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 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 Terence E. Hanley

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