A Study of the Hollow Earth

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Archive for the tag “Science Fiction”

Zombies? Really? Really.: Buying into Horror

Zombie-Survival-Kit[Some incomplete thoughts on the marketing of the zombie apocalypse.]

When I speak of zombie apocalypse economics, I am not being metaphorical: tongue-in-cheek, perhaps, but not metaphorical. Preparation for the potential of a zombie-viral outbreak occupy a niche market, where 99 per-cent of the information and products are offered up with a wink and a nod, and 1 per-cent caters to the mentally unstable. Or so it may seem, but I think there is a genuine psychological and economic force at work; that of preparing for horror, to mitigate the effects of disaster. History is rife with examples of preparing to face the apocalypse, but often those involved spiritual preparation, and a sense that fighting the inevitable was pointless: one does not fight God. Technology, though, and science, has brought two new perspectives: 1) new forms of horror, and 2) new ways of combating those horrors.

Think on it this way: how many of us have played the ‘zombie survival game’, the gedankenexperiment of contemplating where you would hole up, with whom, and what supplies? A seemingly pointless mental exercise that we can’t help engaging with once the question is posed. We have an innate need to question the future, anticipate its direction, and prepare for those events which threaten our existence.

There is a history to this need for preparing to fight off the unimaginable, the living dead, that stretches back to the fin de siècle. The BBC last year reported on a Victorian era vampire-slaying kit that sold at auction for £7500. This was a box containing everything Bram Stoker and Professor Van Helsing would have specified in a quest to kill Dracula: “a crucifix, pistol, wooden stakes and mallet, as well as glass bottles containing holy water, holy earth and garlic paste.” Was this intended as a genuine emergency-vampire-slaying First Aid kit, or an intriguing party gift? We’ll probably never know. But its very existence puts into perspective for us today the many kits and accouterments to be found for combating an onslaught of zombies.

In the nineteenth century, zombies were a product of Caribbean voodoo and witchcraft, Gothic tales of turning the living into automatons and slaves. By the mid-twentieth century, a zombie was a corpse inexplicably brought back to life by an incomprehensible horror. By the twenty-first century, the zombie was a scientific phenomenon, induced by disease; viral, bacterial, chemical or prion. To quote Erik David in his study of millennial eschatology,: ‘Though the cosmic sense of an ending can be seen as a particular pathology of the historical religions, the eschatological imagination long ago leaked into the secular myths of history and scientific progress.’ The zombie apocalypse has become a scientifically inspired end-of-days, like the nuclear apocalypse or the Y2K threat. However, where a nuclear war or technological collapse is rather beyond the control of the individual to combat, zombies, like the vampire, come with a scientific method of defense.

The work of Max Brooks is probably the most well known, The Zombie Survival Guide from 2003 intended as a non-fictive instruction manual, which he followed up with his fictional history in 2006, World War Z: An Oral History of the Zombie War. Of the attempt at verisimilitude, in keeping with the thread of genuine possibility, Brooks himself said, “”Everything in World War Z (as in The Zombie Survival Guide) is based in reality… well, except the zombies. But seriously, everything else in the book is either taken from reality or 100% real. The technology, politics, economics, culture, military tactics… it was a LOT of homework.” We, as readers, are being given information that conforms to reality in all ways but one: there are no zombies…yet. It is that part ‘yet’, which has fueled growth of a zombie survival market for the last decade. Brooks himself puts it into the perspective of human anxiety about the end of the world.

Type ‘zombie’ into an academic database and you will find a peer-reviewed article about zombies in any field imaginable: politics, psychology, sociology, philosophy, literature, history, economics, medicine, etc. Some of these are relatively serious; some of them are using the term ‘zombie’ as a metaphor (especially in philosophy and economics). There are multiple levels of didactism to be found in both the fictions and non-fictions (this latter term being used in the loosest-possible way). Consider the academic studies (academic in the purely theoretical sense) that have been published. A study from an associate professor in Australia: “The nurses’ role in the prevention of Solanum infection: dealing with a zombie epidemic”, published in The Journal of Clinical Nursing last year. Its purpose was “To outline the background and nursing interventions for Solanum infection in the event of a zombie epidemic… Literature and feature film evidence supports the theoretical probability for an outbreak of a Solanum infection which could result in a zombie epidemic. This paper discusses the causative agent, history of zombiism, signs and symptoms, diagnosis and nursing interventions.” What is this important? Because if it does happen, “Nurses are likely to be the front line staff faced with initiating most primary and secondary care interventions, including isolation and infection control, wound care, pain relief, documentation observations, support for activities of daily living, nutrition and fluid support, medication administration and other interventions.” Or consider perhaps the CDC website that uses the idea of a zombie infection outbreak to teach disaster preparedness: “Wonder why Zombies, Zombie Apocalypse, and Zombie Preparedness continue to live or walk dead on a CDC web site? As it turns out what first began as a tongue in cheek campaign to engage new audiences with preparedness messages has proven to be a very effective platform.”[1] In other words, zombies have become an effective marketing and teaching tool. Surely a hurricane or earthquake could not be as terrible as a zombie outbreak? If we prepare for the latter, then the former will seem a breeze to survive. We have the Iowa Law Review explaining to us exactly what the tax consequences of a zombie apocalypse would be. We are more prepared for an event that has not and likely will not happen, than we are for events already happening (such as economic instability due to comedies bubbles). Perhaps it is easier to deal with the hypothetical than it is the real.

In Britain it made national – and then international – news when a letter sent to the Leicester City Council asked: ‘Can you please let us know what provisions you have in place in the event of a zombie invasion? Having watched several films it is clear that preparation for such an event is poor and one that councils throughout the kingdom must prepare for.’[2] As it turned out, the city council was not prepared for a zombie apocalypse, having no reason to believe there was a threat, but nonetheless the question was asked, and an answer had to be given. As it turns out, there is a plan…sort of. The MOD issued the following reply to Bristol City Council upon a request for information: “In the event of an apocalyptic incident (eg zombies), any plans to rebuild and return England to its pre-attack glory would be led by the Cabinet Office, and thus any pre-planning activity would also taken place there. The Ministry of Defence’s role in any such event would be to provide military support to the civil authorities, not take the lead. Consequently, the Ministry of Defence holds no information on this matter.” And Bristol City Council’s addendum to this was to include “procurement implications” regarding the necessary supplies for zombatting (zombie+combat) and “where possible, in line with our buy-local policy. […] A catalogue of standard issue equipment – cuffs, stun guns, protection suits, etc – is available on the staff intranet.”[3] The tongue is so firmly in cheek, it’s a wonder the tongue hadn’t been bitten. And yet, at the same time, there is an economic motive being exploited here.

Besides the professional interest in survival techniques for a theoretically implausible disease, there are also the marketing strategies to sell weapons, toys, gadgets, card games, and even entire houses that cater to the especially zombie-paranoid. Guns, swords, axes, body armour, all designed to meet standards specified by the various zombie survival texts; this is part of the science of survival. No crucifixes or spells, but a tangible method of survival, something than can be grasped and understood. Of course there are the less-than-serious items, such as a lunchbox stocked with a book and sweets. Here we have novelty contrasted with practicality – or impracticality, depending on your perspective.

I cannot offer a complete explanation as to why we have this insatiable need to prepare for disaster, besides the fact that it is evolutionarily advantageous to mitigate the fallout. However, I hope that I have made clear a pattern of human behaviour that stretches back at least for the last century, in which literature, and the seemingly fictional, has come to overlap the real world.

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Fear the Machine: EM Forster’s “The Machine Stops”

themachinestopsEdward Morgan Forster wrote only five published novels in his lifetime, all of them by the age of 45. A sixth, Maurice, about a homosexual relationship, though written in 1913, was not published until 1971, a year after his death, because Forster did not want to publicise his sexual orientation. It is for these novels, more than his short stories, that Forster is remembered, bolstered in recent years by the Merchant-Ivory film productions of his canon. Born in 1879, Forster’s father died of tuberculosis the following year, and he was raised under the heavy influence of his mother and other female relations, who shaped his perception, and later characterisation, of women. When his great-aunt died in 1887, she left Forster an £8000 legacy (worth about half a million pounds today) which allowed him to further his education at Tonbridge school in Kent, then King’s College, Cambridge. Forster was never quite comfortable with this privileged life handed to him, though, and most of his work reflected on the disparity between the classes in Edwardian England.

Four of his six novels were published before the First World War. Forster was very much a product of the early Modernist era, and after the war, plaintively stated that he no longer knew how to write novels for this post-War world. He instead turned towards literary theory and criticism, academic pursuits filling the rest of his long life. He also worked as president of the humanist society at Cambridge, and his humanist philosophies come out clearly in his work, especially in “The Machine Stops.” First published in The Oxford and Cambridge Review in November of 1909, the only science fiction story he ever wrote, as the genre was not exactly a popular one for the Modernists, who considered themselves above the likes of HG Wells. Forster himself said that “The Machine Stops is a reaction to one of the earlier heavens of HG Wells”, highlighting Forster’s concern about machines and technology encroaching into human life, making us dependent. Technology, seen by so many as liberation from labour and toil, was seen by Forster as a prison. I think Forster’s distrust of technology in 1909 was fairly prescient, years before the horrors of the First World War demonstrated the destructiveness of some modern advances. I found an interesting diary entry of his from January of 1908, when he must have been in the midst of writing ‘The Machine Stops’, or at the very least, contemplating the story:

Jan, 27 (1908) Last Monday a man – named Farman – flew a ¾ mile circuit in 1 ½ minutes. It’s coming quickly, and if I live to be old I shall see the sky as pestilential as the roads. It really is a new civilisation. I have been born at the end of the age of peace and can’t expect to feel anything but despair. Science, instead of freeing man – the Greeks nearly freed him by right feeling – is enslaving him to machines. Nationality will go, but the brotherhood of man will not come. No doubt the men of the past were mistaken in thinking ‘dulce et decorum est pro patria mori’[1] but the war of the future will make no pretence of beauty or of being the conflict of ideas. God what a prospect! The little houses that I am used to will be swept away, the fields will stink of petrol, and the airships will shatter the stars. Man may get a new and perhaps a greater soul for the new conditions. But such a soul as mine will be crushed out.

“The Machine Stops” is Forster’s own exegesis on the rapidly developing modern world, an exercise in the dystopic, or what should more rightly be called an anti-utopia. Whereas the world of Orwell’s 1984 is a totalitarian dystopia of misery, an order designed to create misery, the inhabitants of Forster’s anti-utopia are perfectly happy with the way that they live – it is just us, as readers, who see it as a nightmare. Many have compared this to a work of fantasy rather than science fiction, though I doubt Forster would have accepted either term for his story, the former genre relying – by his own definition – on the supernatural and mythic, the latter genre, not yet even christened. It is a unique piece that, by its own uniqueness, sees it rejected out of hand as something unworthy of Forster. In his lectures on ‘Aspects of the Novel’, Forster went on to define not just his sense of what is fantasy in fiction, but prophecy, and that is the best way to understand “The Machine Stops”. He says that readers are forced to contribute two qualities in reading a story of prophecy: ‘humility and the suspension of a sense of humour.’ Why humility? Because without it, ‘we shall not hear the voice of the prophet.’ And the sense of humour may cause us to laugh at the prophet, instead of listening.

“The Machine Stops” is set in a future where humanity resides in subterranean cells, separated even from family, fed, entertained, healed and interacting only through the Machine via armchairs from which they rarely move:

Imagine, if you can, a small room, hexagonal in shape, like the cell of a bee. It is lighted neither by window nor by lamp, yet it is filled with a soft radiance. There are no apertures for ventilation, yet the air is fresh. There are no musical instruments, and yet, at the moment that my meditation opens, this room is throbbing with melodious sounds. An armchair is in the centre, by its side a reading-desk — that is all the furniture. And in the armchair there sits a swaddled lump of flesh — a woman, about five feet high, with a face as white as a fungus. It is to her that the little room belongs.

This pale lump of fleshy fungus is Vashti, our guide in this world. But you notice the tone of the omniscient narration, divorced from feeling? Forster is using this tone deliberately: the lack of feeling we have as readers is no different from the characters. And it is the technology that precipitates this divorce from feeling and connexion, seemingly no different from facebook or email or skype today:

An electric bell rang.

The woman touched a switch and the music was silent.

“I suppose I must see who it is”, she thought, and set her chair in motion. The chair, like the music, was worked by machinery and it rolled her to the other side of the room where the bell still rang importunately.

“Who is it?” she called. Her voice was irritable, for she had been interrupted often since the music began. She knew several thousand people, in certain directions human intercourse had advanced enormously.

But when she listened into the receiver, her white face wrinkled into smiles, and she said: “Very well. Let us talk, I will isolate myself. I do not expect anything important will happen for the next five minutes — for I can give you fully five minutes, Kuno. Then I must deliver my lecture on ‘Music during the Australian Period’.”

She touched the isolation knob, so that no one else could speak to her.

Kuno is Vashti’s son, living on the other side of the world, under the hill of Wessex, because the Machine assigned him a cell there. We never see much in the way of maternal affection, but only because, as we learn, after applying for reproduction, children are taken and raised in nurseries by the Machine.

“What is it, dearest boy? Be quick. Why could you not send it by pneumatic post?”

