Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Shaver and Lovecraft

Richard S. Shaver (1907-1975) and H.P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) had little in common. They were separated by a generation as well as by a vast chasm of culture. Lovecraft came from an old and at one time well-off New England family. He was both a WASP and a Tory. Shaver was of mixed descent, from what Lovecraft might have called a "mongrel race" of German, French, and other European stock. His family were working class and lived in rural or small-town Pennsylvania. Shaver himself became involved in leftwing politics during the early 1930s.

Shaver was of course mentally ill, probably a paranoid schizophrenic. Despite psychological issues of his own--he suffered, I think, from anxiety and depression at some point--Lovecraft was more well balanced and sane. Nonetheless, he didn't work outside the home and was not a highly functioning person. In contrast, Richard Shaver worked for a living, taking various jobs over the years, including in an auto body shop and at a steel mill. Shaver was also an artist and a publisher of his own works. When Lovecraft died in the spring of 1937 (essentially by starving himself), Shaver was most likely confined to a mental hospital in Michigan.

Coincidentally, both Lovecraft and Shaver married Russian-born Jewish women. Both women were older than their husbands. Lovecraft's wife, Sonia Haft Greene (1883-1972), was seven years his senior. They lived as husband and wife for two years, from their wedding on March 3, 1924, until Lovecraft abandoned their marriage by returning to Providence on April 17, 1926 (ninety-two years ago today). Oddly, Lovecraft died the day before his wife's fifty-fourth birthday. (This is assuming that Sonia was indeed born on March 16 by the New Style calendar.) She was by then in a faraway place.

Shaver's first wife was Sophie Gurvitch (1903-1936), who was four years older than he. They were wed on June 29, 1932, in Detroit and also lived together as husband and wife for two years until she had Shaver committed to a mental hospital on August 17, 1934. Their marriage ended with Sophie's death from accidental electrocution on December 29, 1936. Unlike the Lovecrafts, the Shavers had a child, a daughter who I like to think is still with us.

Richard Shaver is supposed to have read pulp fiction and to have been an early reader of Amazing Stories, which first came out in April 1926. (It was probably on the newsstands at the time Lovecraft took the train back home to stay.) Shaver is also supposed to have been influenced in his creation of the people of the caverns by A. Merritt, especially by Merritt's story "The Moon Pool," published in All-Story in its issue of June 22, 1918. 

Lovecraft could never have read Shaver (unless it was Shaver's brother Taylor V. Shaver, who had stories in Boys' Life and The Open Road for Boys in the 1920s), as Shaver was not yet a published author when Lovecraft died. Shaver read Lovecraft, though. Of that we can be sure, for in June 1946, the fanzine Vampire published Shaver's essay "Lovecraft and the Deros" (pp. 14-15). I don't know how this essay reads, but luckily Steve Walker, a librarian at the University of Central Missouri, has extracted a couple of points and quotes from it on the website The Limbonaut: A Correlation of Lovecraftian Contents (here). Mr. Walker writes:
The article ["Lovecraft and the Deros"] concerns Shaver's beliefs. He maintained that an actual artificial underworld existed. There's only one significant paragraph (p. 15) [regarding H.P. Lovecraft]. It concerned "The Mound," [and in it, Shaver wrote:] "as good a picture of the underworld as I ever read. Take off about twenty per cent for Lovecraft's weird ideation and ornamentation--and you have an exact picture of the underworld--except for the radioactive light." He also states[:] "Our race was not the only race on earth; there were greater races and greater times."
"The Mound" was published in abridged form in Weird Tales in November 1940 under the byline of Zealia B. Bishop. Only the original concept was hers, however: Lovecraft ghost-wrote his longer novella based on her proposal. Like the Shaver Mystery and "The Moon Pool," "The Mound" is a story of a subterranean civilization. Both Shaver and Lovecraft based a good deal of their work on the concept that beings from outer space came to Earth eons ago and that at least some of these beings are hostile towards humanity.

So in writing "Lovecraft and the Deros" was Richard Shaver claiming that "The Mound" is somehow a piece of non-fiction? Was he really that incapable of discerning fact from fiction, reality from delusion? Did he believe that Lovecraft shared his knowledge of or experience with the people of the caverns? And was he claiming that Lovecraft's work was continuous with his own or was even subsumed in his own? Beyond that, was Shaver claiming that he, as the expert on the tero and dero, was uniquely qualified to state what in fiction (or non-fiction or pseudo-fiction) is accurate and what is not, or what is part of the canon of his belief and what is not? That's what it seems to me, and I find that extraordinary. But then a man's madness--any man's madness--might extend without limits, and in his search for connections, meaning, and significance, he might very well run himself ragged, never stopping in his relentless pursuit of inner peace.  

Next: A Return to Barker and Bender on the Case

Fantastic Novels Magazine, September 1948, with cover art by Lawrence. "The Conquest of the Moon Pool," originally from 1919, was a sequel to "The Moon Pool." This issue of the magazine came out while the Shaver Mystery was still big. It seems likely to me that those reading it would have noticed its similarities to the Shaver Mystery. But did Shaver ever comment on A. Merritt the way he did on Lovecraft?

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, April 14, 2018

The Shaver Mystery-Part Ten

Shaver vs. Lovecraft


During the pulp fiction era of the twentieth century, an American author of science fiction and fantasy stories created a world in which beings from the distant stars long ago came to Earth and now live in its hidden places. These beings look upon us as savages, or as like insects, or even as food. The author in question wrote numerous stories based on this premise and created what might be called a literary cycle. Other authors contributed stories to this cycle as well, and it generated great interest and enthusiasm among readers and fans. The author's editor helped formalize his creation and even gave it a name. We still use that name today, long after the author's death. The author's name was of course--no, not H.P. Lovecraft--it was Richard S. Shaver. And this is where a problem begins.

