A Study of the Hollow Earth

Exploring forgotten realms of literature

Archive for the month “February, 2015”

The British Literary Pilgrimage

Arthur was here. Maybe. And lots of tourists. Definitely.

Arthur was here.

British myth and British tourism have merged to create the modern British pilgrimage, one that unites the literary with the monetary for tourists from all over the world.

Zachary Beckstead discussed the pilgrimage in terms of its psychological fulfillment:

‘[P]ilgrimages entail movement directed at sites that are considered by communities and individuals to be sacred sites that are supported and sanctified by tradition. These places have been transformed by human and (asserted) supernatural intervention, and contain a form of charisma and power to the perspective of the pilgrim because of their association with… sacrifice (i.e., battlefields), beauty, and/or with some other social virtue (e.g. creativity, honor, celebrity).’[1]

There are three figures of popular literary myth that have corporeal centres of tourism that exert influence on the traveler, and on the continued publication of associated literature: King Arthur, Robin Hood, and Sherlock Holmes.

King Arthur has hundreds of tomes dedicated to his legend, and that of his associates (Merlin, Guinevere, Lancelot, Morgan le Fay, etc.), starting with medieval histories to plots from the Romantics and genre-specific novels in the last hundred years. To capture this myth, and connect it to the real world, Arthurian devotes can visit Glastonbury Tor, said to be Arthur’s burial place, and the Shropshire countryside, where ancient ruins have been designated the foundations of Camelot by modern residents, drawing in tourist dollars. ‘The Magical History Tour’ offers to take tourists from Arthur’s birthplace at Tintagel Castle (Cornwall) to Dover Castle, resting place of Sir Gawain’s head.

The problem with locating sites for Arthurian pilgrimage is the change of place names, allowing multiple locations to lay claim to legendary places. During the reign of King Henry II an abbey at Glastonbury was identified as the resting place of Arthur and Guinevere. Camelot could have been located in Winchester (according to Sir Thomas Malory), Colchester, or Cadbury Castle in Somerset; Camlan, the site of Arthur’s fatal last battle, could be the Salisbury Plain (again, according to Malory), or Hadrian’s Wall, or Slaughterbridge in Cornwall.[2] Historically, many of these places likely fulfilled a need for local prominence; in the case of Glastonbury, drawing in religious pilgrims, even though Arthur was never sainted. There are few ancient cities and villages in Britain that do not claim some attachment to Arthurian lore.

Moving only a few centuries into the future, Robin Hood, the honourable thief, has a definitive place for tourists in the still extant Sherwood Forest. Biographers and literary imitators are forced to maintain this geography because the legend it too firmly set in Nottinghamshire. There is now a Visitor Centre located by what is known as the ‘Great Oak’, an enormous tree reputed to be a meeting place for Robin and his merry band, and Nottingham Castle is open to those looking for remnants of the villainous sheriff. There is a tourist website that helps Robin Hood pilgrims parse every detail from the region:

‘A visit to Robin Hood’s Sherwood Forest is an experience… The stories of the legend have been passed down from generation to generation, embellished and questioned… but the stories tally so well with findings of caves in Nottingham Castle and the other major landmarks, that there can never really be any doubt – and whilst some say he was in other parts of the Country, he spent most of his time in the Forests of Nottinghamshire.’[3]

Now, moving several hundred years into the future, we come to the modern myth of Sherlock Holmes, whose place of residence did not exist until decades after his creation. While there was indeed a Baker Street at the end of the Nineteenth century, 221 Baker Street was constructed until the 1930s when the Abbey National Building Society took up residence at 219-229 Baker Street. A full-time secretary was employed to answer the letters received by the Society addressed to Sherlock Holmes. The Sherlock Holmes Museum, located next to Abbey National, was finally assigned the address 221b Baker Street on 27 March 1990; consumer demand led to the creation of this Sherlockian shrine, immortalized one of the blue plaques typically reserved for historical sites in Great Britain.

A pilgrimage to 221b Baker Street will cost adults £10, children only £8, and devotion can be paid 364 days a year.[4] Considering the cost of a ticket to Jerusalem or Mecca, this seems fairly reasonable. Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes was so real, it demanded a change in the topos of London to accommodate him. In terms of Beckstead’s pilgrimage to a place of ‘social virtue’, Sherlock Holmes must surely fulfill the claims of creativity, honor, and celebrity. Though being a thousand years younger than Arthur, Sherlock can boast ten-times the number of pastiches. All the world is open to hosting a Holmesian mystery, but there is only one place on earth to which Sherlock must return.

