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The Curious History of the Shaver Mystery
© 2000 Bruce Lanier Wright
"There is no way to tell you but incoherently so I will do it that way."
--Richard S. Shaver
It is little more than a half-century since Richard S. Shaver first revealed the deadly truth about our poisoned sun, and the lords of the hidden Cavern World; and of the death chambers, slave markets and sex-stim brothels that lie mere miles below our feet. Yet today, if remembered at all, the Shaver saga tends to get lumped in with Hollow Earth theories, which is mildly ironic considering that Shaver specifically rejected such speculations. His earth may have been honeycombed with antediluvian tunnels inhabited by cannibal sadists, but it was emphatically not hollow.
Despite its obscurity, the Shaver Mystery still resonates for some of us. A few optimists even believe it gave birth to the entire post-1947 flying saucer phenomenon, although I prefer to think of it as a failed twin, like one of those unsuspected, calcified fetuses that turn up from time to time. The Mystery is interesting, too, in that it marks a rare intersection between the worlds of science fiction fandom and paranormal kookery, two subcultures that share many curious links, as little as either side might wish to acknowledge them.
The Shaver Mystery was the co-creation of two remarkable men, Richard Shaver and his longtime ally Ray Palmer, who shared a friendship of thirty years.
Richard Shaver and editor Ray Palmer
Their story properly begins with Palmer.
Raymond Arthur Palmer, known to a generation of pulp science fiction fans as RAP, was born in Milwaukee, Wisconsin on August 1, 1910. Disastrously accident-prone throughout his life, Palmer was hit by a truck at age seven and suffered a broken back. At nine, a failed spinal graft left him a hunchback who never grew past four feet. (Palmer's accounts of his medical condition varied, however; in 1956, he blamed his twisted spine on a chiropractor who broke eleven vertebra while trying to adjust them with his fist.) The crippled youth spent much of his childhood as a shut-in, reading voraciously. Burrough's A Princess of Mars opened science-fictional vistas for him, and he fell in love with Hugo Gernsback's trailblazing pulp magazine Amazing Stories from its first issue of April 1926.
Describing the young RAP as a science fiction fan seems a poor thing, like calling the Pope a practicing Catholic. By fan, of course, I mean not the casual reader but a social element that has elected to make science fiction the organizing principle of its existence, then as now producing fanzines, conventions, friendships, feuds, intrigues, alcoholic binges, and ill-considered marriages in about equal abundance. Palmer was one of the founders of what later became known as First Fandom, the tiny network of SF enthusiasts who found one another during the earliest Depression years, linked by a mad love for science fiction before it had even acquired the name.
Palmer helped to found the Science Correspondence Club, the earliest fan organization of all, and edited the first known SF fanzine, The Comet of May 1930. RAP demonstrated an early talent for publishing; in 1934, for instance, he edited and managed the production of a memorial volume, Dawn of Flame, for fellow Milwaukean Stanley G. Weinbaum, which was by most reckonings the first book produced specifically for a science fiction fan audience. He also began writing for the pulps, beginning with a 1930 sale to Wonder Stories. After years of activity in various fan organizations, Palmer ascended permanently to prodom in June 1938, relocating to Chicago to become editor of Amazing Stories for Ziff-Davis Publishing.
By this time, Amazing was a meager shadow of its original. Gernsback had lost control of the magazine in 1929, and by thirty-eight it was almost moribund, having ceded ground badly to other SF pulp magazines, preeminently John W. Campbell's classy Astounding. Palmer, however, proved to be a competent editor who greatly improved the magazine's circulation, and not (as later critics sometimes had it) simply through his canny promotion of the Shaver stories.
RAP enlivened the magazine with the work of accomplished illustrators such as Virgil Finlay and Frank R. Paul, and provided an interesting early pulpit for paranormal concepts with columns by Vincent Gaddis and others. More controversially, he pushed the editorial content heavily toward what the more sophisticated science-fictioneers of the 1940s would dub "thud and blunder" -- juvenile Ruritanian adventures to which science fictional elements were more or less randomly appended, a rocket here, a time machine there. SF writer Lester Del Rey later characterized Amazing's house style of the period as "Keep the story moving; if the action falters, drop an anvil from the sky and see what happens." Much of this tired derring-do was churned out under house names by a shifting cast of hacks including Palmer himself. Hard-core SF fans were disappointed by the new Amazing, and most of its prose was fairly dire even by pulp standards, but it was lively and well-received by the casual newsstand readership, the one yardstick that interested its owners. Palmer later claimed that the magazine's circulation rose from 27,000 to 185,000 under his leadership.
Throughout his reign at Amazing, Palmer never ceased to regard himself as an SF fan, but his relations with his brethren became rocky at best. Del Rey remembered Palmer as a man of "very considerable charm," amiable and generous with individual fans. Yet he often became exasperated with fandom at large, particularly after his brand of thud and blunder became a popular subject of fanzine ridicule. He seemed left behind by the more mature SF then being introduced by Campbell's Astounding, whose stable of the day included Robert Heinlein, Isaac Asimov and many other formidable names. Nevertheless, this was still a strictly intramural squabble, and if Palmer had stuck to SF he would be remembered, dimly, as a workmanlike editor not so good as Campbell but better, perhaps, than T. O. Conor Sloane.
