Nineteenth-century Egyptomania was one of the parents of early science fiction. In its combination of scientific revelations, imperial adventurers, exotic mystery, and outright speculation, Egyptomania opened the door for all sorts of fantasies about the course of time, the history of civilization, and the meanings of exploration. Even today, the mysteries of the ancient past as revealed through archaeology have an appeal for many which far outstrips their scientific value – and in early science fiction, this combination of mystery and science found a welcome home. Early science fiction is full of references to ancient Egypt, but, more than individual references, what nineteenth-century Egyptomania gave to early sci fi was a process of discovery: archaeology. Archaeology – the process of discovering hidden treasures, lost cities, or forgotten civilizations – was enthusiastically adapted by early science (or “speculative”) fiction writers, and so early sci fi is equally full of the dramas of archaeological discovery.
The following selection is no different, but it is remarkable for the scope of its archaeological fantasy: the hollow earth. The hollow earth was (and still is) a trope of adventurous discovery in the genre of early speculative fiction in which a lost and ancient civilization is discovered still existing within the center of the earth itself. H.G. Wells, Edgar Rice Burroughs, Jules Verne, and other early science fiction writers all utilized this trope of the hollow earth, and it still retains its typical nineteenth-century flavor: often the hidden world is one both of high civilization and naked savagery, both of extreme advancement and of extreme ruin. In the 1800s, these dramas were racial: questions of what the natural progress of civilization was frequently gave way to questions of racial capability, and often, cities of the hollow earth were populated by abundant racial stereotypes of both the “higher” and the “lower” races.
William Lyon’s The Hollow Globe is much more scientific treatise than fictional adventure, but it definitely stands as one of the nineteenth century’s clearest examples of the trope of the hollow earth. Lyon speculates as to the origin and history of the hollow earth, as well as the origin and history of its inhabitants. In a device plainly indebted to early speculative fiction writer Edgar Allan Poe, Lyon recounts the appearance of a mysterious stranger in his home, who imparts to him the secrets of the hollow earth.
THE HOLLOW GLOBE;
THE WORLD'S AGITATOR
ON THE PHYSICAL CONFORMATION OF THE EARTH,
Presented through the Organism of
M. L. SHERMAN, M. D.,
And Written by
PROF. WM. F.-LYON.
PUBLISHED BY SHERMAN & LYON.