Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Walter Siegmeister's Inner-Earth Utopia *

Academic journal article Utopian Studies

Walter Siegmeister's Inner-Earth Utopia *

Article excerpt

IN THE MID-1940S, A SMALL GROUP of American writers and enthusiasts in the alternative reality subculture resuscitated interest in the idea of a subterranean world occupied by non-human races. While the strange notion began trickling at this time into the fringes of American popular culture, the concept of a geologically-hollow earth was by no means new. In its earliest formulation, the idea was at least briefly considered to be plausible before it became relegated to pseudo-science. Later, stories positing the existence of an inner-earth and underground civilizations circulated in Western occult and esoteric groups in the late-nineteenth century (1) and, in fact, were also the source of a minor utopian literary genre lasting until the 1920s. (2) Committed adherents to the belief had always been numerically marginal, though, even by the standards of the small anti-reality community of writers, mystics, and visionaries. Nonetheless, this fellowship of counterculturalists continued to nurture philosophies about a hidden world beneath our feet that captivated the minds of a coterie of occultists and others predisposed to the unusual and dramatic (Webb 7).

The theory of an inner-earth can be historically traced to Edmund Halley, the famed English astronomer. In 1692, in a work published in The Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London, Halley argued with the support of mathematics that the planet was actually a hollow, and possibly internally-inhabited, sphere. Although Halley's was the first, and only, treatment of the subject that received the imprimatur of scientific respectability, other theorists followed in his wake who steadily moved the hollow earth idea into the realm of fringe belief. Among the theory's defenders coming after Halley was John Cleves Symmes, an Ohio-born military officer whose convictions in the hollow world were so powerful that he traveled throughout the country in the 1820s lecturing on the topic and raising money for a proposed expedition to the earth's interior (Maclellan 35-47). Symmes' pursuits were proceeded by those of another believer in the concept. In the late 1890s, Cyrus Teed, formerly a practitioner of eclectic medicine in Utica, New York, established a communal settlement called "Estero" near Fort Myers, Florida to further his investigations on the earth's shape. About two hundred colonists eventually moved to Estero during its fifty-year history, where they studied its founders' hollow earth philosophy. Teed's desire was to prove to the world that society's understanding of the planet's configuration was erroneous. With the use of his calculations, which were based on experiments designed to measure the earth's curvature, Teed claimed that what was commonly believed to be the surface of the planet was actually its interior, and that human civilization unwittingly resided inside the hollow globe (Jenkins 43).

When the concept of a "world inside the world" reappeared after World War II, it was this time due to the efforts of enterprising editors eager to bolster the readership of their action-adventure and science fiction pulps. In particular, it was the period's main science fiction magazine, Amazing Stories, which was most responsible for the myth's revival. Under the editorship of Ray Palmer, a peripatetic businessman who succeeded in tapping into popular culture's thirst for futuristic and escapist fiction, its circulation reached 185,000 (Kaffon-Minkel 142). Amazing Stories flourished in no small part because of its promotion of wild tales about the mysterious subsurface world and its technologically-advanced denizens. Palmer's interest in the commercial potential of the hollow earth legend was sparked by a contribution made to the magazine in 1945 by Richard Shaver, a Pennsylvania welder, who told of his captivity by an underground race he termed the "Deros." According to Shaver, who maintained that the inner-earth was populated by a number of separate civilizations, the malevolent Deros lived in vast underground cities and used their considerable scientific and psychic powers for evil ends. …

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