by Dale R. Broadhurst
Wondrous Secrets or Outrageous Nonsense?
A few years back I had the interesting experience of conversing with two adherents of Theosophy, here on the Big Island of Hawaii. This elderly couple were no "join an esoteric cult by mail-order" sort of folks -- rather, they were dyed-in-the-wool, lived-at-Ojai, occult evangelists, out to enlighten my clouded mind. They knew all about the hidden locations of Atlantis, Lemuria and Hyperboria and many other wondrous secrets. Unfortunately they had never heard of Barsoom and I felt it might be best to remain silent about such "hidden lore" as I had to share. After thinking the matter over for a considerable time, I've decided to unfold my budget of otherworldly riches here, where all may partake equally.
In my youthful days, I had the good fortune to live near the world class science fiction fan, Edward Wood. Ed kept a big pile of the sword 'n' sorcery fanzine Amra on one of his many bookshelves, and I developed the habit of thumbing through these interesting volumes whenever I visited the fellow. One day my wandering eyes came upon an article tucked away in the September, 1959 issue, entitled "John Carter -- Sword of Theosophy." It was penned by the incomparable Fritz Leiber, of Grey Mouser fame, and I found it a fascinating piece of reporting. Briefly, Mr. Leiber presented his opinion, that Edgar Rice Burroughs may have owed some debt of inspiration to the early proponents of Theosophical teachings, when he wrote his initial piece of published fiction, "My First Adventure on Mars" (a.k.a. "Under the Moons of Mars," "A Princess of Mars," etc.) In other words, a strange, east-meets-west sect of occultists were the grandparents of John Carter and Dejah Thoris! If that notion sounds a bit suspect here in good old 2004, it was taken as rabid blasphemy 40 years ago when Leiber first presented the idea to his readers. Well, maybe the sword 'n' sorcery set wasn't much bothered by such ideas, but the fledgling Burroughs Bibliophiles, "faithful keepers of the flame," were scandalized by this outrageous nonsense. Or was it really nonsense? Stolid Ed Wood told me that Leiber was probably more right than wrong in his revisionist opinions -- and that set my young fannish head spinning!
Here is a short excerpt from Leiber's article (©1959 by George H. Scithers). The full text may be found reprinted in L. Sprague de Camp & George H. Scithers' The Conan Swordbook, (Mirage Press, 1969) and in Fritz Leiber's Fafhrd and Me, (Wildside, 1990).
Some twelve years ago... I ran across a piece on California cults which contained a summary of Theosophy's speculations about past and future races of earth. What this summary described sounded to me very much like good old Barsoom with its green men, white priests, levitating battleships, egg-laying princesses, and all the rest. In short, I got the impression that Edgar Rice Burroughs had found in Theosophy a rich source of background materials for his Mars books; his chief job seemed to have been adding canals and atmosphere plants...
Theosophy was the creation of Helena Petrovna Blavatsky, a Russian noble girl born in 1831... She was a whiz at extemporizing cosmologies, psychologies, and mysterious systems of all sorts, working in a period when simple religious faiths were tottering, everybody was arguing about evolution... she founded the Theosophical Society and in 1877 she wrote Isis Unvailed, a large book. In 1888, three years before her death, Madame Blavatsky copyrighted The Secret Doctrine: The Synthesis of Science, Religion and Philosophy, which fully lives up to its title... [and] largely organized as a commentary on quotations from The Book of Dzyan, "An Archaic Manuscript" preserved from primal times by Indian adepts. ... Volume II ... deals with past, present, and future forms of intelligent life. According to the Theosophical phantasmagoria, there are seven "Root Races," each consisting of seven "Sub-Races." I find parallels between these and the races descended from the Barsoomian Tree of Life as described by Burroughs...
Leiber goes on to quote Blavatsky: "The Second Race was the product of budding and expansion, the asexual from the sexless," and adds that her teaching "suggests the Barsoomian plant men" as they developed from the Martian Tree of Life. Blavatsky continues: "Then the Second evolved the egg-born, the Third." Leiber equated her earthly "Third Root Race" with the "oviparous humanoid Martians," among whom would have been the semi-human green Barsoomians and the more developed black First Born true humans. While Blavatsky's account does not exactly parallel what Leiber found in Burroughs' Martian tales, he felt that the similarities in both texts were strong enough to imply some connection. For example, Blavatsky says of the very tall Third Race: "There were four-armed human creatures in those early days of the male-females." Leiber comments: "Here one thinks of the green Martians with their two pairs of arms." The match is not a perfect one, but Blavatsky's giant, four-armed, Third Race "Lemurians" are more than a little like giant, six-limbed Tharks and Warhoons.
