The Coming Race – Edward Bulwer Lytton
P.F. Collier – 1892 (Originally published 1871)
This is the third of Bulwer Lytton’s works that I’ve reviewed here, and in a way it’s the least fitting. While The Haunters and the Haunted and Zanoni both dealt explicitly with the supernatural, The Coming Race or Vril, the Power of the Coming Race, as it was later re-titled, is more of an adventure/early sci-fi novel. So why include it on this blog? Well, despite the fact that it is very clearly a novel, some people have taken it to be literally true, and this short, rather silly book is the origin of several ridiculous conspiracy theories. It played helped popularize the Hollow-Earth theory, and some folks claim that it’s responsible for starting the Second World War.
So let’s take a look at the plot. (Don’t worry; it’s quite boring and reading this won’t ruin the excitement if you do choose to read the novel.) Right at the beginning of the book, the narrator falls down a hole in a cave and ends up in a world within the Earth. Then he bumps into some ‘Vril-Ya’, a race of fascinating but intimidating humanoids, who take him to their house and teach him their language. 70% of the book is taken up with the narrator’s description of these beings’ society, folklore, and language. The Vril-Ya’s technology is powered by a strange energy called Vril that seems to emanate from the creatures themselves. It becomes evident that these creatures’ descendants ended up underground as a result of the flood of Genesis, and so are somewhat human. They are utterly repulsed by the narrator’s accounts of terrestrial humanity and warn him that some day, when the time is right, they will break through the Earth’s crust to eradicate our species. One of the Vril-Ya falls in love with the narrator but decides to take him back up to his own world to prevent the chaos that would surely ensue were they to consummate their relationship.
I actually got through quite a bit of this book with the audio version from librivox. I really enjoyed about the reader’s pronunciation. In the language of the Vril-Ya, females are collectively referred to as ‘the Gyae’, Gyae being pronounced Jie-ay. A single female is a ‘Gy’, and the person reading the audiobook pronounced this as Gee, and I mean Gee with a hard G sound like the one in ‘Goat’ or ‘Game’. This probably won’t seem funny to most people, but any book that uses the word gee to refer to any woman is bound to illicit a few chuckles in certain parts of the world. If you don’t know what I’m talking about, I suggest you read the following quotes from the book to any of your Irish friends and take note of their reactions.
1. “I often think of the young gee as I sit alone at night”
2. “This young gee was a magnificent specimen of the muscular force to which the females of her country attain.”
3. ” the gee would willingly have accepted me, but her parents refused their consent.”
Gees aside, The Coming Race is a bit disappointing. It’s the first novel I’ve read since November, and it made a welcome change to the dry books on mythology I’ve otherwise been reading. I zipped through it so quickly that I didn’t realize that the plot was going nowhere until I had very nearly finished it. This book is more of a snapshot of an imaginary society than a story about members of that society.
Surely the author had a reason for writing an adventure novel that contained minimal adventure. If not meant to thrill its readers, perhaps The Coming Race was meant to educate them. What message was Lytton trying to convey with his depiction of a race of subterranean super-humans? Let’s take a moment to recapitulate what we know about the Vril-Ya.
1. They are superior, mentally and physically, to the rest of humankind; i.e., they are super-humans.
2. They will some day rise up from the underground and exterminate all lower forms of human life.
3. They are “descended from the same ancestors as the Great Aryan family”.
Could Bulwer Lytton have predicted the rise of Nazi Germany in 1871???
Well if he didn’t predict it, he very possibly influenced it. His idea of Vril, a manipulable occult energy, coincided with theosophical notions of the late 1800s, and it’s certain that some people did take his ideas more seriously then they should have. In Morning of the Magicians, Pauwels and Bergier popularized the idea that one of these theosophical groups went on to become the Thule Society, a real group of occultists that were inextricably linked with the Nazi party. Odd as this may sound at first, it’s really not that hard to accept. The Nazis were definitely influenced by strange groups of occultists, and Lytton had been incredibly successful as a writer of popular fiction, fiction that was, as I have already discussed, taken a little too seriously by the European mystics of the time.
So if this book did influence the Nazis, what kind of influence did it have? If it had any effect, I would imagine it was quite small, serving perhaps as mere affirmation of the things that these crazies already believed. But there are those who claim that Vril had a much larger effect on WWII. One story goes that there was a German secret society that used sex magic and other diabolical practices to attain the Vril force. Apparently, some of its members did actually attain this power and used it to communicate with aliens from the Aldebaran Solar System. These aliens, not knowing that the Nazis were evil, sent back instructions on how to make spaceships, and the Nazis started building and using flying-saucers to win the war. Unfortunately for them, the Aldebaran aliens found out that they were the bad guys, and they cut their communication lines. The medium that the aliens had been communicating through, one Maria Orsic, went missing soon thereafter, and there is a lot of speculation about whether she was assassinated by an angry Nazi or abducted and taken to a planet near Aldebaran.
Think about that, the Vril force went from under the Earth’s crust to out of the Earth’s solar system. The only thing that’s missing in this conspiracy is some mention of the Holy Grail. But wait, we know that Otto Rahn, the Nazi Indiana Jones, spent years searching for the Holy Grail, and didn’t he claim that the Grail was a powerful force rather than a Chalice? Is Vril power the Holy Grail? I’m going to have to look into that.
Despite The Coming Race‘s relative crumminess, I know I’ll be referencing it again soon. In the meantime, give it a read; it’s short enough that you probably won’t feel like you’ve wasted your time reading it.