Saturday, January 23, 2016

The Origins of Horse Hockey - Edward Bulwer-Lytton and the Coming Race

Edward Bulwer-Lytton is sadly best known today for the stupid unfunny award that has his name.  The award is for the funniest, most overblown opening line for a novel, based on the shaky premise that "It was a dark and stormy night" (Lytton's line) is the worst possible opening for a book.  It's not, but it did become a literary cliche along the lines of "the butler did it", thanks mainly to Snoopy.

As someone who actually reads fiction, I've seen plenty of opening stinkers much worse than the award winners.  I always assumed these were actual books, but nope, it's just jokey one-liners written badly on purpose.  This would be like if the Razzies were just clips of people hanging boom mikes into the shot on purpose.

Bulwer-Lytton is far from the worst author ever, and his prose is far more accessible to modern audiences than that of his contemporaries.

I'v spoken about The Haunter and the Haunters; or, The House and the Brain and how it was an early occult detective story and inspiration for the Shadow.

Even more inspirational is 1871's The Coming Race.  In this novel, the protagonist finds himself in an underground world populated by an ancient society of beings called the Vril-ya.  These beings channel an energy force called vril through special staffs.  Vril can both heal and destroy.

The novel was very popular in it's time, largely because of the notion of vril.  Bovril gets it's name from the fictional force.

Here are the three major areas on which The Coming Race had a massive influence:

Civilizations within the hollow earth:

Several prior satires had utopian societies living underground.

The Coming Race seemed to very clearly influence HP Lovecraft's "The Mound", which in turn influenced Richard Shaver, which in turn influenced Jack Kirby's Eternals and countless other areas of science fiction.

The Coming Race also had some influence on Helena Blavatsky, who wrote about contacting ascending masters that lived underground.  Blavatsky has influenced everything from the New Age movement to Ufology.


I don't think the Vril-ya were aliens, but various ancient alien variations started being slipped into the template beginning with Lovecraft.  Shaver influenced Jason Bishop, who is responsible for a lot of the Dulce Base material.  Pretty much anything today having to do with secret underground bases can be traced back to this.

Nazi Occultism

The Coming Race probably did little for the Nazis, but it shows up in modern myths about Nazi Occultism.  Thanks to various sloppy writers making stuff up (starting with 1960s Morning of the Magicians), The Vril Society supposedly was the secret occult hand behind Hitler.  It wasn't, but it appears in places like the Wolfenstein games and Legend of Overfiend.

1 comment:

  1. I agree that "It was a dark and stormy night" isn't a horrible opening, but the rest of that sentence is seriously run-on and overwrought, though that can be kind of endearing in 19th century literature:

    "It was a dark and stormy night; the rain fell in torrents—except at occasional intervals, when it was checked by a violent gust of wind which swept up the streets (for it is in London that our scene lies), rattling along the housetops, and fiercely agitating the scanty flame of the lamps that struggled against the darkness."

    The best of the "Bad Writing" contest entries really strive to capture some of that excess.