Archive for January 27th, 2020

Though I’ve always loved old-style science fantasy, I have an especial love for “lost race” and “lost city” stories, in which a modern (i.e., 19th or early 20th century) hero stumbles upon some ancient (and often previously-unknown) race of people hidden away in some remote part of the globe, cut off from contact with the modern world by some kind of natural barrier such as a treacherous mountain range, an impassable desert, a dangerous jungle, etc.  The works of Edgar Rice Burroughs are full of tales of such hidden places, and A. Merritt’s entire oeuvre consisted of them; Wakanda from the Black Panther movie is a famous example, but as one might expect they’re not common any more for the simple reason that global satellite mapping has made the concept of such a hidden land unbelievable.  Recently, I received as a gift the mid-19th century novel A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder, which describes a lost civilization in the Antarctic; Amazon then helpfully informed me that Richard Shaver’s weird tales, out of print since the ’40s, are now available again in paperback.  Of course I had to put them on my wishlist, and a kind gentleman has already sent me the first volume.  But since most of you probabably have absolutely no idea what the hell I’m talking about, I’ll give you a quick synopsis.

Richard Shaver was an unemployed (and probably schizophrenic) Pennsylvania welder who believed that the Earth had once been ruled by a powerful humanoid race who discovered that they were being poisoned by solar radiation, and so moved their entire civilization underground.  They later decided to abandon the Earth entirely, fleeing to an apparently-healthier star in a huge fleet of spaceships and leaving the weak and inferior behind to give rise to modern man.  But their former slaves remained in the cities, degenerating into beings Shaver called “Deros” (short for “detrimental robots”) who were wholly evil and perverse and delighted in using the machines left by the ancients to inflict all sorts of harm on the descendants of their former masters.  They had various rays that could drive people insane (causing mass shootings and the like) or cause earthquakes and other natural disasters, and they used these for their sick idea of fun.  But their most terrifying behavior was to occasionally venture to the near-surface (subway tunnels, basements, etc) to abduct hapless surface-dwellers (especially women, of course), whom they would then use as sex slaves in sadomasochistic orgies in their underground cities.  Shaver wrote a plethora of stories based on this mythos, and from 1945 to 1948 he was the most popular writer in the pulp magazine Amazing Stories, whose editor Raymond Palmer (a bit of a latter-day Barnum in his way) promoted the tales, which Shaver insisted were true, as “The Shaver Mystery”.  Readers who preferred harder sci-fi (among them the young Harlan Ellison) criticized it instead as “The Shaver Hoax”, and eventually interest declined enough for Palmer to drop the series.  But while Palmer was a showman out for a buck, poor Shaver really believed in his fantasies and continued to (intermittently) self-publish a magazine called The Hidden World for most of the ’50s.  From the early ’60s until his death in 1975, he then devoted himself to photographing and painting what he called “rock books”, mineral formations he believed were something like primordial solid-state memory crystals in which the ancients had stored images and data with something like a laser (ironically, interest in his images of these “books” has increased since the early ’90s, and there have been a number of exhibitions of his work in this century).

I’m not just telling you all this as an amusement; as usual, there’s a connection to my larger body of work.  Whenever some kind of crackpot idea gets into the popular culture as Shaver’s did, there will always be people who embrace it to a near-cultic degree; compare the recent popularity of Zecharia Sitchin’s ideas about the alien Anunnaki from the planet Nibiru.  Shaver was no exception, and though his mass popularity faded in just a few years, “Shaver Mystery Clubs” continued throughout the ’50s and into the ’60s (and some may still exist, as far as I know).  But consider the basic elements of the Shaver mythos:  evil, malign sexual perverts with mysterious powers lurking around the world, abducting women in large numbers to use as sex slaves in hidden underground lairs.  Sound familiar?  How about if I tell you that Shaver claimed that he had been a prisoner of the Deros from 1934 to 1942, and that during the height of the “Mystery”, Amazing Stories printed a letter from a woman who claimed she had been captured by the evil creatures in a sub-basement in Paris and kept as a sex slave for several months until she escaped?  As I explained in “Imagination Pinned Down” and “Mind-witness Testimony“, some humans have always reported abduction (usually sexual, often with strong BDSM overtones) by and captivity among beings such as nymphs, fairies, goblins, witches, Deros, aliens, Satanists and “sex traffickers” with mind-control powers.  And while they serve as a good basis for fascinating tales and entertaining fantasies, they’re a terrible and dangerous foundation for public policies.

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