Mrs. Blavatsky's teachings were later developed by Theosophists like William Scott-Elliot, who wrote about ancient Atlantis and Lemuria years before Edgar Rice Burroughs ever sold a story. Leiber says: "Scott-Elliot's picture of an Atlantean sub-race, the Toltec... sounds remarkably like Burroughs' red Martians: 'They were ... copper-colored, tall, and with Grecian features. Their science was very advanced. There were Toltec airships which operated by a cosmic force unknown today.'" Leiber was also impressed with other Theosophical teachings seemingly duplicated in ERB's Mars books. These duplications include: "instantaneous interplanetary travel by thought power; each planet having its characteristic ray... and airships held aloft by tanks of these rays; Methuselah-size lifetimes of one thousand years;... creation of phantom and living matter by thought power... and finally the oppression and persecution of wise free-thinkers by an evil priesthood."
Here's how Leiber develops this last literary parallel and concludes his article
Anyone familiar with Rosicrucian advertisements knows their thinly-veiled claims of persecution by organized religion, apparently chiefly the Roman Catholic Church...
On Barsoom the evil priesthood is represented by the Holy Therns, whose diabolic activities sound very much like those of Rome as described by the wilder Protestant propagandists. False celibates, they riot in luxury in their secret Vatican City near Barsoom's south pole, indulging their sadistic lusts. Of course they are good swordsmen too... And Phaidor, daughter of Matai Shang, Father of Holy Therns, is right up there with Pope Joan in the Sex-Spiced-With-Blasphemy department.
... it seems to me very plausible that Burroughs' writing in California in the early part of this century, should have found background material in the cults flourishing right around him. To discover, if it can be done, the precise books, articles, and accounts he leaned on, is beyond my energies or ambition. Research in a pseudo-science like Theosophy is of a particularly wearying sort, since the writers lean heavily on mysterious hints, jumble known history and play fast and loose with proper names, have no regard for order or consistency, and are quite willing to confuse and baffle the reader, if it seems to add to the general impressiveness. As with most crackpots and fanatics, their so-called explanations are really an arsenal of arguments, sometimes wonderfully tied together and subtly appealing to different intellectual weaknesses in the reader, but designed to prove, confute, or evade rather than to explain....
Of course ERB's initial Mars tales were written in Illinois, not "in California in the early part of this [20th] century." It seems rather difficult to believe that Burroughs consistently "found background material in the cults flourishing right around him" and then actively incorporated that esoterica into his fictional stories throughout the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s. On the other hand, Professor Carl A. Raschke, the Chair of the Department of Religious Studies at the University of Denver and Editor of the Journal for Cultural and Religious Theory, has recently stated that the "relationship between occult fantasy and the actual practice of the occult is well established in history." He then goes on to claim that "Writers such as... Edgar Rice Burroughs, progenitor of the Tarzan and Jane tales, were practicing occultists..." (Painted Black: From Drug Killings to Heavy Metal Music, San Francisco: Harper & Row, 1990). However, Professor Raschke gives no evidence for this bizarre assertion, and (as Philosophy prof Bob Zeuschner recently opined) Raschke's dubious claims may have originated in a naive reading of what Fritz Leiber once had to say (that ERB plausibly "found background material in the cults") -- or perhaps from de Camp's equally dubious allegation, that ERB "came under" the Theosophists' "whimsical spell."
So much for these old writers' careless,
unsupported remarks reincarnating themselves into publishable proof of
ERB's satanic intentions, in the ivory tower research of even carelesser
contemporary academics (Harper & Row identify the author of Painted
Black as "America's leading authority on satanism and contemporary
occultism...") But, what about Leiber's list of parallels between early
Theosophical teachings and the first two or three Mars books? Can a less
devilish case for literary borrowing (or, even for innocent unconscious
influence) be made on that score alone?
De-Camping Twixt Leiber and Lupoff
True believers, like the two octogenarian Theosophical missionaries I met with some months back, swear that just about every word spoken by Mrs. Blavatsky (pictured on the left) is the honest-to-gosh truth. So, when I pass on reports that she herself was strongly influenced by earlier writers, I hope I'm not offending any occult sensibilities. May Koot Hoomi forgive me, if I do.
I'm told that Fritz Leiber was not the first literary critic to link Edgar Rice Burroughs with Theosophy. The well known science fiction and fantasy author, Lyon Sprague de Camp, evidently did that in a series of articles published in late 1952 and early 1953 in Other Worlds Science Fiction. This series was expanded to become his 1954 Gnome Press book, Lost Continents: The Atlantis Theme in History, Science and Literature. I only have the 1970 revised edition (from Dover Publications) in front of me, so I cannot vouch for the earlier texts. But here is part of what de Camp had to say about one of Blavatsky's more widely read predecessors in the "lost wisdom of the past" game.
