A Study of the Hollow Earth

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Archive for the tag “American literature”

Echoes: Literary and Historical Mars in the New Narrative

“We could cast our imaginations wider, to those who have tried to speak for all of Mars. To the astronomers looking at it with their telescopes, measuring all the qualities of light reflected from its surface, seeing seasons and imagining civilizations. Or to the writers inspired by those astronomical visions: H.G. Wells and Stanley Weinbaum, Arthur C. Clarke and Robert Heinlein, Ray Bradbury and Alexander Bogdanov and Edgar Rice Burroughs. Their imaginations took a point of light and turned it into a world of experience.” Oliver Morton, Mapping Mars, p. 3.

Despite the possibility of alien civilisations on Mars ground underfoot in the relentless stream of new information about the planet, the literary and exploratory history of Mars still influences contemporary authors writing under the new paradigm. The works of Edgar Rice Burroughs and Ray Bradbury are the most prominently featured old literature about Mars, and the tropes of Martian life and survival in a hostile environment are still influencing plotlines. Life is the ultimate litmus test of planetary exploration in the minds of both scientists and authors. Not one of these novels (or most others published in the last two decades) skips the discovery of some form of life or fossilised evidence of its past presence. These older literary ideas are tied into historical retrospectives about Percival Lowell’s observations and NASA’s Mariner, Viking, and (later on) Pathfinder missions. In other words, there is ‘Nostalgia for an imagined Martian past and speculation about an imagined future,’ as a ‘dialectal responses to the ambiguities that Mars represents after 1972.’[1] This Martian mega-text (to borrow from Damien Broderick’s view of science fiction’s ‘interlocking web of fictive worlds’[2]) is built upon years of speculative fiction and science constantly being reinterpreted and updated, old tropes being assimilated by newer ones. Gregory Benford has noted that hard SF writers ‘hold in common the internationalist idealism of scientific bodies, and in their free trading of ideas often behave like scientists.’[3] This helps to understand the prevalent use not just of classical works, but the commonly shared sources of information, as these proposed soon-to-be-histories are written with a common historical/ literary background. Zubrin’s historian cum astronaut character is blatant in articulating the conflict between past, present, and envisioned future:

Edgar Rice Burroughs already told us about this place. Once there were canals here, and cities, capitals of mighty empires that had names like Helium, Ptarth, and Manator. […]

Ah, Barsoom, you were destroyed by the Mariner probes, which banished you into mere fiction. But now we are here to make amends. Once again, there are people on Mars[4]

It is a rather ridiculous statement to makes; Burroughs knew next to nothing about Mars (only what was gleaned from Lowell’s fuzzy observations), he merely gave it the foundations of a fictive state to exist in. But the sentiment is meant to appeal to those who are familiar with Barsoom’s influence on literary Mars. In adapting to changing perceptions of the planet, these authors are attempting to make Mars interesting again, not with fantasy, but with the facts as they are known by presenting the visage of an adventurous, dangerous new world to explore. The past literary and scientific elements are called upon to invoke a popular nostalgia, and be reconciled with the new Mars, ‘to make amends’ for the years between Viking and the mid-1980s when authors finally began to write about the Red Planet again. They also revel in the early scientific speculation and unmanned expeditions to Mars, reiterating the great efforts leading up to this point in history and the significance Mars has held in the human imagination. These novels are about modifying the mega-text of Martian literature, turning what had become fantasy into the viable, realistic mode of prediction science fiction is often perceived to be, ignoring the extent to which it comments on the present.[5] In order to reshape Martian iconography, these narratives must be woven into the scientific and literary past. Just as latter revelations in both religion and science must take prevalence over those edicts and theories which preceded them, the more recent novels of Mars establish their authority over Burroughs and Bradbury by reminding readers of the fallacious bygone, while presenting the latest NASA findings. This also requires authors to take a planet redefined in less terrestrial terms, and humanise it again with more subtle metaphors; a vision of the Grand Canyon National Park rather than a medieval palace. It is acceptable to be inspired by past literature and scientific deeds, but the ‘new’ must be embraced, or as Gwyneth Jones put it, ‘In the hierarchy of sf plausibility, technophile extrapolation from the here-and-now takes precedence.’[6] This creates a cyclical relationship between the scientists making discoveries, the SF authors incorporating these discoveries into the plots, adding their own speculation, and providing stories of inspiration for a new generation.

Many authors and scientists were influenced by these tales of Mars, and ‘No matter how whimsical the Mars of Bradbury, or Lowell, or Burroughs, the scientists who now study the planet grew up under the influence of these visionaries. Some modern scientists, like Carl Sagan, have freely admitted their debt; others function in a culture conditioned by them.’[7] They were provided with the wonderland of a living Mars. In acknowledging the influences of these works, authors are demonstrating a hope that their own stories will inspire the future. Discovering life on Mars is fictionalised wish fulfilment, whether to merely alleviate the feeling of being alone in the universe, or to prove Mars a worthwhile destination deserving of further development. The dream of colonising Mars with shining domed-cities is not (completely) dead, but has been replaced with the more realistic near-future structures of buried brick vaults and domes of rip-stop Kevlar and Plexiglas.[8] Now there is simply more science to influence the settlement plan and those writing the narratives. ‘Good science fiction works […] Largely by retaining some contact with the real world,’[9] thus, by the authors maintaining parity with the known past while incorporating newer work, it helps to maintain the verisimilitude, allowing readers to relate more fully to the idea that this is the very near future.

The historical science references, from Lowell to Pathfinder, are meant to keep the reader in the present and aware that this is not intended to be an alternative universe with an alternate history (excluding Stephen Baxter’s Voyage in 1997 which deals with an alternate history and a Mars expedition in the 1980s). Bova makes reference to the first geologist on the moon since Apollo 17 and the use of Mir 5 space station,[10] establishing a continuation of known space programmes. However, as can happen when writing in the near future, the latter element is now a dated assumption considering the destruction of the original Mir and its substitution with the International Space Station (which Landis makes use of in his novel for training the astronauts, along with the fictional Mirusha, ‘“little Mir’- a tribute to the earlier Mir space station’[11]). But it is the Viking missions of 1976 which are more frequently brought up, the first American craft to touch down on the planet and conduct basic experiments, which revealed ‘that there was unusual chemical activity in the Martian soil’ raising the question ‘Could life exist in that soil, if there was liquid water available?’[12] The scientific history raises possibilities for the authors to explore and answer, and it offers a chance for the authors to pay homage to old scientists and explores who helped to shape the new Mars. In the novel, an excursion is made out to the Viking 1 Lander (renamed the Mutch Memorial station after the death of Thomas A. Mutch in 1980) to place a plaque in honour of the geologist who headed up the team which examined the Viking photographs.

DEDICATED TO THE MEMORY OF TIM MUTCH, WHOSE IMAGINATION, VERVE, AND RESOLVE CONTRIBUTED GREATLY TO THE EXPLORATION OF THE SOLAR SYSTEM.[13]

The plaque was unveiled by NASA in 1981, and is still waiting for a team of explorers to go to Mars and place it with the Mutch Memorial Station.[14] Bova is fulfilling the desire of many NASA scientists, if only in fiction, and adding another thread of reality to the inter-textual web.

A significant source of history that contributes to the plot later on in Return to Mars was the historic Pathfinder mission of 1997, when NASA finally succeeded in returning to Mars after Viking. Bova’s questionably enterprising character Dexter Thumball is determined to scavenge the Sojourner rover from the Sagan site in Ares Vallis to auction off on Earth. Upon retrieval ‘they photographed the area for comparison with the catalogue imagery from the Pathfinder itself three decades earlier.’[15] Instead of a simulacrum stand-in as SF so often must do for their plots, Bova is free to utilise these real artefacts of history as part of the action. Thumball the elder later decided to trek to Mars to check on his investments, citing that ‘older men than I have gone into space, starting with Senator Glenn nearly forty years ago’[16] in reference to Senator John Glenn of Ohio setting the record for oldest astronaut in space.[17] Statements such as this are superfluous to the plot action, but contribute to the verisimilitude of a potential near-future expedition.  NASA is a civilian branch of the US government, and in a (theoretically) transparent democracy, their activities are therefore part of the public domain, and free to be assimilated into the iconography of Mars. An invented NASA mission (for that matter, a fictitious space agency) would be a distraction for readers versed in space travel history, and so it is easier for Bova, and others, to appease the informed and inform the uninitiated.

