Exploring the World with Roy Rockwood
Starting with Through the Air to the North Pole in 1906 (New York: Cupples & Leon) Roy Rockwood (a pseudonym used by the publishing house) introduced the eccentric inventor Professor Amos Henderson and his two young apprentices Jack and Mark, whom he rescued from a train crash and took under his wing. The author’s approach to this is far from politically correct by today’s standards: ‘The professor watched their faces with delight. He loved boys and mechanical apparatus.’ (32) NAMBLA would sure find these to be a wonderful series of books. (And yes, that is sarcasm.)
The purpose of these novels is to encourage in young men a spirit of adventure, mechanical invention, and clean leaving. So running off to the North Pole with a strange older man in his flying machine is of course the proper action: “Do you boys want to go along in the Monarch to a place where never mortal man has been?” (36) At this point in history, no one had reached the Poles yet, making this sort of tale an easy one to craft, mirrored on previous tropes of the genre, including a mixture of machinery and science magic.
‘There were electric motors, storage batteries, two gasoline engines similar to those used in automobiles, pumps, large and small tanks, instruments for measuring electric current, for telling the temperature, the amount of moisture in the air, the speed of the wind, the speed of the ship, the height of which is went, besides compasses, barometers, telescopes, and other instruments.
‘There were levers and wheels on every side, switches, valves, electric pugs and handles. Lockers arranged close to the wall and long the floor help supplies and materials. Everything was new and shining, and the professor smiled with pride as he touched piece after piece of machinery, and looked at the different instruments.’ (33)
That is the machine-porn part. Now we get to the science fiction that makes the Monarch possible, thanks to the professor’s miraculous discovery: “All I have to do is fill the big bag of oiled silk with a new gas I have discovered and up we go. This is really the most important part of the invention. Without this powerful gas the airship would not rise above the earth. / But I have found this gas, which can be made in unlimited quantities from simple materials that we can carry with us. The gas has enormous lifting power, and if it was not for that I could not dare make such a large and comfortable airship. As it is, we can sail through the air as easily as if we were on an ocean liner on the sea…” (34).
Of course we have our usual adventurous parts, of the ship nearly crashing (multiple times) and being attacked by polar bears, sea lions, and Eskimos. They also stumble across a pile of bones and a copper cylinder (see Poe and DeMille for previous examples of this) containing a letter of warning:
“Whoever may find this, take warning and do not seek to find the north pole. Danger lurks there. My name is Andre Christiansen, and I am a Dane, educated in America, who set out to find the pole I discovered it but was taken into captivity by the fierce people who dwell around it. They determined to get rid of me. With a party I was sent away. I was to be killed and buried (106) in the ice. Before they could kill me we were all attacked by polar bears. All the other men were killed and I was wounded. As I write this I am dying. I write it with my blood and a piece of bone. Send word to Denmark of my death, kind friend whoever you may be that finds this. If you reach this far in your search for the pole, be warned and go no farther. This is all I can write. I am nearly dead. I put the message in this copper cylinder which I brought along. I hope it will be found. Good-bye.” (107)
Of course they are found by these killer Eskimos, captured, ad just before their sacrifice, rescued by female Eskimo captured from another tribe, who learned English from André. Oh, and good news, she happens to be queen of her tribe, so she is able to stop our heroes from once more being sacrificed by savage Eskimos. In the midst of all this they do manage to reach the North Pole, sort of. A massive whirlwind stops them from being able to set down, and the Professor explains, “l think that the whirlwind is always there. It did not come at us, we ran into it. It may be caused by the magnetic currents at the pole eternally revolving.” (167-8) So hurrah, Professor Henderson, Jack and Mark manage to do what no other explorer has.
Up next, the South Pole!
Under the Ocean to the South Pole (New York: Cupples & Leon Co., 1907) sees the trio and their loyal companions take the Professor’s submarine, the Porpoise, to geographic south, again with the traditional series of ‘exciting’ adventures, running into shipwrecked survivors, murderous whales, pirates, etc. And when they do finally reach geographic south, something interesting awaits them: a boiling ocean. We are never given an adequate explanation as to why the ocean over the South Pole is boiling hot. We certainly weren’t confronted with such circumstance in the North Pole. This use of two different conditions allows for the hope that one of them may be right once explorers actually get there. Reaching the ‘open polar sea’ of the South Pole is not actually the most intriguing part of the narrative; it’s this little scene setting up the third book.
“Look out Professor! Don’t go any nearer or we’ll be sucked into the whirlpool!”
The inventor looked where the hunter pointed. Then he beheld the strangest sight he had ever seen. The island was low toward where Andy pointed and they beheld the waters of the ocean pouring over the edge of it, and falling down into an immense hole with a roar like that of Niagara Falls.
“Do you suppose this hole leads to the centre of the earth?” asked Mark. “I’ve read somewhere that the earth is hollow.”
“Some scientists believe it,” commented the professor. “This looks like a big enough hole to lead clear through to China. Hark, you can hear the road of the water now.” (123-5)
This hole found off the coast of South America is our point of return for the next adventure, Five Thousand Miles Underground, or, The Mystery of the Centre of the Earth (New York: Cupples & Leon Company, 1908). With the aid of Professor Henderson’s latest invention, the Flying Mermaid, they fly to this and into a new world, which the Professor hypothesis to be a second concentric sphere.
“I will tell you what I believe,” he said at length. “ I have never spoken of it before, but now that we are fairly started and may eventually have a chance to prove my theory, I will say that I think the centre of this earth on which we live is hollow. Inside of it, forming a core, so to speak, I believe there is another earth, similar to ours in some respects which revolves inside this larger sphere.” (39)
The Professor decides, upon their arrival that he is indeed correct. “I believe we are on a sort of small earth that is inside the larger one we live on. This sphere floats in space, just as our earth does, and we have passed through the void that lies between our globe and the interior one. I think this new earth is about a quarter the side of ours and in some respects the same. In others it is vastly different.” (143)
Via the discovery of both the North and South Poles to be physical geographic locations – thus negating the idea of Symmes’s Holes – it requires a modification of what’s been proposed in the preceding century. With out openings to provide sunlight, it comes instead from volcanic fires releasing multi-hued gases. Everything in this world is giant, like so many other descriptions of the interior world, except instead of trees, fruits grow on vines, and the native inhabitants are fifteen feet tall. The locals, according to the Professor, based on “Their houses, and the manner in which they live, show them to be allied to the Aztecs, though of course they are much larger than that race.” (185) Not that we are ever given the reason or evidence for this assertion.
Fortuitously, there was a stowaway on board the Flying Mermaid, who happens to be king of these people, accidentally trapped on the surface years before. As a reward, he points the explorers toward a treasure cave full of gold and diamonds. The king fails to mention the gigantic bats protecting the place, though. Fortunately the plucky travelers use lots of guns to win the day and carry away the ransom of many kings. Too bad they don’t get to keep most of it due to weight restrictions on the rescue vessel that returns them to the surface. There is still enough of the jewels remaining for everyone to be well off and Jack and Mark save it to buy themselves fine educations.
So, what have we learned from all of this?
1) There is only one way to the interior of the earth, which has now accidentally closed.
2) There are riches galore to be had on the inside of the earth.
3) There are no holes in the Poles.
4) Everything inside the earth is gigantic.
5) Plucky young boys willing to go on grand adventures with older men will be richly rewarded.
6) Only with the aid of technology can we get to any of these unexplored places.