Ignatius T. T. Donnelly (1831-1901) was a man "with an extremely active mind, but possessing also that haste to form judgments and that lack of critical sense in testing them, which are often the result of self-education conducted by immense and unsystematic reading." ... At 28 he was elected Lieutenant-Governor of Minnesota. Thence he was sent to Congress, and for eight years, when not attending upon the nation's business, spent his time in the Library of Congress soaking up information... in 1870, Donnelly retired to his rambling mansion to write the first of several very successful books: Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, brought out by Harper in 1882, which went through at least fifty printings... He followed it with Ragnarok, The Age of Fire and Ice, which argued (wrongly) that the Pleistocene Ice Age was brought on by the collision of the earth with a comet... (pp. 37-38)
Moving on, de Camp describes the ties between Blavatsky, Donnelly, and other contemporary writers of the same ilk.
The greatest of modern occultists... was Helena P. Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy.... [who] took as her occult partner Henry Steel Olcott... Theosophy really got started when the pair moved to India, where Mme. Blavatsky learned to combine her considerable knowledge of Western magic and occultism with a wide and inaccurate smattering of East Indian philosophy and mythology... In 1882 she was dazzling a pair of well-connected Anglo-Indian dupes, the newspaper editor Arnold P. Sinnett and the government official Alan Octavian Hume, by delivering letters she said were written by her "Master" Koot Hoomi... [beginning a] stunning occult cosmogony that she later advanced, a vast synthesis of Eastern and Western magic and myth about... the seven Root Races of mankind... and the Brotherhood of Mahatmas who run the world from headquarters in Tibet... [through] their astral bodies.
Mme. Blavatsky had picked up the Lemuria theory in the course of her reading and incorporated it, along with Atlantis, into her own gaudy cosmos... [in] The Secret Doctrine... supposedly based upon the Book of Dzyan... originally composed in Atlantis in the forgotten Senzar language. The Secret Doctrine consists of quotations from the Dzyan and Mme. Blavatsky's lengthy commentaries thereon...
... we are told that the history of the earth runs thus: Life evolves through seven cycles or "Rounds," during which mankind develops through seven Root Races, each comprising seven sub-races. The First Root Race, a kind of astral jellyfish, lived on an Imperishable Sacred Land. The Second, a little more substantial, dwelt in the former arctic continent of Hyperborea. The Third were the apelike hermaphroditic egg-laying Lemurians, some with four arms and some with an eye in the back of their heads, whose downfall was caused by their discovery of sex... The Fourth Root Race were the quite human Atlanteans. We are the Fifth, and the Sixth will soon appear....
Doctrine, I grieve to say, is neither so ancient, so erudite, nor so
authentic as it pretends to be... William Emmette Coleman, outraged by
Madame Blavatsky's pretensions to Oriental learning, undertook a complete
exegesis of her works.... showed that her main sources were H. H. Wilson's
translation of the Vishnu Purana; Alexander Winchell's World
Life; or, Comparative Geology; Donnelly's Atlantis; and other
contemporary scientific and occult works, plagiarized without credit and
used in a blundering manner that showed but skin-deep acquaintance with
the subjects under discussion. She cribbed at least part of her Stanzas
of Dzyan from the Hymn of Creation in the old Sanskrit Rig-Veda,
as a comparison of the two compositions will readily show. (pp. 54-58)
Whither the Eden of Hyperborea?
Mr. de Camp provides some details on the subject of Hyperborea, a mythical land that the Greeks placed in the Far North, beyond the bounds of known civilization. He says that they "imagined that the Arctic was a fine place with a balmy climate, where men lived a thousand years." The early Theosophists solved the problem of Hyperborea, Lemuria, and Atlantis, never being discovered by modern explorers, by explaining that each of these fabulous lands had long ago sunk into the ocean. Thus, the primeval homes of what evolved into earthly humanity were forever lost. In the place of the once pleasant Eden of Hyberborea, only frigid polar seas and barren ice caps now exist. Actually, Blavatsky never quite explained what happened to her "Imperishable Sacred Land" at the north pole. If it is not sunken under the ocean, it is still sunken out of sight -- somewhere.
Although de Camp did not explicitly make the connection in his text, he evidently equated Blavatsky's version of polar Hyperborea with the Barsoomian polar Valley of Dor; her Lemuria with the dry sea beds of the Red Planet, and her Atlantis with the patches of civilized humanity still clinging to life on that dying world. In leading up to presenting his conclusions in this regard, de Camp says:
Later Theosophical writers... clothed H. P. B.'s somewhat skeletal account of lost continents with a substantial body of detail....