Ask a fan of science fiction and fantasy today about Richard Shaver and you will likely get back either puzzlement because that fan doesn't know who Shaver was or disgust that you have even brought up his name. That disgust goes back to the 1940s, the heyday of the Shaver Mystery. I suspect that in addition to disgust, there was a fair amount of shame and embarrassment among science fiction and fantasy fans of the 1940s. Finally, after the war, science fictional ideas could be taken seriously by the larger world as they were now becoming a reality in the form of jets, rockets, radar, missiles, and, greatest of all, atomic power. With all of the scientific progress being made, spaceflight could be just a few years off. Bob McKenna, one of Richard Shaver's collaborators, even said so. According to an article from 1946, "Bob says that within the next ten years somebody--maybe you--will reach the moon." (1) Then here came Richard Shaver--Raymond Palmer, too--with their stories of dero and tero. These men were wrecking science fiction, threatening the sanity of readers, holding up the entire genre to ridicule by the general public. When Life featured science fiction in its issue of May 21, 1951, it gave a good deal of space to the Shaver Mystery (Dianetics, too), calling it "the Shaver hoax." (2) The article, by music critic and writer Winthrop Sargeant, is balanced, but it could only have enforced in the minds of everyday readers that science fiction, which had previously existed on the comic-strip level of Buck Rogers and Flash Gordon, had risen--or fallen--to that of hoaxes and pseudoscientific nonsense. No wonder science fiction fans were so angry.

I say were, but are--the present--might be the more accurate tense. Consider again my first paragraph above: H.P. Lovecraft created a world in which beings from outer space came to Earth in the immemorial past and still have it out for us. Lovecraft wrote numerous stories based on this premise. He even had a jocular name for it all, calling it "Yog Sothothery." Lovecraft's interpretation was loose. After he died, August Derleth tightened it up and gave it a name, the Cthulhu Mythos. (He might have Catholicized it, too.) We still use that name and everybody who's anybody knows what you're talking about when you say "Cthulhu Mythos." If you look up Lovecraft on the Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb), you will find a label under "Fiction Series" for the Cthulhu Mythos, and under that a list of stories. If you go to the online Encyclopedia of Science Fiction, you will find a stand-alone entry on the Cthulhu Mythos as well. Yet neither of these things is true about the Shaver Mystery. If you do a search in the Encyclopedia for the Shaver Mystery, you will simply be referred to other entries. And as far as I can tell, the Shaver Mystery as a fiction series is nowhere to be found in the ISFDb. In other words, if you want to know the titles of the stories in that series, or who wrote them, or how many stories there were in all, you will come up empty, this from two of the best online sources of information on fantasy and science fiction.

None of this is to say that the Shaver Mystery is on the same level as the Cthulhu Mythos. I haven't read any Shaver Mystery stories, but if they were in any way compelling, they would still be read today instead of being ignored and forgotten. In addition, neither Lovecraft nor anyone else ever claimed that his stories were based in fact. There are no psychotic delusions when it comes to the Cthulhu Mythos. Unlike the Shaver Mystery, it's something fun, engaging, and entertaining. But in the interest of a more scholarly study of science fiction, we ought to be able to look at the Shaver Mystery with some objectivity instead of with the seventy-year-old shame, disgust, embarrassment, and anger of the offended fanboy. I can understand that it happened then, but no one now has any great stake in being either for or against the Shaver Mystery because there is nothing at stake. Can't we just talk about it?

Part of the problem, too, is that so many observers dismiss the Shaver Mystery as a mere hoax and without any consideration of its possible deeper meaning. (The Encyclopedia of Science Fiction calls it "hoax-like.") I don't think the Shaver Mystery was a hoax and the reason is simple: when it comes to their delusions, mentally ill people don't know what a hoax is, let alone how to pull one off. Well, you might say, maybe Raymond Palmer was the hoaxer. Maybe so, but that doesn't take into consideration that Palmer seems to have believed that Shaver was telling the truth, or at least some part of the truth. Palmer, a Fortean and something of an occultist, described his own experiences that seem to have borne out Shaver's claims about voices and forces beyond ordinary human ken. To say that the Shaver Mystery was a hoax is beside the point, and to dismiss the Shaver Mystery as a hoax is to avoid getting at a deeper issue, just as the Condon Committee dismissed flying saucers in 1968 as being unworthy of further study. That may have been true in Edward Condon's view. Like Sheldon Cooper, Condon was a physicist. He wasn't interested in any field that is "all about yucky, squishy things." ("Yucky and squishy"--sounds like a description of Cthulhu.) I think there is something to be gained by studying flying saucers, not in a hard-science sense, but in the sense of a reaching a greater understanding of human psychology, perception, spirituality, belief, etc. Likewise, I think we should be able to study the Shaver Mystery not only as a part of the history of science fiction (it's there--get used to it) but also as an example of how both gnosis and psychosis come to be a part of culture.

To dismiss the Shaver Mystery because of its wackiness also doesn't take into account the general wackiness of so many ideas that are so commonly and unthinkingly accepted in the mainstream. Flying saucers are a perfect example. It's a fact that flying saucers come from science fiction, not from outer space. Raymond Palmer pretty much invented them. He promoted and exploited them as he did the Shaver Mystery. But do people consider flying saucers to be a hoax? Doesn't a very large part of the population actually believe that flying saucers are alien spacecraft arrived here from other planets? Why should one idea be so readily accepted and the other so quickly dismissed? The same questions can be asked about all kinds of Fortean, occult, pseudoscientific, and fringe phenomena: Bigfoot, ghosts and haunted houses, the Bermuda Triangle, the Kennedy Assassination, secret Nazi bases in Antarctica, ancient astronauts--the list could go on and on. So a viable population of very large wild hominids roams over Ohio but dero and tero are nonsense? Yes, you say, aliens came to Earth in ancient times, but if you think it happened in the way Richard Shaver described it, you're just plain crazy. It actually happened the way L. Ron Hubbard described it, see? Or maybe it was Erich von Däniken or the television guy with the crazy hair who got it right. Anyway, the arguments in favor of one thing and against another are endless, and the devotees of each will go on arguing about them forever and never budge an inch in their positions. You could ask the same kinds of questions about seemingly more realistic ideas, ideas that are embraced by millions of people the world over, including socialism, Marxism, political correctness, global warming, transgenderism, and so on. Aren't all of these things also lies, hoaxes, delusions, or examples of pseudoscience, gnosticism, or simply minds out of touch with reality? Why should one be accepted and any other rejected? Shouldn't we reject all untruths? Probably, but then I guess the world would be less fun and interesting as a result.

