“I remember Lemuria!”: The Shaver Mystery, a myth for the atomic age

Brought to the fore by the pulp magazine "Amazing Stories", directed by Ray Palmer, in the 40s of the last century, the "Mystery Shaver" is still remembered today as one of the most controversial and influential chapters of the vein - halfway between occultism and science fiction - of the so-called “Alternative Reality”.

di Francesco Cerofolini
originally published on Incunabula

On a day in September 1943 a bizarre letter was delivered to the editorial office of Amazing Stories. The young editorial director opens it Howard Browne. "Gentlemen, I am sending you this letter in the hope that you will include it in an article to prevent her from dying with me. It will provoke many discussions. I am sending you the language so that someday you can have it examined by someone at the university or a scholar friend of ancient times. This language seems to be the definitive proof of the Atlantean legendBrowne reads aloud for the delight of his colleagues. Then he crumbles the letter and throws it in the trash can. "The world is full of nuts," says Browne. But that unscrewed triggers something in Ray Palmer who worked in the same studio. Palmer has a nose for good stories, otherwise he wouldn't be the director of Amazing Stories. Palmer retrieves the letter from the trash, reads it greedily and then turning to Browne: “And you dare to call yourself editorial director? Publish it in full in the letter column of the next issue ». Palmer has a flair for stories. And he had just found the one in his life. The letter was signed by a certain Richard Shaver of Barto, Pensylvania.

Start like this the saga of the "Mystery Shaver" (or "Mockery Shaver" as its detractors renamed it), perhaps the most bizarre chapter in the history of American science fiction. A story in which reality and fiction collide, the story of two men, a bit dreamers and a bit cheaters, who tried to sell science fiction as if it were a revealed truth. A parable that shows how man desperately needs to believe, no matter what, and that anticipates the various modern mythologies of the twentieth century such as ufology, conspiracy theory and that of ancient astronauts. But the story of the "Mystery Shaver" is above all a story of nuts. And the nutters are very nice to me. This is why I decided to tell it. Before revealing what was written in the letter from the mysterious Richard Shaver, it is good to talk a little about the recipient, Ray Palmer.

Meet Ray Palmer

“In these times of monotonous and unconvincing untruth, there is still something to be grateful for. Palmer's promotions have the touch of genius. He possesses vitality, flair and true persuasive ability. The brilliance of her lights makes them visible from miles away. The thing to do is to get comfortable and enjoy the show. "

PalmerWith these words the science fiction writer PW Fairman describes Palmer in 1952. Part writer, part business owner and part hustler, Palmer built his science fiction career from practically nothing. With an outgoing and ambitious character, he knew very well how to show off. Once in his editorial he wrote that he perfectly remembered when in the year of his birth (he was born on August 1, 1910) he was held by the window to see Halley's comet. When a reader wrote to him that it was not possible, as the comet was not visible after July, he replied: «Maybe? Perhaps I saw her psychically from my mother's womb».

Among the other stories he loved to tell about himself was the one that saw him reading the newspaper every day at the age of four and as a teenager devouring sixteen library books a day. In reality, Palmer's childhood was tragic. At the age of seven, a truck hit him, fracturing his vertebra. Over the years this increased the pressure on his spine to the point that it prevented him from standing and walking. The doctors attempted a spinal transplant but the operation caused an infection that put little Palmer in serious danger. Ray survived but was disabled. He became hunchbacked and chronic pain accompanied him throughout his life. His height never exceeded five feet.

Palmer threw himself headlong into reading and soon discovered his true love: science fiction. It didn't take long for him to start writing too. At sixteen a story of him was published and accepted by Science Wonder. He was actively involved in the nascent science fiction fandom, writing short stories and publishing fanzines. In 1938 the publisher Ziff-Davis offered him the post of Director of Amazing Stories. His shrewdness enabled him to strike a deal with Ziff-Davis which secured a percentage of the magazine's profits. But the most sensational blow of him was born from that letter that he saved from the trash in that September of 1943.

An antediluvian alphabet

The content of the letter was bizarre and bizarre. It illustrated a sort of code that in the author's opinion was hidden in the common Latin alphabet. The letter A stood for animal. The B meant to be, given the assonance with the to be of the English language. The more we went ahead the more the revelations became sensational (or delusional depending on the point of view). The T, similar to the cross, stood for "integration" while the D symbolized the disintegrating energy.