Gregory Benford utilises more scientific history than perhaps any other author during this decade, planting his work firmly in the realm of near-future. The Martian Race brings up the 1989 proposal by NASA for a $450 billion budget to reach Mars[18] and the subsequent development of the Mars Direct scenario as a more economic proposal. The history of self-contained environments, from Mir to Skylab to the International Space Station and the Biosphere II experiment (including why it failed) are all brought up, and how self-contained environments still have not been perfected.[19] One of the Viking experiments is recreated, and the scientist confirms that ‘Viking and all the other probes had fund only chemistry after all, no evidence of life.’[20] The 1997 Sojourner rover is reflected upon by one of the astronauts as ‘its plucky nosing around had got Julia started on her Mars fixation’[21] – a statement that may prove true for future scientists. Benford is keeping his narrative firmly rooted in this world, as it were, allowing space exploration history to provide a large part of the context. Besides utilising the inspirations of The Case for Mars, Zubrin himself became a background figure assisting the private enterprise as the ‘Mars guru’, and is joined at a wedding by several more real life individuals[22] (all the scientists who assisted Benford in his research, many of them former member of the Mars Underground) and the base that the astronauts establish on Gusev crater is also named after him. This is a fascinating surreality of art imitating life, as Benford attempts to make his novel as realistic as possible. Zubrin’s work and personality have become part of the new Mars mega-text.

Robert Zubrin’s First Landing is a form of self- contained mega-text as it is self-referential of the author’s professional work; its a story centred on Zubrin’s own previously published theoretical approach to Mars, and Zubrin’s characters cite The Case for Mars and the Mars Society within the narrative. As discussed in the previous chapter, Zubrin is writing with specific agenda of proselytising and recruitment. NASA is the organisation behind the expedition, and the Viking missions’ experiments mentioned (pages 33 and 43). Even Michael Carr’s book The Surface of Mars is quoted (page 184) on a trip to Valles Marineris, as is Percival Lowell’s view on the Martian need to find water (page 111). Nearly a century apart in publication, yet both considered relevant to Mars today. It appears that the Mars Society, The Surface of Mars and The Case for Mars have joined with their predecessors to become part of the mega-text about Martian exploration, as ‘most science-fiction novelists in the 1990s have jumped on the Mars Direct Bandwagon […] and a detailed secondary literature has begun to be developed’,[23] such as Expedition Mars (2004) and Marswalk One: First Step on a New Planet (2005) both of which detail the science and engineering of landing on Mars. This is significant because it means an expanding range of resources for SF writers to draw from, a growth of the secondary mega-text to Mars literature. It means, though, that writers referencing these works will continue to structure their narratives under a set of pre-determined scientific parameters. Science must invariably dictate at least a portion of the plot, which could be argued as true for all so-called hard SF.

Two novels that do not spend many words on the scientific history of Mars are Beachhead and Mars Crossing. The former merited only mentioning the Viking Landers (p. 71) and Mariner 9 probe (p. 113) one time each. While it is indeed the author’s prerogative to ignore a literary and scientific history when writing SF, Williamson (and/or his editor) misdate Asaph Hall’s discovery of the moons of Mars, marking it as 1977[24] instead of 1877. This contributes to the sense of Beachhead as being rather disconnected from the present world. NASA is not even mentioned, but instead an imagined multi-national ‘Mars Authority’ coordinates the mission. Landis at least acknowledges NASA as a force behind Mars exploration (in addition to setting some of the training on the International Space Station) and dedicates three pages of part six to looking around the Pathfinder’s landing site of Ares Vallis, one astronaut recalling that ‘As a kid, he’d spent whole days downloading the pictures of this place from the internet; it was when he’d first become interested in Mars.’[25] However, that is the extent of Landis’s reflections up actual history. He references Lowell only once, when an instructor on Earth claims to be ‘a heretic, an old-fashioned Percival Lowell who just refuses to see the evidence’[26] when he claims there has to have been life on Mars once. It is difficult to decide whether Lowell should even be categorised with the scientific or literary history of Mars, simply because his ideas were a fiction based upon blurry observations, and his greatest contribution was perhaps to the inspiration of science fiction writers for the next half century. Old literary Mars is difficult for these authors to detach themselves from, and continues to influence modern narratives.

Bova’s characters may not reflect so much upon the literary history in Mars, but the author himself acknowledges his thanks to Burroughs, Weinbaum and Bradbury; ‘The different versions of Mars that they wrote about exist only in the imagination – but that is more than enough.’[27] Bova dwells the least upon literary Mars when compared to his contemporaries, as if trying to distance himself and his more serious work from whimsical Barsoom. Lowell, though, is given a little more credit in Return to Mars when the astronauts are discussing microbes living within water-bearing boulders, which are slowly drying out: ‘It’s just like Lowell said – this planet is dying.’ Lowell having been largely discredited for his canal theory, the character qualifies this hypothesis a few sentences later: ‘Lowell’s canals were mostly eyestrain and optical illusion. But his basic idea was that Mars was losing its air and water, the whole planet was dying’.[28] To say that a planet is dying is indicative of the belief that Mars was once alive, an assumption still unverified at this point in history. Lowell’s pseudo-scientific theories have remained fixed within the Mars mega-text because his ideas were so prevalent in the founding texts, and he has not been proved entirely wrong in his ideas thus far.

Williamson utilised very little in the way of literary references. His main character comments that when he was young he read ‘Heinlein[…]. A story about the red planet. I wanted to go there’[29] which provides a realistic motivator, and upon finally reaching the planet, he greets it ‘Hello Barsoom!’[30] (With no explanation for this comment, this indicates an assumption by Williamson that his readers would already be familiar with the works of Burroughs.) But there is no further reflection upon the literary Mars, and John Clute comments that although Beachhead ‘describes an expedition to a Mars according to contemporary knowledge, […] the plot itself is redolent of a much earlier era.’[31] This is an interesting observation, because it indicates an assumption that new tales of Mars must have a narrative updated from more classical tropes, and yet the older fictions continue to shape some of the narrative despite the new scientific data. Beachhead fits less securely into the mega-text of new Mars exploration than any of the other novels from this period, because it is entirely too mired in the Barsoom-ish vision of a great Mars with ‘crystal city domes shining in the dark.’[32] Writer who followed Williamson employed less poetically imperial visages in an attempt to maintain the scientific verisimilitude, but the literature still plays an influential intertextual role.

Ray Bradbury’s work is not commonly mentioned among these texts, but in The Martian Race the astronauts ‘talked about Ray Bradbury’s sand ships, tried to imagine skimming over the undulating landscape.’[33] They even watch the film version of The Martian Chronicles, along with several other Hollywood productions such as Mars Attacks! And Mission to Mars, described as ‘good for laughs’,[34] which keeps readers aware of the more sordid film history of Mars. Later there is a fear of Martian microbes reaching Earth, spurring a less-than logical response; ‘They cited Ray Bradbury, whose fictional Martians died from earthly diseases. That it was fiction was a fine point they didn’t appreciate.’[35] (This is followed by references to ‘The Andromeda strain, the Triffids, various evolved Martians, and lots of squishy aliens’.[36]) Reflecting an interesting dichotomy, they reference inspirational science fiction, to reinforce the ambitions of newer science fiction to push for an expedition to Mars, while at the same time using a derisive tone when SF is employed to argue against the expansion of scientific exploration. To borrow from another science fiction author, as there is no more succinct term, this is an interesting case of ‘double-think.’