English Theosophist W. Scott-Elliot claimed... the First Root Race, living in the polar "Sacred Land" or Polarea, had astral bodies only...They reproduced by fission like amebas.... the Second Root Race had physical bodies... [and] lived in the great northern continent of Hyperborea... [then] the equally great southern continent of Lemuria took form. Lemuria flourished in the Mesozoic Era and hence was infested by dinosaurs and other dangerous reptiles...
When the Manu, one of the supernatural supervisors of the Theosophical universe, decided to bring human evolution a step further forward, he took as his model the apelike creatures that had already evolved on other planets... the author quotes a description of a Lemurian: He was between twelve and fifteen feet tall with a brown skin, a flat face with a protruding muzzle, and small eyes set so wide apart that he could see sideways as well as forward... he could walk equally well backward and forward. He wore a loose robe of reptile skin, carried a wooden spear, and led a pet plesiosaur on a leash...
While originally egg-laying hermaphrodites, the Lemurians began to learn about sex during the period of their Fourth Sub-Race, and by their Fifth Sub-Race were reproducing their kind as we do. Being stupid things, they interbred with beasts, the products of this perverted union being the great apes. ... other beings, from Venus which had already developed a high civilization,... guided faltering humankind to the point where the Lemurians became capable of individual immortality and reincarnation. The Venerians also taught the Lemurians the arts of keeping fire, metallurgy, weaving, and agriculture. By the time the Lemurians reached their Seventh Sub-Race they looked fairly human....
... [in] time the Fourth Root Race, the Atlantean, appeared. The first Sub-Race of this Root Race, the Rmoahals, moved from the remnants of Lemuria to Atlantis, though some of them stayed behind and interbred with the surviving Lemurians, the resulting half-breeds looking like American Indians with blue skins. The first Rmoahals, black-skinned men ten or twelve feet tall, settled on the southern coast of Atlantis and fought endless wars with the Sixth and Seventh Sub-Races of the Lemurians. Organized warfare was invented at this time, though the Lemurians had previously indulged in desultory raiding and murder. With the passage of ages the Rmoahals grew shorter; some migrated to northern Atlantis where their skins became lighter... Cro-Magnons... were their direct descendants...
The next Sub-Race, the Tlavatlis, were a hardy reddish-brown people... Whereas the bestial Lemurians and the childish Rmoahals were incapable of self-government, the Tlavatlis had attained the point of choosing chiefs or kings by acclamation. The next Sub-Race, the Toltecs, ushered in the great period of Atlantean glory... They were redskins, a mere eight feet tall ...
[in] time the next Sub-Race, the Turanians, appeared and fought with the Toltecs. The newcomers were a lawless, turbulent, cruel, and brutal lot, ruthless and irresponsible individualists who to increase their population for warfare practiced complete sexual promiscuity... they gave rise to the more civilized and psychically gifted Mongolians...
Scott-Elliot goes on to describe life in Atlantis. Under the Toltec emperors the Atlanteans were subject to a collectivistic despotism...Their sciences were highly developed. ... In war they fought with swords, spears, bows, and gas-bombs thrown from catapults. Their aircraft were boat-shaped structures made of plywood and light alloys, and propelled by jets of the vril-force ... The emperor had a fleet of aerial warships carrying 50 to 100 men each...
life in the Theosophical Atlantis resembles nothing so much as life on
Mars as pictured in the Martian novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. (emphasis
added -- pp. 60-67)
L. Sprague de Camp's conclusions, in this particular text, do not reach the level of saying that Edgar Rice Burroughs copied anything from the Theosophists. He just presents his thoughts, in an off-handed sort of way, and then moves on to more discussion of "lost continents." In 1964, however, de Camp was back, expanding upon his earlier comments. This was in Ancient Ruins and Archaeology, in which he and his wife compiled a set of articles written between 1946 and 1962. Here the author's earlier writings on Blavatsky and Theosophical teachings were brought up to date, and supplemented by a short mention of Leiber's 1959 article on the same subject. This compilation, in turn, was revised in 1973 and published by Ballantine Books as Citadels of Mystery. I'll give some excerpts from the 1973 edition, even though part of what is said there runs a little ahead of the progression of ideas I wish to present right now:
The greatest of modern occultists was Helena P. Blavatsky, the founder of Theosophy... she picked up the Lemuria theory in the course of her reading and incorporated it, along with Atlantis, into her own gaudy cosmos. Her doctrines took final, if wildly confused, form in... The Secret Doctrine. This book, she said, was based upon am Atlantean treatise, The Book of Dzyan. ... we are told that life on earth is evolving through seven cycles or Rounds. During this time, mankind develops through seven Root Races, each comprising seven Sub-Races. The Theosophical concept of evolution, however, is utterly different from Darwin's.
