Monday, January 24, 2011

Pulp Fantasy Library: I Remember Lemuria

Since I mentioned Richard S. Shaver in my post last week on the occasion of Abraham Merritt's birthday, I thought it only right to devote this week's installment of Pulp Fantasy Library to him. In that post, I made reference to the 1947 tale "The Shaver Mystery," while indeed famous, was not Shaver's first tale of his experiences a the secret subterranean world. That distinction belongs to "I Remember Lemuria," which was first published in the March 1945 issue of Amazing Stories and proved to be one of the best-selling issues in the magazine's history.

There are a lot of reasons why "I Remember Lemuria" generated such a positive response with readers, but perhaps the most likely is that it doesn't present itself as fiction at all, a pose that is aided by its copious accompanying footnotes, most of which were supplied by Amazing's editor, Ray Palmer. For example, here's a long footnote on the deros:
Pressed for a more complete explanation, Mr. Shaver has defined "dero' for us:

"Long ago it happened that certain (underground) cities were abandoned and into those cities stole many mild mortals to live, At first they were normal people, though on a lower intelligence plane; and ignorant due to lack of proper education. It was inevitable that certain inhabitants of the culture forests lose themselves and escape proper development; and some of them are of faulty development. But due to their improper handling of the life-force and ray apparatus in the abandoned cities, these apparatii became harmful in effect. They simply did not realize that the ray filters of the ray mechanisms must be changed and much of the conductive metal renewed regularly. If such renewals are not made, the apparatus collects in itself—in its metal—a disintegrant particle which gradually turns its beneficial qualities into strangely harmful ones.

"These ignorant people learned to play with these things, but not to renew them; so gradually they were mentally impregnated with the persistently disintegrative particles. This habituates the creature's mind, its mental movements, to being overwhelmed by detrimental, evil force flows which in time produce a creature whose every reaction in thought is dominated by a detrimental will. So it is that these wild people, living in the same rooms with degenerating force generators, in time become dero, which is short for detrimental energy robot.

"When this process has gone on long enough, a race of dero is produced whose every thought movement is concluded with the decision to kill. They will instantly kill or torture anyone whom they contact unless they are extremely familiar with them and fear them. That is why they do not instantly kill each other—because, being raised together, the part of their brain that functions has learned very early to recognize as friend or heartily to fear the members of their own group. They recognize no other living thing as friend; to a dero all new things are enemy.

"To define: A dero is a man who responds mentally to dis impulse more readily than to his own impulses. When a dero has used old. defective apparatus full of dis particle accumulations, they become so degenerate that they are able to think only when a machine is operating and they are using it; otherwise they are idiot. When they reach this stage they are known as 'ray' (A Lemurian word not to be confused with ray as it is used in English.) Translated, ray means 'dangerous or detrimental energy animal.' Ray is also used to mean a soldier—one of those who handles beam weapons (note how the ancient meaning has come into our modern word)."—Ed.

That's a pretty representative example of what the footnotes accompanying this story are like, though some are shorter and a few are even longer. Reading them gives the impression that the editor believes every word of what Shaver has written and that he endorses it as true. As it turns out, Ray Palmer did believe this, or at least publicly claimed to do so. There's apparently some question as to whether Palmer's beliefs were merely a marketing ploy intended to sell more copies of Amazing Stories and other books relating to Shaver's wild theories.

"I Remember Lemuria" owes its origin to a letter that Shaver wrote to Palmer sometime in 1943. In that letter, Shaver claimed to have learned how to understand an ancient language (called Mantong) that was not only the root of other human languages but also worked as a cipher for decoding the deeper meanings hidden within those languages. Intrigued, Palmer asked to hear more about Shaver's discovery and the two exchanged many letters that resulted in Palmer's becoming convinced of the truth of Shaver's claims. Shaver eventually sent Palmer a large document describing a secret underground world filled with ancient races and powerful technologies. Palmer then reworked this document into the even-larger first person account of Mutan Mion, an ancient inhabitant of Sub Atlan (subterranean Atlantis), to whose memories Shaver somehow had access. "I Remember Lemuria" thus presents itself as an eyewitness account of the final days of Sub Atlan, before most of its people leave it and the Earth behind for a new home on "a planet with untouched coal deposits located near the Nortan group of planets."