Burroughs is quoted most often in First Landing, as if Zubrin is single-handedly trying to resurrect the Barsoom series, and credits Lowell with spawning the field of Mars literature and exploration. Copies of the Barsoom books are brought along, and two of the characters address each other as ‘My princess’ and ‘My chieftain’[37] in direct reference to Burroughs’s novels. The historian cum astronaut (rather banally) testifies

A century ago one dreamer who led us to Mars was Percival Lowell, a scientist who thought he saw canals spanning this planet, brining water from its poles to a thirsty civilization.
[…]
Perhaps in the future some John Carter from Earth will come here to find love in the eyes of a Dejah Thoris, his beautiful Martian princess. […]
Thank you Lowell, and Burroughs, for bringing us here; thanks to all the dreamers. Humanity owes its new world to you.[38]

It is not a soliloquy that will go down in the annals of literary memory, but it drives home the belief that current (and future) Mars narratives and exploration are derivative of the contributions from Lowell and Burroughs. This novel, and the others, is not intended as a pastiche of Burroughs’s work, but the constant referencing creates an obvious simulacrum of characters and situations, attempting to balance the fiction with the overwhelming science. Instead of gradually moving away from the unscientific portrayals of Mars, from Bova to Zubrin there is a marked increase of invocation of historical texts.

The echo of Lowell and Burroughs which resonates most profoundly in all of these novels is the ‘discovery’ of life on Mars. Every novel uncovers life from the microbial to the arboreal, and evidence from fossils to abandoned ancient cities. The perception is a consensus that life simply has to have evolved on Mars at some point in the last four billion years; even historically ‘As the canal builders retreated into science fiction, the idea of “primitive” life on Mars persisted’.[39] In the simple terms of Zubrin’s biologist upon discovering coccoid bacteria fossils, ‘There was life here once! […] That’s all that counts.’[40] This sentiment is echoed by the other authors/ narratives; in Mars, when the comment is made that the scientists who discover a simple lichen will win the Nobel prize, one responds ‘But what does that matter? Nothing matters now. We have found what we came for! Whatever happens from now on, it does not matter.’[41] The authors cannot conceive of a mission to Mars that does not include the discovery of some evidence of life, as if a Mars devoid of life cannot be interesting or worthwhile in itself. Life is the ultimate justification for reaching out to another planet, and as these authors are pursing an agenda not just to entertain, but to inform and perhaps even influence, they must pass this litmus test in their own fiction.

Though the appearance of Mars in fiction over the last century may have changed from crystal palaces to arid volcano peaks, from egg-laying princesses to coccoid bacteria, the sentiment remains; Mars is the closest planet to Earth that may harbour life. In concocting new narratives of this place, there is a common web of scientific history and information that invariably shapes the environmental setting and even the plot itself is not free from textual history. Authors will read the work of both their forbearers and their contemporaries, and though they reference their common literary past, they do not reference each other’s work, as if it would tarnish their own literary/scientific/political goals. They are all writing alternative (supposedly viable) futures of Mars exploration for the opening decades of the Twenty-first century, crafted by the mega-text of previous scientific and literary aspirations. Time will determine their successful integration into and influence upon the Mars mega-text.

________________________________________________________________

[1] Markley, Dying Planet, p. 270.

[2] Damien Broderick, Reading by Starlight, p. 48.

[3] Gregory Benford, ‘Real Science, Imaginary Worlds’, in The Ascent of Wonder: The Evolution of Hard SF, ed. by David G. Hartwell and Kathryn Cramer (London: Orbit, 1994), p. 15.

[4] Zubrin, First Landing, p. 24.

[5] For evidence of this, just look at such titles as Robert Bly’s The Science in Science Fiction: 83 SF Predictions That Became Scientific Reality; this notes the speculation that formaldehyde detected in Mars’s atmosphere is evidence of methane producing bacteria, thus, proof of life on Mars.

[6] Gwyneth Jones, ‘The icons of science fiction’, in The Cambridge Companion to Science Fiction, ed. by Edward James and Farah Mendlesohn (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2004), p. 169.

[7] Bergreen, The Quest for Mars, pp. 185-6.

[8] Zubrin, The Case for Mars, pp.175-8.

[9] Lambourne, et. al., Close Encounters, p. 113.

[10] Bova, Mars, p.47

[11] Landis, Mars Crossing, p.144.

[12] Bova, Mars, p. 125.

[13] Bova, Mars, p. 287.

[14] Malin Space Science System website. Mars Global Surveyor – Mutch Crater. <http://www.msss.com/mars_images/moc/2006/08/27/&gt;. Accessed 29 June 2008.

[15] Bova, Return to Mars, p. 355.

[16] Bova, Return to Mars, p. 504.

[17] Senator Glenn was 77 years old, aboard the space shuttle Discovery, mission STS-95 (October 29 – November 7, 1998).

[18] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 20.

[19] Benford, The Martian Race, pp. 181-2.

[20] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 259-60.

[21] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 17.

[22] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 54.

[23] Markley, Dying Planet, p. 349.

[24] Williamson, Beachhead, p. 121.

[25] Landis, Mars Crossing, p. 287.

[26] Landis, Mars Crossing, p. 77.

[27] Bova, Mars, p. i.

[28] Bova, Return to Mars, p. 159.

[29] Williamson, Beachhead, p. 24.

[30] Williamson, Beachhead, p. 134.

[31] Clute and Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, p. 1330.

[32] Williamson, Beachhead, p. 181.

[33] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 30-1.

[34] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 325.

[35] Benford, The Martian Race, p. 109.

[36] Ibid.

[37] Zubrin, First Landing, p. 222.

[38] Zubrin, First Landing, p. 38.

[39] Markley, Dying Planet, p. 150.

[40] Zubrin, First Landing, p. 64.

[41] Bova, Mars, p. 429.

“Mr. Oseba’s Last Discovery”, or, Symzonia Down Under

Though written and published in New Zealand, Mr. Oseba’s Last Discovery (1904) is by the American George W. Bell, who the US Consul to Australia for seven years. It is a terra cava narrative that mixes American social and political philosophies with New Zealand’s environs, which Bleiler calls a ‘piece of real estate promotion’.[1] Throughout the text there are photographs from around New Zealand (identified in the caption, so there is no attempt to pretend these are images from the interior of the earth), which the Index clearly states ‘do not conform strictly to the text’ (p. viii).

‘The Author’ offers ‘A Note’ about his visit to New Zealand in 1903, a colony ‘submerged with socialism’ among other attributes: “I found in the Press, a broad independence; in the people, a sturdy self-reliance; and in the statesmen, a feeling that they were the chosen servants of the public’.[2] Intrigued by what he found in New Zealand (and Bell even dedicates the novel to its people), he sets out to express his Anglo-Saxon pride ‘in a garb of fiction, that I might wrest from the reader the memories of the daily struggle with stubborn facts’ (p. vi). This ‘garb of fiction’ implies a façade for truth in the narrative, and Bells claims to have ‘adopted a style that…would be appreciated for its audacious novelty’ (p. vi), though in reality, Bell is trotting on well worm literary grounds.

The narrative is framed around the posthumously read manuscript of Leo Bergin (a Virginian by birth), bequeathed to Sir Marmaduke, the secondary narrator/editor. Marmaduke opens by saying

This, being a true story, with the slight deviations necessary to the preservation of a due sense of proportion, it is deemed proper to casually introduce the characters on whom we must chiefly rely for the truthfulness or otherwise, of a most romantic adventure. (p. 1)

In other words, the truth of the narrative rests in the judgement of the reader, but the Editor cannot say one way or another if Bergin’s tale is true. Having a past acquaintanceship, the dying Bergin leaves his dying declaration of his visit to “Symmes’ Hole’ (p. 13) to Sir Marmaduke, who declares that ‘Leo Bergin was no dreamer’ (p. 16), and thus his tale must be truth. There are frequent interludes from Marmaduke throughout the text, playing Devil’s advocate and the reader’s own internal monologue as he reflects upon Bergin’s own narrative, speaking at times in the present tense: ‘Let us see what follows, for this is more interesting far, than a courtship’ (p. 28). In other instances Marmaduke abridges portions of the text: ‘Here is a lot of interesting details – interesting if life were not so short – but I’ll have to “boil it down,” for “spice” is the word’ (p. 40).

