part of a star, planet, or comet can be detached from the main body and sent sailing through space to land on this earth near the North or South Pole.”[11]

Reed’s opinion, disguised as logic wrapped in facts, was flying in the face of centuries of astronomical observations, or else he seems to have forgotten entirely the presence of comets and the asteroid belt. He goes on to appeal to reader’s intellectual egos by adding ‘Does anyone, able to read, believe that shower after shower of stars fall near the North Pole? If there be such a person, it is apparent that he never gave the matter any thought, or is incapable of thinking.’ [12] Reed’s tone is almost offensive towards anyone who would dare to disagree with this assessment of the universe. In his chapter about the presence of dust and rock in Arctic ice, volcanoes are once again the culprits, not comets, and ‘This comet theory is most absurd, and does no credit to the first century, – to say nothing of the twentieth.’[13] Reed is not just editing the contemporary image of the earth; he is rewriting the nature of the cosmos in general. And daring anyone, I might add, to prove him wrong: ‘Will someone who does not believe the earth is hollow tell me where that dust comes from? […] If you hold that the earth is solid, there is no answer to this perplexing question.’[14] From offensive to confrontational, Reed is pushing his pathos hard upon the reader in order to sway them to his belief.

In keeping with the theories of Symmes and other writers (both of fiction and non-fiction) Reed puts forth the ‘lost race’ scenario of the hollow earth. The chapter ‘Have Other Than the Eskimos Inhabited the Arctic Regions?’ Reed states that he believes this to be affirmative, but that ‘their civilization was of a low order – if they could be civilized at all – from the fact that little is or has been found to show that they were skilled in building’.[15] The absence of evidence for dwellers of the inner world is not evidence of their absence all together, but that they are merely savages! This seems as odd opening argument, because the rest of the chapter is nothing more than quotes from Greely’s expedition finding remnants of Eskimo huts, and nothing further about these supposed hollow earth inhabitants is mentioned. Nonetheless, the question had been put in the reader’s mind, to mull over as they read further.

Gravity, another phenomenon of the world long questioned, and often debated by hollow earth believers, is also given Reed’s attention. He finds that gravity must not be an attracting force that stems from the centre of the earth, but possibly a ‘repelling’ force to be found above the earth. Regardless of the cause of gravity, he contends that it does not matter to the hollow earth, but that everything inside will weigh less, because ‘the laws of the universe are so perfect that nothing is wasted, and a substance requires less force to hold it to the inside of a hollow ball in motion than to hold it to the outside.’[16] Many authors previously of hollow world fictions had also posited that gravity would have a lesser effect inside the earth (most prominently Lloyd’s Etidorhpa), and Reed is using the scientific method of observation to extrapolate a desired answer.

One of Reed’s concluding chapters explains the title of his book, that no explorer has been able to reach the Poles simply because they do not exist. In quoting the records of nearly all previous explorers (one must wonder if he left out those explorers whose observations did not match his own desires ends) he contends that they prove “beyond a doubt, what I claim is true – that the Arctic and Antarctic oceans are bodies of open water, abounding with game of all kinds, and much warmer than further inland. If that is true, then why have the poles not been reached? The poles are but phantoms – the earth is hollow, or all principle of reasoning must fail.”[17]

Reed does not leave much room in his wording for doubt or alternative theories. Historically, it would have been interesting to be a fly on the wall of his home when news arrived that Peary and Henson had reached the North Pole.  Ironically, in the following chapter, ‘What is in the Interior of the Earth?’ Reed refuses to speculate because there is not enough evidence about its nature; ‘It is not like the question, “Is the earth hollow?” We know that it is, but do not know what will be found in its interior.’[18] This is an interesting sleight of hand meant to convince the reader that Reed had not been speculating all along, merely drawing out evidence from observations, but will not speculate now because he has no observations from the interior of the earth. This does not stop him, however, from actually continuing to speculate about tropical and temperate environs, ‘sea monsters’ and ‘vast territories of arable land for farming purposes’, and as all profiteering explorers like to hear, ‘Minerals may be found in great quantities, and gems of all kinds.’[19] Exploration is never disinterested, and new lands to be settled/exploited must flow with the proverbial milk and honey, as no one would leave their already comfortable homes and lives if there was not the chance to make a fortune by relocating. Radium, a new element at the time which often makes an appearance in hollow earth literature as a source of power, is theorised by Reed to exist in large quantities to keep away the dark. Reed even presents a design to keep ships from being crushed by icebergs as they make the journey into the Polar regions, because of course the safety of those relocating into the interior must be taken into consideration.

For Reed’s ‘In Conclusion’ chapter, only three paragraphs are given, restating not so much the evidence as the logic; ‘The earth is either hollow or it is not. What proof have we concerning the latter? Not one iota, positive or circumstantial. On the contrary, everything points to its being hollow.’[20] This must have involved some creative reading on his part for Reed to find that there was never any evidence for a solid earth. He continues to push the intellectual ego button for readers, claiming ‘As soon as you adopt the belief that the earth is hollow, perplexing questions will be easily solved, the mind will be satisfied, and the triumph of sensible reasoning will come as a delight never to be forgotten.’[21] Though it is easier now, with over a century of hindsight, dismiss Reed’s work as laughable, is was the most scientifically reasoned argument of its kind in favour of the hollow earth, and as the spiritualist website (which favours a hollow earth interpretation of the world) Onelight.com states, ‘the models in this book have been accepted as being the most popular scientific adaptations by believers of the Hollow Earth’.[22]


[1] In truth, Peary actually missed the North Pole by about 20 nautical miles (according to the Publisher’s preface).

[2] William Reed. The Phantom of the Poles: Evidence for Hollow Earth. (Forgotten Books, 1906/2007). P. 2.

[3] Reed. The Phantom of the Poles. P. 3.

[4] Ibid.

[5] Ibid.

[6] Reed. Phantom of the Poles. P. 5.

[7] This is done twice in as many sentences on page 6.

[8] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 27.

[9] Reed. Phantom of the Poles, p. 13.

[10] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 43.

[11] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 46.

[12] Ibid.

[13] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 53.

[14] Reed. Phantom of the Poles, p. 54.

[15] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 88.

[16] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 119.

[17] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 120.

[18] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 122.

[19] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 122.

[20] Reed, Phantom of the Poles, p. 125.

[21] Ibid.

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