An altogether amazing story

Shaver1-590x845In 1943, a letter arrived at the editorial offices of Amazing Stories, a Chicago-based science fiction magazine that had prospered in the pulp fiction craze that had begun a decade before. The letter told an amazing story: In underground caverns there lived the survivors of an ancient race of people. Radiation had mutated some of them and they had become what the letter called deros, or degenerate robots. The deros had access to the machinery of the ancient civilization, and used it to affect the minds of the humans on the surface.

The letter was nothing less than a wake up call to mankind to the unseen forces in our world. What made the letter different from anything else that showed up at Amazing Stories, was that the letter writer, Richard Sharpe Shaver, insisted that it was not fiction. He held that he had direct experience of the caverns and the mind-influencing machinery.

The associate editor, who had read the letter aloud, tossed it into the trash. But the editor, Ray Palmer, saw promise in it. He fished the letter from the wastebasket, rewrote it to give it a sense of narrative, and published it in 1945 as “I Remember Lemuria.”

For the next three years, Palmer continued to publish stories about what came to be known as the Shaver Mystery. Shaver’s claims that the tale was true and Palmer’s insistence that he believed in the Shaver Mystery’s veracity were transgressive. It smelled of a hoax and it outraged orthodox sci-fi buffs. Richard Toronto’s new book, “War over Lemuria,” looks at the controversy that split the small but fanatic world of science fiction fandom.

Toronto is the editor of the Shavertron fanzine, dedicated to the Shaver Mystery. He knew both Shaver and Palmer, who died in 1975 and 1977 respectively, and other members of what was known the Inner Circle at Ziff-Davis, the publishers of Amazing Stories and other titles. This book is as much as a dual biography of Palmer and Shaver as it is an exploration of the Shaver Mystery.

The associate editor, who had read the letter aloud, tossed it into the trash.

Shaver appears in Toronto’s telling as a well-meaning if often-lost individual. He began hearing voices, the source of his knowledge about the caverns, in his 20s. The voices got him two lengthy stints in mental institutions, but as Toronto shows, Shaver seems to have largely weathered the auditory hallucinations like a chronic condition, albeit one that colored his understanding of cause and effect in the world.

Ray Palmer was the son of an abusive father. At the age of 9 he was hit by a milk truck and so badly injured that he was expected to die. He survived but with severe internal injuries that stunted his growth and caused him lifelong pain. He compensated for his disabilities by mythologizing himself in grandiose terms and writing bombastic prose that never seemed to need to come up for air.  He was part editor, part huckster. And when Richard Shaver sent his letter to Palmer, he had unintentionally found the Svengali to make the most of his tale.

One of my reasons for my interest in this subject is that Richard Shaver was a relative of mine. In the 1930s, before the Shaver Mystery, he was married to my mom’s oldest sister. So parts of this book are a fleshing out of strange, old family stories that I heard in pieces through the years.  Still, these chapters were hard to read. My family’s role in Shaver’s institutionalization, as seen from today, is far less than exemplary.

The Shaver Mystery still circulates within the UFO, Bermuda Triangle and crop circles crowd. But are the threats these phenomena pose from without or from within our own minds?



Filed under books, popular culture, reading

20 responses to “An altogether amazing story

  1. Seems to me that Shavers’ story has about the same ring of truth to it as L. Ron Hubbard’s. But there’s a good chapter on auditory hallucinations in the book Hallucinations, by Oliver Sacks.

  2. I enjoy the books and publications of the 30’s. My favorites were the series of books on Charilie Chan by Der Biggers and Dr.Strange. I still am a sucker for the Chan flicks and have seen the Thin Man more than a dozen times. Those writers had a flair for being highly imaginative.

  3. Who is to say that Shaver was the one who had mental problems?

  4. I think these threats are from within our own minds myself!

  5. What an interesting piece of family history! This will be a good story to pass down through the generations 🙂

  6. mikeatencio

    It would appear that you have vindicated your family’s error in judgement by your comments here today. Everyone of us has a moment when we are great and each has a time when we are not. His was his stories, your’s is recognizing him as a human being, not a throwaway mental case. Awesome conversation. Mike

  7. I love sci-fi and I have never heard of this. Thanks for the heads up. I can’t wait to read up this.

  8. Midwestern Plant Girl

    It would be fun to have a great family story! Sadly, I may need to make one up as our family is as boring as grass growing.
    Congrats on being pressed!!!

  9. Wow, I’d never heard of this but I am absolutely fascinated now. I do find myself curious about how relatives connected to people who are involved in something noteworthy are affected. Thanks for sharing.

    This is also a well-written piece with a nice plug for “War Over Lemuria.”

  10. ~@~

    I really like this. I know some UFO buffs in my home that will love this.

  11. This is pretty interesting. Who’s to say that he was a little odd. Maybe these things are true and we’re just too blind or stubborn to see it. I guess i should go read the book too. Great post!

  12. Pingback: Seven cool books | David Wrote This

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