In late 1943, however, Palmer encountered Dick Shaver.
"There is one thing SURE, Richard Shaver is not mad! Read what he has written...let THAT be your criterion. If you reject him then, then YOU are mad."
Richard Sharpe Shaver, born in October 1907, enters our story in September 1943, with a letter to Amazing announcing his discovery of an ancient language he dubbed Mantong, an alphabet of "root words" that formed the source of all earthly languages. Not one to discount the importance of his own work, he described Mantong as "definite proof of the Atlantean legend," and "too deep for ordinary man." Howard Browne, an associate editor for Ziff-Davis, read a portion of the letter and promptly tossed it in the wastebasket with a remark about "crackpots." By Palmer's own account, Browne's remark intrigued him; he retrieved the letter, studied the alphabet, "made a few casual experiments with a dictionary," and "became convinced that Shaver had discovered something important." Shaver's letter, when published in the January 1944 Amazing, prompted several hundred letters in response. Some readers checked the consistency of Mantong against a variety of languages and claimed that it predicted the meaning of most foreign phrases accurately.
RAP wrote Shaver to ask him how he had discovered Mantong, and received a torrent of letters in response, sometimes several in one day. (Portions of this correspondence later were published in The Hidden World, a Shaverian magnum opus of which more below.) One of the first things Shaver sent along was a 10,000-word manuscript entitled A Warning to Future Man, an extraordinary if ungrammatical document outlining nothing less than an alternate history of mankind, and a new physics as well. Palmer appears not to have known just what to make of this, but he smelled a circulation-booster. He rewrote the Shaver manuscript into pulp fiction billed as the astonishing truth. As "I Remember Lemuria!," it ran in the March 1945 Amazing and generated an unprecedented response, boosting reader correspondence from dozens to thousands of letters. According to Palmer, the Ziff-Davis circulation manager followed an odd "hunch" and shifted enough paper from another house magazine (wartime paper rationing was still in effect) to boost the print run of the Lemuria story by 50,000 copies. The gamble paid off with a sold-out issue.
In letters to Palmer, meanwhile, Shaver was expanding on the revelations of A Warning to Future Man while supplying a sketchy account of his life. According to Shaver, at least, he was a former child prodigy who had led a peripatetic existence as an artist, tramp, and laborer; had worked on many eastern estates, including that of the DuPont's; spent some time in Newfoundland; and was presently a crane operator in Barto, Pennsylvania. Shaver's reality tunnel began to diverge from the agreed-upon sometime around 1932, while he was working as a welder at an auto plant in Detroit. He began to notice that one of the welding guns on his job site, "by some freak of its coil's field atunements," was allowing him to read the thoughts of the men working around him. More frighteningly, he then picked up the telepathic record of a torture session conducted by malign entities in caverns deep within the earth.
Understandably disturbed by these phenomena, Shaver quit his job and went "on the bum," a well-beaten path in thirties America, wandering throughout the Midwest and apparently doing some jail time. While in jail, the evil voices returned and tormented him with secret rays. Soon, however, he discovered that the underworld hid allies as well as enemies (the pulp cadence is hard to resist). And perhaps he fell in love with a blind cavern waif who freed him and introduced him to the mysteries of the Cavern World. And perhaps he entered that world himself, for a time, living amongst its peoples.
Or perhaps not. This was, at any rate, the preamble to the startling new cosmology laid out by Shaver and Palmer in the pages of Amazing, beginning in 1945. Palmer edited and rewrote each of Shaver's stories into what he considered acceptable pulpese. The result is an unforgettable blend of high-flying imagination with curiously homely touches, as when we encounter a highly intelligent snail-centaur named Hank.
To this day, some believe that Palmer was in fact the sole author, and many even doubted Shaver's existence until he appeared at some SF fan events in the latter 1940s. Conversely, late in life Shaver claimed that Palmer had left his prose virtually untouched. Both claims seem groundless. Palmer without Shaver was a pulp writer of the second or third water who entirely lacked the inspired lunacy that characterizes the Shaver tales. Shaver without Palmer, as reflected by his correspondence and later articles, was uncomfortable with the basics of English, to put the matter kindly. Consider, then, that further references to "Shaver's" work in the pulps mean Shaver-Palmer (or Palmer-Shaver).
"Motion results from d, matter from t. Heat results from d, cold from t. Dark space is all t, light space is near a sun is d, the wise do not approach.... Death begins with d is true."