“Because I prefer saying such a thing. I want—”

“Well?”

“I want you to come and see me.”

Vashti watched his face in the blue plate.

“But I can see you!” she exclaimed. “What more do you want?”

“I want to see you not through the Machine,” said Kuno. “I want to speak to you not through the wearisome Machine.”

h the Machine; nothing need be original or natural. This is, in part, Forster’s response to Oscar Wilde, who wrote in 1890: ‘As we become more highly organised, the elect spirits of each age, the critical and cultured spirits, will grow less and less interested in actual life, and will seek to gain their impressions almost entirely from what Art has touched.’ Oscar Wilde is recast as Vashti in the story, a woman who pursues only second-hand intellectual ideas from the comfort of an armchair, divorced from physical reality. Kuno, the antithesis, is Forster, looking for his reflection in the real world, one not obviated by the Machine. He calls his mother to him, and against her will, she makes the trip via airship halfway around the world, though the journey is dizzying and uncomfortable because she is forced to confront wide-open spaces.

So when Vashti found her cabin invaded by a rosy finger of light, she was annoyed, and tried to adjust the blind. But the blind flew up altogether, and she saw through the skylight small pink clouds, swaying against a background of blue, and as the sun crept higher, its radiance entered direct, brimming down the wall, like a golden sea. It rose and fell with the air-ship’s motion, just as waves rise and fall, but it advanced steadily, as a tide advances.

Unless she was careful, it would strike her face. A spasm of horror shook her and she rang for the attendant. The attendant too was horrified, but she could do nothing; it was not her place to mend the blind. She could only suggest that the lady should change her cabin, which she accordingly prepared to do.

To comfort herself, Vashti clings to her copy of The Book of the Machine, the bible of this society, and the Machine is God. To go against the Machine is to go against righteousness. The Machine commands that people shall live under the ground, in their cells, separated from touch, from smell, from space, and connected only via the mechanical threads of the Machine. This is why Vashti is so repulsed by the surface of the world, finds herself unable to comprehend the non-mechanical. Sometimes the parallels with our own society a hundred years on are almost uncomfortable to contemplate. We find ourselves now so enmeshed in the powers of computers and the internet that should these fail us, civilisation itself would fall. Without computers, there is no electricity, no food, no water, no fuel-injected engines, no phone calls, no credit card payments, no cashpoints. We have stepped beyond the mechanical that Forster envisioned, and now the mechanical is controlled by the digital.

The second part of the story is Kuno’s discovery of the outside world, Vashti’s rejection of her son as a threat to civilisation and the Machine. He has gone to see the surface of the world without respirator, without an egression permit, and without the aid of the Machine. It is perhaps this last that is so anathema to Vashti’s thinking, because Kuno has displayed both mental and physical independence.

“Except through the vomitories, for which one must have an Egression-permit, it is impossible to get out. The Book says so.”

“Well, the Book’s wrong, for I have been out on my feet.” For Kuno was possessed of a certain physical strength.

By these days it was a demerit to be muscular. Each infant was examined at birth, and all who promised undue strength were destroyed. Humanitarians may protest, but it would have been no true kindness to let an athlete live; he would never have been happy in that state of life to which the Machine had called him; he would have yearned for trees to climb, rivers to bathe in, meadows and hills against which he might measure his body. Man must be adapted to his surroundings, must he not? In the dawn of the world our weakly must be exposed on Mount Taygetus, in its twilight our strong will suffer euthanasia, that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress, that the Machine may progress eternally.

Forster is examining eugenics in a why the early 20th century eugenicists never considered: that what was once considered good, is now defective. The survival of a child is based upon their ability to conform to a world system that discourages athletics and independent thinking. Kuno’s independent thinking is leading him into trouble; in a society of agoraphobics, the agoraphilic is a threat to the world order.

“You know that we have lost the sense of space. We say ‘space is annihilated,’ but we have annihilated not space, but the sense thereof. We have lost a part of ourselves. I determined to recover it, and I began by walking up and down the platform of the railway outside my room. Up and down, until I was tired, and so did recapture the meaning of ‘Near’ and ‘Far.’ ‘Near’ is a place to which I can get quickly on my feet, not a place to which the train or the air-ship will take me quickly. ‘Far’ is a place to which I cannot get quickly on my feet; the vomitory is ‘far,’ though I could be there in thirty-eight seconds by summoning the train. Man is the measure. That was my first lesson. Man’s feet are the measure for distance, his hands are the measure for ownership, his body is the measure for all that is lovable and desirable and strong. Then I went further…

Kuno describes his exploration of the surface world, his realisaiton that the Machine, and its Book, are wrong. His mother accuses him of “throwing away civilisation”, but it is only civilisaiton as she is able to comprehend it. Kuno resists:

“Cannot you see, cannot all you lecturers see, that it is we that are dying, and that down here the only thing that really lives is the Machine? We created the Machine, to do our will, but we cannot make it do our will now. It has robbed us of the sense of space and of the sense of touch, it has blurred every human relation and narrowed down love to a carnal act, it has paralysed our bodies and our wills, and now it compels us to worship it. The Machine develops — but not on our lines. The Machine proceeds — but not to our goal. We only exist as the blood corpuscles that course through its arteries, and if it could work without us, it would let us die. Oh, I have no remedy—or, at least, only one—to tell men again and again that I have seen the hills of Wessex as Ælfrid saw them when he overthrew the Danes…

Kuno is grasping for history, the first part of humanity that is erased in the rise of a dystopia or an anti-utopia. His mother cannot accept this part of her son, is embarrassed by him. But the significant clue of Kuno’s ability to escape to the surface of the earth without the aid of the Machine hints at the breaking down of the Machine. In his own way, Kuno is trying to warn his mother that the civilisation she is so assiduously supporting is on the verge of collapse. The third and final section of this relatively long short story is the inevitable catastrophe.

As for Vashti, her life went peacefully forward until the final disaster. She made her room dark and slept; she awoke and made the room light. She lectured and attended lectures. She exchanged ideas with her innumerable friends and believed she was growing more spiritual. At times a friend was granted Euthanasia, and left his or her room for the homelessness that is beyond all human conception. Vashti did not much mind. After an unsuccessful lecture, she would sometimes ask for Euthanasia herself. But the death-rate was not permitted to exceed the birth-rate, and the Machine had hitherto refused it to her. The troubles began quietly, long before she was conscious of them.

One day she was astonished at receiving a message from her son. They never communicated, having nothing in common, and she had only heard indirectly that he was still alive, and had been transferred from the northern hemisphere, where he had behaved so mischievously, to the southern—indeed, to a room not far from her own.

“Does he want me to visit him?” she thought. “Never again, never. And I have not the time.”

No, it was madness of another kind.

He refused to visualize his face upon the blue plate, and speaking out of the darkness with solemnity said:

“The Machine stops.”

“What do you say?”

“The Machine is stopping, I know it, I know the signs.”

As it must, the power begins to fail, the food ceases to come, the air is no longer circulating, and Vashti must venture beyond her door, into a catacomb, or hive, of tombs. But she is doomed, just like everyone else who lived underground, under the aegis of the Machine. Kuno does return for his mother, though it is too late.

“Where are you?” she sobbed.

His voice in the darkness said, “Here.”

“Is there any hope, Kuno?”

“None for us.”

“Where are you?”

She crawled over the bodies of the dead. His blood spurted over her hands.

“Quicker,” he gasped, “I am dying—but we touch, we talk, not through the Machine.”

He kissed her.

“We have come back to our own. We die, but we have recaptured life, as it was in Wessex, when Ælfrid overthrew the Danes. We know what they know outside, they who dwelt in the cloud that is the colour of a pearl.”

As he spoke, the whole city was broken like a honeycomb. An air-ship had sailed in through the vomitory into a ruined wharf. It crashed downwards, exploding as it went, rending gallery after gallery with its wings of steel. For a moment they saw the nations of the dead, and, before they joined them, scraps of the untainted sky.

Contemporary reviewers were not so kind about “The Machine Stops”. In a 1938 book about Forster from Rose Macaulay, published by Virginia Woolf, Macaulay stated that ‘The Machine Stops, which shows fertile and graphic Wellsian inventiveness combined with Chestertonian machanophobia, in manner and matter is the least Forsterian of his writings. It has a Forster moral, but lacks charm, humour and style; it might have been written by someone else.’ I think Macaulay and other contemporaries failed to grasp what Forster was trying to accomplish with this story: “The Machine Stops” was not meant to be humorous or charming, because the world of the Machine is not humorous or charming, and that is the style. Had Macaulay had access to Forster’s journals, she undoubtedly would have seen that the story could come from no other hand by Forster’s. Alas, because Forster did not react well to criticism of his work, he never attempted another story like “The Machine Stops”, but before he died in 1970, I like to think that he could look on the world that emerged over six decades after he wrote it, and know that he was right.


[1] ‘It is sweet and proper to die for one’s country’, quoted from the Second Book of Odes by Horace.

Reviewing “The Goddess of Atvatabar”

Thanks to the wonders of the on-line newspaper catalogue “Chronicling America” it has been possible to dig up some nineteenth century reviews of some of the hollow earth novels I’ve been studying. Today’s feature is three reviews of William R. Bradshaw’s The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892), which compelled these reviewers to relate the novel to the European imports of Jules Verne’s Journey to the Centre of the Earth and Rider Haggard’s She. This is actually quite interesting, building a case that at this time foreign novels were still far more widely read than America’s own literary products. Only the last review, however, mentions John C. Symmes’s wholly American theory of polar openings leading to a hollow world.

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The Saint Paul Daily Globe, Thursday Morning, May 5, 1892, p. 3.

Since Jules Verne set the fashion of journeys to remarkable places we see now and then accounts of some wonderful discoveries. This liking for stories that would make Munchhausen turn green with envy has incited William R. Bradshaw, to suit a book with a good long title, “The Goddess of Atvatabar, being the discovery of the Interior World and the Conquest of Atvatabar,” and presents a map of that long talked of country. Mr. Lexington White, being a man of wealth and having a strong desire “strange countries far to see,” fits out a strong ship with all the modern conveniences, and a full complement of officers and men, which he calls the ‘”Polar King.” He then starts out to find the long lost North pole. While anchored near the impassable barrier of mighty ice cliffs a good many miles farther north than anybody else ever got, a terrible convulsion of nature rends the cliffs and opens a passage to a clear blue sea beyond. Bravely the commander determines to enter the passage and after a few hours sailing discovers that they are going down hill, and they continue their downward course, till they reach a country where men weigh nothing and gold and silver are common rocks, and where people are peculiar to say the least. While the ship was at anchor two strange men came flying on board: “These two men were strange beings. Their complexions were a bright-yellow and their hair black. Their wings were long gleaming blades of some white metal, that were moved by some powerful force (possibly electricity) quite independent or the body. Each was armed with spear and shield, and notwithstanding their queer looks they did not object to a glass of rum. On being questioned, by pantomime one of the men introduced himself as “Plothoz, wayleal as Atvatabar.” Our adventurers had no trouble in learning the language of this new country and were soon taken to visit Kiaram the home of the king where they were to see a review of the armies of the country. The soldiers were mounted on immense walking machines, but on the plan of the ostrich, and run by electric motors. These were forty feet high and were called “bock-hockids.” These people seem not to be prohibitionists, for the king drank the health of his visitors, in a goblet of wine. The flora of this interior county grew in strong resemblance to birds and beasts, and displayed the most gorgeous coloring. The religion as explained by the Goddess of Hopelesslove was far too etherial and spiritual to commend itself to people in our sphere, and the introduction of pushing American men seems to have upset things in Atvatabar, as it usually does everywhere, for the goddess fell in love with the American commander, as is the custom of maidens everywhere, and as she had already found her twin soul and lost him by death, and was devoted to perpetual widowhood in a spiritual sense, the whole country had to be upset and its theology changed to suit her change of mind, for marry the beautiful American she would and did.

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The Sun, Saturday, June 4, 1892, p. 8(?)

It looks as though Mr. Rider Haggard’s “She” were the source of Inspiration for “The Goddess of Atvatabar” a novel by Mr. William R. Bradshaw (J. F. Douthitt), but the later story is no servile Imitation of Its distinguished model. The Atvatabarese Goddess is a highly startling creature. In the matter of color she seems to have had the assistance neither of good taste nor of good fortune, for her hair is blue and her skin yellow, and it is her habit to wear a vermilion tiara while sitting upon a divan upholstered in croon velvet. She suits Mr. Lexington White, however, a gentleman who was enabled to find her by the simple expedient of sailing through a hole in the sea into the interior of the earth. Mr. White, a New Yorker, with eyes like soup plates (see Illustrations), and otherwise of a distinguished personal appearance, was on his way to the north pole in an ironclad yacht when the hole in question opened up before him. The yacht was bombarding the Arctic ice pack with rackarock bombshells, and rapidly pulverizing it, and Mr. White, incongruously but interestingly clad in the uniform of a Field Marshal of France, was languidly regarding the operation. All of a sudden the yacht began to sail into the hole, and when it fetched up the high-colored Goddess of Atvatabar was at hand. Some time was spent in doing the country. Mr. White sailed in an airship and rode on metallic grasshoppers seventy feet high, which are used In Atvatabar for cavalry horses. He also heard singing by a vast assemblage of twin souls, and he reports it as having been an extraordinary performance. “It was a roar of invincible music,” he says. He adds: “I cried aloud amid a Chimborazo of song, a hundred-cratered Popocatepetl of sweet strains. The audience, enraptured with the climax, became an inferno of passion, laughter, tears, and felicity.” Then the Goddess accommodated Lexington White with a kiss, which was a “whirlwind of fire and tears,” and after neat administration of rackarock to such as raised objections he became Deity-Consort and commander of the airship and the grasshopper squadron. Mr. Julian Hawthorne, in an Introduction, pronounces this story “a work of art which may rightfully be termed great.” We should say so! A Popocatepetl* of sweet strains indeed!