"We present this interesting letter concerning an ancient language without any comment, except to say that we have the literal meaning for the single letters of many root words and proper names of ancient origin, drawing a surprising meaning from it [...] Is this a case of racial memory, and does this formula form the basis of one of the oldest languages ​​on Earth? The mystery intrigues us a lot. The director "

With these words Palmer presented to his readers the first piece of what would become known as the "Mystery Shaver". The response from the public was as exceptional as it was unexpected. Palmer will say, if it's to be believed, that he has received over fifty thousand letters. Hundreds of readers claimed to have applied the instructions contained in the letter and discovered the hidden meaning of the words. Palmer realized he had something big in his hands. He decided to go straight to the source and contact Shaver himself to find out more.

A mythology for the Atomic Age

When asked for new material, Shaver replied with a 10000-word typescript titled a "A Warning to Future Man ". The text was bizarre and rambling, in line with the first letter, so Palmer went to the typewriter and produced a 31000-word story entitled "I Remember Lemuria! ", a sort of summa of Shaverian mythology.

MDJackson_Shaver_1The cosmogony developed by Shaver began over twenty thousand years ago when the earth was dominated by Titans, gigantic beings from the stars. The Titans were long-lived and eternally young, and surpassed us in intellect and technological development. Among the various wonders of their technology stood out genetic engineering, through which they had created a large amount of species to be used for toil. One of these races, thousands of years later, would have spawned that of the Homo sapiens. Other races were equipped with six arms to maneuver the machines of the Titans, whose memory has been preserved in the representations of Hindu deities. Others had horns and hooves, others half human and half snakes. Shaver called these races "robotic", not because they were mechanical in any way but because they were mentally controlled by the Titans through a device called canvas, abbreviation of telepathic augmentor.

Over time the sun began to change and its rays became lethal to the Titans, causing them to age and die. The Golden Age was over. The Titans could not stay on the surface of the Earth, so they built huge underground cities connected by a dense network of tunnels. But all this was not enough. Harmful radiation from the sun also penetrated the depths of the Earth. So the Titans evacuated the planet to settle on a new world with a new sun. But there was not enough space in the Titans' spaceships, so the robotic races were left behind. Over the centuries some of them rose to the surface and adapted to live under the sun.

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vainOthers instead preferred to remain in the darkness of the caves. They degenerated into a race of hideous dwarves, the dero (short for detrimental robots). The dero are the center of Shaver's mythology (and obsessions). Animated only by hatred and pure evil, Through the machinery left behind by the Titans the dero torment the inhabitants of the surface using rays capable of killing or driving mad. Over the years Shaver will blame the blame for the murders that fill the chronicles, the catastrophes, the deaths of Franklin D. Roosvelt and Kennedy, the Holocaust and even the crucifixion of Christ. When they are not busy doing evil for the sake of it, the dero vent their sexual perversions on poor earthlings with the help of special "stimulating" machinery. According to Shaver, it also exists a benign faction, the teros, but which unfortunately is infinitely weaker than the evil cousins.

The story appeared in the May 1945 issue, which immediately hit the spot. Palmer wrote the story with footnotes to emphasize the sense of "truth" of the whole. The response of the fans was so enthusiastic that a new column was opened entirely dedicated to the Mystery Shaver, "Report from the Forgotten Past? " where readers could relate their reminiscences of past lives. The letters of the readers became more and more numerous and above all longer. The most memorable letter was perhaps the forty-page one written by two boys of twelve and sixteen. Their turtle, after dying, would psychically communicate to him many facts that confirmed Shaver's theories. Bizarre individuals began attending the editorial office of Amazing Stories, including a man who claimed to be a reincarnated Titan.

In the following months the Palmer-Shaver duo increased the dose with stories "Thought Records of Lemuria "," Cave City of Hel " e "Cult of the Witch Queen". The "Mystery Shaver" had soon too his fan club, lo Shaver Mystery Club, founded with a cash donation from Shaver himself. The Shaver Mystery became the main topic of conversation for science fiction fans across the country, torn between believers and skeptics. But who was the man behind all this? Who was Richard Shaver really? In January 1945, Ray Palmer met him at his home in Pensylavania.

Meet Richard S. Shaver


Richard Shaver was a troubled and troubled man all his life. This is demonstrated by the fact that over the years he has given different and discordant versions of his past and of the events that led him to discover the nefarious activities of the dero. He was born between 1908 and 1910 in Pennsylvania. He spent his childhood touring the state, following his father who opened and lost restaurants. His mother wrote under a pseudonym for various magazines and so did his older brother, to whom Richard was very attached. The brother died when Shaver was still a teenager. After serving for a few years in the Communist Party, Shaver went from one occasional job to another during his early years: tree hauler, butcher in a slaughterhouse and finally welder for Ford Motor Co. He married three times, but only there. 'last marriage, the one with Dorothy, a fundamentalist Christian, proved to be lasting.