--Richard S. Shaver
In a sense, it's impossible to characterize Shaver's Mystery accurately, since it mutated continuously throughout his life. Throughout its run, though, the Mystery was underpinned by a dualist conception: in Shaver's words, "all matter -- all things -- are a mixture of energy part of which is integrant and part of which is disintegrant." To Shaver, detrimental energy, variously called de, der, dis, or d, represented entropy, evil, destruction; integrative energy, called te, ter, or t, is the life force, health, youth, sexual potency, well-being. Under the influence of dis, matter finally breaks down into an "energy ash" Shaver called exd, which in turn condenses "back into [the] form of matter...and this in-flow of condensing matter is what causes gravity, which is a push, and not a pull..." This is important because mankind, pre-Shaver, had misunderstood the real nature of the universe. Entropy is not, as it happens, a universal and unavoidable phenomenon. All Winds Down only near a degenerate sun. Like ours.
According to Shaver, our sun began as a wet, cloud-wrapped planet with vast coal beds (what did it use for a sun?). Eventually, this world was ignited by a meteor, and for unguessable eons it burned cleanly, dispensing health-giving integrative energy throughout the solar system. During this period, Earth was colonized by two spacefaring races, the Atlans and Titans, who called their new settlement Lemuria. The Atlans and Titans, masters of te energy, were dis-free and virtually immortal. Eternally young, they never stopped growing, so fifty-footers were not uncommon. Once they achieved a bulk that made it impractical to continue living on one planet, they simply moved on to a larger one, still young and vital.
These Elders developed powerful ray technologies such as the ben-ray, which broadcast integrative, healing energies; the stim-ray, which allowed the randy giants to prolong and heighten sexual pleasure; the telesolidograph, which could broadcast three-dimensional images; the penetray, used to observe events from vast distances; and the telepathic augmenter or telaug, which transmitted thought. In the cities, rays "continually broadcast an abstract inspiration to creative work." Though peaceful, the Elders also possessed deadly beams that could kill from great distances.
Unfortunately, Sol's protective "carbon shell" burned away about 20,000 years ago, and it became a doom star, broadcasting poisonous dis particles that concentrate in our soil and cause aging, which is not a natural process at all but a form of radiation poisoning. (Shaver was impressed by the publicity surrounding those unfortunate young girls who died, earlier in the century, after painting radium on clock faces; they looked haggard and aged beyond their years, and he took this as a literal demonstration of detrimental energy.) The Elders first escaped the deadly sunlight by digging in, creating the Cavern World, a massive network of subsurface dwellings and passages throughout the planet's crust, "tier on tier of cities, endlessly vast, the homes of giants.... An area beyond calculation, a maze, a catacomb, labyrinth.... Plane over plane, multiplied forever mile upon mile in depth, endlessly on and on." And these were caves not of steel but of integrative materials, Elder-stuff that grows only denser and more durable with the passing millennia.
The Cavern World was home to some 50 billion Atlans and Titans at one point. But even these titanic burrows failed to protect the Elder races from the degenerative effects of Sol's dis rays, and so about 12,000 years ago they were forced to abandon Lemuria for the safety of younger stars. Some may have found refuge with the Nortan, an Elder race that distrusts suns entirely and lives only on "dark worlds" lit and warmed by scientific means.
A small number of the Lemurians had already succumbed to the influence of dis radiations, becoming warped, sadistic, and stupid. They were left behind. Some of these forgot their glorious heritage, migrated to the surface, and became the short-lived and quarrelsome animal Homo Sap. Others stayed in the caves and devolved into something even worse.
"The unseen world beneath our feet, malignant and horrible, is complete in its mastery of earth. And most horrible of all, it is a world of madmen."
--Richard S. Shaver
Shaver called the degenerate remnants of the Elders the abandondero, or "dero" for short. The abandon prefix is self-explanatory, while "dero" comes from the Mantong for detrimental robot. (In Mantong, ro denotes fealty or subservience, hence dero: those controlled by de or dis.)
Those uncharitable enough to doubt Shaver's word have speculated about the influences on his dero tales. While innocent of any genuine ability to write, he read fairly widely and knew his pulp fiction well, as did Palmer, of course. The time-haunted horrors of H.P. Lovecraft and A. Merritt echo strongly throughout the Shaverian canon, as do James Churchward's Mu books, and the dero themselves suggest Well's Morlocks. Shaver himself often compared them to de Maupassant's invisible tormentor, The Horla. He was also familiar with Charles Fort and quoted him frequently. None of these writers, however, ever explored sadism with anything approaching Shaver's gusto.
For the dero, as RAP once said, are "no pink tea party." Dero brains are literally coated with a film of dis, which makes their thoughts run backwards and drives them to extremes of depravity. Throughout history, the dero have amused themselves by using the abandoned machinery of the Elders, now contaminated with dis energies, to inflict torments on us poor surface dwellers. The dero themselves are not physically impressive: in his classic "Formula from the Underworld," Shaver memorably described them as looking like "fearfully aenemic jitterbugs, small, with pipestem arms and legs, pot bellies, huge protruding eyes and wide, idiotically grinning mouths. Super-goofy, I believe modern youth would call them." Their lifespans average about fifty years, a mere flicker to an Elder. But their mastery of the ancient ray mech is total and surface humans have absolutely no defense against it.