* Popocatepetl: a volcano in south central Mexico

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The Morning Call, San Francisco, Sunday, June 5, 1892, pp. 9-12.

THE GODDESS OF ATVATABAR.— Through “Symmes’ Hole” into the interior of the earth is the imaginative excursion on which William R. Bradshaw conducts the reader in this “History of the Discovery of the Interior World and Conquest of Atvatabar.” It possesses all the extravagant fancies to be met with in Jules Verne’s “Journey to the Center of the Earth” and Rider Haggard’s “She.” The perfection of the various apparatuses of locomotion, the ingenious architecture throughout the kingdom, the novelty of resting on the air, owing to the absence of the attraction of gravitation, all appeal to one’s interest. The volume is profusely illustrated. [New York, J. F. Douthitt. For sale at the bookstores.]

A ‘Fatal lack of risk’: Le Guin’s Early Conservative Plot and Gender Tropes

Rocannon's World Book coverIntroduction

When John Clute wrote that Ursula K. Le Guin was ‘‘eminently sane, humanitarian, concerned’ but went on to lament her ‘fatal lack of risk’’[1] he was being entirely fair about her inability to synthesize her concerned humanism with progressive plot-lines. Ursula K. Le Guin has been regarded as one of the most successful writers of fantasy and science fiction in the twentieth century, utilizing a heavy reliance on anthropology and environmental awareness. But with regards to sexual equality and non-traditional family units, Le Guin falls painfully short of challenging male dominance. The plots follow the classic masculine hero’s journey of adventure and discovery. Her earliest novels rely heavily upon male protagonists in male-dominated societies, as if the rest of the galaxy were no different from medieval Earth, and Le Guin did not trust her readers to accept any other setting. The ‘lack of risk’ in Le Guin’s writing is that each society she lays down appears misogynistic, with each cast of characters led by male protagonists who follow the strictures of heterosexuality, monogamous love of fellow men, heroism, and defense of the nuclear family. In the following, I examine the early science fiction stories that started Le Guin’s career, those set in the Hainish universe: Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile, City of Illusions and The Left Hand of Darkness (along with the short story ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’ which later attempted to answer criticism of this novel). For each of the texts I will look for societal standards, such as family units, sexual conformity, and the role of women.

Background

Le Guin herself is aware of the standardized influences that shape Western society, making her lack of narrative risk even more disappointing because she did not act against this male dominance of culture and mythology. She writes, ‘In our hero-tales of the Western world, heroism has been gendered: The hero is a man. […]Since it’s about men, the hero-tale has concerned the establishment or validation of manhood. It has been the story of a quest, or a conquest, or a test, or a contest. It has involved conflict and sacrifice.’[2] This may have been in response to her Earthsea stories, but all of Le Guin’s work seems to follow this pattern, to the point of painful redundancy. Never is a woman found to be making the same harrowing journey as the men.

Darko Suvin put forth the requirement of the novum for science fiction, a strange newness,[3] but Le Guin relies on mythological formats still firmly rooted in masculine tradition. She does not explore the novum of the alien because, in her words, ‘all my worlds, in the novels anyway, are populated by human beings. […] Part of what a novel does is make you feel with the people in it–so that you really can get into their skin and be a different person for a while, while you’re reading the novel. If the person is too remote from human experience, I think that’s not possible.’[4] Le Guin is unwilling to push readers to accept an alien perspective, and for this, her characters rarely stretch the bounds of the imagination or break with our social conventions. Having the Hain serve as the seeders for all intelligent life in the League simplifies the matter of explaining too-similar ‘alien’ life; they become variants of the Earth-bound cultures Le Guin has studied, and historically speaking, most cultures have always been male dominated. Another aspect of her failure to stretch the imagination is the life on alien worlds, as ‘Le Guin has no real interest in inventing bizarre fauna and flora. […] Just as her aliens are almost always recognizably human […] so are her animals and plants almost always recognizably based on those we know on Earth.’[5] This admitted un-inventiveness and failure to embrace the possibility of fantastic variety of life in the universe is symptomatic of Le Guin’s unwillingness to take risks with her characters and societies.

From her own life, it is possible to see the influences that have shaped Le Guin’s conservative approach to writing characters. As the child of anthropologists, utilization of anthropologic methods in her stories has led Le Guin to stick too closely to human social patterns; this may be why so many of her early worlds appear primitive and male-dominant. The critic Joe De Bolt notes, ‘Le Guin has been taken to task by some persons in the women’s movement for her infrequent use of women as leading characters and an inadequate feminine point of view in her works.’[6] This lack of risk is interesting, as Le Guin has never been ‘a volume producer. But, then, neither has she had to support herself and her family by writing: thus, she has escaped the output/income bind that plagues so many other fine writers in the genre.’[7] Because Le Guin was not dependent on income, she should have been able to take greater risks with her work and challenging readers’ cultural notions. There also appears to be an element of self-deception, when Le Guin states ‘the “person” I tend to write about is often not exactly, or not totally, either a man or a woman. On the superficial level, this means that there is little sexual stereotyping – the men aren’t lustful and the women aren’t gorgeous’.[8] This seems a dubious claim in light of the fighting/ voyaging men in these novels, fiercely loyal to their male companions (expressing monogamous love), and protection of women (when Le Guin bothers to insert female characters) and families. To say the women are not ‘gorgeous’ is to deny the goddess description attached to Semley and her people. Nor is it proper to categorize all men as lustful, as Le Guin is merely utilizing the sexual stereotype of the celibate, sexually reserved hero. And the tasks performed by her characters are still segregated by gender. An active heroine in these Hainish books is nowhere to be found.

The Hainish Novels

Le Guin’s earliest work was in her Hainish universe. Rocannon’s World, Planet of Exile and City of Illusions were the primary trilogy. All utilized mainly male protagonists in deeply misogynistic, primitive worlds. One might question why Le Guin held to these redundant settings for all three novels; it certainly does not require any stretch of the anthropological imagination. These were followed by the award-winning novel, The Left Hand of Darkness, which, if examined closely, still adheres to conservative male-dominance, the hetero male hero-journey, and the nuclear family.

An episodic hero-journey story, Rocannon’s World opens with a short story based upon the Norse myth of the goddess Freya and the Brisingamen necklace.[9] Instead of improving upon an ancient myth, Le Guin still employs a vain and beautiful woman/goddess – Semley – chasing after a stolen necklace to improve the family wealth and social standing. Upon her return she is devastated to learn of her husband’s death and generation that has passed her by. (It would have been more interesting if Le Guin has employed gender reversal, but she sticks to the idea that it must be a woman searching for lost jewelry.) From this short story the rest of the novel develops, casting aside Semley and utilizing male protagonists in the form of Rocannon (the Hainish ethnologist who follows Semley back to her home planet) and his companion Mogien (young Lord of Hallan). The risk-free, stereotypical plot, as the critic James Bittner states, follows ‘the heroic adventures of a white male protagonist.’[10] An early indication of the dominant role of the men is in a common curse repeated several times, ‘May our enemy die without sons’[11], emphasizing a culture of primogeniture. Little is explored in the way of sexual mores as Rocannon and Mogien ride around the planet looking to avenge Rocannon’s murdered friends and stop the enemy threatening the League. Men are treated as the agents of action and vengeance, as the Lady Ganye noted about her husband’s murder, ‘we have no revenge. […] And there is no man to make these Strangers pay for Ganhing’s death.’[12] Rocannon obliges, obliterating the enemy camp and riding home the conquering hero to marry Lady Ganye, thus enforcing the nuclear family. Le Guin’s female characters are background decoration in this novel. It is difficult to go into too much detail about the sexual and social structures in this novel because of its hero-adventure framework and the lack of female characters.

For Planet of Exile Le Guin allows female characters to play a larger part, but in the more violent, repressively male dominated society of Asketevar, which stands in contrast to the Terran colony that is supposed to represent a more equal society (though Le Guin’s execution of this ‘equality’ is questionable). Rolery is a young woman born out of season, a native of Tevar city, and the youngest daughter of the chief, Wold, who practices polygamy (his Terran wife referred to as ‘the exotic one in Wold’s female zoo’[13]). An indication of the hostility Le Guin has cultivated against women in this story is emphasized when Jakob Agat warns Rolery to stay away from him lest they ‘castrate me or ceremonially rape you.’[14] Jakob says this in disgust, to lay out the difference between his society and Rolery’s, and the racial pride his people have felt over hers. She never acts so much as she is acted upon; a reflection of Le Guin’s Taoist leanings, but it makes this female character appear out of control, Rolery’s fate in the hands of men. Her father Wold muses that ‘some Spring-born fellow would take her for third or fourth wife; there was no need for her to complain’[15] – again emphasizing the lack of freedom among the women.  Rolery’s only act that stands her above her kinswomen is to marry Jakob, but even when she moves into the city of Landin, she is seen doing domestic tasks of mending and nursing. Among the colonists in Landin, despite the supposedly equal social structure, Rolery notes of Jakob, ‘none of them knows how to take six steps without you’[16] – so a man is still in charge. And while the so-called ‘fighting men of Landin were gone […] Twenty women went together’[17] to round up cattle, a blatant sexual division of labour. When Jakob marries Rolery, Le Guin is perpetuating the more favourable nuclear family (not practiced by Rolery’s supposedly barbarian people) and dismissing the openly homosexual feelings of his friend Huru as a consequence of ‘over-communication.’[18] This brief mention of Huru is the only attention Le Guin pays to non-hetero sexual relations in the book, choosing to go no further. Of all the books explored in this paper, Planet of Exile offers the most in depth use of female characters; unfortunately, Le Guin does little with them except employ them in traditional domestic roles while the men are occupying centre stage.

City of Illusions is another hero journey for Le Guin, in the solitary figure of Falk-Ramarren in multiple male-dominated societies. She offers her own disappointed commentary on this novel, as ‘incomplete’, that ‘I should not have published as it stands. It has some good bits, but is only half thought out’.[19] The mindless lost ‘alien’ Falk is found in the forest of eastern America and cared for by Parth in traditional woman-as-caregiver form, instructing him as one would raise a child. Zove is the Master of the House, decides whether Falk should live and who the women under him should marry. During his journey west to confront the Shing and his past, Falk-Ramarren encounters only other men until  the brutal Mzurra – where he participated in the ceremonial ‘sexual abuse of one woman by all the males in turn’.[20] At this point he meets Estrel, ‘the gentle, docile, unwearying woman…by his side’[21], and they escape the Mzurra together, though in typical distressed maiden fashion, she requires a good deal of help on the trek west to Es Toch. The submissive female form is cast aside when they reach the Shing city, and Le Guin turns Estrel into an Eve, a traitor who lured Falk-Ramarren to his enemies. In the other novels examined, the monogamous bond between male traveling companions is never betrayed, but Le Guin allows the female companion to turn on the man who saved her life. Her own drug induced guilt over betraying Falk later turns Estrel against the Shing in a fit of too familiar female hysterics. The other Shing that readers encounter are all male, with no exploration of their society or women.  Upon remembering who he was Ramarren remembers the wife he left behind, long dead now, reinforcing his hetero-male status within the nuclear family and the self-sacrifice of a hero. He leaves behind any hope of reuniting with Parth to return to Werel and warn them about the Shing.

From these three mediocre books that quickly went out of print, The Left Hand of Darkness emerged. Though far better written, The Left Hand of Darkness still falls short of breaking gender stereotypes in the male hero-journey, its androgynous characters constantly referred to in the masculine form, and coming off as men who occasionally don a feminine veil. After all, a society can hardly appear misogynistic if everyone in it is male. Le Guin explains the ‘use of a male lead in LHD as the result of her fear that men would “loathe” the book and “be unsettled and unnerved by it”’[22] – so she was unwilling to risk upsetting a male audience. When Le Guin does slip into feminine uses, she allows herself to be bound by standard social occupations, referring to the owner of the house where Genly stays as a ‘landlady’ and stereotyping him/her as having a ‘fat buttocks that wagged as he walked, and a soft fat face, and a prying, spying, ignoble, kindly nature’.[23] When he is captured and in a truck of prisons, a young Gethenain kemmering as female is described as ‘pretty, stupid, […] smiling timidly, looking for solace.’[24] As descriptions of female characteristics go, Le Guin is not offering flattering or fair examples. Nor was Le Guin really pushing herself with the plot, as Genly Ai and the Gethenian Estraven are the same as Rocannon and his companion Mogien: a male League representative on a quest across an alien world in the company of a native, his best friend, trying to stay alive, yet in the end his friend will bravely sacrifice himself. Estraven is meant to be androgynous, but Le Guin always uses masculine pronouns when referring to the Gethenians. When Estraven kemmers as a women while crossing the northern ice sheet, she slips into stereotyping again, describing the feminine Estraven as ‘vulnerable, as remote as the face of a woman who looks at you out of her thoughts’[25] – as if Estraven is someone different while kemmering as a woman, because he is never treated to this description at any other point. Le Guin refuses to let the relationship between him and Genly turn sexual (perhaps making the males readers squirm) and instead maintaining the status of heroic male friendship found in the previous novels.