The most famous version of how Shaver learned about dero and teros saw him welding at the Ford plant when he heard he heard 'distant voices of extraordinary complexity ". Shaver soon realized that those voices were the thoughts of his colleagues. His mind was flooded with information. He picked up every thought of every person in the building. But there were other thoughts, so strange, alien and cruel that they couldn't belong to the people around him:

«“Aim at her, hit her. " Then I heard the screams of a woman stronger and stronger and in those screams an ever greater agony and at the end a gurgle a death rattle. Later I realized that someone was thinking of a spaceship, not a new spaceship but an ancient one, through which he had traveled into space. "

Scared of this new reality, Shaver quit his job and went wandering. For a while he drove trucks of contraband liquor, then also quit this job to head to Montreal where he stowed aboard a ship he thought was headed for the UK. Instead he landed in Newfoundland, where Shaver was arrested. Or maybe not. Here his biography becomes hazy. We only know that some time later we find him in prison in an unspecified place.

During his imprisonment, Shaver says he received visits from a little girl named Nydia. Nydia was as blind as the eponymous character de The Last Days of Pompeii. The girl explained to Shaver that the voices she heard were those of the dero and later she helped Shaver escape from the prison. Always according to his story, Shaver settled in a cave not far away and lived a few years with the teros who revealed the secret history of the world to him. When Palmer was questioned about Shaver's underground stay in the XNUMXs, he replied:

« Shaver did not spend eight years in the Underworld, but in a psychiatric hospital. »

No doubt Shaver believed firmly in what he was saying. After the first "Mystery Shaver" stories were published, Richard moved to McHenry in Illinois in order to work closer to his mentor Palmer. Bill Hamling, a Palmer collaborator tells of an afternoon when he and Ray went to visit Shaver. All three were seated around a table. Suddenly Shaver peered under his chair. Silence fell over the room. Then Shaver said, "That was Max." Shaver explained that Max was the devil who tormented him and according to Hamling, in saying those words he was terribly serious.

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Despite these beliefs Shaver was a completely materialistic man, unlike Palmer who loved to flirt with mystery and esoteric suggestions. An example of such a rift between the two occurred when Palmer attempted to match Shaver's revelations with those contained in the so-called "Oahspe Bible", a text that was dictated to a medium in 1881. Shaver's spiritualistic interpretation did not go below. The entities that persecuted him were not disembodied beings or spirits, but people of flesh and blood who lived underground.

The Secret Fandom War

cbf98fcee4262a9541fecc7909e2df97Since the beginning of the saga of the «Mystery Shaver» the circulation of Amazing Stories it had gone from 135.000 to 185.000 copies per month. With the September 1945 issue, Ray Palmer crossed an important line by asserting that everything that was told in Shaver's stories was nothing more than the plain truth. Ray even went so far as to claim that he too has reminiscences of the distant Lemurian past and invited readers to write to contribute through their experiences. The "Mystery Shaver" became the main attraction of Amazing Stories and Palmer even went so far as to reject stories by Ray Bradbury and Henry Hasse in order to make room for the new episodes of the Mystery.

But not all fans were enthusiastic about the turn the magazine took. One part of the fandom, the younger and more riotous, saw science fiction as a means of questioning the conventions of the society in which they lived. More akin to sophisticated and intellectual science fiction than Astounding Science Fiction di John W. Campbell that to the adventurous and populist ones of Palmer's magazine, these new fans saw themselves as atheists, communists and rebels. People who were unwilling to drink Palmer's fables, which for them had now become the Mock Shaver.

The boycott of the "Mystery Shaver" began within local science fiction clubs. For example the Queens Science Fiction League of New York City ruled that Shaver's stories posed a threat to the mental health of readers. During a convention of fans in Philadelphia it was thought to petition the Post Office to block the mailing of Amazing Stories. From the columns of his magazine, Palmer responded to attempts at boycott and ostracism by exposing himself personally and replying to the accusations of those who accused him of deceiving his public.

Soon in the letter column of Amazing Stories more and more bizarre and improbable missives began to appear, of which perhaps the most hilarious is the following:

"I am a graduate of the occult sciences from Miskantonic University and have been involved in the fight against Mr. Shaver's" underground dero "since my graduation in 1935 [...] Translation of the eleventh chapter of the Necronomicon via" The Lemurian Alphabet " it could help you find the missing pieces. "

Mail editor Howard Browne missed the references to Lovecraft and published the letter in the following issue with Palmer's reply: "His use of inverted commas around the "underground dero" interests us very much, since it is exactly what we would have done, knowing what we know! ». When Palmer received the letter in which the reader confessed to the joke, he decided to counterattack. Through his colleague Hamiling, Palmer sent a letter to a fan of his detractor in which he referred to his sudden disappearance. Also in the letter it was said that Palmer had been found in a confused state holding a piece of coal and a magnet. The diagnosis was clear: nervous breakdown with immediate hospitalization in an asylum. Palmer's critics, including many eminent fans, threw themselves into it and were stunned when Palmer confessed to the hoax.