I think that people sense something distasteful about the Shaver Mystery. It's small and shrunken, like Shaver's eyes--a sick and shabby belief. It was dreamed up by a madman, and though it rose to publication in the oldest science fiction magazine in America, it soon shrank away to the cheap, ratty pages of crackpot publications issuing from the boondocks of Wisconsin. (Raymond Palmer and Richard Shaver both moved to that state in the 1950s.) To believe in the Shaver Mystery is to invite sickness, paranoia, and psychopathy into your life. I think that when it comes to detecting this kind of sickness, our vision is keen. We instinctively recoil from it. I think that explains in part the ultimate failure of the Shaver Mystery.

Another difference between the Shaver Mystery and so many other crackpot ideas is that it was the singular vision of a singular man. Everyone can get in on flying saucers, Bigfoot, and Nazi bases in Antarctica. Those things seem to have come from real life. They appear to be somewhat plausible. In contrast, the Shaver Mystery came from the diseased mind of one man. Thousands of readers of the 1940s may have found it compelling at first, but there just wasn't enough there to turn it into a belief system for the masses of men. It ultimately worked for Shaver and no one else, and it died when he died. I think that lack of a compelling system of belief can be traced to the impossibility in Shaver's scheme for personal salvation. Shaver was a materialist and caught in a web of pain, suffering, and paranoia. There seems to have been no way out for him and no hope for salvation or redemption. Flying saucers are different. A belief in flying saucers offers hope and a way out. Scientology, socialism, and other crackpot schemes that appeal to and are spread among the masses of men also offer hope, even if that hope is ultimately false or delusional. (I read a quote once that hope is for the hopeless.) Finally, flying saucers are a lot more fun than the Shaver Mystery. As in the case of the Cthulhu Mythos, we shouldn't count out the fun factor in any bit of popular culture. 

Next: Shaver and Lovecraft

(1) Untitled item, Pittsburgh Press, May 21, 1946, p. 25.
(2) "Through the Interstellar Looking Glass" by Winthrop Sargeant, Life, May 21, 1951, pp. 127-130+.

Even as late as 1958, Richard Shaver and Raymond Palmer were still on the Shaver Mystery. Evidently there were still readers interested in it as well, judging from the "Special Shaver Mystery Issue" of Fantastic, the cover of which is show here. Palmer didn't exercise editorial control of Fantastic, so opposing opinions were allowed. A.J. Steichert contributed an essay to this issue calling the mystery "Dangerous Nonsense!" The cover artist was Leo Summers. Note the rays projected around the woman's head. Does the little green man have his finger on an influencing machine?

Original text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Shaver Mystery-Part Nine

P. Robert McKenna (1917-1990)

Patrick Robert "Bob" McKenna was born on September 8, 1917, in McKeesport, Pennsylvania, to Patrick Joseph McKenna and Elizabeth Mark (Flynn) McKenna. By the time of the 1940 census, he was already working as a radio announcer. In his career in radio, McKenna worked at WWSW, Pittsburgh (early 1940s), KDKA, Pittsburgh (mid 1940s), and WEDO, McKeesport (late 1940s). On September 10, 1941, just two days after his twenty-fourth birthday, he married Lenore A. Gedeon (1921-1979), a professional model and future president of the Pittsburgh Professional Models Society.

The Internet Speculative Fiction Database (ISFDb) has just one credit for Bob McKenna, a story co-written with Richard S. Shaver and entitled "Cult of the Witch Queen." It was published as a cover story in the July 1946 issue of Amazing Stories. According to an item in the Pittsburgh Press (May 21, 1946, p. 25), "Bob 'met' Dick Shaver of near Philadelphia, through letters to the editor and thus developed a story-writing team." "Cult of the Witch Queen" was their first collaboration. Another item from the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Oct. 3, 1946, p. 8) states that the lead story in the November 1946 issue, "The Return of Sathanas," was also co-written by McKenna and Shaver. Although the ISFDb has McKenna's name on that story in one place, it doesn't in another, where it counts in the entry for McKenna himself. Never mind about that. The second newspaper item above also states that McKenna and Shaver had, as of October 1946, "collaborated on several adventure tales."

In 1949, McKenna was involved in a minor scandal. That may have prompted his move to California. By 1953, the McKennas were ranchers in Mill Valley in Marin County, north of San Francisco. They started a family there and may never have gone back home. Lenore McKenna died in 1979 at age fifty-eight. Bob McKenna survived her by nearly eleven years and died on April 4, 1990, I believe in San Jose, California. Presumably, McKenna wrote just a few--possibly only two--science fiction stories, and he has received credit for only one of those. But because of them or it, he had earned his spot in the history of the Shaver Mystery.

Amazing Stories, July 1946, with a cover story, "Cult of the Witch Queen," by Richard S. Shaver and Bob McKenna. The cover artist was Walter Parke.



Text copyright 2018, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Saturday, April 7, 2018

The Shaver Mystery-Part Eight

In the Caves of the Mind

From March 1945 to March 1950, Richard S. Shaver had by my count more than five dozen stories, articles, extracts, and other items published in the Ziff-Davis magazines edited by Raymond A. Palmer. There were forty-seven of these in Amazing Stories and fifteen in Fantastic Adventures. There were probably more stories in the Shaver Mystery cycle by Shaver writing under pseudonyms, as well as stories by Palmer, Chester S. Geier, and other Ziff-Davis regulars. I haven't read any of them, so I can't say which ones were drawn from Shaver's ideas or which of Shaver's stories were about Mantong and the people of the caverns. I'm not sure that it mattered. Readers were either for him or against him. They were either tero or dero.