Mr. Amoora Oseba is Bergin’s cabin mate, ‘the finest type of manly beauty… ever beheld’ (p. 22), but also more than a little strange, claiming to come from the city of Eurania in the country of Cavitorus, inhabited by a people called Shadowas (p. 23). In only a few pages Oseba explains the structure of the world, verifying Symmes’s theory and chastising those who did not believe in Symmes. While using Symmes’s theory of the earth’s formation, Oseba cites more recent Arctic exploration for evidence, including the observations of Lt. Adolphus Greely of the Lady Franklin Bay Expedition (1881-1884) and the diary of Captain George Tyson, survivor of the Polaris Expedition (p.30). Oseba’s lessons in geography are the most didactic seen since Seaborn’s in Symzonia. After years of mingling among the ‘Outeroos’ (residents of the outer earth) Oseba is returning to report to his people, and decides to take Bergin with him. Bergin calls upon Shakespeare’s Hamlet to give credence to his own doubts about Oseba and the Shadowas: ‘There are more things in heaven, and earth, Horatio / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy’ (p. 36). Symmes’s theory is validated once again during Oseba’s presentation of his travels, displaying a true model’ of the earth, complete with a Symmes Hole in the north (p. 56). Mr. Oseba’s Last Discovery is among the last of the terra cava narratives (excepting the next section to follow, The Smoky God) to actually employ Symmes’s geography. By the early years of the twentieth century, enough explorers had ventured past Symmes’s proposed latitude of opening that alternative ideas of the hollow earth had to be utilised.

The Shadowas have resided in Cavitorus for 21,000 years (p. 57), exiles from a hostile takeover of their old kingdom on the surface of the world who floated on an iceberg to the interior, finding a fertile – and uninhabited – country to provide new succour (p. 35). This rich land soon led to an over-abundance of population, and controlling measures were put in place. Eugenics plays a significant part in Shadowas culture, where the state is the ‘universal mother’ controlling all procreation (p. 37) so as to turn out ‘the finest type of people mentally, morally and physically, that ever inhabited this planet’ (p. 38). The utopian trope of a perfect people is hereby fulfilled; Bergin describes them on first sight as ‘over-tall and very symmetrical in form, and they move as gracefully as trained actors’ (p. 43). Interestingly, though, they are not white, but ‘slightly bronzed’; though their non-Anglo heritage is not a detriment. What the Shadowas lack, though, are any extremes in emotions, neither ‘gravity’ nor ‘hilarity’ as ‘all passion of the animal has gone’, leaving only serene intellect (p. 43). Marmaduke does not seem to be as enamoured by these cool intellectuals as Bergin, saying that ‘it makes me crawl’ (p. 57). This perception may be influenced by Bulwer-Lytton’s Vril-ya, when the narrator first encounters one of that race: ‘a nameless something in the aspect, tranquil though the expression, and beauteous though the features, roused that instinct of danger which the sight of a tiger or serpent arouses.’[3]

Next to the beautiful people there is the beautiful city with its ‘statues of gold, and other eye-ravishing objects’ (p. 42), and besides the rich apparel of silks, ‘gold was too common, cheap and vulgar’ (p. 44). There is more gold than iron, more platinum than silver, and the gems shine brighter ‘owing to the peculiarities of the light’ (p. 48). Marmaduke only ever mentions in passing that Bergin does indeed go into scientific explanations for many of the phenomena in Cavitorus, but never elaborates on those passages from the narrative.

Bell appears to have borrowed liberally from the Māori in crafting the customs and practices of the Shadowas. This practice of being adopted by the State might be compared to the Māori adoption custom of whāngai, taken to the extreme of recognising the Shadowas as a single family unit. Rather than Christianity, they embrace a polytheism that demonstrates ‘not only hope for the future, but appreciation for the blessings of to-day’ (p. 52). In a moment of ‘conversation’ between author and editor, Bergin says ‘These people evidently made their Gods, for they admit it. I wonder if we made ours?’, to which Marmaduke replies ‘Careful Leo!’ (p. 52). Herbert Spencer is referenced by Marmaduke (pp. 43-4) when the latter is considering a society in which family bonds do not exist, musing on the differences between the perception of what is ‘natural’ and what is ‘custom’. This comes from Spencer’s Man Versus the State.

There is actually a strong anti-imperialism in Bell’s novel. The missionaries to China are heavily criticised for their conceited approach, while the Chinese are praised for being ‘industrious and frugal’ (p. 63). When asked if they are ‘and inferior race’, Oseba responds that they are only ‘different’ (p. 68). Bell’s experiences around the globe, and his involvement in international politics lent to him a broader perspective of the world than his home-bound contemporaries. The achievements of continental Europe are attributed to its geography, ‘a garden and nursery for the most active, sturdy, intelligent, and emotional of all peoples on the globe’ (p. 67), who are prone to warring with each other over pretensions of superiority. The hypocrisy of European armies and European Christianity – ‘Thou shalt not kill’ – is highlighted in Oseba’s presentation to his people, to the great consternation of the audience (p. 69). The British Isles are hailed as ‘he best suited for the development of the ideal man…. And, having been peopled by sturdy tribes, all the suggestive hopes of Nature have been realised’ (p. 72). Though discounting on one page the idea of superiority and inferiority among race, on the next Bell still champions the Anglo-Saxon, beneficiary of good geography. Despite Bell’s message of anti-imperialism and sympathy for China and Japan, he champions Great Britain for its ‘conquests in the arts of peace’ (p. 73), planting the great colonies of America, Canada, “Australasia”, and “saving” India and Africa from themselves (p. 76). As for the United States, it is ‘the noblest country ever given by God to his children’ (p. 87) according to Oseba. This invocation of ‘God’ stands in direct contrast to the earlier statements about the Shadowas being polytheistic. For all the praise heaped upon America, Oseba also highlights its flaws, quoting Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poem ‘The Cry of the Children’ (p. 91). Labelled as ‘scenes’, ‘First “Discovery”’, ‘The British Isles Discovered’, ‘America “Discovered”’, and ‘Australasia Discovered’, these chapters quote population figures, land mass, industry, and their perceived traits of these regions. Bell writes reportage like the diplomat that he was. This large portion of the narrative is given over not to an examination of Cavitorus and its utopia, but the supposed ‘alien’ perspective of the earth; Mr. Oseba is an alter ego for Bell.

It turns out that Oseba has been touring the earth’s surface looking for a place where the Shadowas might establish a colony. China is rejected for its lack of ‘varieties’, Japan for its lack of space, Europe for its militarism, Britain for being nothing more than ‘a park for her nobles’, Africa for having ‘the black plague’, America for being ‘owned by the trusts’ and controlled by ‘party bosses’, and Australia for joining the Commonwealth (pp. 106-7). What does this leave for the Shadowas? New Zealand. Or, ‘Zelania’ in the Shadowas language (p. 107), and this is Oseba’s ‘last discovery’. How wonderful is New Zealand? Marmaduke relates the entire eight-page poem Bergin wrote in tribute. Oseba’s relation of New Zealand’s wonders fills the next 117 pages, or, the rest of the narrative. The true utopia, then, is not Cavatorus, but New Zealand/Zelania:

The State gives nothing. There is humiliating charity nowhere, but elevating justice everywhere. The State puts a man on a farm, loans him money, helps him uphill, and then demands that he pay the Hercules. It will loan him a spade – not to lean upon or to pawn, but to dig with – and he must keep it bright and pay for its use.

The idea in Zelania, my children, is to have no lords and no paupers – that all men shall be producers, and not vagrants; tax-payers, and not tax-eaters – and that every citizen shall become a sturdy democrat, who will honorably strive as a stock-holder in a paying concern. (p. 155)

The Māori are described as ‘a fine race of romantic savages’ (p. 130) who are ‘intellectually… superior to any other tames savage’ (p. 131), thus making them seem, to readers, rather pleasant native neighbours to have, who won’t kill you and eat your family. Bell even includes a picture of a ‘Maori Beauty’ to entice his male audience should words not suffice. New Zealand’s ‘Lands for Settlement Act’ (footnoted on page 153) is seen as a great achievement in ‘State landlordism’ that results in ‘few grievances and fewer scandals’ (p. 154).

