The Almighty Power of the Vril-Ya!

the-coming-race-vrilThe 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.

Gutted

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The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain – Lord Lytton 
Originally published – 1859

A few years ago, I read about the books of Edward Bulwer Lytton in Colin Wilson’s The Occult. Discovering that this Lytton lad was supposed to be friends with Eliphas Levi and that his books were about wizards, ghosts, and secret societies, I quickly put him on my to-read list. A few months after doing so, I saw his name in Nicholas Goodrick Clarke’s The Occult Roots of Nazism. Combining what I already knew about Lytton with the fact that one of his works had apparently inspired a bizarre conspiracy theory about subterranean, black magic Nazis, I knew that I had to make acquiring his books a priority.

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The four texts that Wilson specifically named were Zanoni,  A Strange Story, The Coming Race, and The Haunted and the Haunters. I found audiobook versions of the latter two on librivox, downloaded them and stuck them on my phone. The mp3 of The Haunted and The Haunters was only an hour and 10 minutes long, and I listened to it at work the other day.

It was a little disappointing to be honest. A lad hears about a haunted house and decides to spend the night there. He sees some ghosts, and a few days later he discovers a secret room containing a peculiar device that essentially functions as a ghost machine. He breaks the ghost machine, and then everyone lives happily ever after.

This is a ghost story, but it’s not remotely spooky. During the most climactic scenes, the narrator makes a point of telling the reader that he is not afraid, and it’s very hard to feel scared for a person who seems to understand the situation better than you. The chap comes across as a know-it-all wanker to be honest; I’d take a terrified Jamesian protagonist over this gobshite any day.

Lytton’s use of fiction to present his ideas about the supernatural may have been novel at the time this was published, but I found it rather trite. He goes over the old “nothing is really supernatural because supernatural means impossible and nothing is impossible” argument. Just because science can’t yet explain ghosts, ESP, clairvoyance and all that good stuff, there’s no reason to believe that it won’t some day be able to. This is a fair point to make, but it doesn’t have much bearing on whether or not these things actually exist.

The story comes to a very abrupt end. After enduring the night in the house, the lads find a chest of drawers in a secret room. In this chest is a portrait of another lad who the narrator seems to have seen before and a weird, home-made, magic compass that has been cursed. Once this strange device is destroyed, everything is grand. That’s it. End of story.

Fairly shit, all things considered.

the-endIs that really the end though?

This story was originally published as “The Haunted and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain” in the July-December 1859 edition of Blackwood’s Magazine. I find it quite strange that an original publication would feature two titles. Subsequent appearances of the tale have often been published under one title or the other.  I have read that the “House and Brain” title usually denotes an abridged version of the story, but I have read the exact same thing about the “Haunter and Haunted” title. Perhaps the different titles were once used to denote the different versions of the story, but at this stage, neither title can be trusted to signify the abridgment.

haunted-house-brainMy copy of the text has both titles, but it’s the abridged version.

If you have any sense and want to make sure that you’re reading the full version, the last paragraph of the original version of the story starts with the phrase;
“So ends this strange story, which I ask no one to believe.”

The first line of the final paragraph in the SHITTY-BUM abridged version reads;
We found no more. Mr. J—— burnt the tablet and its anathema.
If there is one thing that I simply can not abide, it’s an abridged book. If this is the ending of the tale you are reading, look elsewhere for satisfaction!

The abridgment absolutely guts the story. The haunting in the original features a creepier ghost, a slightly more gruesome description of the death of the narrator’s dog, several other minor edits, and most importantly: a tense confrontation between the narrator and the wizard responsible for bewitching the house. The complete version is by no means a brilliant piece of literature, but it is at least somewhat coherent, and it’s far more enjoyable than the shortened piece of drek. Imagine reading a version of the Shining in which all references to Jack Torrence’s family have been cut out and you’ll get a sense of the shitness of the abridged version of this tale.

Luckily, the unabridged version is widely available on the web (It’s on page 244 of the edition of Blackwood’s Magazine that I’ve already linked to.). An article from the July 1938 edition of the Theosophical Forum suggests that Bulwer cut parts out of this tale to use in his novel, A Strange Story.  That novel was published in 1862, three years after The Haunted and the Haunters. I haven’t read A Strange Story yet, and it may be a while before I get around to it, but I’ll read over Haunted/Haunters again when I do to see how the ideas were transferred between the two.

As I have already mentioned, I first heard about Lytton in Colin Wilson’s The Occult. I decided to read back over the relevant passages in that book to see if there was anything pertaining to this particular story. Wilson quotes the entire description of the curious portrait that is found near the cursed saucer to give an example of what he thinks a black magician should look like. He then says, “And when he later added a new ending to the story, Lytton extended this sketch into a full-length portrait of a man who seems to be a combination of the Wandering Jew and the Count de Saint-Germain.” Colin Wilson, author extraordinaire and expert on the occult, seems to have believed that the original version of this story was the short version. Wilson also lists Lytton’s first name as Henry in the index to the book when his name was actually Edward (His elder brother was named Henry.) Colin Wilson, it seems, was not very thorough in his research.

rubbishGood riddance to this pile of unlettered garbage.