Ray Palmer rose to the editorship of Amazing Stories in June 1938 and launched Fantastic Stories in May 1939. He was more than halfway through his tenure at Ziff-Davis when he began publishing stories of the Shaver Mystery. Once they began appearing, sales took off. There was something in the mystery that appealed to readers. What Shaver, Palmer, Geier, and others (including Bob McKenna, subject of the next entry) wrote about must have seemed real and compelling to them. I suppose that tells us something about the human condition. Palmer had been interested in the occult and in Forteana for some time. With the Shaver Mystery, he had a chance at something that may have been tried before but perhaps not across a whole genre or in issue after issue and year after year of magazine publication: he would blur the boundaries between science fiction and purported fact. Were the Shaver Mystery stories really fictional? Shaver would have said no. But were they factual? The anti-Shaver readers were equally convinced that they were not. Even if they were factual--even if they described something that might be called "real"--where was that reality? Was it in the outward, objective world, or did it exist only in the caves of the mind? And if it existed only in the mind, did that mean it was somehow less real? Or does the mind contain an equal or even greater reality than the real world? And if there is an equal reality in the mind, could the Shaver Mystery stories really be described as only fictional? Or are fictional and factual inadequate words in this case? In our current world, people seem to be claiming an equal or greater reality inside their own heads. Are you biologically a man but think of yourself as a woman? Then you're a woman, and anyone who knows otherwise must be made, by force if necessary, to affirm you in your delusion. That luxury of forced affirmation was not afforded Richard Shaver. He suffered from delusions. Apparently thousands of readers did, too. Maybe maintaining psychological delusion is a natural human response to an incomprehensible and often cruel world. Whatever the case may be, science fiction readers ultimately tired of or rejected the Shaver Mystery, and so it came to an end. Or did it?

Delusion of course didn't come to an end, for it was picked up again in successive writings on the occult and Fortean phenomena, in fictional, non-fictional, pseudo-fictional, and pseudo-non-fictional forms. Writings on the flying saucer phenomenon--stories of sightings, encounters, crashdowns, contactees, abductees, sexual relations with aliens, conspiracies, alien invasions--are a perfect example. There are people today, for example, who believe that reptilian aliens are in control or trying to take control of Earth. Most people would scoff at that idea, even as they believe (at rates of one-third or one-half or whatever) that flying saucers are spacecraft flown by aliens who have come here from distant star systems, seemingly so they can dig rocks out of the ground. (Maybe they're looking for Richard Shaver's rock books.) Likewise, there are people tramping around in the woods (like an escaped Richard Shaver) looking for Bigfoot. They are convinced that these creatures exist. And yet there are those among them--I personally know of one--who think it ridiculous that some other people believe in Mothman. Further still, there are those who believe that some Bigfoots (or Bigfeet) are good (the five-toed ones), while others are evil (the three-toed ones). In other words, some are tero, while others are dero. There is also, of course, the second science-fictional religion to arrive on the scene, Scientology, which, like Richard Shaver, is radically against psychiatry, and which, also like Shaver, believes that aliens came to Earth a gazillion years ago and that the effects of their actions are still with us. There are far fewer believers in Scientology now than in its heyday. Nonetheless the delusion persists.

The Shaver Mystery also perpetuated what I think is a form of gnosticism, what one source on the Internet calls "a spiritually pathological, magical reconstruction of reality" and what the German-American philosopher Eric Voegelin (1901-1985) described as a "type of thinking that claims absolute cognitive mastery of reality." He continued: "Relying as it does on a claim to gnosis, gnosticism considers its knowledge not subject to criticism." That might be less true of Richard Shaver than it is of current gnostic thought. He was, after all, sensitive to criticism and not entirely confident in his beliefs. Today, though, when it comes to certain ways of thinking, criticism will not be tolerated, and in some places it's even being outlawed. I will refer you again to the topic of "gender." Marxism, too, is a gnostic system, and the Marxists among us violently resist criticism of their system. In fact they are always on the attack, using such weapons as critical theory to wage war against reality, fact, and truth.

Here is more on Eric Voegelin's philosophy (from Wikipedia):
Voegelin perceived similarities between ancient Gnosticism and modernist political theories, particularly communism and nazism. He identified the root of the Gnostic impulse as alienation, that is, a sense of disconnection from society and a belief that this lack is the result of the inherent disorder, or even evil, of the world. This alienation has two effects:
  • The first is the belief that the disorder of the world can be transcended by extraordinary insight, learning, or knowledge, called a Gnostic Speculation by Voegelin (the Gnostics themselves referred to this as gnosis).
  • The second is the desire to implement and or create a policy to actualize the speculation, or Immanentize the Eschaton, i.e., to create a sort of heaven on earth within history.
It seems to me that Shaver exhibited the first of these effects in his development of an "extraordinary insight, learning, or knowledge," his gnosis, in Mantong and his tales of dero and tero. He seems less to have made some prescription for the creation of heaven on earth, unless his ancient and now subterranean civilizations were somehow utopian in nature. But maybe that failure explains the fading away of the Shaver Mystery, as there was no hope for a better world through Shaver's belief system. A belief in flying saucers, however, offers that hope, as does, to a lesser extent, Scientology, although the better world promised by Scientology seems to me one of the self, in other words, perhaps, a greater gnosis.

Finally, the Shaver Mystery injected into science fiction a further continuity, a continuity larger in scale than what had been tried before and that is perhaps both Fortean and gnostic in nature. (It occurs to me now that Fortean beliefs may just be another kind of gnosticism.) In the Shaver Mystery--and in the flying saucer phenomenon, too--a soup is made from a number of ingredients: 1) Fiction; 2) Non-fiction in the form of accounts of supposedly real-world occult or Fortean phenomena; 3) Psychological delusion, which may also be gnostic in character; and 4) Various pseudo-fields, including pseudo-fiction, pseudo-non-fiction, pseudo-history, pseudoscience, pseudo-religion, and pseudo-psychology. Once thrown into the pot, these ingredients can't be separated, drawn out again, or even distinguished from each other. Put another way, all exist on a continuum. Any dividing lines are arbitrary. John Keel wrote about the concept of a continuum in The Cosmic Question, but he got it from Charles Fort, just as so many authors got their ideas from him. (Both fans of Fort, Palmer and Keel were junior science fiction fans and published their own fanzines when they were still teenagers. Remember: continuity.) There was Forteana in science fiction and fantasy before 1945, but once it got into those genres through Ray Palmer, it never got out again, or at least it didn't get out for decades afterwards. Palmer's exploitation of the flying saucer phenomenon made sure of that.

