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“”Life is a scream in the face of a bright madness, then! Life is a silly sound like a death rattle from an insane clown dying in the night, then.
Richard Shaver (1907-1975) was an American writer known for his belief in a race of malevolent subterranean beings called dero. He was, unsurprisingly, more than just a little loopy.
Born in Berwick, Pennsylvania in 1907, Shaver studied art and joined the Communist John Reed Club as a young man; in 1933 he married fellow art student Sophie Gurivinch and had a daughter the same year.
During the Depression Shaver found work as a welder in an automobile factory. He became paranoid, believing that people were following him, and was distraught by the death of his brother in February 1934; the following August his wife admitted him to Ypsilanti State Hospital. Decades later Shaver claimed that his stay at the hospital was merely due to shock from a case of heat stroke at work and that he was only there for two weeks, although his biographer Jim Pobst found evidence that Shaver spent a longer time at hospital; the exact length of his stay is unknown.
Sophie Shaver subsequently died, and her parents took custody of the couple's daughter. Reportedly, the girl's grandparents told her that her father was dead as well. Shaver remarried twice, his second wife leaving him after finding papers indicating that he had been a mental patient.
Mantong and the Shaver alphabet
In 1936 the magazine Science World ran an article by Albert F. Yeager in which he argued that six letters of the alphabet represented concepts, as well as sounds. The article caught the attention of Shaver, who sent a letter to the magazine claiming that he knew the hidden meanings of all twenty-six letters of the alphabet. Shaver called this alphabet of concepts Mantong, and claimed that it was the oldest language in the world.
In Mantong, according to Shaver's theory, the letter A represents the concept of animal. B, meanwhile, means simply "be," while C means "see." D is one of the most important letters in the Shaver alphabet: it stands for "detrimental" and represents all that is negative in the world. Its opposite is T, for "integration," which represents positivity. And so on for every letter of the alphabet.
Shaver claimed that, using this alphabet, definitions can be derived from words. For example, "bad" means "be a de" — that is, to be "bad" is to be detrimental. The word "devil" is a combination of "de," for detrimental, and "vile." "Morbid" becomes "more be I de," a phrase which Shaver claims means "I don't want to be any more, I want to die."
Partnership with Ray Palmer
In 1943 Shaver sent a letter outlining his linguistic theory (and citing it as "definite proof of the Atlantean legend") to another publication, Ray Palmer's pulp periodical Amazing Stories. Palmer duly published Shaver's findings in the December 1943 issue of his magazine.
The following year Shaver sent another piece of writing to Palmer: a 10,000 word article called "A Warning for Man." In 1945 this eventually saw print in the form of a 31,000 word story — it had apparently been re-written by the Amazing Stories staff — called "I Remember Lemuria!" This was a big hit with readers; reportedly, fan mail went from around 50 letters a month to 2,500.
Material on the "Shaver Mystery," as it came to be known, continued to run in Amazing Stories throughout the following years; the stories went under such catchy titles as "Invasion of the Micro-Men," "Mer-Witch of Ether-18," "Zigor Mephisto's Collection of Mentalia," and "Of Gods & Goats." The June 1947 edition of Amazing was billed as the "All Shaver Mystery Issue," and described the whole affair as "The Most Sensational True Story Ever Told." In a 2000 article, Bruce Lanier Wright summarizes the stories as "an unforgettable blend of high-flying imagination with curiously homely touches, as when we encounter a highly intelligent snail-centaur named Hank."
According to Shaver, while working as a welder he heard voices that were being projected into his head through the welding equipment. He claimed that the voices originated from an underground civilisation, and that, in a past life as a fellow named Mutan Mion, he himself lived in these underground cities. The inhabitants of these caves, although human, originated in another solar system; once an advanced civilisation, they had since degenerated. Shaver called these beings dero, short for detrimental energy robots; not because they are mechanical, but because they are slaves to detrimental energy. Not all of the inhabitants of the subterranean cities are corrupted, however: the underground is also home to tero, or integrative robots, who defend humanity from the dero.
The voices he heard were just the beginning. Shaver claimed to have been jailed for vagrancy, only to be released under mysterious circumstances and taken to meet benevolent subterraneans:
What happened is a girl comes leading the turnkey who acts like he is walking in his sleep. He turns the key and lets me go. She leads us both down the hall to the outer door, who he again opens and we both walked out. I followed her with somewhat mixed and numb sensations for about a mile in the night outside of the town. Then we walked into a hill — a section of the hill closed down behind us… all the time I knew 'she' was just a sort of transparent projection, but you had to get close to see the difference from real. And so I was in. I spent a day or two talking to them, and they filled me on on the whole complex situation…
Shaver outlined the origin of the dero as follows:
Long ago it happened that certain (underground) cities were abandoned and into these cities stole many mild mortals [sic - Shaver probably meant "wild"] to live... due to their improper handling of the life-force and ray apparatus in the abandoned cities, these apparatii became harmful in effect.