 

 

Zanoni – Edward Bulwer-Lytton

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P.F. Collier – 1892

Last year, I ordered a set of books by Edward Bulwer-Lytton. It’s a 9 volume set of his most popular works. All the books are double-paged, and each volume contains a few different works.  I have a pretty big reading list, and it took a few months to get around to any of these battered old tomes, but almost as soon as I started reading, I knew this set had been a wise purchase. If you find a cheap copy of these books, buy them immediately. I spent about three times the cost of the books on the postage, but it was still worth it. (UPS are a dirty shower of thieving bastards!)
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A pretty cool cover. N.b. the fasces and the obscenity.

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LOL

These books were published in 1892, and it shows. The spines are all cracked and the binding is falling apart. I had to sit down at a desk and carefully turn each page so as not to cause further damage. Now one might think that this would have been detrimental to my enjoyment of these texts, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. I felt so cool, patiently leafing through the pages and inhaling their aged musk. One can only imagine my delight on finding that the text that I started reading was about a ciphered manuscript given to the author by a mysterious Rosicrucian whom he had met in an esoteric bookshop. All my dreams were coming true at once!

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The frontispiece of Zanoni. It depicts Gaeto Pisani and his daughter, Viola. (I think.)

The manuscript tells the tale of Zanoni, an immortal sorcerer and member of an extremely exclusive secret society consisting of only two people. He tries his best to help out a pair of young lovers, but he fails miserably and ends up making their lives incredibly difficult. The youngfella thinks that Zanoni is really cool, and tries his best to be like him. Zanoni is fairly chuffed, and invites him to join his club. Unfortunately for everyone, Glyndon, the young man,  doesn’t get past the initiation ritual for the order, and ends up spending the rest of his days getting stalked by a particularly nasty entity called ‘the dweller of the threshold’.

Lytton was a hugely popular writer in the 19th century, and apparently the theosophists were big fans of his. Helena Blavatsky introduced a version of the dweller of the threshold into her teachings. She described it as an extension of one’s astral body that results from the remnants of past lives. Other occultists have appropriated the dweller in other equally silly ways. Van Morrison, everyone’s favourite adept of easy-listening, had an interest in the occult at some stage, and he used one of these bastardized versions of the dweller for the topic of one of his songs. Before I go any further, I want to declare my extreme and utter hatred for Van Morrison. I remember being a kid and having the tape of Van the man’s greatest hits playing in the car every fucking time my parents took me on a drive. I didn’t know what it was called, but I referred to it as ‘sweaty music’ because that’s how it made me feel. I actually listened to his song a few times before I wrote this review, and it made me want to vomit and shit diarrhea at the same time. Anyways, the lyrics to Morrison’s song are about some kind of benevolent source of spiritual inspiration. Bollocks to that. In Lyttons work, the dweller is a seriously nasty piece of work:

Its form was veiled as the face, but the outline was that of a female; yet it moved not as move even the ghosts that simulate the living. It seemed rather to crawl as some vast misshapen reptile; and pausing, at length it cowered beside the table which held the mystic volume, and again fixed its eyes through the filmy veil on the rash invoker. All fancies, the most grotesque, of monk or painter in the early North, would have failed to give to the visage of imp or fiend that aspect of deadly malignity which spoke to the shuddering nature in those eyes alone. All else so dark,—shrouded, veiled and larva-like. But that burning glare so intense, so livid, yet so living, had in it something that was almost HUMAN in its passion of hate and mockery,—something that served to show that the shadowy Horror was not all a spirit, but partook of matter enough, at least, to make it more deadly and fearful an enemy to material forms. As, clinging with the grasp of agony to the wall,—his hair erect, his eyeballs starting, he still gazed back upon that appalling gaze,—the Image spoke to him: his soul rather than his ear comprehended the words it said.

“Thou hast entered the immeasurable region. I am the Dweller of the Threshold. What wouldst thou with me?”

Deadly, isn’t she?

I won’t say much more about the plot, as I don’t want to ruin the story on you. Being honest though, this is not a great book. There are some fairly big flaws here; it seems a bit like the author was making up the plot as he went along, and the detailed parts on the French revolution are neither interesting nor particularly relevant. Some editions use the subtitle; ‘A Rosicrucian tale’, and this is fairly apt: there’s probably a lot of symbolic and esoteric meaning between the lines that will only become apparent to patient students of hermeneutics, but I’m not really concerned with that shit. This is an old book about wizards, spirits, demons, and babes with heaving bosoms, and I thought it was deadly.