Science fiction fans, if they know anything at all about it, seem to despise the Shaver Mystery and everything surrounding it. (I'll have more to say on that in a future part of this series.) They also think detrimental thoughts about Raymond Palmer. Yet the Fortean-Palmerian concept of continuity showed up in other places and not just in Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures. In May 1950, John W. Campbell, Jr., vaunted editor of the vaunted Astounding Science Fiction, published an extract from a new book called Dianetics. Written by science fiction author L. Ron Hubbard, Dianetics is not science fiction. It's also not non-fiction. Like the Shaver Mystery and flying saucers, it isn't quite a hoax, either. Dianetics can more nearly be described as pseudoscience or pseudo-psychology. Like Mantong and "A Warning to Future Man," it is a work of purported "extraordinary insight, learning, or knowledge," in other words, Hubbard's gnosis. Alternatively, it's a delusion, and it became only more delusional as it morphed into the pseudo-religion Scientology. So it is neither fictional nor non-fictional, but at the same time it is both of these things and more. There is no telling where one thing ends and another begins. Again, continuity.

John W. Campbell loved Dianetics, but in order to love it, he would have had to disregard the hard line between fiction and non-fiction, between science and pseudoscience. In other words, he would have had to embrace a Fortean kind of continuity. (That's only one way of looking at it. Ray Palmer thought Campbell had done that very thing when he published Eric Frank Russell's Fortean novel "Sinister Barrier," complete in Unknown, March 1939.) Campbell even changed the title of his magazine, and I think that change is telling, for in 1960, Astounding Science Fiction became Analog Science Fiction and Fact. Not digital but analogous, a scale or continuum, not strictly one thing or the other, but both--and more, because Campbell became increasingly interested in pseudoscience. By then, both Raymond Palmer and Richard Shaver had moved far ahead of Campbell into the realm of blended fantasy-fact and hybridized fiction-non-fiction and even non-non-fiction.

For whatever reason, in the postwar era, Forteana and the Fortean concept of continuity came to stay in science fiction. The Shaver Mystery, being about demons and damnation, paranoia and pain, couldn't really offer a lasting and compelling system of belief for a desperate and longing humanity. It didn't and couldn't offer a chance at positive salvation. None of that should come as any surprise when you consider that Richard Shaver was a strict materialist. There was no God in his universe. The coming of the flying saucers was a different story. Here suddenly were messengers from the sky, gods and angels come to offer us salvation. Or they were our space brothers--as in the visions of George Adamski and men like him--and as our brothers they were offering us a chance at a better world, a chance to realize a better vision of ourselves and at self-fulfillment. That was and is the most compelling belief system to come from the science fiction of the 1940s and '50s. You might call the Shaver Mystery only a dry run for a greater task.

To be continued . . .

Amazing Stories, March 1945. About fifteen months after Ray Palmer had accepted and during which he had rewritten Richard Shaver's story "A Warning to Future Man," it was published as "'I Remember Lemuria!'" in this issue of Amazing Stories. As far as I can make out, this was the first Shaver Mystery story to appear in the magazine and Shaver's first published work of "fiction." Palmer must have sensed that it would turn into something big, as he made it a cover story. The cover art was by Robert Gibson Jones.

By the way, the Internet Speculative Fiction Database gives Shaver credit for "Return of a Demon" in Fantastic Adventures for May 1943, but did Shaver, writing under the Ziff-Davis house name Alexander Blade, really have a story published in the month he was released from a mental hospital? After eight long years of being out of touch with the world? Something about that just doesn't add up for me.

Amazing Stories, June 1945, with another Shaver cover story, "Thought Records of Lemuria," and another cover illustration by Jones. Amazing Stories was published just four times in 1945. (Paper shortages may have been the explanation.) Shaver had the cover story in all four issues.

Amazing Stories, September 1945. Shaver was back with another cover story, "Cave City of Hel." Robert Gibson Jones was once again the cover artist.

Amazing Stories, December 1945. The cover of this issue had the same combination of writer and artist. This time they worked on "Quest of Brail." The cover illustration is a classic Golden Age image. I feel like I have seen this woman with her winged helmet (or is it a tinfoil hat?) and yellow outfit (yellow, the color of madness) before. Could it have been in the long forgotten past?

Amazing Stories, June 1946. Cover art by Arnold Kohn. Although Shaver didn't have a cover story in this issue, his byline still appeared above the main title. The June 1946 issue is of special interest because within its pages a letter appeared seeming to confirm the existence of the things of which Shaver had been writing for months . . .

The writer of the letter wished to remain anonymous, but in one way or another it came out that he was Fred L. Crisman. Or at least that's the accepted story. (Another part of the accepted story is that Crisman had his experience in Burma, but I think by following the place names he mentioned, you'll find yourself deep within the Asian landmass.) Note the letter-writer's claims to special knowledge and experience and to near-precedence: "But we both believe we know more about the Shaver Mystery than any other pair. [¶] You can imagine my fright when I picked up my first copy of AMAZING STORIES and see you splashing words about on the subject." So was Crisman claiming that he and his partner knew more about the Shaver Mystery than its originators? And what of the date? If Crisman flew his "last combat mission on May 26," presumably he meant May 26, 1945, a full year before this letter went to print. The stories of the Shaver Mystery had already begun in Amazing Stories by then, but not by much, so Crisman wasn't exactly first. But he seems to have claimed precedence because he had his experience before ever seeing Amazing Stories or knowing about the Shaver Mystery. In other words, he was the discoverer of the dero, or at least co-discoverer, like Wallace to Shaver's Darwin.

This wouldn't be the last time Fred Crisman claimed to be first. In July 1947, Ray Palmer heard about what is now called the Maury Island Incident, in which Crisman and an accomplice claimed to have been pelted with slag from a damaged flying saucer. The incident was supposed to have taken place before Kenneth Arnold's sighting of flying saucers over Mount Rainier, on June 24, 1947, and before Mac Brazel's discovery of wreckage on a ranch near Roswell, New Mexico, in June or July of that year . . . 

So around the middle of July 1947, Venture Press, operating out of the Chicago area, sent Kenneth Arnold a letter, asking him to look into the Maury Island Incident. Arnold agreed and flew to Tacoma to begin his investigation. There he encountered many strange situations and occurrences: someone unknown to him had reserved a hotel room in his name; an unknown informant seemed to know everything that was said inside his supposedly private room; a house he visited early in the investigation was empty later on and spiderwebs were spun across the doorway; Crisman and his accomplice, Harold A. Dahl, were evasive and gave confusing and contradictory information to Arnold; finally, two officers from the U.S. Air Force who were also investigating the incident were killed when their plane crashed on the flight back to base. There were also encounters that summer with a mysterious man in black.