Twenty-five years later, ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’ was meant to respond to the criticism that The Left Hand of Darkness was not truly an androgynous society. It is perhaps a more socially liberal book, as there are no marriages – keeping kemmer – in the Thade family, so no one knows their father, but in the attempt to find some balance, Le Guin goes too far in the direction of the feminine. The narrator, Sov, refers to her family members as ‘mother’ and ‘grandmother’ and notes that ‘Thades always kemmer as women and always get pregnant’.[26] Instead of providing the sexless society she sought, Le Guin is still caught in traditional sex roles and perspectives. Sov complains like a women entering her menstrual cycle; ‘Why did I want to cry all the time? Why did I want to sleep all the time?’[27] Le Guin is unable to reconcile her own ‘genderless’ society in her work, constantly relying on standardized tropes of her view of how the sexes behave.

Conclusion

Le Guin’s lack of risk with her early writing has led to a sense of redundancy among the plot-lines of the novels and casts of characters that are dominated by men. Her carefully designed worlds are all too similar in their reliance upon primitive societies (both Terran and alien) practicing varying levels of misogyny, or in the case of The Left Hand of Darkness, expressing characters in standard masculine tropes. Perhaps her earlier success was dependent upon not upsetting male readers and keeping an available market open, but Le Guin could have made a greater effort to develop more assertive female characters in tandem with her traditional male heroes. Even The Left Hand of Darkness reads like a world dominated by men, with the occasional weak feminine trait popping up, but passing quickly; and the attempt at balancing this with ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’ simple tips the scales into a feminine dominated perspective. Unwilling to upset male readers in her early work, trying to appease feminists in her later work, Le Guin’s most profound ‘lack of risk’ lies in the absence of a society of equals, which might not appeal to anyone.

Bibliography

Bittner, James, W. Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin (Ann Arbor, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984).

Bucknall, Barbara J. Ursula K. Le Guin (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1981).

De Bolt, Joe, ed. Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyager to Inner Lands and to Outer Space (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1979).

Le Guin, Ursula K. The Left Hand of Darkness (London: Orbit, 2004).

—. Three Hainish Novels (Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, 1978).

—. Ursula L. Le Guin, ‘A Citizen of Mondath’. Foundation: the international review of science fiction, Vol. 4, July, 1973. pp. 20-24.

—. ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’. The Birthday of the World (London: Gollancz, 2003). pp 1-22.

Suvin, Darko. ‘Estrangement and Cognition’. Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction ed. by James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2005). pp. 23-35.

Wilson, Mark B. ‘Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin straddles genres and masters them all’. <http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue189/interview.html&gt; Accessed 11 May 2008.


[1] John Clute and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (London: Orbit, 1999), p. 704.

[2] Ursula K. Le Guin, Earthsea Revisioned, p. 5

[3] Darko Suvin, ‘Estrangement and Cognition, in Speculations on Speculation: Theories of Science Fiction ed. by James Gunn and Matthew Candelaria (Lanham, MD: The Scarecrow Press, 2005), p. 24.

[4] Mark B. Wilson, ‘Interview: Ursula K. Le Guin straddles genres and masters them all’. <http://www.scifi.com/sfw/issue189/interview.html&gt; Accessed 11 May 2008.

[5] Barbara J. Bucknall, Ursula K. Le Guin (New York: Frederick Ungar Publishing, 1981), p. 19.

[6] Joe De Bolt, ‘A Le Guin Biography’ in Ursula K. Le Guin: Voyager to Inner Lands and to Outer Space (Port Washington, NY: Kennikat Press, 1979) ed. by Joe De Bolt, p. 24

[7] Joe De Bolt, ‘A Le Guin Biography’, p. 26.

[8] Barbara J. Bucknall, Ursula K. Le Guin, p. 152.

[9] Barbara J. Bucknall, Ursula K. Le Guin, p. 16.

[10] James W. Bittner, Approaches to the Fiction of Ursula K. Le Guin (Ann Arbour, MI: UMI Research Press, 1984), p. 98.

[11] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels (Garden City, NY: Nelson Doubleday, 1978),p. 27,

[12] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 103.

[13] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 135.

[14] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 133.

[15] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 125.

[16] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 159.

[17] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 168.

[18] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p. 135.

[19] Ursula L. Le Guin, ‘A Citizen of Mondath’, Foundation: the international review of science fiction, Vol. 4, July, 1973 p. 23.

[20] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p.263

[21] Ursula K. Le Guin, Three Hainish Novels, p.276.

[22] Joe De Bolt, ‘A Le Guin Biography’, p. 25.

[23] Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness (London: Orbit, 2004), p.46.

[24] Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, p. 148.

[25] Ursula K. Le Guin, The Left Hand of Darkness, p. 210.

[26] Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, The Birthday of the World (London: Gollancz, 2003), p. 3.

[27] Ursula K. Le Guin, ‘Coming of Age in Karhide’, p. 7.

The Hollow Earth After 1920

So what does the hollow earth mean in terms of today’s cultural products? The discovery that there were indeed two solid, ice-covered Poles, did not fully hammer in the last nail in the coffin of terra cava literature, or even theory. Its association with New Age philosophy keeps the idea in print, and now, on the web. Publishers and Hollywood have not finished with the possibilities of the world underground either.

Richard Shaver’s I Remember Lemuria was a sensation in the 1930’s, and still prompts discussion among those who believe the tale to be real. Any web search will reveal hundreds of websites dedicated to fringe theories of the hollow earth, including NAZIs, aliens, government conspiracy, spiritual messages and racist messages.

Dr. Raymond Bernard’s 1960’s phenomenon The Hollow Earth remains in print, and espouses the conspiracy theory that the origin of UFOs is from polar openings, similar to Symmesian geography. Arguably, though, Symmes had no intention for his name to be linked to such a preposterous idea, not when his work was based upon research, observation, and reasoning.

Even role playing games have made use of terra cava. In 2006, Exile Game Studio released the Hollow Earth Expedition rpg (role playing game):

“Explore one of the world’s greatest and most dangerous secrets: the Hollow Earth, a savage land filled with dinosaurs, lost civilizations, and ferocious savages! Players take on the roles of two-fisted adventurers, eager academics and intrepid journalists investigating the mysteries of the Hollow Earth. Meanwhile, on the surface, world powers and secret societies vie for control of what may be the most important discovery in all of human history.

Set in the tense and tumultuous 1930s, the action-filled Hollow Earth Expedition is inspired by the literary works of genre giants Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and Sir Arthur Conan Doyle.”[1]

Interestingly, Doyle never wrote about the hollow earth, and the premise of the game seems more derivative of his novel The Lost World, which lends its name to another genre of proto-sf literature similar to terra cava, looking for new world on the surface of the earth.

There is not much modern literature that has attempted to cultivate a hollow earth world, but there are a few recent pieces. Rudy Rucker’s Hollow Earth (1990) is a pastiche of Poe’s work. James Rollins’s Subterranean (1999) discovers a lost race living under the Antarctic ice cap, and more recently, John and Carole Barrowman’s children’s novel Hollow Earth (2012) ‘a supernatural place that holds all the demons, devils and creatures ever imagined.’[2] The world underground has reclaimed its dark and sinister presence in the Barrowmans’ book, a cultural stereotype that is still more prominent than the happily habitable terra cava of Symmes and the 19th century.

A search of the Internet Movie Database (www.imdb.com) reveals that there are numerous film and television titles under ‘Journey to the Center of the Earth’, the most recent of which was the big budget Brendan Fraser movie in 2008 (which was released in a 3D version) directed by Eric Brevig. Designed as a family film, and forced to contend with modern audiences, the plot and characters do not have very much in common with their namesake by Verne. As Verne was adamant about the accuracy of the science in his novels, he would likely do the proverbial grave-spin if he knew of the existence of this movie.

Another film that is more than thriller than science fiction is James Cameron’s 2011 opus Sanctum, about cave divers in Esa-Ala, New Guinea. Viewers are told ‘It is the last unexplored territory in the world.’ Therein lies the secret to the survival of the terra cava myth long past John C. Symmes and Edgar Rice Burroughs: that we still do not know the whole of what lies beneath the surface of our world.


[1] ‘Hollow Earth Expedition’ by Exile Games, <http://www.exilegames.com/games/hex.html&gt;. Accessed 13/11/2012.

[2] ‘The Bone Quill’ book description, <http://www.amazon.co.uk/The-Bone-Quill-John-Barrowman/dp/1780550316/ref=pd_sim_b_4&gt;. Accessed 13/11/2012.

Introducing: Under the Auroras, or, Cresten, Queen of the Toltus

Cover to the retitled novel from 1892.

Cover to the retitled novel from 1892.

First published in 1888 by William Jenkins Shaw as Under the Auroras, A Marvelous Tale of the Interior World, in the reprint four years later this early hollow earth novel was rechristened Cresten, Queen of the Toltus after its eponymous heroine, pictured in a sketch on the title page. There is a small, but significant quote given beneath the title on the first page: ‘On science is the tale so firmly grounded,/Twixt real and fanciful the mind’s confounded’. It’s being hinted that the story to follow should be thought of as scientific in nature, even if presented in a fictional form. Science fiction, if you will, before science fiction.

The Preface is similar to those of others, distancing the author from responsibility for any reader incredulity – ‘The whole responsibility for this story is thrown upon the shoulders of the narrator, who hath departed this life, and is, therefore, out of harm’s way’ – while also trying to build veracity; ‘I have no doubt that, had this narration not been made to me, I should have gone to my grave without having learned how man and all other animals originated’ (p. 3). As to who is playing the role of the amanuensis, we never learn; he (a ‘he’ given the illustration in the first chapter) is the interrogator and scribe, briefing readers on what to expect in the coming pages: ‘where the white race comes from; when the Deluge occurred, and what caused it; why men lived to count their years by hundreds anterior to the Deluge; when and why the ice-belt was once farther south on the exterior globe; when and how the mountain ranges were up-lifted’ (pp. 3-4) and so on. What this unnamed secondary narrator wants to communicate in this introduction is his ‘gratitude’ (p. 4) for the knowledge shared with him by our primary narrator, Amos Jackson.

Mr. Jackson arrives just as the secondary narrator is reading through an article, ‘Captain Hall’s Last Trip’, about the Arctic explorer Charles Francis Hall, who died in 1871 on the Polaris Expedition in a failed attempt to reach the Pole, setting the scene with breadcrumbs from the real world. Arriving in Patagonia, Southern Argentina, Amos Jackson’s first words to his scrivener are ‘Unfortunately, sir, I can speak only English, Norwegian and one or two other languages which no one save myself, on this exterior globe, understands’ (p. 6). Interestingly, the strangeness of this statement draws no comment from the secondary narrator, who goes on to insist that “I certainly am not of the opinion that you are now insane” (p. 7) when Jackson complains that others who have heard his story think him a lunatic. Jackson also exacts a promise from this editor to pass his tale onto the public, as he is a dying man and wishes that his discoveries not die with him. In this case, we can see parallels with Etidorhpa, I-Am-The-Man taking the role of our primary narrator, and the amanuensis as Llewelyn Drury, the scribe and the interrogator of the narrative, the reader’s avatar within the plot. He never disappears entirely from the novel, as many others who introduce the story are apt to, providing a closing of the frame for us in the end by reporting Jackson’s death.

As the character of Jackson, he introduces himself as a native of Chicago, though he left 25 years before, a scientific investigator who partners with another scientist, John Harding. Sharing the opinion that the earth is hollow, and giving a rundown on assumed air currents to the readers (pp. 8-9), they construct a metal and rubber air balloon to take them to the opening in the Arctic Pole. The standard relation of a northern journey, moving from ice fields to warmer climes, the malfunctioning of the compass needle, the crossing of the verge, are the same as found in every other terra cava narrative. There are also similar features in the representation of the environment and cultural imperialism.

Environment

The inclusion of an electrically charged atmosphere that leaves one ‘filled with a lightness of spirit and increased energy of both mind and body’ (p. 13) is part of the standard terra cava world building, along with ‘an atmosphere so luminous that the whole firmament was the color of pale gold’ (p. 13). It isn’t enough for material gold to be present; this new world must be cast in the encompassing likeness of precious metal. He later reflects that they are ‘two insects in the bottom of a huge golden-bowl’ (p. 17), continuing the impression of a rich world awaiting exploitation. Jackson attributes this source of heat and light with an analogy to cyclones: ‘I will no theorize on the phenomenon, but simply refer you to the flame that you have seen arched over the vortex of a cyclone. Here it was not condensed into destructive force, but grand in its proportion, mild and beneficent’ (p. 13). This is apparently part of the effect of the electromagnetic and air currents Jackson and Harding studied.