...These ignorant people learned to play with these things, but not to renew them; so gradually they were mentally impregnated with the persistently disintigrative particles... these wild people, living in the same rooms with degenerating force generators, in time became dero, which is short for detrimental energy robot. When this process has gone on long enough, a race of dero is produced whose every thought movement is concluded with the decision to kill.
Shaver stated that the dero could interfere with the surface world using mind control devices and death rays. Some could even walk on the surface world disguised as humans, although others were too deformed to pass muster. Shaver and Palmer also rewrote the laws of physics, as in this explanation as to how the Lemurians propelled their spacecraft:
[G]ravity is the friction of condensing exd, ex-disentegrance, falling through matter into earth. By using a beam of similarly condensing particles of ex-disentegrance a harmless beam of upward gravity is obtained which can levitate matter slowly or drive it upward at immense speed. All space is filled with the ash from disintegrance of the suns of the universe. This, condensing again into matter, is integance or gravity.
Shaver's cosmology also includes two additional planets in the solar system: the tenth is two billion miles beyond Pluto, while the eleventh is named Quanto. Quanto is inhabited by a race known as the Nortans or Nor-men, who "shun all suns and can only be found where the sun rays shine not".
"I Remember Lemuria!"
"I Remember Lemuria!" takes the form of a fairly unremarkable pulp space opera that starts off on Earth several millennia ago, when the planet was known variously as Mu, Pan and Lemuria. The underground cities of Mu are home to two races called the Atlans and Titans (capable of growing to enormous proportions, they were the "giants in the Earth" mentioned in Genesis) along with an array of hybrids between these groups and alien races, dubbed "variforms." The main character is Shaver's supposed past self Mutan Mion, an inhabitant of the underground Lemurian city Sub Atlan (so called because it is located beneath Atlantis, or Surface Atlan).
Mutan reluctantly abandons his career as a painter to study medicine, and ends up learning of a plan to evacuate the Atlans from Earth, thereby saving them from harmful effects of the Earth's sun, which would otherwise lower their lifespan by centuries. Unfortunately, the plan is opposed by some groups of Atlans, and so it must be kept secret to avoid sabotage. Mutan and his love interest Arl (a purple woman with hooves and a tail) narrowly avoid a ray gun killing spree performed by a group of evil Lemurians who want to hijack the escape so that they can have the new sun to themselves — "Such a view could only be the result of detrimental err," opines Mutan.
Mutan and his comrades escape the attacking dero and flee into space, arriving on the planet Quanto. Once they bring news of the dero to the Nortans who inhabit the planet, Quanto is also evacuated and Mutan travels to Nor, the planet where the Nortans originated. There, the Nortan princess Vanue gives him the mission to return to Earth and leave behind a message (using "imperishable plates of telonion, our eternal metal") preserving Lemurian science for the civilisation's degenerate descendents, who, having left the underground cities, will become short-lived midgets under the harmful effects of the Earth's sun.
Mutan arrives back on Earth and infiltrates a Lemurian control room, which he finds to have been overrun by abandondero - described as "hideous dwarfs" and descended from fugitives who had broken into abandoned underground cities and used defective pleasure simulators, resulting in deformed offspring. It turns out that nearly a century ago the entire government was taken over by these abandondero, who are working for an exiled Lemurian elder named Zeit.
After a climactic battle Mutan and the Nortans manage to defeat Zeit and his abandondero using a sleeping ray. "Zeit was a three-hundred-footer, and he was not only big, but amazingly fat from his soft life in his hideout", says Mutan upon finding the comatose supervillain. "It was going to be a real job to get him to the surface alive. It would not be surprising if the soldiers found it necessary to take him apart and reassemble him later on." With the villains routed the Atlans set off for another planet, catchily dubbed New Mu, leaving Earth to the "wild men in the culture forests".
The story has been reprinted in a few books alongside "The Return of Sathanas", a sequel that originally ran in the November 1947 issue of Amazing; this time co-credited to Bob McKenna. This story inserts our old pal Satan into the Shaver cosmology, as Mutan and Arl travel back to Earth to take on a dero named Sathanas, ruler of the planet Satana, the inhabitants of which are referred to as Satanists. Sathanas is described as a hybrid of a goat-legged alien race, horned Titans, and a group of humans called Angles - apparently, Shaver and co were trying to draw a connection between the angels of Judeo-Christian belief and the Germanic tribe of Angles (Sathanas is identified as an "Arch-Angle"). The story also throws Norse mythology into the mix, with the heroes meeting Odin (described by Mutan as having a "ruby-red Santa Claus face") and the rest, although a footnote explains that these are not the original Aesir but merely people named in their honour. The story also briefly goes into some detail about the Atlans' first arrival on Earth, after which they founded the city of Atlansgar and fought Cronus, the Migard Serpent and "the mad early Titans". Mutan's adventures were also recounted in "Invasion of the Micro Men", "The Land of Kui" and what appears to have been the last Shaver Mystery story to run in Amazing, "We Dance for the Dom".