We now know that the Maury Island Incident was a hoax. Crisman's and Dahl's motives remain obscure. Fred Crisman seems to have been the ringleader. He may have been of a type who simply wants to be first, best, and on the spot in everything, perhaps because he feels insecure or lacks some positive sense of himself. In any case, Crisman elbowed his way into the Shaver Mystery, the flying saucer mystery, and stories of crashdowns, government conspiracies, and men in black. And in the 1960s, he was implicated by New Orleans district attorney Jim Garrison in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. I guess that makes him a threefer, a man who easily slid along the Fortean continuum, which has come to include the Kennedy assassination and other strange and mysterious but nonetheless real-world events, including, as we have seen, Nazis in Antarctica.

When I wrote about Kenneth Arnold and the Maury Island Incident (on July 18, 2017, here), I assumed that Venture Press of somewhere in the Chicago area was Raymond Palmer's outfit. Then I discovered the advertisement above in David Hatcher Childress' book Lost Continents and the Hollow Earth (1999). It confirms that Venture Press, based in Evanston, Illinois, was indeed Palmer's brainchild. It also indicates that Venture Press published Richard S. Shaver's book I Remember Lemuria, and the Return of Sathanas. The book, a collection of writings from Amazing Stories, came out in 1948, the same year in which Palmer and Curtis Fuller launched Fate, a magazine of Forteana. (My translations from the Mantong: Fate--Fecund a te, or one generating much integrative energy. Fort--Fecund orifice of horror [and] t, or a speaker of both terrible and integrative things. Note that to integrate means to combine things with each other or to make them a whole, for example, a continuum.) Note the blurb: "Particularly recommended to Students of the Occult." In other words, there is continuity here among science fiction, Forteana, the occult, flying saucers, the Shaver Mystery, and, with Fred Crisman, the Kennedy assassination. What else can we throw into this soup? Nazis? A hollow Earth? A hole at the pole?

Amazing Stories, June 1947. By an extraordinary coincidence, the sighting of the first flying saucers took place in the same month that Ziff-Davis put out a special Shaver Mystery issue of Amazing Stories. So as one phenomenon was reaching its peak, another was just beginning. You can call that an overlap if you want, but it can also be thought of as a continuity. Consider this quote by Ray Palmer from the Shaver Mystery special issue:
Further, Mr. Shaver declared that Titans [one of his ancient races], living far away in space, or other people like them, still visit earth in space ships, kidnap people, raid the caves for valuable equipment, and, in general, supply the basis for all the weird stories that are so numerous (see Charles Fort's books) of space ships, beings in the sky, etc. [p. 8]
It sounds to me like Shaver's ideas were, by Palmer's interpretation, a kind of Unified Field Theory of all Fortean phenomena, old and new. And though there weren't any flying saucers when this issue went to print, Palmer anticipated not only sightings of extraterrestrial spacecraft but also the existence of superior alien beings, human abductions by these beings, and even the aliens' interest in geology. The coming of the saucers must have been the greatest thing that ever happened to Ray Palmer. He was primed and ready, and when the chance of a lifetime presented itself, he took his best shot. The question remains, though, did Palmer sense that the Shaver Mystery was running its course or wearing out its welcome? We may never know, but in flying saucers Palmer found--and made--the next big thing. And not just big but huge. He must have been on cloud nine after the first summer of flying saucers, and it showed, for he thereafter devoted himself to them and to all related Fortean phenomena, which is to say, by John Keel's concept of a superspectrum, all phenomena.

Finally, think what you will of Palmer and Shaver, that's a great science fiction cover by Robert Gibson Jones.

Other Worlds Science Stories, November 1949. In late 1949, Raymond Palmer had one foot in Ziff-Davis and one foot out the door. He was still the credited editor of Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, but he was also involved with Clark Publishing Company and its new magazine of Forteana, Fate. Then, in November of that year, Clark Publishing put out the first issue of Other Worlds Science Stories. The cover story was "The Fall of Lemuria" by Richard S. Shaver, and there was still more Shaver Mystery content inside. But this was 1949, about to become 1950, and the Shaver Mystery was about through. The title "The Fall of Lemuria" is ironic considering how high the whole thing had gone and now how far it had fallen. Palmer and Shaver may have tried to keep the Shaver Mystery alive, but having come from the fringes, it could only go back again to the fringes. Flying saucers were literally taking off. So were other titles and ideas, including The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, first published in the fall of 1949. (The first issue, entitled The Magazine of Fantasy, came out in October 1949 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of Edgar Allan Poe.) Note the breaking down of barriers in the title: this was a magazine of fantasy and science fiction. More breaking down of barriers or blurring of lines happened in May 1950 when John W. Campbell, Jr., published "Dianetics: The Evolution of a Science" in Astounding Science Fiction.

Amazing Stories, April 1957. By John Keel's estimation, Raymond A. Palmer was the man who invented flying saucers. I won't argue. Nevertheless, Amazing Stories did not print a flying saucer cover until this one in April 1957, almost ten years after the first sighting. The cover artist was Edward Valigursky, who was always so good with gadgets, machinery, and vehicles. The theme of beings from outer space abducting or harvesting human beings came more or less in a straight line from Charles Fort, who wrote, "The Earth is a farm, we are someone else's property," and, "I think we're property." Remember, too, Palmer's line from the Shaver Mystery special issue: "Titans, living far away in space, or other people like them, still visit earth in space ships, kidnap people . . . ."

Amazing Stories, October 1957. Raymond Palmer was out as editor at Ziff-Davis after December 1949, and Howard Browne, the man who had thrown Richard Shaver's original letter in the trash, was in. During Browne's tenure, Shaver had only a couple of credits in Amazing Stories. One was "Historical Aspects of the Saucers," an article from October 1957. The magazine's second flying saucer cover was done by Edward Valigursky. Note Gray Barker's byline on the cover, too, plus the exclamation points!!

Original text copyright 2018, 2023 Terence E. Hanley

Wednesday, April 4, 2018

The Shaver Mystery-Part Seven

"I Remember Ionia"

In May 1943, Richard Shaver was released from a mental hospital in Michigan and returned to his parents in Pennsylvania. I'm not sure that anyone really knows how long he was in nor whether the period of his hospitalization was continuous. There is a story that he escaped from captivity and tramped in the north woods before making his way to Canada. If he was originally at the more progressive Ypsilanti State Hospital, Shaver was afterwards committed to the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane.