Landing in the wilderness, Jackson makes a study of the plants under a microscope, observing ‘the minute pores, through which they continually… exhaled oxygen’ and concludes ‘that the vegetation…took no rest’ (p. 16). It is this ‘find’ to which he attributes the apparent exhilaration of the atmosphere. When confronted with danger, Jackson admits, in retrospect, that he was more daring-do because he was ‘drunk’ on the atmosphere (p. 19). He declares this inner world ‘A fairy landscape’ and a ‘paradise’ (p. 17) in which he would happily spend the rest of his life, all on his first few hours there.

Parallels with outer-world features and phenomena are noted in abundance: trees as enormous as California Sequoias (p. 17) and hairy elephants like those preserved in ‘Siberian snows’ (p. 18) which can only be a reference to woolly mammoths. Like Jules Verne and a score of other hollow earth narratives, the more ancient a thing, the larger it is, and all being preserved in the interior of the world.

Imperialism

The material richness of the inner world beyond its golden glow is soon made clear in Jackson’s first encounter with the mass of inhabitants, with a band dressed in ‘glossy fabric’ and metal bangles (p. 28), while hundreds of beautiful female acolytes emerge clothed in gold and diamonds (p. 30). The dishes upon which the visitors’ first meal is served are made of solid gold (p. 37). Sumptuous interiors to the quartz palace of Cresten, Queen of the Light, burnished with nuggets of gold and various gemstones (p. 32) gild the lilies of this civilisation. This is a land waiting for its treasures to be harvested by adventurers from the outside. That the inhabitants of this opulent city are evil only makes the prospect of harvesting these riches more justified.

Racial insinuations are ever-present; the first view of the residents of the interior reveal ‘a face whose complexion, by contrast, would render the fairest American girl I ever saw quite unattractive in that regard. It was a face of such wonderful transparency and freshness, as surpassed all my former conceptions’ (p. 21) – and this is Jackson’s view of a man. However, the primitiveness of the man is betrayed by his golden-brown hirsute covering and loincloth. Jackson’s ethnocentric perceptions continue when he assumes his new companion, Tet-tse, to possess a nature-worshiping religion (p. 24) and refers to him as ‘a very intelligent animal’ (p. 25). At least in the taming of the woolly elephants, he decides that Tet-tse’s people are not ‘savages’ (p. 26). The relation of the natives as products of nature, completely provided for by their surroundings without the need for labour, is not dissimilar to contemporary perceptions of Pre-Columbian American Indians.

Linguistics, per usual, is part of fleshing out the lost race. Jackson’s experience with Norwegian farmhand as a child leads him to believe that the language he hears spoken in this land as one that ‘may have been spoken in Norway 1,000 or 2,000 years ago’ (p. 31). Interestingly, though, it is Cresten’s acquisition of English only 2 days that forces Harding to declare ‘she’s a witch’ (p. 41) with evil intentions. As a woman, as intelligent woman, an empowered woman, Cresten is a threat to the 19th Century male ego.

Warning the Present to Preserve the Past: The Obliteration of History and Identity in Dystopian Literature

swastika-night-katherine-burdekin-cover“The fear of memory reached its height with him, and he gave us the logical and Teutonic remedy, destruction. All history, all psychology, all philosophy, all art except music, […] every book and picture and statue that could remind Germans of old times must be destroyed. A huge gulf was to be made which no one could ever cross again.”[1]

Thus explains the Knight von Hess to the Englishman Alfred in Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night. History, and the culture produced in that time, is a threat to the German Empire’s hold on the population; only ignorance and complete government control prevents rebellion. With no reliable history, people are deprived of the impetus to revolt because they do not know that life was ever any different, that the world might be a better place. Without a sense of identity, the characters are lost within the vast control of the state. This is an idea to be found in many dystopic novels besides Burdekin’s, including George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four and Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451. Another type of dystopia is the seeming ‘utopia,’ which exists under a lack of freedom and identity, and while some knowledge of the past is recognized, it is treated with scorn and contempt. Yevgeny Zemyatin’s We and Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World are examples of this style of uniformed, automaton-inhabited utopia. While dystopia may be more concerned with the present, the authors are offering a hyperbolic representation of the future, warning of things to come if the present situation remains unchanged: “The modern dystopia […] is as much an expression of contemporary fears and anxieties as it is a further refinement of generic conventions.’[2] Because these dystopias take place in the future, their dark, incomplete view of history is meant to represent our present and near future. The intent of this paper is to examine how the authors are warning their readers about the importance of history and identity to the freedom of thought and action. With the exception of Swastika Night (which has a rural setting and high rates of illiteracy to keep the populace ignorant) the other works are set in highly mechanized societies that encourage just about every other form of entertainment than reading, and there is a general shortage of books. Living in the in the turbulent climate of the early Twentieth century (two world wars, multiple revolutions and counter revolutions, social upheaval and unprecedented government power) impressed upon the authors the need to remind readers of what would come if present history was forgotten and too many personal freedoms were surrendered. Within the stories, few characters remember the past and besides the revolutionary protagonists, few in these nightmarish societies have any desire for the products of the past or inclination to reclaiming identity.  These dystopic worlds were the authors’ plea to their contemporaries to preserve history and cultural products, because their loss would leave the future populace subjected to totalitarian control in a world that is worse off, maybe not always materially, but certainly spiritually.

From Utopias to Dystopias

Firstly, it is necessary to understand the impulse behind writing a dystopia. Despite the direness of these dystopian stories, they were meant to serve a purpose, to inspire the reader to improve upon society, as utopias do. Utopias are considered science fiction because they do not often take place on Earth or in the present (some would merely call it pastoral if it did) and have existed free from a reliance on science to bring about its utopian paradise, starting with More’s Utopia. During the twentieth century, science and technology became a tool of the writer to demonstrate ways of improving the world, but in the wake of chemical weapons and new war machines, technical innovation came to be seen as a greater threat to humanity. Writers were worried about the loss of the human soul and common history in the face of science’s advancements paired with the political upheavals and totalitarian governments of the early Twentieth century. Carl Freedman notes, ‘Utopia can never be fixed in the perspective of the present, because it exists, to a considerable degree, in the dimension of futurity: not, however, in the future as the latter is imagined by bourgeois “progress,” but rather as the future is the objective of hope, of our deepest and most radical longings.’[3] If a writer creates a utopian society out of the humanitarian desire for a better world for mankind, then the act of creating a dystopia is inspired by the longing to prevent the world from descending down a perceived path of darkness by inspiring the public to improve their present society.

There are numerous influences for dystopian novels in the first half of the Twentieth century, from the World Wars to the many revolutions that toppled the old, traditional government and social structures. The crimes against humanity, the genocides and fascist governments, were real terrors that imprinted themselves on the common consciousness of readers.

The crushing of self by the system, the denial of individuality, is nowhere more savagely illustrated in our recent history than by the Second World War, especially by the concentration camps, […] We find in these records of historical experience many of the images which recur in post-war SF: the numbered inmates, the uniformed bodies, the suffocating routine, the omnivorous machinery of death.[4]

In the fictional worlds, the populations subjected to dehumanized, totalitarian rule are controlled through their ignorance of these past events. During the rise of Hitler, the world was bombarded with images of bonfires, the burning of books that offended Nazi sensibilities. From Russia came the Five Years Plans, organizing people and production according to numbers that benefited the state, regardless of consequences for the individual. The authors, familiar with historical events and their contemporary societies, are relying on the readers to recognize the parallels in the dystopian worlds (it would be difficult to find any critic who called dystopic fiction ‘subtle’) to remember the horrors of the past – or present – and fight their return.

It is this rebellion against controlling governments (by a single individual or larger group) and the reclamation of lost history and culture that dominates these novels. While authors are warning against the mechanization of society, it is the government’s control over and use of the technology that is the real threat. If the government controls the dissemination of information, then they can shape the past and present however they please. If the government controls you (possibly from your very conception) then it controls the person you may become, shaped as they please. John Clute explains, ‘animosity against specific political programmes was the most important force provoking early dystopian visions,’ which negates the utopians ‘generalized faith in the idea of progress, both social and technological.’[5] The Western world in the early Twentieth century saw the rise of eugenics and the crimes against humanity that ensued. People were reduced to numbers and figures, calculated and ordered like machines. They saw censorship, fascism and collectivization, all of which tried to erase or rewrite history, and those who watched from the outside were horrified.

To attempt to read the great dystopian works as merely predictors of the future lessens the value of the work’s message. As Freedman puts it, ‘the negative utopias of modern literature – We (1921), Brave New World (1932), Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949) – are drained of much of their power if we attempt to read them as complexly critical estrangements of certain actual tendencies in Soviet and Anglo-American society, but instead as factual futurology, rating Zamyatin, Huxley, and Orwell as though they were contestants in a guessing game.’[6] The authors of these dystopias were trying desperately to warn against these negative social developments they perceived, and would have been horrified if any of their visions came to pass; it would have been a failure on their part to properly warn the public. It would have meant people had forgotten their history.

Zamyatin and We

Once a leader of post-revolutionary Russia’s writers, Zamyatin – who opposed the push towards total social unanimity – wrote against the grain of the party line, his works were banned and he was exiled from the country. For this, he himself fell victim to his own warnings: ‘Like the rebellious poet of We […] he was literally “liquidated” – reduced to nonbeing. His name was deleted from literary history’.[7] In We, ‘Zamyatin could turn for models of his dystopia to the early experiments in social engineering conducted by the Bolsheviks.’[8] As for metaphorical historical parallels, the Benefactor deity of the story is Lenin, while the Guardians are the USSR’s Cheka[9]. Zamyatin was extremely prescient about the world to come, and only in retrospect can We be truly appreciated for its warning about totalitarian government control. The characters are not given the benefit of names, only numbers; they don’t have families, are raised in groups, and copulation is only granted with pink coupons at an appointed hour. It is almost farcical, the degree to which the government controls society and has erased the uniqueness of individuals, but this was undoubtedly Zamyatin’s goal, meant to parody the Bolshevik’s revolutionary government.

The main character, D-503 tells the story through his journal (‘record’ as its referred to in the translation) which he believes to be his own sort of poetry, meant to praise the One State. There is a contradiction of facts disseminated by the government from a quoted proclamation on page one: ‘One thousand years ago your heroic ancestors subdued the entire terrestrial globe to the power of the One State.’[10] This cannot be the case, though, because outside the city’s green walls is an untamed forest inhabited by free men (considered hairy and atavistic by D-503), who join with rebel ‘numbers’ from the city and revolt against the Benefactor and the entropic order of the One State.

What does this society know of the past? As D-503 puts it, ‘it is clear that the entire history of mankind, insofar as we know it, is the history of transition from nomadic to increasingly settled forms of existence. […] People rushed about from one end of the earth to the other only in prehistoric times, when there were nations, wars, commerce, discoveries of all sorts of Americas.’[11] This is a rather narrow, incomplete history given to the One State’s inhabitants, propaganda meant to support the controlled, static environment in which they live. D-503 mentions their knowledge of the ancient ‘irrational’ Christian religion, and how the sacrifices (executions) carried out on behalf of the Benefactor are ‘a remembrance of the awesome time of trial, of the Two Hundred Years’ War, a grandiose celebration of the victory of all over one, of the sum over the individual.’[12] History has been utilized to justify and rationalize public executions of any dissident (in this case, a heretical poet) – to the point where even the condemned willingly go without the need to be restrained because they have been trained to accept this. The only literature (as it is) which has been passed down to them is “The Railway Guide” for its meticulous organization, influencing the Tables, which schedule out every hour of the numbers’ lives. Individuals have no unscheduled time, cannot deviate from the Tables, and have no say in the running of their government (beyond having to unanimously reelect the Benefactor occasionally). To stop the brewing revolt, the Benefactor orders a surgical procedure for everyone to remove the imagination, just as Zamyatin and his fellow writers were ordered by the Bolshevik government to censor their own imaginative works to benefit the state.

The end of the book seems to be a reflection of Zamyatin’s own hopes for history, that the revolution in Russian was not over yet, and that the forces of the individual would eventually triumph over the collectivism he so detested. We was a warning to his fellows of what Russia may become if the Bolshevik’s remained in power, pushing for a static, least-common-denominator society.

Huxley and Brave New World

Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World stands apart from the other dystopias discussed here due to its dry, at times sarcastic, tone. The greatest warning of the book is ‘how far we must sacrifice our individuality in the face of proliferating technology, and how far we should push the quest for pleasure.’[13]Bernard Marx and his contemporaries are swallowed up and stifled by their society, which requires a uniformity of beliefs. But just as importantly, the novel puts forward Huxley’s views of the subjectivity of history, that it is used and abused to influence the masses.

The industrial revolution served to influence Huxley’s view of the potential for a society mechanized down to the individual, most especially the advancements made by Henry Ford in the automobile industry. ‘Ford’ has become a sort of deity to the World State, embracing Ford’s own words: ‘History is bunk,’ as the Controlled Mustapha Mond explained to a class of children;

He waved his hand; and it was as though, with a little feather wisk, he had brushed away a little dust, and the dust was Harappa, was Ur of the Chaldees; […] Whisk – and where was Odysseus and Gotama and Jesus? Whisk – and those specks of antique dirt called Athens and Rome, Jerusalem and the Middle Kingdom – all were gone.[14]

Mond is the aloof, powerful, all-knowing character, like the Knight Von Hess, who through his position is permitted to indulge in history and forgotten culture: ‘There were those strange rumours of old forbidden books hidden in a safe in the Controller’s study. Bibles, poetry – Ford knew what.’[15] In a society dominated by the pursuit of pleasure, the old stories of war, religion, struggle and strife (no matter their literary value) would serve only to upset the population and social balance, and thus they are banned – ‘pornographic’ as the Controller Mond calls them in his discussion with John.[16] Their entire civilization relies on individuals following in lock step; no innovative ideas, no self-sufficiency or philosophizing.