The First Root Race, we learn, was a kind of astral jellyfish, invisible to ordinary human eyes, who lived in the polar Imperishable Sacred Land. The Second Root Race, a little more substantial, dwelt in the arctic continent of Hyperborea (derived, like Atlantis, from Greek myths and geographical speculations). As the continent of Hyperborea broke up by the sinking of its various parts, that of Lemuria formed, occupying most of the Southern Hemisphere. The Third Root Race were the giant, apelike, hermaphroditic Lemurians, some with four arms and some with eyes in the backs of their heads. Their downfall was caused by their discovery of sex.... Then Lemuria broke up ... while Atlantis took shape in the North Atlantic. The Fourth Root Race were the highly civilized Atlanteans. As Atlantis in turn sank, as a result of a long series of catastrophes, islands in other parts of the world grew into the present continents. We of today are the Fifth Root Race, and the Sixth will soon evolve from the present-day Americans. In the distant future, South America will give birth to the Seventh and last Root Race.
After H.P.B. died in 1891... other Theosophists wrote books in which they clothed Mme. Blavatsky's skeletal account of the history of mankind with the flesh of lush and colorful detail. William Scott-Elliott, a scholarly English merchant-banker fascinated by the then novel study of comparative religion, composed... the most readable Theosophical account of Lemuria and Atlantis. In this you can read about twelve-foot, skin-clad Lemurians leading pet plesiosaurs on leashes; about the adepts from Venus who guided the evolution of these sub-men into the wholly human Atlanteans; about the sorcerer-kings who ruled Atlantis from the City of the Golden Gates; and about other wizardly wonders.
The Theosophical accounts of Lemuria and Atlantis were put to practical use by a novice adventure-story writer, Edgar Rice Burroughs, the creator of Tarzan. In 1912 Burroughs published a serial, Under the Moons of Mars, in All-Story Weekly. Five years later the same story appeared as a book under the title A Princess of Mars and became the first of ten novels of this series.
Martians were essentially Theosophical Atlanteans and Lemurians, removed
to a Mars based upon the then popular theories of the astronomer Percival
Lowell... We have not been able to learn just how and when Burroughs acquired
his knowledge of Theosophical Atlantism... we are told that his library
contained no Theosophical books. But some contact there must have been,
for the resemblances are too many for mere chance. For example, Burroughs'
noble Red Martians are derived from the Theosophical Toltecs, one of the
Atlantean races. They use flying machines much like those of Theosophical
Atlantis. His gigantic, four-armed, popeyed, egg-laying Green Martians
are nothing but H.P.B.'s Lemurians transplanted. ... For a further account
of these derivations, see Fritz Leiber: "John Carter: Sword of Theosophy,"
in Amra (a fan magazine), Il, 6 (Sept. 1959) pp. 3-9. Burroughs
also borrowed ideas from Edwin Lester Arnold's Martian novel, Lieut. Gulliver
Jones: His Vacation (Lon.: 1905). (emphasis added -- pp. 228-232)
The Literary Tour de Camp Continues
L. Sprague de Camp did not stop here. In the years that followed he published similar ideas in various publications, including a 1965 piece in Amra II:37, in which he reinforced his advocacy of Madame Blavatsky and Percival Lowell as ERB sources (at the expense of some interesting alternative notions then being expounded by Richard A. Lupoff). I'll quote from one of these below, but with an additional notice to the reader, that de Camp's remarks concerning Edwin Lester Arnold's novels get a bit ahead of my intended chronology for "revisiting" this whole subject of literary dependence in the writings of Edgar Rice Burroughs. This is from de Camp's article, "Thoats, Tharks and Thews -- A Literary Tour of John Carter's Mars Unearths the Inspirations for Edgar Rice Burroughs' Red Planet Adventures," which appeared in the April, 1987 issue of Starlog.
... Some of Burroughs' sources are obvious... A main root of Barsoom obviously lies in the writings of Percival Lowell (1855-1916).... Lowell's books included Mars as the Abode of Life (1908), eloquently arguing that ... civilized Martians built canals to lead water from the poles to the tropical regions. The lines he had seen... must be strips of vegetation bordering these canals...
Burroughs eagerly adopted Lowell's Martian canals and their civilized builders. Since it was agreed that the Martian atmosphere must be thinner than Earth's, Burroughs furnished the planet with an atmosphere factory to replenish the air as fast as it escaped into space.