Once returned to the world, Shaver went back to work as a crane operator at Bethlehem Steel. He also continued to work on Mantong and the system of belief that backed it. In September 1943, Shaver wrote to the editors of Amazing Stories regarding his beliefs. Raymond A. Palmer, one of the canniest of science fiction editors, then or now, published Shaver's letter and alphabet in the January 1944 issue of the magazine. (1) More letters started coming in, seemingly in confirmation of Shaver's insights. In the meantime, Palmer and Shaver began a correspondence that would culminate in a near lifelong friendship and partnership. In the meantime, too, Richard Shaver remarried.

Shaver's first wife, Sophie Gurvitch Shaver, had died in a bizarre and tragic accident in 1936. He found his second wife, Virginia Fenwick of Brownsville, Texas, by correspondence. A graduate of Mary Hardin-Baylor College in Belton, Texas, and a former officer in the WAAC, Virginia was a pianist, writer, and singer. It was their mutual interest in writing that seems to have drawn her and her new husband together. They were married on January 29, 1944, at the Berks County, Pennsylvania, courthouse. An announcement of their wedding observed that Shaver wrote "fiction of a scientific nature" and that his latest story, "Warning to Future Man," had "just been accepted for publication by a popular magazine." (2)

Shaver's second marriage didn't last, for Virginia Fenwick divorced him in pretty short order. (3) I'm not sure whether "A Warning to Future Man" lasted, either, at least in its original form. But it's interesting that the story was accepted for publication as early as January 1944, for in its final form, as "I Remember Lemuria," Shaver's accounting of his beliefs did not appear in Amazing Stories until March 1945. Raymond Palmer had to rework the story to make it publishable, of course, but did it really take that long? Or was there opposition among the editorial staff or from the publishers themselves to putting into print the delusions of a madman? Whatever happened, "I Remember Lemuria" became the first published story in the Shaver Mystery, a cycle that would occupy Ray Palmer and his twin magazines, Amazing Stories and Fantastic Adventures, for the next five years.

To be continued . . . 

(1) I think Richard Shaver's original name for his new-old language was Mantong. To make it more palatable to readers, Raymond Palmer must have re-dubbed it "Mr. Shaver's Lemurian Alphabet."
(2) "Fiction Writers Are Married in Court House," The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), Jan. 30, 1944, p. 13 (image below). The marriage was solemnized at an Episcopal church in Philadelphia on January 30, 1944.
(3) The reason for the divorce is supposed to have been Shaver's false claim, made on his marriage license, that he had not been institutionalized during the previous five years. I suspect that Virginia Shaver found out pretty quickly that her new husband was mentally ill, even if he was out in the world again and gainfully employed. She wouldn't have needed a falsified document to want out, but it must have given her a way out.

From The Morning Call (Allentown, Pa.), Jan. 30, 1944, p. 13.

Amazing Stories, March 1945, the first published Shaver Mystery story and the first of many cover stories in that cycle. I don't know that Richard Shaver considered his to be a "racial memory story" or that he set it in the fictional (and Theosophical) land of Lemuria. Those may have been Ray Palmer's innovations. In any case, the Shaver Mystery was off and running. The cover artist by the way was Robert Gibson Jones.

Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley

Sunday, April 1, 2018

The Shaver Mystery-Part Six

Taylor Victor Shaver (1903-1934) and the Dero of Detroit-Part Two

Taylor V. Shaver was only thirty years old when he died at East Side Hospital in Detroit. The date was February 24, 1934. The cause was lobar pneumonia and enlargement of the heart. Shaver had been sick only briefly. His younger brother Richard was devastated by his death. "I drank a pint of whiskey right down after my brother died," Richard remembered, "and I guess it helped--but it was agony anyway for we were very close." (1) In his grief, Shaver
became convinced that a demon named Max was responsible for Taylor's heart failure. "The thing that killed him has followed me ever since--I talk to him--many times every day . . . . He has killed many people. . . . Others are holding him [Max] in check." [Ellipses and brackets in the source given below.] (2)
In addition to believing in the demon Max, Richard Shaver became convinced that people were following him. He also began hearing voices. The first time this happened, he was operating his welding gun at the auto body plant. The voices he heard were actually the thoughts of his co-workers, influenced by still other voices, mocking and derisive voices, harmful and destructive voices that only Shaver could detect. Then came the sounds of torture, and the voices were there, too. Where were they coming from? Who was saying these things? If Shaver didn't know then, he would later develop a system to explain the voices. His system--what we might as well call the Shaver Mystery--involves Earth's secret history, a history influenced by beings who came from the stars in the immemorial past. Long ago, when men were savages, these beings developed an advanced civilization, but they became increasingly damaged by what Shaver called the dis energy of the sun. In seeking shelter, these damaged individuals retreated into subterranean lairs. Shaver's name for them, derived from his secret alphabet, is dero, for detrimental robots. (Corpulent and repulsive, they are not mechanical robots at all but living beings.) The beings opposing the dero are called tero, for te, Shaver's concept of a growth force or integrative force, and robot. They, too, are confined to the underground, but they are benevolent rather than disintegrative. The dero and the tero waged a war inside Shaver's mind, a war he believed extended into the real world. Shaver himself fell in with the more human and noble tero and opposed the dero, who acted so detrimentally against him, his family, and the rest of humanity.

David Hatcher Childress refers to Taylor Shaver by the nickname "Tate." (3) By Shaver's "Lemurian Alphabet," Tate might mean, by my own translation, T (Taylor) a te (integrative force), or Taylor [is] a te. Could there be any higher name in Mantong? And what of the place name Detroit? Was Taylor or integrative energy itself--t--destroyed by or caught between de and ro? And what of -it? I can't say, but the interpretations, translations, and permutations of these words, syllables, and letters are endless. They must have whirled away inside Shaver's mind for years as he lay in the grip of insanity. In his letter to Amazing Stories from September 1943, he wrote that he had been working on this new-old language "over a long period of years." I don't doubt that. It must have given him some solace to believe that a world that seemed so random and incomprehensible in its events was actually orderly and could be understood if only a person could find the key. Mantong and the story of the people of the caverns were for Richard Shaver that key.