A short history of women, and women’s rights, makes it into Mr. Oseba’s address to his people, from the wooing of women ‘with a bludgeon’ (p. 182) to the growth of civilisation via ‘the emancipation of women’: ‘How can a mother, with the feeling of inferiority, a feeling of subdued dependence, with no courage nor conscious individuality, bring forth brave, independent, high-minded offspring? Only by emancipated mothers can full-statured men be reared’ (p. 184). Women in New Zealand were granted voting rights in the 1893 Electoral Bill (though they would not be eligible for legislative seats for decades), the first country to do so in the British Empire or America. Bell makes this part of his tribute to the country: ‘in Zelania, women are “people”… and liberty and social rights are not limited to any particular cut of the garments’ (p. 185).

New Zealand’s labour history and other footnotes – presumably added by Marmaduke as editor – fill out the ‘evidence’ of New Zealand’s utopic existence. They benefit from speaking English, which grew in usage throughout the nineteenth century as ‘the “polite” language of the “civilised” world’ (p. 194), and benevolently teach this to Māori (p. 194). The Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Act of 1900 is referenced (p. 203), as is the Employment Liability Act (1882), The Workers Compensation for Accident, 1900, Act (p. 204), the Government Accident Insurance Act of 1899 (p. 205), and the Old Age Pension act of 1898 (p. 212), all making New Zealand seem a worker’s paradise for any man. If any such thing exists in Cavitorus, Mr. Oseba never mentions it.

There is no closing to the narrative from Marmaduke, no conclusion. He relates Bergin’s own relations of Oseba’s speech up until the last page. How the Shadowas act upon Oseba’s report is never revealed; how Bergin returns to the surface world, or what he did in Cavitorus, is never elaborated upon; Marmaduke never offers further commentary on what he learns in Bergin’s manuscript. The existence of a lost race living in the hollow earth, accessible from the Poles, is of little consequence in comparison to the existence of New Zealand. The abrupt conclusion makes it seem as if Bell was operating under a word constraint from the publisher, or perhaps instruction to offer no deviation from the glories of New Zealand in the latter half of the text.

[1] Bleiler, Science Fiction, p. 48.

[2] George W. Bell, Mr. Oseba’s Last Discovery (Wellington, NZ: The New Zealand Times Co., 1904), p. v. All other references cited in text from this edition.

[3] Bulwer-Lytton, The Coming Race, p. 12.

Scholars of the Terra Cava

In the nineteenth century, one would be hard pressed to find a scholarly article on the hollow earth, such things left to the amateur natural philosopher, spiritualist, and dreamer; the twentieth century – benefiting from the perspective of a known world distinctly lacking access to the terra cava – gave rise to the literary and historical scholar writing about the products of hollow earth theory. Different scholars have differing ideas about the meaning of the underground in literature. The historian Rosalind Williams proposes that ‘narratives about underground worlds have provided a prophetic view into our environmental future. Subterranean surroundings, whether real or imaginary, furnish a model of an artificial environment from which nature has been effectively banished.’[1] Few individuals have attempted to analyse the hollow earth, and many of the works are either incredibly broad or non-academic: Walter Kafton-Minkel did one of the first surveys in 1989 with Subterranean Worlds: 100,000 Years of Dragons, Dwarfs, the Dead, Lost Races & UFOs from Inside the Earth; Everett F. Bleiler’s science fiction catalogue, Science Fiction: The Early Years (1990), provides a more extensive summary of the known terra cava fictions and includes a few words about his thoughts on the story; Peter Fitting published an anthology with excerpts from several works, Subterranean Worlds: A Critical Anthology (2004); and David Standish wrote the decidedly non-academic survey, Hollow Earth: The Long and Curious History of Imagining Strange Lands, Fantastic Creatures, Advanced Civilizations, and Marvelous Machines Below the Earth’s Surface in 2006, only briefly summarising a few of the many terra cava narratives from the fin de siècle. The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (2011) in its latest edition (available only online) also provides some information about hollow earth novels, but not extensive analysis, and some entries are incomplete or erroneous; such as ‘Orcutt, Emma Louise’, which identifies the inhabitants as all living underground in ‘Susepnded Animation’; the underground portions of the world are petrified remains of the dead, and the surface population very much alive.[2] The enrty for ‘Moore, M. Louise’ identifies the land visitied in Al-Modad as Al-Modad, which is actually the name of the protragonist.[3] In 2012 an edited collection of essays about the hollow earth, Between Science and Fiction: The Hollow Earth as Concept and Conceit, was published in Berlin, but this focuses almost entirely on European terra cava narratives, less in number compared to their American counterparts. No one has conducted a thorough examination of the dozens of hollow earth writings published in the United States in the nineteenth century and what they reveal about American culture, religion, and politics at that time.

Consider the following, from a newspaper ninety years after Symmes’s announcement, from a society formed to prove the earth is hollow:

‘It is time for action – not a time for mere talking. But the earth is hollow and our investigations will soon prove it. The poles so long sought are but phantoms. There are openings at the northern and southern extremities. In the interior of the earth are vast continents, oceans, mountains and rivers. Vegetables and animal life is evident in this new world, and it is possibly peopled by races yet unknown to the dwellers upon the earth’s exterior.’[4]

Though there are no scientific papers supporting Symmes’s theory, this newspaper article is an example of popular science in the United States influencing public thought and cultural products. Support for Symmes’s model of the earth isn’t to be found in searches of scientific journals, but in newspapers, independently published tracts by non-scientists, and fictional narratives.

Symzona, A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, The Goddess of Atvatabar and more, when they appear in an academic analysis, are often referred to in terms that remove the story from realist connotations and examine them in satiric terms. While many of them employ some form of social commentary or political view meant to reflect back on the reader, that does not automatically make them parodies. Parodies tend to emerge later in a genre’s existence, after its tropes have been established. The pre-nineteenth century terra cava narratives were immersed in social satire, and this is where so many literary theorists misstep in their assessment of nineteenth century terra cava; just because the most well-known hollow earth books before this period were written in the vein of Swift and Voltaire does not mean that those which came later were intended to be interpreted in the same way; American authors tended to take a different narrative approach. Because the idea of a hollow or porous world being inhabited appears to be a ridiculous premise in the twenty-first century, it is easier to paint these novels with the wide brush of parody rather than to enter into the mind-set of contemporary writers and readers who viewed portions of the world as still unknown, and holding the possibility of rich surprises.


[1] Rosalind Williams, Notes on the Underground: An Essay on Technology, Society, and the Imagination (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2008), p. 4.

[2] John Clute, ‘Orcutt, Emma Louise’, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction <http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/orcutt_emma_louise&gt; Accessed 10/11/2014.

[3] John Clute, ‘Moore, M Louise’, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction <http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/moore_m_louise>  Accessed 10/11/2014.

[4] Anon., ‘Going to Look for a Big Hole at the Top of the World’, Marion Daily Mirror, Vol. XVI, No. 229 (25 April 1908), p. 9.

Nineteenth Century Anglophone Literary Worlds: The American Terra Cava versus the British Terra Amissa

In terms of the nineteenth century novel that went in search of terra incognita in a world whose maps were rapidly losing their blank spaces, an interesting distinction presents itself between the American and the British plot; while many American authors took up the pen in favour of a hollow world, British authors preferred the idea of a lost world. The differences extend far beyond geography, though, and are deeply reflective of cultural perception.

The British Empire, covering one-fifth of the world’s landmass, was unchallenged for supremacy, and this is reflected in the literature. Despite having the best maps in the world, plucky adventurers and lost sailors always seemed to find a hidden island or jungle plateau that revealed a heretofore unknown bounty of plant and animal life, along with primitive, hostile natives. Why? Because that is what centuries of British travel literature told readers to expect when they arrive in an uncharted territory. In keeping with post-Darwinian perceptions of racial hierarchy the Anglo-Saxon man was the pinnacle of evolution, and in literature proved this repeatedly by besting the primitive races he found in the corners of Africa and the Amazon.