Lowell's impact on Burroughs is clear. ... A less sure but probable influence on Burroughs' Mars was a 19th century author named Edwin Lester Arnold... Another root of Barsoom lies in Theosophy, a religious-magical cult founded by Helena Petrovna Blavatsky (1831-91). ... In 1888 Blavatsky published her magnum opus, The Secret Doctrine, wherein... we are told that man has evolved through seven Root Races... The Third Root Race were the gigantic, apelike, hermaphroditic, egg-laying Lemurians, with four arms and eyes in the backs of their heads....The Fourth Root Race was the human Atlantean; we are the Fifth, and the Sixth and Seventh are on the way.
died, her successors expanded on her account of lost continents and prehistoric
races.... the Toltecs, a sub-race of the Atlanteans, were red-skinned and...
flew aircraft propelled by vril.... When vril came to Burroughs' attention,
he transformed it into the Eighth Barsoomian Ray. Life on Barsoom, with
its four-armed giants, its red-skinned heroes and heroines, and its boatlike
aircraft resembles nothing so much as life in the Theosophists' Atlantis
and Lemuria. But I don't know how or when Burroughs came under their whimsical
spell. (pp. 19-21)
Fill 'er up with the 8th Ray -- er, Vril -- er, maybe Helium?
It appears that de Camp's early 1960s exposure to Fritz Leiber's "Sword of Theosophy" article reinforced his prior feelings, that there must be some substantial tie between the Barsoom Burroughs depicted in his stories and the ancient "lost continent" dwellers advocated by the occultists. But, as some other writers and ERB defenders were happy to point out, a stack of literary parallels, of the kind Leiber and de Camp had assembled, were hardly definitive proof that Burroughs had copied from the Theosophists. For example, although the occult scientists, National Socialists, and other peculiar "true believers" latched onto the mythical power of vril, the original idea was a fictional creation of the British novelist Edward Bulwer-Lytton, whose 1871 book, The Coming Race, tells of the greatly advanced "Vril-ya," who live within the earth and plan to subdue the outer surface of the planet through the application of their psychokinetic power. Burroughs may have simply run across this particular pseudo science in his likely perusal of hollow-Earth stories, with no consultation of the Theosophists at all.
During the early 1970s, super-fan Forrest J. Ackerman worked for a while with Ace Books as the managing editor of one of their science fiction lines. Ackerman padded a few of Ace's Perry Rhodan books with his own "Scientifilm World" articles and other contributions from SF fandom -- among these was a piece on Atlantis wherein de Camp's claims concerning ERB and the Theosophists were aired. To make a long story short, a reader brought all of this to the attention of ERB's son, Hulbert Burroughs. The younger Burroughs then disclosed that, to his knowledge, his father had no interest in or ties to Theosophy. Word of this no doubt got back to de Camp -- I rather think it was publicized in Amra -- but he still went ahead and wrote articles like his 1987 piece for Starlog. It thus became obvious that both Leiber and de Camp had overstepped the bounds of their research in stating their conclusions. And, to make matters worse, both had implied that ERB came under the "whimsical spell" of the occultists -- taking his supposed thematic borrowing from them as a conscious (and evidently surreptitious) effort to further embellish his fictional world. All of this said and done, de Camp could only lamely add that he did not "know how" it all had come about.
Contemporary commentators on the subject, like Richard A. Lupoff, have been wary enough of this lack of evidence to present this set of claims (Lupoff calls it the "Leiber-de Camp school of Barsoomogony") as an intriguing theory, but not at all as an established fact. On the other hand, Lupoff's own published views regarding ERB's possible literary borrowings have landed him in quite enough trouble with Burroughs defenders, without his having to advocate the Theosophical connection whatever.
A Quick Detour Through Matai Shangri-la
In his 1962 book, Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents, Professor Robert Wauchope gives some attention to the lost lands and lost races of the Theosophists, saying that Heindel's "announced intention was to reconcile the apparently conflicting mystic cosmologies of the famous Theosophist, Mme. H. P. Blavatsky, and of another revered occultist, A. P. Sinnett..." If Burroughs took the trouble to read any of these three writers, he might have found much that was useful in constructing alien cosmologies -- whether on Barsoom or within "The Inner World." This latter title was ERB's original name for the story that became At the Earth's Core, the first of his Pellucidar novels. It is generally admitted that Burroughs appropriated several of his hollow-Earth ideas from previous writers. A number of articles on this topic have appeared in various fan publications over the years and there is no need for me to reiterate all their plausible complexities. But -- the question naturally arises, did the writer of the Pellucidar tales expropriate any inner world concepts from the occult scientists?