Thousands of us are shanghaied into the caverns each year to serve the dero as slaves, playthings or food, for we are a perennial favorite on dero tables. With ben rays, torture can be prolonged for months or even years. A popular dero pastime is to disassemble their victims under a ben ray, leaving them as living dissections. Surface women are wired full of "sex stim" and used as living furniture, the dero taking pleasure in their undulations; others are given "growth stimulation focused on breasts till they get enormous and give milk like a cow which they use for a beverage." (Shaver's private correspondence to Palmer is considerably racier than pulp publishing standards would allow: he once mentioned seeing the slave mistress of an underground bigshot whose pubic hair had grown to a length of three feet due to a stim ray kept focused on the masters genitalia during sex.)
In addition, the dero use their ray mech to seed death, deception and "tamper" (a favorite Shaverian word) throughout the surface world. The demons, elves, and trolls of legend were dero, it goes without saying, and black magic was merely ray trickery. Nowadays, dero antics are often attributed to secret services. Shaver claimed that the dero sometimes impersonate FBI agents on the telephone, and hinted that many rich, powerful families have been replaced by dero-controlled doubles. The Nazis were dero puppets and the Lindbergh kidnapping was a dero job.
If you doubt this, you may be suffering from brain damage. Vast numbers of surface worlders -- you, me, and most certainly Richard S. Shaver -- have been slyly lobotomized by cutting rays projected from the caverns. In an early letter to Palmer, Shaver apologized: "they have cut most of the nerves and they are inoperative entirely....much of my brain is injured by them, you must forgive my forgetting -- my wandering from the subject, it is the result of injuries -- repaired again and again by the ben, but always the little imps start their destruction again."
In addition to the dero, the Cavern World harbors small, hunted groups of tero (integrative ro), Elder descendants who, for reasons never adequately explained, have not succumbed to detrimental radiation. These tero are locked in ceaseless combat with the dero, and some befriended Shaver: "Right under my feet men die on racks because the dero...have caught them trying to help protect Shaver."
The dero and tero populations of the caverns are dwarfed by a mass of human slaves as well as tribes of depraved freebooters who have drifted down from the surface world during various eras. While not as luridly evil as the dero, these too are a pretty loathsome crowd, vicious gangsters who slave and smuggle in alliance with topside criminals. Each major city apparently has its subsurface equivalent inhabited by these thugs, and many a "runaway" gets sold down the shaft. But wait, as one is constantly tempted to say: it gets worse. When the saucer summer of 1947 rolled around, Shaver blithely incorporated it: of course the saucers are the same vessels once piloted by the Elders. Unfortunately, "today the ships from space come not to help us, but to plunder." Elder ships would not stray so near a detrimental sun. Our near-space, alas, is dominated by the Medieval Illicit, a cartel of space pirates and slavers.
These, then, are the secret forces behind history, the age-old order that Shaver was attempting to topple with his revelations.
"That is what I fight when I write a Horla that makes every thought in my head come out like a dead woman with worms."
Richard S. Shaver
The battle was not without grave personal cost to Shaver, who claimed that the dero had murdered both his first wife and his brother; of the latter, he said: "Doctor's certificate, flu. Shaver's diagnosism [sic] a ray." Despite the efforts of his tero allies, Shaver himself suffered from unceasing harassment. Once, for instance, while Shaver was staying in a charity hospital in Newfoundland, the dero impelled a nurse to slip him some "plum pudding" that turned out to be worm-ridden seal flesh. A year later, a two-foot-long sea fluke had entered Shaver's head. Fortunately, friendly tero dispatched the creature with a long-distance ray. One dero apparently was assigned solely to make Shaver's cigarettes "taste like garbage." Yet Shaver persevered, keeping abreast of events in the caverns through telaug broadcasts from tero friends. At one point, he attempted to join a secret anti-dero organization that knew of an entrance to the caverns near Philadelphia, but ray tamper led him to "muff the interview."
So Shaver was forced to continue his struggle alone. He conducted ad hoc research into the nature of detrimental energy, developing a recipe for avoiding age that involved a diet of triple-distilled water and young foods such as seeds and fruits, veal and lamb, which were relatively free of sun poisons. Due to the insidious effects of tamper, he found he could not interest scientists in this procedure. A number of mice fed the anti-dis diet seemed to flourish, but unfortunately they froze during a hard winter.
After initiating his friendship with Palmer, Shaver shifted his efforts to literature and his obsessive correspondence with RAP. One can only admire Palmer's patience with Shaver, who, judging from the letters Palmer later published (possibly a mild form of revenge in itself), was the whiniest correspondent since Scott Fitzgerald. Shaver's letters are a remarkable mix of cosmology, self-pity, and unsolicited editorial advice: "The phallos [sic] abstractly depicted on the cover would cause a greater number of women to buy a mag, though consciously they would not know why." Shaver often accused Palmer of falling for what he called "wool" or "wonder wool," as in the wool pulled over one's eyes: dero lies and deceptions, or more broadly, anything contradicting Richard S. Shaver.
