Monday, October 27, 2014

Lines Straight and Tangled

I will try to untangle a very tangled web.

In Vril, the Power of the Coming Race (1871), Edward Bulwer-Lytton wrote of the Vril-ya, a subterranean race who are masters of a limitless source of energy known as Vril. Bulwer-Lytton's book is supposed to have been an influence upon Helen Blavatsky and her associates, who founded The Theosophical Society in New York City in 1875, just four years after the publication of the novel Vril. Among other things, Theosophists believed in Lost Continents and the current existence of a fifth (of seven) race, the Aryan Root race--i.e., us, on our way to some more advanced state of existence (in other words, a coming race, as in the subtitle of Bulwer-Lytton's book). H.P. Lovecraft was aware of Theosophy. He mentioned it in the opening paragraphs of "The Call of Cthulhu," and he may very well have named Cthulhu's island city, R'lyeh, after the people, the Vril-ya.

Raymond A. Palmer and Richard S. Shaver knew of the novel Vril as well. To them, the story of a subterranean race was no story at all but a fact. Their deep-dwellers were not advanced, however, but retrograde. They were called Deros (for Detrimental Robots), and they formed the basis of the so-called Shaver Mystery of the late 1940s science fiction. Even after Palmer had moved on to a far more powerful myth--that of flying saucers--the Shaver Mystery hung on. Albert Bender and Gray Barker both wrote about it in the 1950s and '60s.

L. Ron Hubbard probably knew something about Vril and Theosophy. Being a science fiction writer of the Golden Age, he almost certainly was familiar with the Shaver Mystery. When he decided to create his own religion based on science-fictional ideas, he probably drew on all three. Maybe there's a little bit of Cthulhu in Xenu as well.

In May 1947, only a month before Kenneth Arnold saw the first flying saucers, Astounding Science Fiction published Willy Ley's article "Pseudoscience in Naziland." In it, Ley, a scientist, science fiction writer, and Fortean author, alleged that Nazi occultists banded together to look for the secret energy source Vril. We should note that the Shaver Mystery was then raging in science fiction magazines and fandom, and that in all likelihood Dianetics was marinating in the sewer of L. Ron Hubbard's brain.

In 1959, Jacques Bergier and Louis Pauwels took up the idea of Nazi occultism in their book Le Matin des Magiciens (The Morning of the Magicians). They alleged the existence of a Vril-Society in Germany dating back to the time of the Great War and ties to the very real Thule Society, a proto-Nazi organization with a decidedly occultist bent. The book proved very popular and has led to a kind of cult of Nazi occultism in Fortean circles today.

Despite his French name, Jacques Bergier was a Russian Jew born Yakov Mikhailovich Berger on August 8, 1912, in Odessa. Bergier was or claimed to be lots of things. You can read about him elsewhere on the Internet. Bergier's writing partner, Louis Pauwels (1920-1997), was a French journalist, writer, and editor. With the success of Le Matin des Magiciens, Bergier and Pauwels founded a French magazine Planète, which published science fiction, fantasy, futurism, and non-fiction. Among the authors treated was H.P. Lovecraft. Among the magazine's writers of fiction were Ray Bradbury, Isaac Asimov, and Fredric Brown, all of whom had contributed to Weird Tales.

Planète ran from 1961 to 1972. One writer for the magazine and a friend of Bergier and Pauwels was the French author and UFOlogist Aimé Michel (1919-1992). Together with Bergier, Michel theorized on the existence of geographic lines along which UFO sightings occur. French intellectual theories are as common as cats on a Missouri farm. Michel called his orthoténie. It sounds to me like the theory of ley lines from a generation before. I'm certain those lines weren't named after Willy Ley, who was a scientist like Jacques Bergier's supposed cousin, George Gamow. The idea of ley lines was revived in the 1960s by John Michell (1933-2009), who was no relation to Aimé Michel, although their birthplaces align as perfectly as any two places on Earth.

According to Wikipedia, "Jacques Bergier set himself up as intellectual heir to Charles Hoy Fort." He and Pauwels followed up Le Matin des Magiciens with Impossible Possibilities (1968; Avon, 1975), a collection of science, speculation, and Forteana. Some science fiction and fantasy writers earn mention in the book: E.E. Smith, Arthur C. Clarke, Jack Williamson, and H.G. Wells for example. In a section called "Amoebas as Big as Oxen," Bergier wrote:
Science fiction already has tales of giant amoebas that have escaped from the laboratory of some mad scientist. (p. 247)
Pauwels and Bergier were clearly interested in science fiction as their publication of Planète showed. I wonder if Bergier realized that in writing about giant amoebas, he had also summarized the plot of "Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud, the first cover story in Weird Tales.

Jacques Bergier also wrote books on his own. One of them is called Extraterrestrial Visitations from Prehistoric Times to the Present (1970; Signet, 1974). Thankfully the book has an index, and right there are entries on H.P. Lovecraft, mostly to do with the existence of ancient and alien beings on Earth. In one passage, Bergier or his translator referred to them as "H.P. Lovecraft's Great Old Men." I can imagine one of them yelling, "Hey, you sailors, get off my slimy island!" There are also references or allusions to "At the Mountains of Madness," Irem, Abdul el Alhazred and the Necronomicon, "Through the Gates of the Silver Key," and "Pickman's Model."

In regards to the Necronomicon, Bergier claimed: "Lovecraft himself wrote me in 1935, and confirmed to many other correspondents as well, that he had invented the Necronomicon in every respect." (p. 84). Now, H.P. Lovecraft wrote a lot of letters, perhaps more than any other person ever, but did he really write to Jacques Bergier in 1935? I'm not in a position to say. What I can say, I guess, is that science fiction and pseudoscience seem to come from the same place, that is, from the imagination. Science fiction may actually be closer to the fiction of pseudoscience than to scientific fact. Conversely, pseudoscience may be science fiction trying to wedge its way into the real world. There may be little science to science fiction at all, in which case Edward Bulwer-Lytton or Charles Fort may be the true father of science fiction rather than Jules Verne, H.G. Wells, or Hugo Gernsback.

By the way, Jacques Bergier died on November 23, 1978, in Paris. His valediction may have been another allusion to science fiction (by Richard Matheson): "I am not a legend."

Copyright 2014 Terence E. Hanley

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