All three of these historical/mythical figures thrive today in literature, film and television, embracing geographic legend, spurring pilgrimages of ‘social virtue’. There is no telling how many of these literary pilgrims will then draw upon the legendary topography to create their own contributions to the myths.

[1] Zachary Beckstead, ‘Crossing Thresholds: Movements As A Means of Transformation’, The Oxford Handbook of Culture and Psychology, ed. Jaan Valsiner (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012), p. 713.

[2] Mike Dixon-Kennedy, Arthurian Myth & Legend (London: Brockhampton Press, 1995), pp. 59-60

[3] ‘Robin Hood in Sherwood Forest’, <http://www.robinhoodtourism.co.uk/robin_hood.htm&gt;

[4] <http://www.sherlock-holmes.co.uk/&gt;

There are Nazis Living Under Your House

Yep. Nazis. Beneath your very boots. (Well, actually, that’s another book.)

The Indiana Jones films expose only some of the strange occult beliefs and mythic pursuits of Hitler’s SS; beyond the Holy Grail and Spear of Destiny, Atlantis and Shambhala, there was the Hollow Earth.

It is hard to pinpoint exactly where the whispers started, claiming that the Nazis built a secret base in Antarctica, one not on the surface of the world, but inside of it. The Thule Society was a German organization interested in the study of Aryan origins, ‘Thule’ being the mythical land in furthest north. In the nineteenth century the ‘Ultima Thule’ came to represent the unreachable Poles that thwarted expedition after expedition. Germany’s Thule Society could boast a wide range of future Nazi leaders (including Himmler and Hess) and the studies conducted by the society undoubtedly influenced the occult leanings of the Nazi party, even as the Nazis pursued a course of persecution of occultists following their rise to power. The Third Reich did claim a portion of Antarctica, New Swabia, in 1939, but never returned to establish any base and the territory never came into play during the war.

After the war, German expatriate Willy Ley published an article in Astounding Science Fiction, “Pseudoscience in Naziland” (May 1947, pp. 90-8) in which he proposed the existence of the ‘Vril Society’, drawing on Bulwer-Lytton Vril-ya civilization in The Coming Race. Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwles associated this Vril-ya Society with the Thule Society and the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn in their book The Morning of the Magicians (1960). In all likelihood, this is fanciful speculation at best, building upon rumours already extant. Holocaust denier Ernst Zündel actually sold tickets promising seats on an expedition to the South Pole to find the opening used by the Nazis to retreat to the interior. [1]

These rumours and semi-fictitious articles, however, have provided a rich field of entertainment for popular culture. By this point, even if you haven’t seen it, you have likely heard of Iron Sky, or ‘Moon Nazis’ in common parlance, the crowd-funded B-movie about Nazi descendants living on the dark side of the moon and flying UFOs. More recently, there has been a push to produce a sequel for 2016, Iron Sky: The Coming Race, drawing on Bulwer-Lytton’s work:

This strongly echoes the 2012 Asylum film aptly titled Nazis at the Center of the Earth. The latter – or former, depending on your temporal perspective – featured both a Nazi UFO rising out of the ice of Antarctica and a robot Hitler. Seriously.

Besides these B-movie efforts, invoking Bulwer-Lytton’s Vril-ya and UFO from inside the world (derived from Raymond Bernard’s 1964 book The Hollow Earth), there are several more literary examples – of varying quality – that explore the idea of a hidden enclave of Nazis underground. Indiana Jones does not miss a chance to revisit Nazis occultism, Max McCoy’s 1997 novel Indiana Jones and the Hollow Earth sending Indy to the Arctic to battle Nazis in search of Ultima Thule. McCoy has done his research on the subject, and his Nazis are looking for the ‘Vril crystal’ to make Hitler’s army invincible. Mick Farren’s 2002 novel Underland takes more vampiric approach to the hollow earth (the main protagonist is the vampire super-spy Victor Renquist), with a secret Nazi country plotting to retake the surface world.

The question to ask is why  Hitler and his minions are so often portrayed as living beneath the earth still? Because it was so hard to accept that a force as devastating, powerful and destructive as Adolph Hitler came to such an inglorious end in a bunker beneath Berlin. Global post-traumatic stress could not easily let go of the nightmare. That Hitler waits beneath the surface of the earth seems as believable a threat as Lucifer, and fulfills the same need to be prepared for the worst. Rather than continuously reinventing the underworld, the tropes of nineteenth century novelists and occultists flesh-out the narrative. The internet has allowed conspiracy theorists and occult  historians to share information and perpetuate the Nazi/terra cava connection.

[1] – http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/z/zundel-ernst/flying-saucers/expedition.html

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