Arthur Conan Doyle’s 1912 novel The Lost World bequeathed its name to this subgenre of literature, following a plucky young journalist to a unexplored plateau in the Amazon jungle, home of primitive, ape-like natives and a few surviving dinosaurs. Rider Haggard was one of the most successful craftsmen of the undiscovered country, from the primitive Amahaggar of She (1887) in Africa to the ancient Mesoamericans hidden in the mountains in Heart of the World (1895). These discovered pockets of primitive life (be it in the form of Ice Age fauna or troglodytes) usually experience a small apocalypse at the end of the narrative (floods, earthquakes, and volcanos are perennial favourites) explaining why they have not been incorporate into the British Empire. But even though these literary British adventurers were not always enriched materially by their experience, they did prove their masculine, British superiority by surviving.

The rapidly expanding American Empire of the nineteenth century took a completely different view of their place in the world. Americans feared running of space, exhausting their frontiers. A hollow world provided them with new continents, not just islands and mesas. And what writers found more often than not in these new worlds below ground were civilisations that far outstripped America’s. Only when America’s economic and technological capabilities began to outstrip Europe’s did their literary explorers did the primitive begin to appear in America’s hollow realms.

In 1820 Symzona appeared in the U.S., transporting readers through an Antarctic opening into a hollow world populated by a race of pure white utopianists. Less than one hundred years later Edgar Rice Burroughs sent his American adventurers into Pellucidar, a hollow world that resembled Doyle’s, filled with primitive races and saurian beasts, ready to be reformed by American ingenuity. The intervening years saw terra cava narratives meant to instruct Americans in spiritual, technological, and political improvement. Lane’s Mizora (1880) directed surface dwellers to better educate their children and liberate women; Welcome’s From Earth’s Center (1894) demonstrated the superiority of the single-tax economic theory in bringing about universal prosperity; Adams’s Nequa (1900) was a technotopia of sexual equality. American progressives saw room for improvement (lots of improvement) in nearly every aspect of their lives, and the creation of advanced civilisations inside the earth provided a didactic outlet for such yearning. America was not yet to the level of Great Britain, but with such reforms as those suggested in these narratives, they might easily surpass them.

The few British forays into nineteenth century hollow worlds starkly contrast with their American counterparts. None of them embrace the Symmes theory, but a Vernian semi-porous earth. Bulwer-Lytton’s The Coming Race features an advanced civilisation, but one that does not encourage the improvements of humanity; the Vril-ya are a threat, and set to supplant the surface dwellers. Bulwer-Lytton’s use of an America protagonist expresses the British fear of being displaced by an ascendant American continent. Cutcliffe Hyne’s Beneath Your Very Boots (1889) also features an advanced civilisation residing in caverns beneath the British Isles, but they are not a separate race. Rather, the Nrada are descendant of the original inhabitants of the Britain who moved below ground to escape the worries of the world and form a more perfect society. Fawcett’s Swallowed by an Earthquake (1894) more closely follows its Lost World predecessors, following the adventures of two British students on holiday in Italy who are swallowed by an earthquake and encounter a primitive civilisation that is subsequently destroyed by further seismic activity.

The elimination of the Earth’s blank spaces and the discovery that there was no hollow earth pushed storytellers out into the stars, to find whatever advanced or primitive race they saw fit.

Seeking Empire at the Centre of the World: Nineteenth Century American Hollow Earth Novels

[This is an abbreviated version of a paper delivered at ICFA 2014]

The 1890 Census of the United States erased once and for all the distinctive frontier line the once bisected the eastern half of the continent from the mythical west, a revelation that paralleled the global cartographic developments of the late nineteenth century: the disappearance of terra incognita. A subset of the unknown land I have termed terra cava, the narrative of an inhabitable space beneath the earth’s surface. Nether regions once considered only in terms of spiritual consequence became hypothetical realms of mineral and literary wealth.

There are three ways in which the developing consciousness of American empire is expressed in these novels: the need for commerce, the need for land, and the need for technology. Three forces of empire, three exemplifying novels among the dozens of terra cava narratives published in America that embraced the native theory of a hollow earth accessible via holes in the North and South Poles. These are not idle fantasies either; the US Exploring Expedition, launched in 1838, was initially commissioned by John Quincy Adams with the goal of discovering these polar openings and claiming the interior of the earth.

I – Symzonia and the American Adam

Published in 1820 under the nom de plume ‘Adam Seaborn’, Symzonia is considered to be one of the first American utopian fictions. Though occasionally categorised as a ‘burlesque’ for its commentary on American culture and use of charactonyms, Symzonia is serious in its treatment of the Symmes Theory of Concentric Spheres and the prospect of a hollow, habitable world.

In the shortest possible summary, Captain Adam Seaborn commissions a ship to sail to the Antarctic, where he expects to find a Symmes Hole opening to the interior world. The narrative is a conglomeration of Symmes’s scientific ideas (in the loosest possible definition of ‘scientific), anti-British sentiment, and socio-political commentary on the new nation of America. Finding a technologically advanced race of pure-white utopianists, Adam Seaborn, in scenes reminiscent of Gulliver’s Travels, find himself and his country wanting in the face of such perfection. Returning to the US without proof and thrown into debtor’s prison, Seaborn publishes his travelogue in hopes of earning his freedom and encouraging others to follow in his footsteps, to establish trade with the Symzonians before another country – id est, Britain – gets there first. America’s future in global trade and expansion rests on getting to the interior of the world.

John Reider writes of Symzonia as a ‘fantasy of appropriation’, one of ‘discovered wealth’ in a world perceived to be losing its easily obtainable resources. Seaborn is the fulfilment of what R.W.B. Lewis called ‘The American Adam’: he is the proverbial first man, entering into an Edenic garden; ‘The world and history lay all before him.’ Unfortinately, this Eden happens to already be inhabited. The experiences Seaborn gains – as with the original Adam – are his downfall and he is cast out. For a time, though, the voyage to Symzonia made Seaborn a very rich man, and the narrative ends with the prospect of regaining that wealth if another expedition is sent.

Believe it or not, the author of Symzonia, and John Cleves Symmes himself, were not being facetious. President John Quincy Adams commissioned the US Exploring Expedition in 1828 at the behest of Symmes’s followers, though the ships would not launch until 1838, nine years after Symmes died. In the intervening decade the focus shifted from reaching the interior of the world to simply charting the southern hemisphere and looking for trade opportunities. In his opening statement, Seaborn claims, “I projected a voyage of discovery, in the hope of finding a passage to a new and untried world. I flattered myself that I should open the way to new fields for the enterprise of my fellow-citizens, supply new sources of wealth, fresh food for curiosity, and additional means of enjoyment; objects of vast importance, since the resources of the known world have been exhausted by research, its wealth monopolized, its wonders of curiosity explored, its every thing investigated and understood!… The faculties of man had begun to dwindle for want of scope, and the happiness of society required new and more copious contributions.”

The concept of ‘Manifest Destiny’ – that the American flag would rule over the entirety of the continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific – was still decades away from its full enunciation. And the Monroe Doctrine, which would press for American isolationism, would not be put into effect until 1823. But here we see Seaborn laying the foundation of an American desire to stretch the Stars and Stripes further into the world, lest the Union Jack get there first. At the time of publication, America had only been at peace with Great Britain for five years, and John Symmes himself fought against them in the War of 1812.