Although some Theosophists and Rosicrucians have advocated the hollow-Earth notion as a reality, it would be an overstatement to attribute that pseudo-science to Blavatsky or her earliest followers. The lady did pay some journalistic compliments to William F. Lyon and M. L. Sherman's The Hollow Globe, in 1884, but Blavatsky did not openly incorporate that 1871 book's ideas into her Theosophical teachings. This publication, along with other similar works dating back to 1820s, presented the claim that there were great openings into the inner world, located at the Earth's poles. Since Blavatsky located her prehistoric "Imperishable Sacred Land" at the north pole, she might have easily disposed of the problematical lost land by relegating it to a Theosophical Pellucidar. Later occult scientists essentially did just that, but they evidently only published such claims after ERB's At the Earth's Core saw print in 1913.
Blavatsky also popularized in her writings
the story of Shambhala, a mythical "Sacred Land," lost to the view of the
outside world, behind the forbidding mountains of Central Asia. Shambhala
is not quite the Greeks' Hyperborea -- nor is it located anywhere near
the north pole -- but writers following in Blavatsky's wake managed to
cross-pollenate concepts from the two lost land mythologies, giving their
readers such literary hybrids as James Hilton's Lost Horizon. If
the lost Eden was not exactly hidden within the Arctic ice, it was at least
in a temperate vale stashed away among inaccessible and frigid mountains.
In some ways, ERB's Valley Dor on Mars anticipates the fictional land in
Horizon, albeit with an inverse view of the religion practiced there.
Since Hilton derived his ideas indirectly from the Theosophists, it is
not improbable that Burroughs duplicated bits and pieces of Pellucidar
and the Valley Dor from the similar sources.
Journey to the Center of the Earth -- and beyond
Throughout his Lost Tribes & Sunken Continents, Professor Wauchope delights in lumping Theosophists, Rosicrucians and Mormons together, as religious proponents of some rather bizarre ideas regarding pre-history, lost peoples and predicted futures. The writer, however, never quite makes his case, in regard to the teachings of the Latter Day Saints. This third set of believers do not generally teach that Atlantis and Lemuria were real places -- or that the red-skinned Toltecs evolved from six-limbed giants eons ago. At first blush, the Mormons would appear to be far removed from holding hands with the occultists, or with a dream-weaver like Edgar Rice Burroughs. But, there are still more pieces to add to the puzzle of the lost land. Read on.
In his initial inner world story, ERB sends his protagonist there by way of the "Iron Mole," a mechanical prospecting vehicle capable of boring through hundreds of miles of subterranean rock. This appears to be a unique story device, not at all related to the pseudo-scientific conceits of the Mormons or the occultists. It far more resembles an idea from the Sunday newspaper comics than from Sunday School. A likely source for the "Iron Mole" may be found in 1910 issues of the Sunday Chicago Tribune, where cartoonist M. L. Wells chronicled in color his "Old Opie Dilldock's Stories." In one of these 1910 illustrated Sunday full-pages, Opie plans a trip to the south pole and constructs an "earth borer" in his secret workshop, in order to make the trip there by way of a straight line through the Earth. Utilizing a hydrogen-oxygen fuel cell for power, the ingenious inventor propels his contraption to "the center of the earth." There he discovers strange intelligent beings, -- (elastic entities worthy of the draftsmanship of comics artist Jack Cole) -- one of which he takes with him on his return to the planet's surface.
While I doubt very much that Edgar
Rice Burroughs sat down with a pile of "Opie Dilldock's Stories," in order
to write out his 1913 "Inner World" adventure, some story elements from
this set of locally published cartoons may well have entered into the would-be
author's inner fantasies, and from there flowed out onto his pages of fiction,
probably more by happenstance than through his conscious design.
The attentive Burroughs reader will, no doubt, recall that there were other ways to reach the inner world than piloting a rock-drilling submarine into the underground strata. In later stories ERB imaginatively sent a manned dirigible through the Symmes' hole at the north pole, to accomplish the same task with much less grind and grit. All of which puts us back upon the road to the mythical lost land, hidden behind the Arctic ice and snows -- a sort of Valley Dor right here on good old terra firma, well --, if not on, then at least in our home planet.
Ah, but what, all might ask, is a "Symmes' hole"? Allow Richard A. Lupoff to explain:
Perhaps the first English-language document dealing with a hollow Earth... was an 1818 circular by Captain John Cleves Symmes... seriously advancing the hollow-earth theory...
