Wednesday, May 8, 2019

Miscellany No. 5

Also in The Thing's Incredible! The Secret Origins of Weird Tales, 1923-1924, author John Locke reprinted an essay called "Writing the Fantastic Story" by Otis Adelbert Kline, originally in The Writer in January 1931. Remembering his childhood talks with his father, Kline wrote:
There was the great mystery of man's advent on this earth, which religion explained in one manner and science in another. We discussed these, and a third possibility, an idea of my father's, that some of our ancient civilizations might have originated by people come here from other planets--the science of space-navigation forgotten by their descendants, but the tradition of their celestial advent persisting in their written and oral traditions.
Kline was born in 1891; he would have been twenty-eight years old when The Book of the Damned, Charles Fort's first, was published in late 1919. The concept of what we now call ancient astronauts was almost certainly in the works of Charles Fort (I'm not sure where exactly), but those would seem to have come too late for Otis Adelbert Kline's father to have been inspired by them, assuming father and son talked about these things when Kline was a child. So who originated the concept? I'm not sure. An older concept, panspermia, is ancient in its origins, but who first imagined an extraterrestrial intelligence coming to earth in the distant past? H.G. Wells touched upon the idea of a far older and more advanced civilization in his opening paragraphs of The War of the Worlds (1897). (There are echoes of Wells' opening in H.P. Lovecraft's opening of "The Call of Cthulhu.") Wells didn't exactly say that Martians had been here before, though. (Or at least I don't think he did.) Morris K. Jessup, about whom I wrote the other day, was one of the twentieth-century originators of the ancient astronaut hypothesis, but it's clear that others thought of it before he did. So when did it begin?

Original text copyright 2019 Terence E. Hanley

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