This hollow earth: the under-people

The idea that the earth is hollow was once a pretty hot bit of early 20th century pseudoscience, and briefly had a revival during the UFO craze and among new-agers, although nowadays it seems that people are more likely to look to outer space to fill the niche of hidden civilizations/enemies/ancestors.  (The popularity and tenacity of the idea that some sort of superior and/or malevolent race exists right under our noses, but out of sight, is not too hard to understand.)  I recently read a short book that attempted to make a case that the earth is hollow and that we need to discover whether the subterranean inhabitants are hostile or benevolent: The under-people by Eric Norman.  (The author seems to have written a number of popular occultism books, mostly focused on UFOs and other curiosities; perhaps he is the same Eric Norman who writes on Canadian maritime history?) <Update: Eric Norman is a pseudonym used by the late Brad Steiger, which he used in a few books on the paranormal in the 60s and 70s.>

The under-people is one of those schlocky 1970’s paranormal books.  The research really meets no standard of journalistic integrity at all — breathlessly citing UFO researchers, journals of psi societies, and the letters or statements of people claiming firsthand experiences, and in no case making the effort to fact-check when wild claims about physics, geography, or history are made.  This is not unusual, of course, and it would be pretty boring to read sober assessments of the sketchy ‘evidence’ presented.  In the case of The under-people, the topic is the “hollow earth theory,” and the book attempts to enlist various myths and legends from the past, along with more recent ideas, to sketch a very incomplete case that an ancient race, possibly the ancestors of modern humans, live underground in a hidden empire.


Naturally there are going to be some inconsistencies when we try to weave together a mish-mash of legends, and the author does not argue for a particular account so much as arguing that with all this smoke, there must be a fire.  The smoke comes from all over: various Native American legends of people coming ‘out of the earth,’ the story of Atlantis (which sank beneath the ground, I guess), a rather creative reinterpretation of alchemical texts (the philosopher’s stone refers to the underground empire), alleged irregularities in the accounts of arctic explorers, and a range of cranks, many anonymous, but also including some UFOlogists and the notorious Richard Shaver.  In fact Ray Palmer has a sort of “guest appearance,” where he puts forward a revised version of an essay on the hollow earth he first published in one of his magazines.

I’d heard about hollow earth theories before, and always thought that some version of a hollow earth could make for a good game setting.  (I know there was a series of modules or gazetteers for basic D&D called the Hollow Earth which featured quasi-historical empires, but I’ve never looked too closely at them, mainly because they seemed over-developed — I’d rather have a more blank slate for hex-crawls.)  Aldeboran’s posts about Richard Shaver were the first I’d heard about him, I think.  A couple of the interviewees were new to me too, but nothing they had to say was all that interesting.

What I found most potentially useful from the The under-people were a pair of fragments (a medieval story about a demonic or wild man discovered inside a monastery’s basement who spoke no known language etc., and a mention of the subterranean ‘snake-people’ in Saxo Grammaticus’ Gesta Danorum!) and the discussion of donut-shaped hollow earth (as opposed to the ‘concentric spheres’ concept of a hollow earth).

The incident in the monastery (supposedly 1138 CE, at the Brunia Monastery in Trier, Prussia) is a great adventure hook — basically a monk noticed that the wine stores were being depleted despite the locked doors to the basement storage, and after setting up surveillance, discovered that a ‘small black man’ was drinking the wine and hiding in the basement.  Some loose stones in the foundation opened to a passage going deeper underground, which the monks sensibly sealed off, but the head of the monastery decided to try to ‘save’ the little intruder and attempts were made to teach him to speak and adopt Christianity.  Eventually the monks gave up on their incorrigible guest and he somehow escaped back to the depths.  (For what it’s worth, every hit for web sites mentioning this incident seem to be paraphrases of the account in The under-people — did Norman invent this incident?)

I’ve been meaning to read the Gesta Danorum for a some time and I don’t know if I will ever get around to it, but it is intriguing that he mentions legendary snake-people.  I wonder if this is where R. E. Howard got the idea of a serpent-race for his Hyborian stories (I don’t think they figure much in Conan but Kull fights them a few times).

Lastly the discussion of alleged evidence found by arctic explorers has some interesting seeds too.  The hollow-earth theorists apparently argue that the explorers actually entered into the interior of the earth when they thought they were nearing the north pole.  According to one theory, the surface of the earth gradually curves inward, so the the planet is donut-shaped rather than spherical.  I’m not sure that this would prevent explorers of the interior region from falling inward to the center of mass (which these theorists claim contains a small interior sun!) but it’s a neat idea.

Anyway The under-people — which was apparently published only as a 1969 mass-market paperback under the Award Books imprint, but in several Japanese translations — is probably only checking out if you stumble across a copy in a thrift shop or library book sale (as I did) but I wouldn’t say it’s worth tracking down a copy when so many other books on the ‘hollow earth’ theory are more readily available.

Published in: on November 30, 2012 at 10:05 pm  Comments (2)  
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2 CommentsLeave a comment

  1. I haven’t read Gesta Danorum, either, but I’ve read some of Georges Dumézil’s books, which reference it… and I seem to recall that one hero is described as being half-giant, so of course when he was born, he had four extra arms, which Odin broke off to make him human.

    So it sounds like there’s plenty of fun stuff in there.

  2. […] This hollow earth: the under-people ( […]

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