And what did RAP make of all this? According to Palmer, shortly after the success of "I Remember Lemuria," he went to visit Shaver and his wife Dorothy in Pennsylvania, "a novel experience and an eerie one." On his first evening there, Palmer heard Shaver's tero for himself: a chorus of five voices, sometimes speaking at once, describing awful tortures in a cave four miles below. Palmer searched the room for recording devices and microphones without result, and soon "returned to Chicago determined the run the Shaver Mystery out of [sic] its final conclusion."
While Palmer steadfastly supported Shaver, he hedged his bets as to the physical reality of the Cavern World. Palmer was fond of occultist notions, often speculating that the dero might inhabit some "astral plane." This irritated Shaver no end. A thorough-going materialist, he did not believe in gods, ghosts, demons, or angels, only the dero, the caverns, and the ancient mech. And while Shaver was vague on just how much time he had spent in the cavern -- it seemed to vary from a "short stay" to as much as eight years -- he never wavered from his insistence that the Cavern World was a real place anyone can visit. Assuming you don't mind being eaten, that is.
"Tens of thousands of men and women have testified that the Shaver Mystery has changed their lives, opened up vistas undreamed, furnished them with valuable tools to enhance...the grim business of living."
Palmer's instincts about the Shaver Mystery's efficacy as an attention-grabber apparently were sound. He later claimed that the Mystery boosted Amazing to its highest circulation ever, although Curtis Fuller, another Ziff-Davis editor, has disputed this notion. Clearly, though, the number of covers Shaver received over the 1945-1948 period demonstrated that he was not a sales suppressant, at any rate. The Mystery generated tens of thousands of letters of comment and rumors among SF fans had it that RAP bagged a $250-a-month raise out of the controversy.
The typical hard-core SF fan reaction to the Shaver Mystery was one of stark horror, not least because of its apparent popularity. And, really, can you blame them? At the time, most of the mundane world still assumed that anyone interested in rocketry and interplanetary travel was half-bonkers, at least, and now RAP -- one of their own! -- was promoting tales of cavern-dwelling sex fiends as unvarnished truth. It was not lost on most fans that Shaver's stories of rays and voices in his head bore a certain passing resemblance to the symptoms of paranoid schizophrenia. From "I Remember Lemuria!" on, most fans regarded Palmer as something worse than a mere embarrassment: a traitor.
Shaverism was denounced from fannish pulpits throughout the US. Prominent fan Forry Ackerman (later beloved by Baby Boomers everywhere for creating Famous Monsters of Filmland) initiated a campaign to persuade fandom at large to boycott Amazing. Others attempted to sabotage Shaverism with hoaxes, parodies and unflattering rumors about Palmer's mental health, activities RAP was to attribute to a hypnotic ray attack on a group of fans. Palmer made sporadic attempts to mend fences with SF fandom throughout the late forties and fifties, and some fans defended him on free speech grounds, but in all the damage was done: he was outcast.
But other readers were fascinated by the Mystery, and made Amazing's letter column a lively affair throughout the Shaver period. Lots of people heard tormenting voices in their heads, it appeared; more proof that the Shaver Mystery was real. Amazing readers began to report on the location of local entrances to the cavern world, of exploring wild caves south of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, for instance, and suddenly finding perfectly smooth shafts and borings, and these ventilated from below. One reader reported on an encounter with the tero in a cavern and subsequent, unsettling threats from a mysterious stranger. Another told of encounters with a "man from Agharti"; still another of encountering disembodied voices and odd electromagnetic effects near Hopland, California. Occultists expressed alarm at Shaver's revelations. Meade Layne of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation criticized RAP's publicity of the Cavern World as "comparable...to giving hair-trigger automatics to children for playthings." Dr. Maurice Doreal of the "Brotherhood of the White Temple, Inc.", said that interfering in the caves "would be suicide and one who revealed their location would be a murderer." It was all rather exciting, really.
Shaver fanzines appeared as early as 1945, and in 1946 Chester Geier, a regular Amazing contributor, founded a Shaver Mystery Club that published a 64-page monthly magazine and gained a membership of around 2,000 within three years. The organized SF fandom of the day probably was no larger. Shaverism seemed to have served Palmer as an emotional substitute for SF fandom, and indeed it can be considered the first of the splinter fandom's that led to todays balkanized situation, in which no extinct television show seems to lack its own conventions and followers. Even the mundane world heard, faintly, of Shaver in a 1949 Atlantic Monthly piece and a 1951 Life magazine article.