Shaver's contributions to the magazine prompted some bizarre entries in the letters column. "For heaven's sake drop the whole thing!" read one anonymous letter. "You are playing with dynamite. My companion and I fought our way out of a cave with a submachine gun... [M]y friend has a hole the size of a dime in his right biceps. It was scarred inside. How we don't know. But we both believe we know more about The Shaver Mystery than any other pair". Writer David Hatcher Childress comments that this letter may have been fabricated by Palmer.
The January 1947 issue of Amazing published a letter by one Margaret Rogers. Rogers claimed that, while suffering from a heroin addiction in Mexico City in 1930, she was taken into a cave through a concealed entrance by her friend Doc Kelmer (who belonged to something called the "Electro Therapy Institute"). Inside, Rogers was taken into the care of a race of ten-foot-tall cave-dwellers named Nephli; the Nephli were an advanced people who were able to cure Rogers' drug addiction using their technology. They also had vehicles powered by thought, and shrinking machines which allowed them to pass as humans and walk the surface world. Rogers claimed to have lived in the caves for around three years, during which time she learned that they were also inhabited by hostile beings called Janza and colonies of Venusians - "all planets as large as Earth (and larger) have life in humanoid form", she said. Jim Wentworth followed up the Rogers case in his 1947 book Beginning, and later reported that she had died of a stroke in 1955 after moving to the United States in the mid-thirties.
Amazing's promotion of the Shaver mystery prompted a backlash from science fiction fans - according to Jim Pobst,[note 1] a group called the Queens Science Fiction League of New York[note 2] complained to Anthony Comstock's New York Society for the Suppression of Vice that the Shaver stories endangered the sanity of their readers, while others attempted to have the magazine banned from the mail.  Although this sounds like the sort of thing that known delusional authors claim, it is the case that many fans considered the Shaver Mystery stuff annoying bilge and orchestrated letter-writing campaigns to Amazing asking them to please stop printing this rubbish.
In a radio call-in show with Ray Palmer, one listener brought up accusations that Shaver's claims were lifted from Edward Bulwer-Lytton's 1871 novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race. Palmer responded by suggesting that Bulwer-Lytton had also visited the dero caves.[note 3]
Eventually Palmer left Amazing and started promoting the Shaver mystery elsewhere. In 1948 he published a book re-using the title I Remember Lemuria, along with Fate, the first of his several magazines dealing with ufology and the paranormal. In 1957 Shaver once again graced Amazing Stories when it devoted an issue to flying saucers.
The two men went on to co-write a book entitled The Secret World. This was published in 1975, the year in which Richard Shaver and Ray Palmer both died.
The Shaver Mystery sans Shaver
Following the death of its two main proponents, the Shaver Mystery found a life-support system of sorts in the hollow Earth theory. Although Shaver dismissed this theory when alive, his beliefs obviously overlapped with those of the hollow-Earthers, who ended up more or less absorbing the Shaver pantheon of dero and tero - today, the Shaver Mystery is generally treated as a subset of hollow-Earth beliefs.
A few small-press magazines covered Shaver and his views, amongst them Richard Toronto's Shavertron, from 1979 to 1985; Mary LeVesque's The Hollow Hassle, from 1979 to 1983; and Dennis Crenshaw's The Hollow Earth Insider, published in the nineties.
Other dero accounts
Since Shaver revealed his theories, reports of dero encounters have been made by others. One case comes from John Robinson, who claimed to have met a dero victim named Steve Brodie. Upon seeing an issue of Amazing Stories with material on the Shaver mystery, Brodie reportedly related to Robinson how, in 1938, he had met two cowled figures who rendered him unconscious by placing small devices behind his ears. Robinson says that Brodie woke up in a cave with some other men, who told him that they were prisoners of the dero; Brodie eventually found himself walking Manhattan, with no idea of how he got there. He later vanished again, said Robinson.
The race of "derro", or dark dwarves, introduced into the role-playing game Dungeons and Dragons is clearly a tip-of-the-hat to this fictional race. The D&D offshoot Pathfinder ties the derro more strongly to their roots in Shaver's writings, combined with elements of gray aliens such as alien abduction.
- Not "Probst" as misspelt by Childress.
- This group's activities were detailed at the time in Fantasy Times, edited by James V. Taurasi, and also appear in Harry Warner, Jr.'s history of science fiction fandom, All Our Yesterdays.
- The interview can be heard here, with the relevant discussion occurring about 26:20 of the way through.
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 218-19
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 219-20
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 220
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 221
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 214-5
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 221-2
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 223
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 226
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. iv-v
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 62
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. v
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 38
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 42
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 10
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 50
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 27-8
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 229
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 224-5
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 227-8
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 229
- Harry Warner Jr., All Our Yesterdays: an informal history of science fiction fandom in the 1940s. Framingham, MA: NESFA Press, 1969, p, 228
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 229-31
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 232
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, pp. 232-3
- David Hatcher Childress and Richard Shaver: Lost Continents & the Hollow Earth, p. 235