A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

The Sovereign Guide; a tale of Eden

In the tradition of authors framing their narratives, The Sovereign Guide (1898) by William Amos Miller presents a unique introduction, one that does not address his inspirations, evidence, or intent, but one that is autobiographical. Claiming to have been born blind and almost completely deaf, poorly educated and subsisting as a broom salesman, Miller is appealing for indulgence on the part of his readers if they find his story grammatically in error. Not only is Miller attempting to lower reader expectation and defray incredulity, he is also engendering marketable sympathy for the sale of his book.

Driven by a sixth sense to venture to Rome to reconnect with an old servant, the unnamed narrator is confronted with a divine being (the ‘Sovereign Guide’ of the tale) who, like Dante’s Virgil, is assigned to lead him on a spiritual quest into the Earth underground.[1] They get there via an egg-shaped submersible that is capable of re-orienting itself dependent on the gravitational pull. Despite the overt Christian spiritualism of the book, the author chooses to incorporate many modern scientific advances into heaven’s arsenal, including magnets, electric engines and telegraphs (pgs 28-9).  The submersible, following the only water route between the exterior and interior earth, is equipped with machines for processing air, storing food and providing fresh water (pg. 29); all rather corporal needs for a heavenly mandated vessel.  Why the need for the vessel at all? Previously to this, the celestial guide has simply been allowing the narrator to transcend doorways in space to move about.

The choice of an ocean route is itself interesting, because other tales that have not made use of the Symmes Holes have found other land-based means of getting to earth’s core, via caves and chasms. However, the narrator does point out that ‘the sun’s rays came from the polar circle’ (pg. 33) so this is still making use of Symmesian geography. In the history of Eden, Adam and Eve were driven out to cooler surface world via the arctic (pg. 36). This is loosely in keeping with William F. Warren’s theories on human origins in Paradise Found, but it is impossible to know if the author had direct contact with Warren’s work. Nonetheless, despite the author’s claimed disabilities (again, impossible to substantiate) he is obviously familiar with late 19th century scientific advances, hollow earth theory and the debate about origins. This last is most fully realised in the vilification of the theory of evolution when the narrator points out that ‘under no circumstance are theories allowed to be promulgated except in tale and fable’ (pg. 66).[2] So this highly scientific and technical society is not allowed to theorise anything unless it be in the form of folklore. Nor is Miller unfamiliar with the common literary tropes of the lost race scenario.

Inhabitants of Eden, being more highly evolved than their surface cousins, are described as being ‘alabaster white’ (pg. 62) and possessing immeasurable material wealth that holds little value for them. The majority of the text is now given over not to the unfolding of an actual plot, but religious expression through visual metaphors, the description of Eden and its utopian society. Eden is at least able to reconcile its spiritualism with modern technological practices, a realism that at times jumps out and slaps the reader back from pure fancy. Like other utopian texts before it, the eating of meat is not part of this advanced race’s culture.

In addition to these utopian contrasts with the external world, several opinionated speeches by the narrator about current events. One of these is a vitriolic diatribe against newspapers printing rubbish, while Eden only facts are reported. (pg. 72). Another, marking the more overtly Christian nature of the text, is the narrator’s frustration with those who do not ‘bitterly denounce the Christian ministers of all denomination for… their tardiness in spreading the gospel of light among their simple, uncultured, barbarous neighbors’ (pg. 77). In other words, the juggernaut of Christian conversion around the world is not moving swiftly enough for Miller, and the world would be more like Eden if everyone were willing to accept the Edenic Christian principles.

The penultimate chapter of The Sovereign Guide is one that may unintentionally provoke a few smiles among the modern reader, as it covers the origins of Hell, which happens to be located on another planet, and Satan keeps in contact with his minions via telegram (pgs. 114-5). This is at least an interesting expansion upon the universe, beyond the immediate solar system, in the discovery that God created multiple planets for habitations, and the old belief that Hell is located beneath the surface of the world is mistaken.

In the last chapter, in following on from Hell, is the revelation of heaven and the ‘Blessed Vision of the Second Divine Person – the Brightest of Eternal Light’ (pg. 127) – a loquacious way of saying Jesus. Though given a long introduction to the author, and a build up to the narrator’s quest, the novel abruptly ends in only two short paragraphs, without any follow up from the author or narrator to close the frame. The narrator does not even go into detail about his compulsion to publish his adventures, or how he was received upon his return, elements typical in other hollow earth and travel/adventure fictions.

In his review, Bleiler believes that in a strict sense, The Sovereign Guide is a religious fantasy, but it is the use of the technological that allows the narrative to be included in early science fiction.[3] He also considers the narrative to be ‘naïve’ and ‘clichéd in religiosity’ but finds it interesting that Miller’s handicap did not prevent his imaginative visualisation.[4] Without another source besides Miller himself making these claims of impairment, I find myself less willing to believe in them.

[1] Like the author, the narrator is deprived of eyes and ears, but this is so that he can see and hear in the spiritual world (pg. 21).

[2] This is an interesting hypocrisy, considering that the hollowness of the earth was also just a theory.

[3] Everett F. Bleiler. Science Fiction: The Early Years (Kent, OH: The Kent State University Press, 1990). P. 501.

[4] Ibid.


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3 thoughts on “The Sovereign Guide; a tale of Eden

  1. The Silent Worker, a respected publication published his autobiographical sketch, which explains his blindness and deafness: http://dspace.wrlc.org/view/ImgViewer?url=http://dspace.wrlc.org/doc/manifest/2041/33802

  2. Pingback: Reconsidering William Amos Miller, the Blind Writer | A Study of the Hollow Earth

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