In 1948, however, at the height of its popularity, the Shaver Mystery vanished from the pages of Amazing. Palmer was hermetic about this turn of events, later remarking that "Shaver was suppressed by a publisher too sedate for this kind of mystery." Some fans flattered themselves that their many letters of complaint to Amazing's publishers had finally taken effect. Possibly, too, the fact that Palmer had just launched his own magazine, Fate, in partnership with fellow Ziff-Davis editor Curtis Fuller, may have contributed to his deteriorating relations with his employers. In 1949, in any event, RAP left Ziff-Davis to become an independent publisher.
"You are tampered in the mind, or you would see the glorious values I can offer you."
Richard S. Shaver
In 1949, Shaver moved to Amherst, Wisconsin, where he attempted to work on a manuscript to be called The Elder World. By August, he capitulated: "the rays made me too sick to complete the book MS," and tamper interfered with his relationship with his printer. Shaver and his wife Dorothy also remained busy with the Shaver Mystery Magazine, still coming out sporadically during this period. Shaver remained in contact with the tero, though, and began to notice antediluvian ruins mingled in the rugged scenery of western movies as well as Disney nature documentaries.
Palmer's luck regarding mishaps remained bad. In June 1950, he was severely injured by a fall in his basement one of a series of events he was increasingly inclined to attribute to dero opposition. Later, he would recall: "Have you ever been picked up, lifted as high as the ceiling, and smashed down hard on a cement floor?" The fall was followed by a miraculous healing. In a 1956 article, Palmer claimed that the long-dead doctor who had botched his spinal graft, decades before, appeared in his hospital room and, with a heavenly team of more than a hundred men and women and "a machine that looked like...a combination radio cabinet and electric organ," repaired his injuries. In the November following his fall, Palmer and his wife moved to an Amherst farm next to Shaver's, setting up a print shop in a nearby converted schoolhouse.
Palmer remained involved with Fate until 1955, when he sold his share of the magazine to Fuller. Palmer co-edited with Fuller under the pseudonym Robert N. Webster, and the partnership resulted in a more restrained editorial approach than RAP had previously demonstrated, apparently because Fuller took a less ebullient view of what constituted evidence. The Shaver Mystery was mentioned in Fate's pages only once. But Palmer had far more editorial energy than one magazine could contain, and went on creating and folding magazines at a frantic pace, none of them, it should be noted, enjoying anything like the success of Amazing.
He kept one foot in science fiction with titles like Universe, Science Stories, and Other Worlds. The last in particular published some noteworthy stories by journeyman pros like Eric Frank Russell, though it was doubtless a market of secondary if not final resort. In 1953, he also launched Mystic,
later retitled Search, and in 1957 converted Other Worlds into Flying Saucers magazine. These mags were more purely personal expressions of RAP's personality than Fate and showcased his evolving enthusiasms, including flying saucers, hollow earth theories, spiritualism, the contactee Orfeo Angelucci, the Oahspe (an interminable revealed text) and, of course, the thoughts of Richard S. Shaver. Palmer became less shy about promoting paranoia: "You send a man into a cave you've learned about, he never comes back. You involve seven men in a flying saucer search, five die within a year, all mysteriously.... An FBI agent tells you 'Why take chances...what Shaver says is at least 25 percent true.'"
Of course, the one question on the minds of Palmer's friends and foes was whether he believed this Shaver stuff, a question never settled to the satisfaction of those who knew him. Binary minds like Martin Gardner's have always seen it as a simple "swindle." The young Harlan Ellison, later a famously abrasive writer, allegedly badgered RAP into admitting that the Shaver Mystery was a "publicity grabber"; when the story came out, Palmer angrily responded that this was hardly the same thing as calling it a hoax. It's tempting to compare Palmer to his fellow UFO celebrity Gray Barker, a figure who seemed to combine the characteristics of enthusiast and confidence man, and yet Palmer maintained his allegiance to Shaver for years after doing so brought him any significant financial advantage.
The more interesting question, perhaps, is: What kept these two together? Psychoanalysis at a distance is perennially fashionable and probably worthless and hard to resist. It certainly seems understandable, for instance, that someone as plagued by physical injuries and pain as was Palmer might come to feel persecuted by a malevolent universe, and Shaverism certainly helped him articulate that feeling. Moreover, Shaver's notions of solar radiation dovetailed nicely with Palmer's profound distrust of atomic energy, a heretical position for a 1950s American and doubly so for an SF fan of the day. RAP often used the pages of Mystic to report on the dangers of radioactivity: "How many Americans know that there is no way to get rid of radioactive detritus?" Not many in 1955, and few enough today, as it happens....
Maybe none of this was pertinent. But whatever his motivation, Palmer supported his friend loyally throughout his career, providing outlets for his unique prose and supporting the Shavers financially in slim times.