As silly as this all may sound, "I Remember Lemuria" is strangely compelling. Just as Mantong is supposedly the root of all human languages, so too is this story the root of so many modern day occult conspiracy theories. A big part of what makes it so compelling is the absolute conviction with which Shaver (and Palmer) present this story. He's so adamant about the reality of what he's presenting that one can't help but wonder, if only briefly, if he really did experience something he can't explain. As he says in his foreword:
I myself cannot explain it. I know only that I remember Lemuria! Remember it with a faithfulness that I accept with the absolute conviction of a fanatic. And yet, I am not a fanatic; I am a simple man, a worker in metal, employed in a steel mill in Pennsylvania. I am as normal as any of you who read this and gifted with much less imagination than most of you!

What I tell you is not fiction! How can I impress that on you as forcibly as I feel it must be impressed? But then. what good to impress it upon those who will crack wise about me being a "sharp-shaver"? I can only hope that when I have told the story of Mutan Mion as I remember it you will believe—not because I sound convincing or tell my story in a convincing manner, but because you will see the truth in what I say, and will realize, as you must, that many of the things I tell you are not a matter of present day scientific knowledge and yet are true!

I fervently hope that such great minds as Einstein, Carrel, and the late Crile check the things that I remember. I am no mathematician; I am no scientist. I have studied all the scientific books I can get—only to become more and more convinced that I remember true things. But surely someone can definitely say that I am wrong or that I am right, especially in such things as the true nature of gravity, or matter, of light, of the cause of age and many other things that the memory of Mutan Mion has expressed to me so definitely as to be conviction itself.

I intend to put down these things, and I invite—challenge!—any of you to work on them; to prove or disprove, as you like. Whatever your goal, I do not care. I care only that you believe me or disbelieve me with enough fervor to do some real work on those things I will propound. The final result may well stagger the science of the world.

Is it any wonder, then, that "I Remember Lemuria" and the stories that followed (such as "The Shaver Mystery") proved so popular with readers of Amazing Stories and inspired a craze about the hollow earth and its supposed inhabitants? I'm pretty sure Richard Shaver was crazy, but his ravings are nevertheless intriguing and inspirational and I can't deny that I've turned to him on more than one occasion when looking for ideas. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

4 comments:

  1. I love the whole Richard Shaver story and am currently working on a comic book about Richard Shaver's life, stories and art (for a sneak peek at chapter 1 (which I may or may not revise before the whole thing is done, visit:
    http://aldeboran.blogspot.com/2010/11/evil-underground-chapter-one_06.html ). (sorry for spamming your blog to flog my comic --- hopefully other Shaverians will find it interesting).

    I understand the Shaver and Palmer had some pretty vehement disagreements about the way that the stories of the Shaver Mystery were presented. Palmer wanted to present them as 'ancestral memories' or out-of-body experiences --- so when Shaver would tell a story about being captured and tortured by the Dero, Palmer wanted to make it more "plausible" by explaining it as some sort of 'out of body' experience or ancestral memory. Shaver insisted that he, himself, had been in the caverns and was against Palmer's re-interpretation.

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  2. I've read Shaver's stories many times, chiefly because of their historical place in hollow-Earth fiction. Looking at them from our perspective, it's a bit hard to wrap your head around the level of excitement and devotion generated by Shaver and his "memories," at least initially. The stories seem rather pathetically dated now, but I suppose they were fresh at the time, and a sizable body of people latched onto them with the fervor of religious converts. They couldn't ALL have been paranoid schizophrenics ... could they?
    It would seem that Gary was familiar with the stories, too, since they seem to be the source for the derro (which Shaver spelled with one r).

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  3. I also ATTEMPTED to read some of Shaver's stories (including this one) due to my interest in hollow-Earth and such topics. However, I found the writing to be so bad that it was an impossible slog, and after finally finishing this story (with some skimming) and starting to skim another story long enough to realise it was the more of the same I had to give up in disgust.

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  4. I love the whole Richard Shaver story and am currently working on a comic book about Richard Shaver's life, stories and art (for a sneak peek at chapter 1 (which I may or may not revise before the whole thing is done, visit:
    http://aldeboran.blogspot.com/2010/11/evil-underground-chapter-one_06.html ). (sorry for spamming your blog to flog my comic --- hopefully other Shaverians will find it interesting).


    I'd forgotten about this project! How is progressing? I'd love to see it finally see print, because what I saw of your samples was amazing.

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