Saturday, February 2, 2013

Weird Tales and The Shaver Mystery

As I write this, I am listening to an audio recording of Long John Nebel's radio show from 1956. The topic is The Shaver Mystery and the guests (by telephone from Amherst, Wisconsin) are Richard Shaver and Raymond A. Palmer. It's fascinating to hear these voices from the past, to hear Palmer speak of a conversation with Harlan Ellison, of his editorship of Amazing Stories, and of The Shaver Mystery in general. Long John Nebel and a guest are interviewing the two men. Long John asks Richard Shaver about the supposed existence of elevators in apartment buildings in three American cities. By entering these elevators alone and pressing B for basement, and then upon reaching the basement, by pressing B twice more, a person can supposedly enter the subterranean world of the Deros. Long John asks Richard Shaver if this is true. Shaver replies that he "would say that it was true"--not exactly the unequivocal answer Long John had hoped to hear, I'm sure. The three cities that offer access to the underworld are New York, Chicago, and Providence, Rhode Island, home of H.P. Lovecraft. I wonder if Lovecraft would have known the location of the apartment building in his city that would allow him access to Dero-land.

Long John Nebel's guest interviewer also asks Raymond Palmer about Edward Bulwer-Lytton's novel The Coming Race (1871) as a possible precursor to Shaver's stories. Palmer answers by mentioning a number of other possible precursors, not as fictional sources but as fact-based tales that--in his mind--help confirm rather than bring into question the veracity of The Shaver Mystery. It's an old tactic I guess: A previous version of your story isn't evidence that you have swiped your story from someone else, but that you have actually stumbled upon something real and important, just as people before you did--that you have uncovered the true history of earth and the human race.

Other tellers of weird tales were connected in one way or another to Raymond A. Palmer, his two science fiction magazine titles of the 1940s, and The Shaver Mystery. They include Wilma Dorothy Vermilyea and Vincent H. Gaddis. By the way, be sure to listen for Gray Barker's voice at the end of the audio.

The Shaver Mystery was a creature of the 1940s, a kind of dry run for The Flying Saucer Mystery of 1947 and beyond. At its height of popularity in the late 1940s, The Shaver Mystery sold magazines by the truckload and even spawned its own fan activity. Here's the cover of a fan magazine, The Shaver Mystery Magazine #1, from 1947 with art by an unknown artist, although it looks like it could be the work of Alex Schomburg or Steele Savage.
And here is Shaver's devil, a Dero, evidently watching his favorite television show on the front of The Hidden World from Spring 1961. Yes, even at that late date there were people still reading about The Shaver Mystery. Again the artist is unknown.
Text and captions copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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