I recently fell down a rabbithole after seeing a reference to 19th century American “Hollow Earth” proponents who toured the country giving lectures on the purported existence of a society living within the earth’s center. Some of these so-called explorers even raised funds for expeditions to reach the center of the earth. In the course of my own rambles, I stumbled on the novel Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd.
The book Etidorhpa; or, the End of the Earth: the Strange History of a Mysterious Being and the Account of a Remarkable Journey, is John Uri Lloyd’s whimsical take on the “hollow earth” genre. Published by the Cincinnati-based pharmacologist John Uri Lloyd in 1895, the novel focuses on a man named Johannes Llewellyn Llongollyn Drury, studying occult and alchemic phenomena, receives an unexpected visitor late in the night. A white-haired man teleports into his parlor. The old man entrusts a manuscript to our narrator, recounting events that transpired three decades earlier, and eventually introduces himself by the odd name of “I—Am—The—Man—Who—Did—It”.
The story then switches to content of the manuscript, which tells of the old man’s kidnapping by a secret hermetic society. His captors forced him to prematurely age in order to disguise his identity. Soon after, I—Am—The—Man is indentured to a guide, who is essentially a lizard man. The reptilian leads the now-aged man to the underworld (the entrance of which, we learn, is to be found in Kentucky). It’s like Dante meets Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland meets contemporary internet conspiracy theories about “the reptilian elite”. As Drury and the creature descend into the earth’s interior, their ever-evolving philosophical debate finds new scenery: forests of colossal fungi; a field of Brobdingnag hands affixed to the bodies of Lilliputians; and the experience of “eternity without time.”
The book’s title derives from an encounter with a being named “Etidorhpa”, who appears after I—Am—The—Man declines to drink a distillation of “derivates of the rarest species of the fungus family”. Instead of drugs, he is intoxicated by this seraphic creature, whose rhetorical flourishes almost eclipse her physical beauty. “The universe bows to my authority”, she says. “Stars and suns enamored pulsate and throb in space and kiss each other in waves of light; atoms cold embrace and cling together; structures inanimate affiliate with and attract inanimate structures; bodies dead to other noble passions are not dead to love.” She later introduces herself as an entity once known as Venus, but whose true name is Etidorhpa (“Aphrodite” in reverse).
If you are intrigued, it’s possible to read and download a digital version of the pre-Jules Verne Journey to the Center of the Earth at the Project Gutenberg website right here.