By controlling the education of every individual through the use of hypnopaedia and Pavlovian conditioning, every person in their class – from Alpha pluses to Epsilons – is conditioned with the same thoughts, denied real independent will. Children are taught to fear books by use of electric shock and loud sirens. Reading old books might give people the wrong ideas, ideas that conflict with the State. The Director notes happily, ‘the child’s mind is these suggestions, and the sum of the suggestions is the child’s mind. […] But these suggestions are our suggestions! […] Suggestions from the State.”[17] Someone with this man’s power may be afforded some free will and thought, but not those lower in social ranking, who must be conditioned to accept the status they were born into (were created for). To break from conventional unity means therapy, a prescription for more soma, or possible exile to an island.

Personal past and identity are also discouraged, and when the Hatchery Director breaks this taboo to tell Bernard about his trip to the savage reservation, Bernard becomes uncomfortable. He knows the Director disapproves of discussion of the ‘remote past […] disapproved and yet had been betrayed into doing the forbidden thing.’[18] Not only is history denied and forgotten as detrimental to society, but even recalling personal history means asserting an individual identity and a real, certain history, a ‘forbidden thing’. There can be no past in a static world.

Huxley’s dystopia was based upon trends he detected during the inter-war period, including the rise of soviet Russia’s collectivization and forced unanimity, as well as Ford’s mechanized processes spreading to other industries. Because the World State ‘rejects everything, including literature, music, art and philosophy […] a state without a past’[19] there is nothing for the people to rally around and rebel against. It is a depressing ending because it offers no hope of change; the discontented are exiled and John the Savage commits suicide, unable to function in this world without history, literature or individuality.

Burdekin and Swastika Night

Katherine Burdekin’s Swastika Night is a frightening dystopia influenced by, and warning against, the Nazi propaganda of the 1930s. The loss of historical truths – and the rebellious nature of reclaiming them – in this world is central to the plot. The Nazis who have taken over the world have completely rewritten the past and eliminated literacy among the masses, because ‘information about the past and present is strictly controlled and manipulated by those in command. History, its knowledge, and memory are therefore dangerous elements that can give the dystopian citizens a potential instrument of resistance.’[20] Burdekin could only guess in 1937 about a coming war with Nazi Germany, but could no more predict its form and outcome any more than a military strategist. Swastika Night is not about alternative history, but an extrapolation of what a world ruled by Nazi party policy would look like.

Because personal identity is part of history, the conquered races have even had the practice of family names removed (Alfred’s ‘surname’ is E.W. 10762) so that there can be no filial memory or unity to encourage rebellion – this has been assisted, of course, by the relegation of women to the status of chattel. Burdekin was projecting from Hitler’s own views, as summarized by an OSS report on Hitler’s psychology: ‘His primary rules were: never allow the public to cool off; never admit a fault or wrong; never concede that there may be some good in your enemy; never leave room for alternatives; never accept blame; concentrate on one enemy at a time and blame him for everything that goes wrong; people will believe a big lie sooner than a little one; and if you repeat it frequently enough people will sooner or later believe it.’[21] This ‘big lie’ is what the entire basis of Burdekin’s dystopia becomes; all of history before the supposed Twenty Year war, and much of the century afterwards is completely rewritten, and no one but Von Hess and Alfred know any differently. But a character such as Hermann, so thoroughly a part of the system, cannot accept ‘alternatives’ and is broken down by the history Von Hess reveals. The world seems beyond repair from this Big Lie.

Removing history requires removing its records, and Burdekin was undoubtedly influenced by the Nazi’s massive burning of supposedly degenerate (mostly Jewish and communist) books in May of 1933. The Knight Von Hess wrote his entire book from memory, because all other books were destroyed, and ‘He thought […] the time might come when men would again seek passionately for truth.’[22] Burdekin is making it very clear that for seven hundred years this German Empire has existed because of the propagation of lies and the deletion of history. ‘The first step in liquidating a people is to erase its memory. Destroy its books, its culture, its history.[23]’ Burdekin’s Nazi empire has removed the books, the architecture and cultural products of every other civilization under their influence, and without cultural progress, they are ‘dead’.[24]

Orwell and 1984

What is ‘memory’ in 1984? A hole, that leads to an incinerator. There is no memory or history but that which the Party approves of, and is changed on a daily basis to suit Party needs.  Indeed, one of the Party slogans is ‘Who controls the past controls the future; who controls the present controls the past.’[25] The protagonist, Winston Smith, struggles to recall his own history, to find some true history in the world. For this quest, and the actions it leads him to, Winston is captured, tortured and reprogrammed by the Ministry of Love. O’Brien informs Winston, ‘You will be lifted clean out from the stream of history. […] Nothing will remain of you; not a name in a register, not a memory in a living brain. You will be annihilated in the past as well as the future.’[26] The purpose of these measures is to prevent the general populace from being inspired by martyrs to rebel against the controlling powers. As history is rewritten, so are the people, all to conform to Party standards.

Winston Smith’s profession is to rewrite history so that is remains constant with the present. If the current Oceania conflict is with Eurasia, then it has always been so, and vice versa. As O’Brian explains during Winston’s interrogation, ‘Reality exists in the human mind, and nowhere else. Not in the individual mind, which makes mistakes […] Whatever the party holds to be truth is truth. It is impossible to see reality except by looking through the eyes of the Party.’[27] Orwell’s Oceania is derived from the observations he made of totalitarianism in the Spanish Civil War and Stalinist Russia, including the purge trials in the USSR that rewrote history in order to convict old Bolshevik revolutionaries who had fallen out of favour. There are multiple historical parallels being utilized; Trotsky as Goldstien, the gulag as the Thought Police, the Hitler Youth as the Youth League and the Spies, but of course there is no history in Oceania before the party to be brought up.

The erasure of personal history is part of the removal of identity, so that individuals are absorbed into the party fold. Winston struggles to simultaneously remember and forget his own past: ‘He tried to squeeze out some childhood memory that should tell him whether London had always been like this’[28] – a London that is decrepitly run down from constant war and deprivation. When starting his diary, Winston cannot even be sure if the year is actually 1984, cannot even pinpoint the actual year of his birth. The memory of his family is just as clouded. In this world, children are conditioned to turn in family members who appear disloyal, thought Winston sadly recalls his mother from an ‘ancient time […] when there was still privacy, love and friendship’ and she died for ‘a conception of loyalty that was private and unalterable.’[29] Orwell’s inclusion of this particular language describes the threat to the Party: citizens cannot be loyal to the family and to the government simultaneously, their loyalty must be completely to the Party. So memory of family, a sense of individuality and filial devotion, must be eliminated in favour of obedience to Big Brother.

Of the messages in 1984, Aldiss asks, ‘To whom is its warnings directed? To the voters? If so, then it is an anti-prophetic book, in that the less this fictional world becomes reality – even after the test date – the better Orwell will have succeeded in his purpose.’[30] This novel has perhaps had the most pervasive influence on society, with terms such as ‘doublethink’ and ‘Big Brother’ becoming synonymous with these warnings, keeping readers aware of Orwell’s message. As Fredric Jameson summarizes, ‘the most haunting feature of 1984 is the elegiac sense of the loss of the past, and the uncertainty of memory. The rewriting of political history in Oceania is assimilated to the personal dreams of a lost childhood.’[31] Orwell saw the totalitarian disintegration of states and was warning the reading public to not give in to censorship or rewritten history.

Bradbury and Fahrenheit 451

The last dystopia examined here is Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451, a world where the pursuit of pleasure dominates the population, and the ignorance of history (under the guise of maintaining mental parity) is enforced by burning books. Contemporary issues heavily influenced Bradbury’s novel as ‘The censorship of books which dealt with socialism, eroticism, and sexuality in the early 1950s made the extension of Montag’s actions conceivable.’[32] The memory of Nazi book burning and the rise of television and other technological media impressed upon Bradbury the dangers of people losing themselves in fantasy worlds and willingly giving up knowledge and history.

Firemen themselves have a distorted history, and no books, no records, to correct the perversion of the world ‘fireman.’ The official story is that the firemen were ‘Established, 1790, to burn English-influenced books in the Colonies. First Fireman: Benjamin Franklin.’[33] (This is a doubly significant twisting of facts, as Benjamin Franklin did organize the first volunteer fire department in Philadelphia and founded the first public lending library.) There is no recollection of classic literature, philosophy and history beyond the rebellious Montag and Faber and the ‘books’ hidden in the woods, leaving a population of babbling children incapable of thinking beyond their own petty comforts in a world of starving people. Montag lays out the argument for the preservation of knowledge to his wife: ‘Maybe the books can get us half out of the cave. They just might stop us from making the same damn insane mistakes!’[34] In the end, a nuclear explosion has wiped away the decadent city, and Granger laments, ‘We know all the damn silly things we’ve done for a thousand years, and as long as we know that and always have it around where we can see it, some day we’ll stop making the goddam funeral pyres and jumping into the middle of them’[35]– in other words, Bradbury is hoping that the memory of the past (and in his case, present) will prevent further degradation of the world.

Another aspect of the erasure of individuality is the unproductiveness of the population. Mildred only plays with her make-believe ‘family’ on the wall screens, while Montag and the firemen only destroy literature and homes. Among juveniles, breaking windows and wrecking cars is considered a pastime. Education has become anything but, a babysitting service full of television programmes and exhausting physical activities, with no actual learning or critical analysis. Universal leisure dominates this society, precluding the development of the individual soul, and those like Clarisse who try fall victim to the demand for the least common denominator. Granger offers Bradbury’s moral at the end: ‘Everyone must leave something behind when he dies […] A child or a book or a painting […] Something your hand touched some way so your soul has somewhere to go when you die’.[36] Without a thinking, productive citizenry, without an honest history, this society seems to have no soul, no ability to learn from mistakes and stop the nuclear wars. Bradbury’s warning was directed at an America he perceived to be losing touch with its past and the world, too engrossed in television and movies.

Conclusion

The history being utilized in these dystopias is the present for the authors, their warning about the shape of things to come if the world does not change. Raffaella Baccolini best sums up the importance of history to dystopia: ‘history is central and necessary for the development of resistance and the maintenance of hope, even when it is a dystopian history that is remembered.’[37] Honesty about the past, so as not to forget both the triumphs and mistakes of old, is emphasized, along with personal honesty and identity. In these dystopias, those who see themselves as independent of the state and the static/ declining civilization are the rebels who seek after or possess information about the past. These authors are imploring their readers to keep the past alive, to keep their sense of self alive and to take stock of their present world, to ensure that the dire events being portrayed never come to pass.


[1] Katherine Burdekin, Swastika Night (New York: The Feminist Press, 1985), p. 79.

[2] Robert S. Baker, Brave New World: History, Science and Dystopia (Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1990), p.46.

[3] Carl Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction (Hanover, NH: Wesleyan University Press, 2000), p. 64.

[4] Scott Sanders, ‘Characterization in science fiction: Two approaches – 1. The disappearance of character’ in Science Fiction: A Critical Guide, ed. by Patrick Parrinder (London: Longman, 1979), p. 134.

[5] John Clute and Peter Nicholls, The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction (London: Orbit, 1999), p.361

[6] Freedman, Critical Theory and Science Fiction, p. 55.

[7] Mirra Ginsburg, ‘Introduction’ in We by Yevgeny Zemyatin (New York: Bantam, 1972), translated by Mirra Ginsburg. p. xx.

[8] Scott Sanders, ‘Characterization in science fiction: Two approaches – 1. The disappearance of character’ in Science Fiction: A Critical Guide, ed. by Patrick Parrinder (London: Longman, 1979), p. 134.

[9] The first police force formed after the October Revolution, the precursor to the KGB, they were the spies and enforcers of the Bolshevik’s doctrine during the turbulent Red Terror and civil war.

[10] Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, p. 1.

[11] Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, p. 11.

[12] Yevgeny Zamyatin, We, p. 46.

[13] Brian Aldiss, Trillion Year Spree (London: Paladin, 1988), p. 229.

[14] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World (New York: HarperPerennial, 1989), p. 34.

[15] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p. 34.

[16] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p. 237.

[17] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p. 28.

[18] Aldous Huxley, Brave New World, p. 96.

[19] Robert S. Baker, Brave New World: History, Science, and Dystopia, p. 91.

[20] Rafaella Baccolini, ‘”A useful knowledge of the present is rooted in the past”: Memory and Historical Reconciliation in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling’, in Dark Horizons, ed. by Tom Moylan and Rafaella Baccolini (New York and London: Routeldge, 2003). p. 155.

[21] Walter C. Langer. A Psychological Analysis of Adolph Hitler: His Life and Legend. (Washington, DC: Office of Strategic Services), p. 51. <http://www.nizkor.org/hweb/people/h/hitler-adolf/oss-papers/text/oss-profile-03-02.html&gt;

[22] Katharine Burdekin, Swastika Night, p. 74.