At the point that the narrative leaves the known map, venturing into the imaginative, the transition is subtle, leaving readers to wonder when exactly it was they left the surface of the earth. On the ‘discovery’ of ‘Seaborn’s Land’ at around between 78° and 83° S (further than Cook’s recorded Antarctic penetration or his Sandwich Land) a ceremony of deeply national, imperialistic, and legal significance is performed: “Aware that there was a possibility that I might miscarry, and never get back to this place, I devoted a day to the performance of a necessary duty to my country, namely, taking possession of the country I had discovered, in the name and on behalf of the people of the United States of America.” He plants a flag and a plaque attesting to the claim, then ceremonially fires the ship’s canons. Without a globally recognised body to settle land disputes, employing ceremonial formalities that should be recognised by other European bodies (no one else’s opinion counting) is the best any explorer can do. Seaborn, though naming the island for himself, does not claim it for himself, but for his country. Just like Columbus, he did not set out to form his own country, but to bring greater glory and gold to his home. This is an interesting and generous offer, considering that the US government did not sponsor and was not aware of Seaborn’s voyage, unlike the other empire-expanding voyages of exploration throughout history. He is acting without the foreknowledge and consent of his government; yet approval of his actions is assumed. The future American empire will not be assembled by the U.S. government, but by enterprising Americans.

II – Interior World and the American West

Symmes’s theory faded to the background of American consciousness in the wake of civil war and reconstruction – not to mention the U.S. Exploring Expedition returning in 1842 to report no Symmes holes in the Poles. In the last three decades of the century, though, it came roaring back. Two of Symmes’s sons wrote tracts about their father’s theory, as did several others. Fiction authors also came to appreciate the narrative opportunity a hollow world presented them with as the U.S. rapidly manifested its continental destiny.

Published in 1885 ostensibly for young, male readers, Washington Tower’s Interior World stands apart from its terra cava brethren for one very specific reason: it is not a lost race novel. There are no inhabitants in this lush, virginal paradise to contest the character’s claim to the interior of the earth. The proverbial Adams in this story do not need to fear being cast out of this garden; it is theirs to claim free and clear.

In true American Manifest Destiny philosophy, the protagonists, are inspired by their present circumstances ‘with the spirit of enterprise, and they determined to incur the hazards, difficulties, and hardships of a migratory life, being supported with the belief that they were destined to accomplish a great work – a work of no less importance than that of opening communication between two worlds’ (pg. 74). This is a sentiment found often in other hollow earth works; that of the characters feeling duty bound to alert the rest of the world to the presence of a hollow and habitable land waiting for trade, settlement, etc. The bait for readers to yearn for this world’s veracity is set in the rich open lands, exotic pelts to be obtained (pg. 85) and the gold that is just lying around waiting to be plucked from the ground (pg. 99). The mythical view of the American pastoral as an Eden is being recreated in the hollow earth. In the tradition of formal colonial claiming, the three men recite the solemn oath ‘We… do by right of discovery, now formally take possession of the Interior World in the name, and for the eternal behoof of the United States of America’ (pg. 128). This kind of ceremony can be seen clear back to Symzonia.

In his study of the American west as symbol and myth, Henry Nash Smith referred to the American west as the ‘Garden of the World’, and American empire built upon ‘a populous future society occupying the interior of the American continent’ (p.12). At the end of Tower’s novel, two of the three men remain behind, newly married to the female descendants of the lost Tichborne heir (a piece of history we cannot delve into now) – they are a pair of Adams and Eves who will begin to populate the interior of the world, wanting for nothing. The pages of the novel are filled with references to a variety of ever-budding fruits and abundantly available meat sources: ‘Nature was most generous, supplying their table with every luxury that heart could wish’ (p. 154).

This western garden of America helped to fulfil the doctrine of the ‘safety valve’, allowing the ever-increasing population of the U.S. to move from East to West into empty lands, preventing over-population from leading to urban squalor and perceived social decay. Tower’s novel embodies this principal from start to finish, in an authorial introduction that states his intent to ‘present a narrative entertaining to boys, yet free from any thing tending to awaken vicious or ignoble passions’, along with a 33-page index providing ‘scientific’ evidence for his theory of gravitation in a hollow world. Tower claims that ‘the Interior World is of a vast extent – only a few thousand square miles less in area than the exterior.’ The reader, hopefully free of any ignoble passions, will believe Tower’s assertions and follow his lead to this vast interior world on behalf of Americans everywhere.

III – Atvatabar and the Machine in the Garden

No other terra cava novel is so blatant in its imperial fantasy as The Goddess of Atvatabar, given the rather lengthy subtitle, ‘Being the history of the discovery of the interior world and the conquest of Atvatabar’. Published in 1892 by William Bradshaw, this narrative of overt American land acquisition was graced with an introduction by Julian Hawthorne, comparing it to the likes of Bulwer-Lytton, Haggard, and Verne, and praising it above their works; European rather than American authors, emphasising the literary distinction between Old World and New World literature.

The protagonist is called Lexington White, a wonderfully American and imperial name if there ever was one: the first battle of the American Revolution, and the symbolic colour of purity. He is a wealthy, private entrepreneur – like Adam Seaborn – who sails through the Arctic Symmes Hole and encounters a lost race of universal attractiveness and unparalleled technological advancement. White’s conquest is not just of the country of Atvatabar, but the heart of its resident goddess, Lyone, both seemingly by force. Initially he sets out ‘for the sake of science and fortune and the glory of the United States’ (p. 9) It is the old inducement of imperialism: Glory, God, and gold. White set out for the North Pole with the intention of standing on top of the world, a ‘monarch of an empire of ice’ (p. 10). White has gone so far as to provide his crew with ‘a special triumphal outfit… a Viking helmet of polished brass surmounted by the figure of a silver-plated polar bear’ (p. 12). Image and pageantry, invoking the northern warriors of old and the ancient Roman practice of a triumphal march. This was never just an exploring expedition; it is a new century of conquistadors.

As for Lyone, the celibate goddess, a stolen kiss from her is a ‘proclamation of war upon Atvatabar’ and the inevitable ‘destruction of a unique civilization’ (p. 94). With legitimacy granted by the love of the local deity, White and his crew succeed in deposing the current monarch and crowning himself the new king of Atvatabar, Lyone the Queen. Bradshaw is negotiating a fine line between American aspirations for empire, and the American belief in the superiority of its democratic republic. White, his crew, and the United States now have access to all of Atvatabar’s $8 trillion in annual revenue (p. 167) and advanced technology, which will put America ahead of its global competition. Where Symzonia sought only to seize trading preference for America, Atvatabar has seized the land itself. Where it differs, however, is that the British offer assistance near the end of the narrative; where the nineteenth century started with British and American competition, the close of the century saw America and British cooperation in economic and imperial ambition.

The technology made available by Atvatabar’s conquest aligns with Leo Marx’s study of The Machine in the Garden; technology makes Atvatabar better, a utopia that has figured out how to negotiate industrialisation with the dream of the pastoral. The Atvatabarans have worked out how to balance their mechanised society with both urban and agrarian ideals.

Conclusion

Americans would not be the first to either of the Poles, but they did not miss out on the opportunity to claim the interior continents of the world: the final nail in the coffin of Symmes’s theory of a hollow, habitable world was pounded into place. The terra cava narrative disappeared into obscurity, to be replaced by adventures stories set on other planets in outer space; there was nothing left on earth to conquer without running into other people who too much resembled the reader. Traditional imperialism was already starting to buckle under the strain of socio-political reform.

Pantaletta; or “High She-Dragon of the Imperial Order of Crowing Hens”

ImageFrom an author identified only as ‘Mrs. J. Wood’, Panteletta: A Romance of Sheheland (1882) is a feminist anti-utopia that can be interpreted as an antifeminist, satirical response to Mizora. Bleiler proposes that the writer was ‘probably a male journalist of the day’,[1] though gives no evidence for this supposition, nor has anyone else been able to find anything about the author’s identity. Not until recent years has the identity of the author been proposed to be a William Mill Butler (1857-1946), a newspaper editor from Rochester, NY;[2] his location gives some explanation for his association with Joseph Gilmore. The front cover of the paperback declares it to be ‘An American Satire’, and provides the following advertisement on the inside:

What Professor Gilmore says of “Pantaletta.”[3]

Joseph H. Gilmore, A.M., Professor Logic, Rhetoric and English Literature in the University of Rochester, a recognized authority upon literary matters, writes as follows concerning “Pantaletta:”

“The Public will find in ‘Pantaletta,’ under the thin disguise of fiction, a vigorous and effective satire on the ‘Women’s Rights Movement;’ and, if I mistake not, will be interested in the adventures of General Gullible, and in the pen-picture of the state of things which would naturally exist where he true relation of the sexes has been subverted. The Republic of Petticotia is but a humorous exaggeration of what any civilized country might become, in which the rights of woman (in the sense which is too often attached to that much-abused phrase) were assured.”[4]

From the outset there is no attempt at blurring the boundaries of fact and fiction; this is an obvious fiction, and a satirical one, with a distinct message for the ‘Women’s Rights Movement’, as told to the reader by a professor of Logic, Rhetoric and English Literature. Already the credentials for the narrative are being well established; the hollow earth may not be real, but votes for women may certainly result in a world like one being presented.