According to Mr. Childress, Richard Shaver was committed to a mental institution on August 17, 1934. Some sources say that it was his wife who had him committed. We might understand why she would do such a thing, considering what we know by later evidence of Shaver's mental state. No one seems to know how long he was there, nor very much about what happened to him or what was done to him while he was in the hospital. No one knows, either, what his diagnosis might have been, but it seems almost certain to me (a non-psychiatrist) that Shaver was schizophrenic. One of the most powerful of indicators in this diagnosis-from-a-distance is the concept of the "influencing machine" in schizophrenia, one developed by the Austrian psychiatrist Viktor Tausk and published in German in 1919 and in English--coincidentally in Shaver's case--in 1933. (4) If you read about the influencing machine (I encourage you to do so) and know anything at all about Shaver, you will immediately recognize its occurrence in his case. In fact there may be no better example of the influencing machine in the annals of psychiatry than in the case of Richard Sharpe Shaver. (5)

Like I said, no one knows how long Shaver was institutionalized. He was still in the hospital when his wife Sophie Gurvitch Shaver was accidentally electrocuted in December 1936, and he was still there--at the Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan--in 1940 when the enumerator of the U.S. census came around. By the time men were filling out their World War II draft cards in 1942-1943, Shaver was back home with his parents in Barto, Pennsylvania. Unfortunately I don't have a date for his filling out of that card. If it was 1942, then that would fit with the bit of information I have that Shaver was institutionalized for eight years, with a release date perhaps in early or mid 1942. Fred Nadis, biographer of Raymond Palmer, sets the date of his release as May 1943. (6) In any case, when Ziba R. Shaver died on June 10, 1943, Shaver was at home, and he helped bear his father's casket to the grave. If Shaver was released in May, then only four months passed before he wrote his initial letter to the editors of Amazing Stories. In it Shaver claimed discovery of an ancient and secret language encoded in and underlying our own. Raymond Palmer ran the letter and the alphabet in the January 1944 issue of Amazing Stories. And with that, the Shaver Mystery began as one of the strangest episodes in the history of science fiction.

To be continued . . .

(1) Quoted in The Man from Mars: Ray Palmer's Amazing Pulp Journey by Fred Nadis (New York: Jeremy P. Tarcher-Penguin, 2013), p. 65.
(2) Quoted in Nadis, p. 65.
(3) "The Shaver Mystery" by David Hatcher Childress in Lost Continents and the Hollow Earth (Kempton, IL: Adventures Unlimited Press, 1999), p. 219.
(4) Shaver began having paranoid delusions and auditory hallucinations before he could have heard of the influencing machine, but was he exposed to this concept while in the hospital? If so, could his hypothetical knowledge of the influencing machine have influenced his ideas about the dero? In other words, could a concept in psychiatry have provided Richard Shaver with some of the material he needed to construct his system of belief? It seems unlikely, but again, we don't know what happened to him while he was hospitalized. Incidentally, "the supposed faculty of perceiving, as if by hearing, what is inaudible" is called clairaudience. Shaver, then, might have been called a clairaudient. Well, his older sister, named Catherine, went by her middle name, Claire.
(5) The case of James Tilly Matthews (1770-1815) is also illustrative of the influencing machine in schizophrenia. Matthews, a Welshman living in London, believed he was being tormented and schemed against by a gang of criminals and spies operating an "Air Loom," a machine of his own paranoid imagination that emitted influencing rays. (Influencing rays were also prominent in the Shaver Mystery. One of the most influential of these rays had the last name of Palmer.) Matthews lived during the Industrial Revolution. In his madness he created an industrial machine. That makes me think: before the Industrial Revolution--before there could be an influencing machine--what did paranoid schizophrenics create as their tormenters? More primitive machines? Was there an influencing wheel or lever of the Middle Ages? Or were the tormenters of madmen the demons, beasts, and creatures of that age of folklore and faith? And what of ancient times? Were the tormenters then the gods, monsters, and hybrids of classical mythology? As a similar case to Matthews', Richard Shaver lived during an age of science fiction, which followed a nineteenth-century age of pseudoscience, pseudo-history, etc. Wasn't it only natural, then, that he would imagine an influencing machine straight from science fiction, pseudoscience, pseudo-history, etc.? A test of that possibility might be in finding out what is the influencing machine of the twenty-first century. Wouldn't it be a digital device of some kind? A cell phone, computer, or even an android or robot? Or maybe it's not a machine at all but a program or digital service. Some people for example believe that Facebook and fake news influenced voters in our most recent presidential election. They actually believe that we wouldn't have our current president if it were not for this influence. Or maybe the influencing machine of our time is actually an old type of machine, the internal combustion engine, which is GOING TO KILL US ALL! When we were kids, a mentally ill man across the road from us went out one day shouting at people, "Turn off your microwaves!" Maybe microwave ovens were the influencing machine of the 1970s and '80s. In any case, that man also sometimes wore aluminum foil on his head. We have all heard of the stereotype of the crazy conspiracy theorist who wears a tinfoil hat. Well, now I find out that some such people believe they are "targeted individuals" or "TIs." I take it that TI is pronounced the same as te, as in tero. Crazy minds think alike, I guess. Here's another pair of terms to consider: air loom is a homophone of heirloom. Is there any significance in that? I suppose there is. To cultists, cranks, crazies, and crackpots, everything is significant.
(6) Nadis, p. 68.

The Ionia State Hospital for the Criminally Insane in Ionia, Michigan, where Richard S. Shaver was confined for some time. According to Richard Toronto, Shaver was originally in the Ypsilanti State Hospital in Saline, Michigan. On release to see his daughter, he is supposed to have escaped. When recaptured, supposedly in Canada, Shaver was placed in the hospital in Ionia. (His supposed release to see his daughter doesn't exactly fit with the story that Evelyn Ann Gurvitch (née Shaver) grew up believing her father had died.) In all, Shaver spent as many as eight or nine years in an institution, from August 1934 to about 1942 or May 1943.

Happy Easter to Readers of Weird Tales.

Revised April 3, 2018
Text copyright 2018 Terence E. Hanley