"It is a great booty, our surface life, fed upon by crawling hideosities.... There are holes in every once-intelligent head.... "
Richard S. Shaver
The Shaver Mystery itself continued to evolve throughout the 1950s. Most excitingly, Shaver discovered the proof that niggling skeptics had demanded for so long: actual records of the ancient world, frozen in the pebbles of the Wisconsin prairies. To Shaver, these agate pebbles were synthetic silica books, filled with the amazing three-dimensional art and literature of the Elder races. Naturally, only ray projectors can unlock their secrets properly, but rock-cutters allowed him to reveal some of the Elder portraits and paintings. What he uncovered from the silica books led him to new speculations about earth's history. He became convinced that the Elders did not come from space but had evolved from intelligent amphibians right here on Earth. A universal flood came after the Elder's departure, prompted by a "Moon fall" --he'd been reading Velikovsky, it seems -- and scoured the surface world clear of all artifacts except the pebbles (and those ruined buildings in the Westerns, of course).
Shaver sent his rocks to a variety of scientists and public figures, but their dero-clouded minds could not detect the wonders he saw. Shaver grew increasingly frustrated: "That no one has a mind to understand the importance of my foolish elder stones is a very sad thing for the human race!... PLEASE wake up! No matter what cavern idiots tell you in the dark back of your mind, look at these stones and understand what they are! How can anyone ignore these marvelous ancient picture books?" And yet somehow most did, although RAP helped Shaver sell picture stones through ads in his publications.
The Mystery underwent a last, exotic flowering in the early sixties with the publication of The Hidden World,
a trade paperback series intended as an Encyclopedia Galactica of Shaverism. Like all of Palmer's later projects, The Hidden World was small beer commercially (circulation began at around 5,000 and dropped to 1,700 by issue 11). The series is nonetheless an essential document, reprinting the original Mystery stories from Amazing along with a great deal of more recent and much more unbridled material. The new articles written for The Hidden World display what certainly seems to be Richard S. Shaver in the raw, without Palmer's smoothing. What resulted were some of the finest rants seen prior to the founding of the Church of the Subgenius. Certainly nothing from the pulp days had prepared one for the somber majesty of sentences like: "Life is a scream in the face of a bright madness, then! Life is a silly sound like a death rattle from an insane clown dying in the night, then."
Many issues of The Hidden World open with Palmer's tales of the weird problems that beset him in working on the issue, from tax troubles to broken presses to poltergeist phenomena. Number 4 features an underhanded dero attempt to electrocute him; the seventh issue describes how pages within one of Palmer's Shaver files mysteriously combusted, although surrounding sheets were left untouched. Palmer also outlined his own interpretations of Shaver's stories, by now openly saying that Shaver was never physically in the caves. Palmer instead concluded that Shaver's contacts were mental and that the dero inhabited a world coexistent with ours but of a different "density."
Shaver argued the point bitterly in The Hidden World, and continued elaborating on his own ever-changing theories. Consistency was no hobgoblin to the mind of Richard Shaver. Correspondence published in The Hidden World indicates that as early as 1948, for instance, Shaver was speculating that the Elder races didn't evacuate Earth but instead were wiped out by a "wave of heat and flame from the sun" some 30,000 years ago, and that the dero might be relatively recent arrivals rather than degenerate Elders. His new prose, meanwhile, reflected a certain dejection: "Shaver doesn't care about money, he likes starving and fighting for the somnolent people who do not mind having their minds cut to idiocy.... Shaver loves the cattle they make of you all."
Letters to The Hidden World revived the spirit of the great old Amazing days. Once again, Shaverites rallied to recount their own adventures with unseen voices, flying saucers, mysterious caverns, and assorted occult happenstance. One astonishing letter in the winter 1962 issue recounted a man's torture at the hands of the dero, who had placed him in a "time loop" so that he had, if I interpret him correctly, lived through several iterations of 1956.
"We are just a quarantined people under an evil sun."
Richard S. Shaver
With the demise of The Hidden World, Shaverism began a slow fade from view. By the publication's end in 1964, Shaver had moved to Summit, Arkansas, where he would spend the rest of his life. I am not aware of any evidence concerning a rift between Shaver and Palmer. In October 1965, however, Palmer gave an interview for a small northeastern college radio station that, when more broadly publicized via the journal Caveat Emptor in fall 1971, seemed to shed a good deal of light on the Mystery: he revealed that Shaver had spent eight years not in the Cavern World, but in a mental institution. He still claimed to believe that Shaver's dero were genuine astral entities.
Little more was heard from Shaver after The Hidden World folded, beyond the occasional advert for his rock books. In a 1973 interview, he altered his dero story once more, this time saying that he first encountered the cavern peoples through mental telepathy, when he noticed them "painting on the clouds" over Delaware Bay. From the rock books, Shaver had learned that the moon had struck the earth no less than seven times. Beneath our feet, the endless war between dero and tero still raged.
Shaver died of a heart attack in November 1975. With a little more salesmanship, he might have founded a successful religion, as did another pulp SF writer of Shaver's period. But while the details of his story shifted about, he clung to its depressing gist with a certain flinty integrity. Shaver offered no salvation, no comfort, beyond the frail hope that his message might someday reach enough people to mount a successful expedition against the dero -- and he was never sanguine about our chances.