The protagonist, Icarus Byron Gullible, is burdened with a name to layer folly on folly; denied a career in aviation, he takes up the newspaper business, which quickly fails, ruining the family fortune. (This vocation – and the wry commentary made upon it – may have been what convinced Bleiler that the author was a journalist.) A good marriage and the rank of General during the American Civil War turns Gullible’s fortunes around, allowing him to pursue his first dream, flight. Constructing a mechanical aircraft called the ‘American Eagle’, Gullible flies to the Arctic, where he descends through a Symmes Hole. What he finds is the country of Petticotia, ruled by militant women who oppress men and force them to perform domestic chores while wearing women’s clothing. Even the terms ‘man’ and ‘woman’ have been outlawed in favour of ‘heshe’ and ‘shehe’, respectively.

In the beginning, Gullible’s descriptions read like most other terra cava narratives: ‘I alighted upon a stretch of country where I could discover no human habitation for miles in every direction – a spot which rivalled the garden of our first parents in beauty’ (p. 27). There is no internal sun, but ‘a’ mellow, subdued light that was like the bloom upon a ripened peach: a dreamy and poetic illumination’ (p. 28). This proverbial Garden is lush, fruitful, invigorating; the deviation begins with the arrival of the natives, ‘beardless, short of stature… a marvellous resemblance to the Assyrian eunuchs’ (p. 29); they are not the specimens of uniform beauty typically found, nor are they impressed by Gullible’s proclamation of bring a U.S. citizen. At one point he even goes so far as to raise the American flag in Petticotia, which, to his mind, signifies the ‘formal possession of the territory’, based upon the supposition that the native inhabitants have embraced ‘wholesale lunacy’ and must be ‘honestly cared for by [white Americans] as is [the] noble red man on the remnant of his native land’ (p. 58). This scene of futile imperialism must be interpreted with the same sense of irony as it the rest of the narrative, indicating the author’s anti-imperialist sentiments.

Captured by Captain Pantaletta, who led the emancipation of women – but lost the title of president, to her consternation (p. 34) – a woman with a ‘face…so ugly it seemed fresh from hades’ (p. 51). In the suffrage movement in the last nineteenth century, a variety of disparaging charges were levelled against the women who participated. Pantaletta is prone to multi-page soliloquies that combine a history of Petticotia with ego and madness, and bears the title ‘the high she-dragon of the Imperial Order of Crowing Hens’ (p. 107) – a designation as likely to induce a chuckle today as it did over a century ago.

Pantaletta’s chief rival is the President of Petticotia, Lillibel Razmora (surely meant to be interpreted as ‘Libel’), who also carries the extravagant titles of ‘Shah of Sheheland’, ‘Defender of the Shehes’, and ‘Mighty Battle-Maid’ (p. 62). The President, in love with Gullible, removes him to the Presidential residence, and comes to him ‘dressed in all a woman’s splendor’ (p. 81), and Gullible welcomes her as a lady. In all the instances of other terra cava narratives where the external male protagonist woos a woman of power, now a woman of power woos the external man, calling Gullible ‘handsome…like an angel from another world’ (p. 89). Lillibel desires him for a consort because he is not like ‘the degenerate puppies of Petticotia’, but ‘like the heroes of the old books’ (p. 90). This constant desire for Gullible, and smouldering distaste on the part of Petticotia’s women for the country they have become, is meant to undermine the female revolution. More than their satirical portrayal for trying to play the part of men, it is these remarks by the women betraying their own movement, which the author intends to be most damning.

As for the men of Petticotia, they wear ‘ridiculous, yet gaudy apparel’, care for children, gossip, ‘cast coquettish glances’, stuff themselves with ‘hip and breast pads’ and despondent unless they are wearing ‘the height of fashion’ (p. 70). All perceived deficiencies in women, the author shifts over to the men of the realm. It is the sight of this – and not his impending execution – affront to nature which causes Gullible to weep (p. 71).

Gullible is charged with breaking the ‘dress-laws’ (p. 39) for wearing the attire of a man, but every woman he encounters, despite trying to live up to the letter of the law, falls in love with him, ‘a perfect specimen’ (p. 52). He is sentenced to death for his audacious wearing of trousers, but bribes his way into making a public speech, which he claims was not just for his life, ‘but for science and for the discovery of the Pole’ (p. 71). Even in the midst of unremitting satire, the author occasionally recalls the reader to the Symmsian geography that made Petticotia possible. But what truly saves Gullible is his long description of the military might of the United States, raining down on Petticotia if they dare to execute him, and he is pardoned (p. 74).

Gullible finally meets a man of some learning, who delivers a history of Petticotia that, like Mizora before it, parallels the United States; it was a land of freedom, a republic that attracted immigrants from more repressive countries for a hundred years. Then an ‘unholy spell’ took hold of the ‘emasculated citizens’ in the guise of women ‘endowed with masculine minds’ (pp. 127-8). The downfall of Petticotia is related not just to the advancement of women, but to a country so progressive it would accept ‘every fanatical tenet, every visionary theory, every ism of the hour’ (p. 129). Almost the entire pretence of being a satire set in another world is dropped as Clarence’s history brings up the followers of Pantaletta as ‘christian and atheist, Jew and Gentile, spiritualist and materialist, orthodox and heterodox…communism and free love’ (p. 131). There has been no reason before this point – besides the odd profusion of the English language – to suppose any other relation to the outside world. This is not Petticotia the author is talking about; it is most certainly the United States.  One striking divergence from ecumenical practice is that Churches of Petticotia teach that the first sin was not Eve eating the apple, but man yielding his judgement to woman (p. 137). The consequences of female rule and male degradation is stagnation of the industrial arts (p. 163), the collapse of public building designed and built by women (p. 169), men who ‘devoted themselves to lives of voluptuous ease and fashion’ (p. 171), and women who ‘have inherited with the pantaloons all the vices and wickedness of men’ (p. 176). For three chapters the history of Petticotia’s turn to female dominance is elaborated upon; this is what the author was building towards, not the conclusion, but this history of a country’s downfall following the elevation of women to equal station with men under the law.

Gullible and his male friends compose an ultimatum for the women of Petticotia: restore men to their proper place in society, or every man in the country will defect to the United States (p. 218). His plan to profit from his trip to the interior is in the manufacture of more American Eagle flying machines and bringing them to Petticotia, netting ‘four or five hundred million dollars’ (p. 219) in the process. He finally manages to effect his escape by substituting another man for himself to be married off to the President. His closing lines to readers, in a manuscript to be delivered to the U.S., pleads ‘may the day never dawn when amateur world-builders, or vainglorious demagogues, shall, out of thy matchless civilization, shape abortions like the shehes and heshes of Sheland!’ (p. 239).


[1] Bleiler, Science Fiction, p. 828.

[2] ‘Wood, Mrs J’, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction. http://www.sf-encyclopedia.com/entry/wood_mrs_j

[3] Joseph Henry Gilmore (1834-1918), held a degree in Arts from Brown University, and theology from Newton Theological Institution. Is somewhat remembered for composing the Baptist hymn ‘He Leadeth Me, O Blessed Thought”.

[4] J. Wood, Pantaletta: A Roman of Sheheland (New York: The American News Company, 1882), p. 2. All other references cited in text for this edition.

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