[23] Milan Kundera quoted in “’A Useful knowledge of the present is rooted in the past” by Rafaelle Baccolini, p. 125

[24] Katherine Burdekin, Swastika Night, p. 121.

[25] George Orwell, 1984 (New York: Signet Classic, 1981), p. 204

[26] George Orwell, 1984, p. 210.

[27] George Orwell, 1984, p. 205.

[28] George Orwell, 1984, p. 7.

[29] George Orwell, 1984, p. 28.

[30] Brian Aldiss, The Trillion Year Spree, p. 303

[31] Fredric Jameson, Archaeologies of the Future: The Desire Called Utopia and Other Science Fictions (London: Verso, 2007), p. 200

[32] Jack Zipes, ‘Mass Degradation of Humanity and Massive Contradictions in Bradbury’s Vision of America in Fahrenheit 451’ in No Place Else: Explorations in Utopian and Dystopian Fiction, ed. by Eric S. Rabkin, et. al. (Carbondale, IL: Southern Illinois University Press, 1983), p. 184.

[33] Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451 (London: Flamingo, 1993), p. 42.

[34] Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 81.

[35] Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 171.

[36] Ray Bradbury, Fahrenheit 451, p. 164.

[37] Rafaella Baccolini, ‘”A useful knowledge of the present is rooted in the past”: Memory and Historical Reconciliation in Ursula K. Le Guin’s The Telling’, in Dark Horizons, ed. by Tom Moylan and Rafaella Baccolini (New York and London: Routeldge, 2003). p. 116.

CRSF 2013 CfP

CRSF 2013 CfP

Information about the up-coming Current Research in Speculative Fiction conference at the University of Liverpool, entering it’s third year: http://currentresearchinspeculativefiction.blogspot.co.uk/

The Smoky God; a hollow earth oddity

As The Smoky God (1908) was published late in the era of Hollow Earth stories, it has little to add in originality, but cansmoky god 1 the giants be praised for its compact retelling of the most common themes and contemporary elements of the ‘science’ of hollow earth theories. It utilized the common ‘framing’ narrative, of the author passing on a second hand story that may defy belief, but at the same time strains credibility in providing evidence that the original narrator may not be completely mad. As the civilizations to be found underground are never humanity’s equals, being always lesser or greater, Willis George Emerson chose to (briefly) develop the latter. What is most intriguing about The Smoky God is the effort put into the verisimilitude for the benefit of the reader.

There is an interesting dichotomy that exists between the ‘author’ and the ‘narrator’ in The Smoky God. From the outset, Emerson sets to distance himself from Olaf Jansen’s narrative, disclaiming any responsibility for this as his own wild tale, but at the same time, is the party responsible for also establishing the credit of the narrator for the reader. It is a two-fold approach, logos and ethos. Emerson builds up his scientific arguments with excerpts from the works of various explorers and hollow earth proponents of the day (among them William F. Warren, Sir John barrow and Robert E. Peary) while expounding upon Jansen as ‘no ordinary person, […] profound and learned to a remarkable degree’ (pg. 3).

Considering how short the story is, one might question why so much space is given to introducing Jansen, and Emerson’s ‘relationship’ with him, until it becomes apparent that Emerson is attempting to establish the contemporary ‘facts’ about hollow earth theory, and the apparent ‘credibility’ of Jansen’s story. It is interesting how in one breath, Emerson states that Jansen’s story may be seen as that of a ‘distorted intellect superinduced, possibly, by the glamour of unveiling a marvelous mystery, rather than a truthful record of unparalleled experiences related by one Olaf Jansen, whose eloquent madness so appealed to my imagination that all thought of an analytical criticism has been effectually dispelled.’ (pg. 1) But in the next, Emerson muses that ‘A hundred times I have asked myself whether it is possible that the world’s geography is incomplete, and that the startling narrative of Olaf Jansen is predicated upon demonstrable facts.’ (pg. 1)  As a good, honest narrator, though, Emerson also assures the reader that ‘My simple duty is to enlighten the world concerning a heretofore unknown portion of the universe, as it was seen and described by the old Norseman, Olaf Jansen.’ (pg. 1) In other words, the reader would not be out of line in possibly believing that the narrative is potentially true, but if the reader does not believe, well, Emerson should not be locked up as mentally deranged; it’s not his story, after all. Nor is Emerson the first to muse about the possibilities of a hollow earth.

Plato is the opening quote utilized by Emerson, placing God at the center of the earth, and noting a little later, ‘It may be that the true home of Apollo was not at Delphi, but in that older earth-center of which Plato speaks’ (pg. 1) As the ‘Smoky God’ is referring to the electric cloud at the earth’s core that provides illumination and is worshiped as a deity by the inner world inhabitants, Emerson  draws parallels for this with real world religion: ‘Ancient Hindoo, Japanese and Chinese writings, as well as the hieroglyphics of the extinct races of the North American continent, all speak of the custom on sun-worshipping, and it is possible […] that the people of the inner world’ migrated to the surface of the Earth, spawning humanity (pg. 6). To back up the theory of a central origin for humans, Emerson’s first footnote quotes M. le Marquis G. de Saporta’s “How the Earth was Peopled, II” from 1883. This is the foundation for Emerson’s continued framing of the story utilizing contemporary texts to back-up Jansen’s tale.

The character of Olaf Jansen himself is developed in some detail at the start of the second part, where he lays out his parents, his birth, rearing and education. He also explains away the long delay in his recounting of this story by his imprisonment in a mental ward for telling others what he found on his voyage. This mark of ‘innocent insanity’ is meant to foster sympathy from the reader, in the likes of Pandora never being believed. Jansen’s ‘deathbed confession’ is also apparently used to foster sympathy, as a dying man would never lie with his last breaths. Jansen is careful to rebuild his character, though, as that of an upstanding and successful citizen once he was released, lending further weight to the veracity of his tale. As Emerson states in the beginning, ‘truth is stranger than fiction’, so maybe, just maybe, the reader should invest a little belief in the story.

The voyage itself does not begin until almost a third of the way into the book, and the geography is carefully laid out; another attempt to provide verisimilitude, a map that the reader is capable of following. Jansen/Emerson is clear about the factors which made this voyage possible, from motivations both economic (the quests for ivory) and spiritual (the quest for the realm of Odin and Thor) to the size of the fishing boat (‘had our craft been other than small, we never could have gotten through’ – pg. 11). This establishment of the difficulty of the voyage is meant to lend credence as to why no other explorer has completed this voyage before. However, there is heavy citation of the observations of contemporary polar explorers, including ‘the dipping of the needle’ on the compass (pg. 12), the presence of fresh water (pg. 11), and the unmoving Pole Star. The arrival of Jansen and his father to the Inner World is where Emerson’s imagination takes full hold.

This imagination, however, is limited to merely making the features of the Inner World of immense size; the inhabitants, the rivers, the flora and fauna. In a way, this has a normalizing effect upon the text. Elephants and tortoises are readily identifiable, as are the grapes ‘large as an orange’ and the apples ‘larger than a man’s head’ (pg. 18). Size is a matter of status; these things which are larger must surely be superior to those things found on the surface of the earth. The size of the people of the Inner World is also meant to stand them in the eyes of readers as a superior to homo sapiens.

The inhabitants are an unnamed species, but other than their large appearance, Emerson has not distanced them far from humanity. They are ‘of gigantic stature’, have ‘full beards’, and ‘mild and beautiful faces, exceedingly fair, with ruddy complexions’ (pg. 16). As a refined, advanced race, these inhabitants demonstrate an ‘ease of manner which we deem a sign of good breeding’ (pg. 17) and throw around gold as a common metal, used for decoration rather than finance. In fact, Emerson/Jensen makes no notation about the economy of the Inner World, as if capitalism is beneath so refined a race. They are credited with speaking a form of Sanskrit (pg. 19) which is an indicator of how ancient this civilization is intended to be, Sanskrit being one of the oldest know languages when Emerson was writing. One must wonder if it was a slip of the pen when Emerson credits this civilization with a remarkable gift in the arts and sciences, including astronomy (pg. 20) – no indications of what form this ‘astronomy’ form the inside of the earth might take.

The technology of the Inner World is demonstrated without much explanation beyond the use of electricity, an advancement that was spreading in the Western world, though this fictional civilization is not dominated by their technology. This is still a pastoral society dedicated to agriculture and art, as demonstrated by the ‘temples of music’ (pg. 18) and the hillsides of vineyards and valleys of grain (pg. 18). There is a rather long passage on page 19 explaining the ‘monorail’ transport the characters use, with a science so muddled in inconsistency as to baffle the modern reader. The use of fly wheels, and the destruction of air pressure/gravity (as if the two were actually related) somehow relates to the high rate of speed at which the monorail car travels. This is the only instance, however, when Emerson attempts to delve into any sort of early SF ‘technobable’, choosing instead to focus on the nature of the Inner World. A single sentence also states that ‘they hold communication with one another between the most distant parts of the country, on air currents’ (pg. 21) a very early reference to the development of radio and telephones which were still much the marvel in 1908.

Despite the seeming advancement of this Inner World race, they still possess a ‘pagan’ religion of sun worship, of the electric cloud that emanates light for twelve hours of day, and is eclipsed for 12 hours of night, the ‘Smoky God’, the ‘throne of their Jehovah’ (pg. 18).  There is mention of a High Priest residing in a city called ‘Eden’ (pg. 19), though it is debatable whether Emerson was incapable of imagining a world free of these biblical references, or if he was attempting to utilize a language his readers would recognize. The rivers Euphrates, Pison, Gihon and Hiddekel are mentioned as emanating from this City of Eden, just as they did from the biblical Garden of Eden, further tying the narrative into western religious tradition and relying on those traditions to add credence to the plausibility of the tale. The longevity of the Inner World beings (six to eight hundred years) is indicative both of their superiority and harkens the reader back to the biblical references of Lazarus and the long lives of Old Testament figures. Emerson is mildly defensive of his biblical references at one point, when he mentions the gigantic trees, and how if ‘the Bible said there were trees towering over three hundred feet in height and over thirty feet in diameter, growing in the Garden of Eden, the Ingersolls, the Tom Paines and Voltaires would doubtless have pronounces  the statement a myth. Yet this is the description of the California sequoia gigantea’ (pg. 20). So if such large trees can be found on the western coast of America, maybe thousand foot tall trees at the centre of the earth is not such a far off statement for the faithful? Rather abruptly, though, this exploration ends and the Jensens decide to leave.

The voyage back to the ‘Outer World’ is as harrowing as the voyage in, this time exiting from the South Pole Symme’s Hole. Olaf Jensen is the only survivor, plucked from the ice by a passing whaling ship, and the narrative comes full circle to where Jensen was introduced. In part six, Jensen offers his concluding thoughts, which include another push for credibility: ‘I wish to state that I firmly believe science is yet in its infancy concerning the cosmology of the earth. There is so much that is unaccounted for by the world’s accepted knowledge of to-day’ (pg. 26). For contemporary readers, this would have been a difficult statement with which to disagree. He makes mention of S.A. Andree’s balloon expedition to the North Pole, speculating that he and his missing companions are merely being entertained by the Inner World – in truth, their bodies would be found in 1930. Emerson’s Afterword finishes off the framing with the assertion that ‘the original text has neither been added nor taken away from’ and that ‘It is impossible to express my opinion as to the value or reliability of the wonderful statements made by Olaf Jansen’ (pg. 28). The narrative seems to be more concerned with relaying a large amount of information regarding the possibilities of the hollow earth and arctic explorers, than Emerson actually attempting to develop Olaf Jensen as a character. Though I would not be the first to call this story without literary merit, it is an interesting summation of contemporary ideas and styles regarding the hollow earth.

Upcycling the American Pastoral: A New Perspective on Hollow Earth Utopias

Image[From a paper presented at the ASLE-UKI conference in September 2012]

With the disappearance of terra incognita from maps in the Nineteenth Century, writers of speculative fiction had to reach beyond lost continents and darkest Africa to find a new setting for their socio-political speculation. The hollow Earth, or terra cava, became one of the new imaginative destinations of fiction writers in the wake of John Symmes’s 1818 popular theory of polar openings leading to a hollow, habitable globe. More than just recycling traditional utopian tropes, these novels embraced a ‘technotopia’ approach, applying technology to the pastoral in an age of rapid urbanisation. The quest to reclaim America’s lost frontiers is combined with the perceived promises of technology to ease (and advance) life towards the utopian.

Nothing says literary compost like the Nineteenth century utopia that embraced new and old ideas of feminism, politics, economics, technology, and a dozen other topics. This paper aims to explore the tropes being ‘upcycled’ by early science fiction authors exploring the possibilities of socio-political improvement through the use of technology and return to the virginal frontier that shaped the American conscious. As opposed to the ‘low-tech’ lost-world/race novels that attempt to reclaim the ancient Garden, these fin de siècle hollow Earth narratives attempt to balance the benefits of urban technology with the desire to live in clean, open spaces, what Leo Marx called ‘The Machine in the Garden’. From power to food to goods production, these works articulate a Nineteenth century desire to create the new within a familiar, edenic environment – even if it were one that never really existed.