Captain Symmes published a non-fiction volume about his theory in 1826, but six years earlier there had appeared Symzonia by Captain Adam Seaborn... Symmes himself. In this novel a ship enters the inner world through an opening at the south pole, and finds it inhabited and civilized, lighted by two suns... (ERB, Master of Adventure, p. 67.)
The imagined Symmes' holes" at the
north and south poles continued to pop up in works of fiction and pretensions
to science, all through the 19th and 20th centuries. Symmes' claims drew
the special attention of America's reading public beginning during the
1820s. His belief in polar openings to a habitable planetary interior gained
the writer both widespread publicity and mockery. One of his equally imaginative
readers was the writer Edgar Allan Poe, who incorporated a polar "Symmes'
hole" into his 1835 tale, Hans Pfaal. Another imaginative reader
may have been the first Mormon leader, Joseph Smith, Jr., who, in 1831,
taught that the ten lost tribes of ancient Israel had "their place of residence...
contiguous to the north pole; separated from the rest of the world by impassable
mountains of ice and snow." There is no reason to doubt that some of the
earliest Mormons had heard of Symmes' strange notions well before their
church was founded in 1830, and that Symmes' claims of there being habitable
land at or near the north pole were well compatible with Joseph Smith's
claims for the location of the missing Israelite tribes.
All through the 19th century, Mormons were keenly interested in Arctic explorations, hoping that they would discover the hidden, balmy land of the lost Israelites, somewhere near the north pole. When, in 1906, a book on an inhabitable inner world was published by William Reed, the Mormon editor of the Saints' Herald offered these illuminating comments:
While Mr. Reed's theory is only a theory as yet, it is one that is entirely within the range of possibilities... we have as much ground for believing that the earth is hollow, as Mr. Reed claims, as we have for believing that it is solid at the poles...
The demonstration of this theory will certainly be of interest to all Latter Day Saints, because if found to be true it greatly extends the possibilities of the fulfillment of scripture. For instance, the prophecies in reference to the lost tribes of Israel. Some have already begun to doubt the possibility of their fulfillment... They have argued that the explorers have reached such extreme northern latitudes, and found no habitable land, no place where a nation could exist, and have narrowed down the unexplored area to such small proportions, according to the usually accepted theory, that it is not possible that within the Arctic Circle can be found the home of the lost tribes...
... what do the prophecies say? ... the Book of Mormon... says: "...the Nephites and the Jews shall have the words of the lost tribes of Israel: and the lost tribes of Israel shall have the words of the Nephites and the Jews." ...The words of the lost tribes have not come to our knowledge yet. Where are they, and the people who have written them? Not in any known land. They have been led away, we are told. Is it not possible that they inhabit the interior of the earth? If birds and animals may migrate to the interior, as Mr. Reed holds... is it not possible that a human race could also exist there?
...[quoting the RLDS] Doctrine and Covenants 108:6: "And they who are in the north countries shall come in remembrance before the Lord, and their prophets shall hear his voice and shall no longer stay themselves, and they shall smite the rocks, and the ice shall flow down at their presence. And an highway shall be cast up in the midst of the great deep..." The tribes of Israel are to come from a north country, a land of ice...whether the earth be hollow or not; whether the lost tribes be inside the earth or on the outside, we need not doubt that all the Lord has spoken will be fulfilled.
The 1906 Mormon editorial renewed a
longstanding Mormon preoccupation with promoting hollow world pseudo-science
in the pages of the Saints Herald. As late as Dec. 1909 the editors
were still holding out the hope of there being no physical north pole "where
the lines of parallel slip off the rounded top of the world," and thus
preserving "the traditional teaching" by the Latter Day Saint leaders
Symmes' Holes, lost realms beyond the
polar ice, hidden Israelites, Vril-manipulating inner world aliens, the
Imperishable Sacred Land, and Tarzan at the Earth's Core -- what do they
all have in common? I'll leave my readers to consult their copies of the
Turgan for the probable answer. In the meanwhile, you'll
find me beyond the ice and snows, relaxing on the beaches of Matai Shangri-la.
THE DALE R. BROADHURST SWORD OF THEOSOPHY SERIES
Web Links of Interest
Fritz Leiber Home Page
Fritz Leiber's Tarzan and the Valley of Gold
A Princess of Mars
Official L. Sprague de Camp Website
At the Earth's Core
Blavatsky Net - Theosophy
Text of Blavatsky Online ~ Books by Blavatsky
Theosophy Library Online
Pravda: Sun and Human Civilization Inside the Earth
Pravda: Trip to Earth Core ~ Myth or Reality
A Voyage to Hollow Earth
John C. Symmes (1780-1829) Hollow Earth Theory
Edgar Rice Burroughs and L. Frank Baum: The Wizards of California by David Adams
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