Palmer continued publishing, to no great purpose, until his death in 1977, issuing various small journals as well as books such as Jim Wentworth's Giants in the Earth, which explored the links between the Shaver Mystery and the Oahspe. I am sorry to report that the late Palmer was prone to rail against "Zionists." In general, though, he seemed to retain a boyish enthusiasm for ideas and for writing to the very end, not a small blessing.
And now both are gone and largely forgotten. Palmer hoped that the afterlife would be much like this one, and that he could continue to be a printer or publisher on the other side. Shaver had no hope for any afterlife, pleasant or otherwise. But the tero are a subtle people, and their mech is powerful, and occasionally I find myself hoping that some life-spark of Richard Shaver and Ray Palmer yet survives; perhaps among the canny Nortan, on a dark planet, in never-ending health and vitality.
Did Ray Palmer Invent Flying Saucers?
And did the Shaver Mystery somehow give birth to the whole UFO phenomenon? So John Keel maintained in a highly influential Fortean Times article of 1983 , and the notion has been adopted by several reductionist students of the subject such as Curtis Peebles, author of Watch the Skies!. Yet the arguments appeal fades under scrutiny.
Palmer was certainly among the first vocal cheerleaders for the phenomenon, almost from the moment of Kenneth Arnold's sighting. Keel's evidence that Palmer's Amazing somehow spawned the excitement, however, relies on trivia freighted with speculation. Yes, for instance, Amazing covers sometimes featured disc-shaped spacecraft before 1947, and yes, Shaver's 1946 story "Earth Slaves to Space" concerns space aliens kidnapping humans. But flying saucers appeared in SF illustration from the pulps earliest days without triggering UFO flaps; there's a dandy one on the cover of the November 1929 Science Wonder Stories, for example. "Earth Slaves to Space" was a tale of space piracy, an old Buck Rogers scenario that was already pretty threadbare by 1946.
Since the rise of psychosocial theorizing, pre-1947 science fiction has been combed over for imagery of saucers, greys, and abduction scenarios, and each example found is waved about triumphantly like a prize salmon. (Keel missed a good one, by the way: Shaver's "Luder Valley," in the June '46 Amazing, concerns a spaceship crash retrieval.) Yet no one has explained persuasively why these examples would be more potent in the public imagination than thousands upon thousands of other SF images and situations, or why and how they could touch off the remarkable wave of 1947 (see, for instance, the dizzying variety of contemporary accounts in the recent volume Flying Saucers Over Los Angeles.)
Irony is never far away in Saucerland. One might wonder, for instance, what a skeptic like Curtis Peebles makes of Keel's own theories about sinister, godlike ultraterrestrials and Men in Black, but you will search his volume in vain for an opinion. And the topper: Of all the popular brand-name ufologies, which one bears the closest resemblance to Shaver's bleak worldview? Why, John Keel's, of course.
Malta, Gateway to the Cavern World
For our own good, Shaver and Palmer were deliberately vague about the specific locations of entrances to the Cavern World, doubtless saving many a would-be spelunker from hideous death. Still, one doorway may be pinpointed in a remarkable publication, The Reality of the Cavern World, by Riley Hansard Crabb of the Borderland Sciences Research Foundation. This transcription of a 1960 lecture on Shaverism (Crabb leans to a psychic interpretation) fingers Malta's Hypogeum as the doorway to more trouble than you can handle.
The Hypogeum, long on UNESCO's World Heritage list, is an enormous, three-level underground complex, carved from living rock, which is thought to have served as a temple and a burial chamber for at least 7,000 persons between about 3600 and 2500 B.C. The Hypogeum apparently is only the most spectacular of a number of underground chambers and passages carved from Malta's soft limestone; according to an August 1940 National Geographic article that Crabb quotes, it was once possible to "walk underground from one end of Malta to the other, but all entrances were closed by the [British] government because of a tragedy." In the mid-1930s, a number of school children and their teachers descended into these passages on a field trip, and were never seen again.
Crabb learned the rest of the story from Constance Lois Jessop, secretary of the New York Saucer Information Bureau. Shortly before the children's disappearance, Ms. Jessop toured the Hypogeum and explored a dark passage leading out of the temple's lowest chamber; emerging into a large opening, she saw far below her a group of shaggy humanoids she estimated were at least 25 feet tall. She fled. Soon a friend told her that the school party had disappeared after entering the same passage! And the next time Jessop entered the Hypogeum, the tunnel had been boarded up....
I admit that shaggy giants don't sound much like dero, but then who knows what the vicious little imps have been breeding down there? Crabb also believed that the thousands of human remains found in the Hypogeum were not burials, but the detritus of dero feasts. Should you ever find yourself poking about Malta's underground, I suggest you bring along a reliable torch and a rocket launcher, at least.
This article originally appeared in truncated form in the Fortean Times
and, in its full length, in Fortean Studies #6 and Outre magazine.
Bruce Lanier Wright is an avid, if puzzled, fortean and pop-culture
historian from Austin, Texas. The author of two books and a variety
of curious articles, Bruce can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.