Several novels treated the terra cava as a genuine lost world awaiting discovery, a new American frontier, and their sublime descriptions were meant to entice readers’ imaginations as well as their inclination to support expeditions to the Poles. By setting techno-pastoral scenes in a seemingly plausible hollow world, American readers were absorbing the propaganda of both necessary imperialism and industrial integration with the desperately missed frontier. Significant unique differences, though, are to be found in the terra cava novel in America as opposed to other pastoral or imperialist novels. Three novels will present us with the scope of the fin du siècle’s hollow earth utopias, and how they addressed issues of urban and rural space, ecology, and technology and upcycled old literary tropes into a new pastoral technotopia inside the Earth: Mary Braley Lane’s Mizroa of 1880, Byron Welcome’s From Earth’s Center in 1894, and at the end of the terra cava literary tradition, Willis George Emerson’s The Smoky God from 1908.

The synthesis of urban and rural spaces into a harmonious until, upcycling tropes seen in other contemporary writers, is a significant feature of terra cava texts. Nineteenth century authors were undoubtedly familiar with works such as Jacob Riis’s How the Other Half Lives, which used photography to expose the wretched tenement conditions in New York City, and reported such instances as ‘The death of a child in a tenement… registered at the Bureau of Vital Statistics as “plainly due to suffocation in the foul air of an unventilated apartment”.’ Or consider the Charles Folsom report made to the Massachusetts State Board of Health in 1877: ‘It is readily seen, that, except at the headwaters, the Nashua River is so polluted throughout its whole length that it would be unwise to use any part of it for a domestic water supply.’[1] Balance this with the Emerson-Thoreau view of American nature as the sublime. Spacious, well organised living conditions, built amidst luscious greenery and light, are the dream of these utopian writers.

In the feminist utopia Mizora, the narrator, Vera Zarovich, remarks upon her first site of ‘a mighty city…all the buildings were detached and surrounded by lawns and shade trees, their white marble and gray granite walls gleaming through the green foliage’ (16). Within the large cities, homes are built around large, verdant parks, and the same in suburban regions (40); there are no concrete towers or rough log cabins to which most Americans were accustomed. Zarovich observes that ‘The houses…all seem to have been designed with two special objects in view – beauty and comfort’ (40). This is a planned community, designed to suit both urban and rural need as well as appeal. ‘The walks were smoothly paved and shaded by trees of enormous size’ (41). Pavement and trees, the artificially produced and the natural, harmoniously combined. This is the essence of Bradley Lane’s work, attempting to demonstrate a world that had learned to smoothly incorporate its technological and industrial developments, more so than the US.

On a slightly different tack we have Welcome’s 1894 novel, From Earth’s Center: A Polar Gateway Message, is based upon the socio-political theories of the American Henry George, published a year after economic crisis swept the US. The organisation of urban and rural land is a central tenant of George’s reformist agenda. As one character in a large city explains, ‘There are people who prefer the advantages of a central location like this, while others prefer more seclusion and a separate home. Their tastes are in all cases gratified. You can live just as you please here, with nothing but your inclination to guide you.’ (36). But a non-central location is not necessarily detrimental to cultural enjoyments like the theatre, due to effective transportation and land organisation: ‘In this country there are few places so small that they cannot afford nearly all the luxuries we have in the large cities’. (39). Cities, towns, and villages are described as being close together and rapidly connected by an efficient train system, allowing people to live and work in different habitats (71), a modern luxury unknown in Welcome’s era. As one character describing land usage notes, ‘it is more economical… to live densely together, than to be scattered over the whole state, where all these public improvements and convenience we now enjoy would be impossible’ (219). But even this so-called dense living is not described as anything other than pleasant, not the sort of slum living found in major urban areas. The elimination of poverty and carefully controlled rents and land usages makes it easier for everyone to live in healthy conditions. The countryside and nature is easily available to all, not just the upper class.

At the closing of the terra cava literary era, we find one of the shortest and most unique stories, Willis George Emerson’s Smoky God of 1908. Written as the dying testament of one Olaf Jansen and then edited by Emerson, this longish short story finds a young Jansen and his father, Norwegian fishermen who sail through the Arctic and into a Symmes hole. Encountering a race of 12-foot tall giants who are beautiful and refined (because who else would occupy this Eden?) Jansen and his father spend the next ten pages offering not a narrative, but an overview of this ‘Land beyond the North Wind’ as their Norse myth calls it. The housing is described as large, beautiful and uniform without being the same, thus pleasing to the eye and not baring the marks of the haphazardly assemble mining and railroad towns that dotted the American West, or the urban slums of the East: ‘All buildings are erected with special regard to strength, durability, beauty and symmetry, and with a style of architecture vastly more attractive to the eye than any I have ever observed elsewhere’ (39) Jensen states, reinforcing the contemporary dissatisfaction with American construction technique and aesthetics. These pleasing dwellings are set among hillsides covered in vineyards and valleys devoted to growing grains (34). The urban and rural imagery are synthesised. Jensen and his father are given leave to visit the ‘colleges of music and art,… great fields, [and] wonderful forests of timber’ (37), a touristic synthesis of the rural and the municipal. In furtherance of this, the primary occupations of the inhabitants are said to be ‘architecture, agriculture, horticulture, the raising of vast herds of cattle, and the building of conveyances… for travel on land and water’ (39). Engineering and agrarian concerns are the vocational call of these civilised giants. The capital city is even called Eden, implying both a religious connection to human origins, and at metaphorical image of paradise brought into the present, and readily attainable.

The organisation of urban and rural greenery carries with it improvements upon the ecology of the surface world. Descriptions of verdant habitats in the interior world upcycle traditional elements of ecological description and travelogues of explorers with the integration of utopian ideals and environments modified to suite imagined hollow earth conditions. America was supposed to be the bright paradise of ‘beautiful…spacious skies…amber waves of grain…purple mountain majesties, above the fruited plain! – this of course being derived from Katherine Lee Bates 1895 poem. But the progression of American settlement across the continent had despoiled much of this scenery in the opinion of many observers. Consider the declared closing of the American frontier with the results of the 1890 census, putting an end to the fifty year philosophy of manifest destiny. These novels are not about finding a new frontier; they are about finding lands of unspoiled and thriving nature, and how America might get back to this state of grace.

In Bradley Lane’s Mizora, the narrator observes upon her arrival ‘Birds of bright plumage flitt[ing] among the branches, anon breaking forth into wild and exultant melody, as if they rejoiced to be in so favoured a clime. And truly it seemed a land of enchantment. […] The languorous atmosphere… produced in me a feeling of contentment not easily described’ (14-5). The light reflected into the interior is described as ‘rapturous’ and ‘hangs like a veil of enchantment over the land of Mizora’ (25). There is no description here but that of heavenly perfection. The air itself is charged with a natural electric élan to rejuvenate the mind and body. There is no smoke or ash polluting the atmosphere, a benefit of a technologically advanced society that does not rely on fossil fuels.

From Earth’s Center decides to improve upon nature itself, chided the exterior’s natural forces for not being as efficient as the interior. Rather than rain dropped to the ground after being evaporated and condensed in clouds, the interior world of Centralia has ‘sweats’ in which water from beneath the surface rises to the top to moisten the soil and vegetation: ‘Is it not a much simpler process to come forth from the earth, where it is abundant, than for it to rise in a thin, invisible vapour form the same source?’ (84).There is no drought, no flooding. The amount of hydration is perfectly balanced via Welcome’s own interpretive science, involving electric currents moving in such a way as to draw the water up. Just as with Bradley Lane’s Mizora, electricity is perceived to be in the air itself, this new power emerging at the end of the Nineteenth century that was seen as a vitalistic force. The narrator comments that ‘Nature’s gifts have been bountiful;…the balmy air, the favourable surroundings’ (237) all working in a perfect society to produce a surplus of food and resources. The interior of the world suffers from none of the extremes of the exterior (from politics to poverty to temperature).

The inner world of The Smoky God is not just vitalising to Jensen and his father, it resurrects disappearing animal species, preserving what was being lost in America. Jensen remarks that ‘A writer in an article on this subjects says: “Almost every year sees the final extinction of one or more bird species.”[…] Is it not possible that these disappearing bird species quit their habitation without, and find asylum in the “within world”?’ (40). The hollow earth is a haven for the animals mistreated on the earth’s surface, hunted to extinction and pushed out of their habitat by humanity’s expanding population. Jensen goes on to states that ‘the strange conditions “within” are favourable not only for vast meadows or luxuriant grasses, forests of giant trees, and all manner of vegetable life, but wonderful animal life as well.’ (40). Jensen compares it to the Miocene age he read about as a child (40). Besides the native population averaging over twelve feet in height, the plant and animal life is also massive in size

The use of technology in these pastoral utopias is what makes them incredibly unique for their time, in addition to being set within the interior of the earth. The supposition of finding advanced races within, races that had not been ejected from the proverbial Garden, suggested to authors and readers alike a people who had found a way to smoothly integrated technology into their lives in a way that America had thus far failed to find. The advent of electricity yielded up the promise of, according to an 1891 article in The Saint Paul Daily Globe, ‘the solution of some profound problem by which the use of electricity can be made universal to the wants of man’ (28 Sep 1891 pg 5). Edward Bellamy discussed such utopian technological progress in Looking Backwards, but that was published seven years after Bradley Lane’s Mizora. Edward Bulwer-Lytton explored a technologically advanced society in The Coming Race, an early and popular terra cava novel, one of the first British lost-race stories that dealt with not a so-called primitive race, but a superior civilisation that would threaten Anglo-American superiority. All of these terra cava novels possess races with technological superiority that aides in their utopian status.

In Mizora, technology has freed women from the drudgery of domestic life known to the average woman of the Nineteenth century. A machine with brushes and sponges, and attached bottles of soap and water, scourers the floors, not a woman. Not that they are freed from all labour, but they pursue work in the fields of science, engineering, art, and education. Mizora is described as a ‘land of brain workers’ (45) where no menial labour exists, and those which we might consider menial (childrearing, cooking, or tending an orchard) are revered as the work of only the best educated, because of the technical work that goes into such tasks. Technology has afforded a healthier, easier way of procuring food in Mizora, which is chemically prepared (19), and thus free from the defects of naturally raised foods, or the diseases found in animal products: ‘Bread came from the laboratory, and not from the soil by the sweat of the brow.’ (21). The removal of impurities from food is apparently part of the cause of the women’s ‘suppleness and bloom of eternal youth’ (19). The population is freed from the tribulations of flood and drought resulting in famines, and reality even in America in the Nineteenth century. The scientific preparation of food makes it a respectable pursuit, betraying the author’s – and America’s – prejudice towards intellectual production over manual production.

Technological progress in Welcome’s fictional Centralia is never a negative, but an economic boon to this very capitalist nation. There are recording devices to disseminate speeches and concerts (62), synchronised clocks powered by that strange force electricity (64), electric street cars (71) for improved communication and goods transportation, and electric boats (97). This is accomplished by the conversion of coal directly into electricity, rather than a coal powered steam engine producing electricity (98). The inclusion of wires built into every home for conduction electricity is a foreshadowing of the modern development.

The Giants’ boat which picks up the Jensens is described as having silent but powerful machinery to propel it at speeds greater than any railroad in America, and Jensen describes this as ‘wonderful’ (33). The benefit of the railroad was its speed, but its drawbacks included the noise and pollution emitted by the engines. Jensen’s (or Emerson’s) metaphor of the train is refined to stifle the cacophony, increasing the power, and eliminating the foul by-products. An electric monorail is described as noiseless and running perfectly balanced on a single iron rail at a high rate of speed, carrying the Jensens ‘up hills and down dales, across valleys and again along the sides of maintains, without any apparent attempt having been made to level the earth as we do for railroad tracks’ (35). Mechanical transportation has been smoothly integrated into the lay of the land, rather than the scars set into mountains dynamited by railroad companies. Electricity, just becoming a widespread source of power in the US, provides quiet, invisible energy for the whole of the Inner world. Even the air is described as being electrically charged and a constant source of vitality for the Jensens as they breathe it. The atmosphere is not just unpolluted; this is an Eden whose very air is energising, a pastoral, electrified paradise: ‘Nature chanted a lullaby in the faint murmur of winds whose breath was sweet with the fragrance of bud and blossom’ (41).

Transportation is a significant feature of all of these novels, and none of them involve horses. At this point in time there were dire predictions of large cities like London and New York would be buried under the manure of hundreds of thousands of work horses. Electricity offered an alternative power for transportation of people and goods. Animals were enjoyed for their nature (though not for their consumption as these literary paradises were vegetarian) and freed by technology as much as the menial worker.

These novels are a taste of the larger canon of terra cava literature, which embrace many of these same upcycled cultural and literary tropes of the garden, technology and utopia. Without any more topographic white spaces in which an island paradise of perfect people, flawless government, and advanced civilisation might be lurking, the uncharted poles and theoretical hollow earth were one of the last earth-bound literary spaces in which writers could project their hopes and expectations for an American future that has technologically upgraded and ecologically integrated the living space of the population. The edenic pastoral literature of the era and the very real encroaching pollution of urbanisation and industrialisation lead to the composted result of hollow earth literature. Urban and pastoral landscapes in these proto-science fiction tales are ripe spaces for ecocritical scholarship.

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