Thursday, April 28, 2022

Lemuria, the Theosophical Continent

Mapped by William Scott-Elliot (1849-1919)Lemuria is the Theosophical continent. With fellow Theosophist Charles Webster Leadbetter (1854-1934), Scott-Elliot was also a kind of ethnologist of Lemuria and its fifteen-foot-tall, egg-laying people. There were other people before and after these Lemurians. They occurred in great variety, in varying heights and colors and bodily configurations. In reading about them in Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature by L. Sprague de Camp (Dover, 1974), I am reminded of the men of Edgar Rice Burroughs' version of Mars, and I wonder if Burroughs could have been influenced by Theosophy. Both he and they wrote of Lost Worlds. His red Martians also lay eggs.*

Scott-Elliot and Leadbetter remembered Lemuria. So did Richard S. Shaver (1907-1975), and he is credited with a story to that effect, conveniently called "I Remember Lemuria" and published in Amazing Stories in March 1945. Shaver's story was the first in the so-called Shaver Mystery of the mid to late 1940s. The mystery began with a letter to Ziff-Davis of Chicago in which Shaver described a discovery he had made of the ancient and forgotten language Mantong, a kind of proto-Indo-European language for people on the fringes of science and sanity. Editor Raymond A. Palmer (1910-1977) seized on the letter and printed a version of Shaver's Mantong in the January 1944 issue of Amazing Stories. The heading was "Mr. Shaver's Lemurian Alphabet." More than a year passed before Palmer published "I Remember Lemuria." Although Shaver got credit for the story, it was Raymond A. Palmer who turned it into something publishable (and probably readable, too). And it was Palmer, I think, who added the Lemurian/Race Memory-angle. I'm not sure that Shaver was very keen on that addition. Anyway, more stories of Lemuria and the Shaver Mystery followed. I have written about all of this before in my series "The Shaver Mystery." Click on the label on the right to read more.

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Raymond Palmer was familiar with Theosophy and its Lost Worlds. For years he pushed Oahspe, subtitled A New Bible, written anonymously and published in 1882. Palmer was also a Fortean and was responsible for Fate, the world's longest-running and most successful magazine of Forteana. And of course Palmer as much as anyone was responsible for successfully launching flying saucers and keeping them in the air. John Keel in fact dubbed Ray Palmer "the man who invented flying saucers." It's hard to argue with that idea.

Palmer seems to have been a man of boundless energy and enthusiasm, despite the fact that he was badly crippled in childhood and suffered time and again from ill health. He wrote reams of science fiction, science fantasy, space opera, editorial content, and (supposed) non-fiction, most of which is in the realms of Forteana, esoterica, the paranormal, and other fringe topics. He was an editor and publisher for all of his adult life. You might say that he was one of the editors who really shaped science fiction and fantasy during the 1930s to the 1950s. This is where the theorizing begins.

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A few weeks ago, I acquired part of a collection of science fiction, fantasy, and horror assembled by Margaret B. Nicholas and William Nicholas of Bartlett and Marietta, Ohio. Included in it are dozens of digest-sized science fiction and fantasy magazines from the 1950s and '60s. I have been looking through these magazines lately, and something stands out, or seems to stand out. What stands out is that there seems to have been three main strands in the look and feel of these magazines and their contents. First is what you might call the Raymond A. Palmer strand. Lurid, sensationalistic, maybe a little exploitative, fringe-worthy (my new word), this strand is represented by Palmer's own magazines plus some similar titles, such as Amazing Stories, Fantastic Stories of the Imagination, Imagination Stories of Science and FantasyOther Worlds Science Stories, and so on. I think this same kind of look and feel was in other magazines, too, such as Planet Stories of the 1940s and even the shudder pulps of the 1930s.

There are copies of GalaxyWorlds of If, and similar magazines in this collection, too. These represent a second strand, a more conservative, more nearly respectable, maybe even sometimes staid approach to science fiction and fantasy, but especially to science fiction. Science fiction writers of the 1950s often satirized the supposed conservatism and conformity of 1950s America. Yet some of the magazines in which their stories appeared seem to have used (almost) Reader's Digest as their model. It's almost like they were trying to break into mainstream America--to make of themselves something respectable instead of remaining on the fringes, like Palmer and his associates. I don't have any copies of Astounding Science Fiction in this collection, but it seems to me that Astounding under its renowned editor John W. Campbell, Jr. (1910-1971) was of the second type and probably its original. Lest you think Campbell and his writers were strictly science-minded and not given to fringe ideas, remember that the editor of Astounding had his own madman. And remember that Campbell's madman and that madman's ideas were and are far more dangerous and influential in people's lives than was Richard Shaver or anything he ever wrote. There is more about Campbell's madman coming up. In fact, part of the reason I have expanded this series is a discovery I think I have made about John W. Campbell, Jr., his madman, and their circle of writers and hangers-on.

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The third strand of magazines was unique, and it was subtitled just that: The Unique Magazine. Weird Tales had its imitators, but none that lasted or have lasted as far as I can tell. Weird Tales was more or less alone. It stayed to itself. It had its own singular vision. But maybe the third strand represented by Weird Tales ran like a river into another magazine that I have in my new collection. It's a connection--or a continuation--that I had never known about before. I have already mentioned the magazine. It's called Fate.


*Update (May 4, 2022): Reader Carrington B. Dixon has let us know that someone has already looked into the idea that Edgar Rice Burroughs was influenced by Theosophy. That someone was Fritz Leiber, Jr., in an essay called "John Carter: Sword of Theosophy," originally in Amra, September 1959, and reprinted in The Spell of Conan (Ace Books, 1990).

Dale R. Broadhurst looked into the question even more in his article "John Carter Beginnings? Part One: Wondrous Secrets or Outrageous Nonsense?" You can read it on the website Bill & Sue-On Hillman's ERBzine by clicking here. Mr. Broadhurst's conclusion is that Burroughs was not influenced by Theosophy. I suspect that these common ideas were in the zeitgeist of the times in which Madame Blavatsky and Edgar Rice Burroughs lived. There need not have been influence of one on the other.

To be continued . . .

Text copyright 2022 Terence E. Hanley

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