Palmer's fiercest critic was a certain Thomas Gardner, a very active fan in advocating the cause of science fiction. He wrote:

“There are at least one million crackpots, as they are called, in the United States. These are mostly adults, with a level of education ranging from semi-literacy to graduates employed in the technical sector. Many of them are seriously convinced of the existence of civilizations superior to ours ... "

One of Gardner's fears was that this new "cult" might expand its influence on the public education sector.

The most sensational story ever told

1947 marked the zenith of the "Mystery Shaver" but also the start of its inexorable decline. The June issue was entirely devoted to the Mystery and Palmer in his editorial hinted that the Dero had done everything possible to hinder its publication and publicly reaffirmed his faith in Shaver's claims:

« Man does not rule this Earth and this is the pure truth. Keep intriguing us, Mystery Shaver! "


But the wind was changing. Publisher William Ziff was no longer happy to see his name juxtaposed with a topic that had become too controversial not to say ridiculous and began to pressure Palmer to quit it. sideshow. To date, the reasons for this sudden change of course are not clear and various hypotheses have arisen over the years. There was talk of the increasingly unsustainable amount of complaints from old fans disgusted by the new course of the magazine, as a decision by Palmer himself who saw the Mystery as an unsuitable subject for a fiction magazine. In 1961 Palmer even claimed that Ziff had decided to end the series because Shaver's ideas contradicted Einstein's ideas (whatever he means). However, from the January 1948 issue, Shaver's tales began to thin out. At the same time Palmer was coming up with thunderous announcements about the imminent publication of the proof that would validate Shaver's theories once and for all, which would be revealed in the April 1948 issue.

Meanwhile, a new phenomenon was attracting the attention of mystery lovers. On June 24, 1947, the civilian pilot Kenneth Arnold reported that he had spotted nine objects of unknown origin in flight: the era of the UFO. Palmer was one of the most enthusiastic promoters of this new phenomenon so much so that he will dedicate the cover of his new magazine Fate at the Arnold sighting. For his part, Shaver sensed that the flying saucers were stealing the show from his Mystery. The March 1948 issue hit newsstands with a new Shaver story, "Gods of Venus ". From the uncompromising positions of a few months earlier, Palmer became more flexible about the veracity of Shaver's stories: "For those who call our stories truth (whether they are or not!) Who call this here fiction, and who let those who know the real parts (if any) discern them for themselves.». But soon after, Palmer announced that definitive proof would be presented in the next month's issue.

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The month of April 1948 arrived and with it the new issue of Amazing Stories. What did not come was the much desired test. In his editorial, in an articulated panegyric, Palmer climbed the mirrors trying to justify himself, but in the end he concluded peremptorily: Amazing Stories he told fictional stories that had nothing to do with reality. In 1949 Ray Palmer left Ziff-Davis. The new director of Amazing Stories became Howard Browne, the very man who threw Shaver's first letter in the trash and who will settle the whole thing "the most disgusting filth I've ever come across». The epic of the Mystery Shaver ended like this.


other_worlds_4911Leaving behind the experience of Amazing Stories Palmer devoted himself body and soul to his new publishing venture, Fate, a magazine entirely dedicated to mystery in all its forms: occultism, UFOs, parapsychology, etc. Fate it will be destined to become one of the longest-running magazines in the sector. A few years later Palmer will sell the magazine and subsequently launch a series of similar titles such as Imagination, Mystic, Serach and Other Worlds on which he will continue to give space to the writings of Shaver who had by now abandoned the usual narrative form and assumed that raving admonitions. In the early 1961s Richard and Dorothy Shaver moved to a farm in Amherst, Wisconsin, within walking distance of Palmer's and his family's home. Here between 1964 and XNUMX Palmer and Shaver were able to dedicate themselves to their magnum opus, The Hidden World, a series of sixteen volumes for a total of three thousand pages presented as the definitive work on the "Mystery Shaver".


In the last twenty years of his life, Shaver was totally engrossed in what must have been proof of his dero theories in his eyes. He started producing what he called "Stones of Prediluvian Art". According to Shaver, the ancient inhabitants of the Earth had imprinted their thoughts on the stones in the form of images that could be brought to light through a particular procedure. Also called "Books of rock" these artifacts consisted of agate plates cut in two which were then projected onto cardboard plates via an opaque projector. At that point, after treating the cardboard with dyes and dry cleaners, Shaver painted over it to show everyone what he saw. Shaver was convinced that by studying the rock books, the secrets of the Titans' advanced technology could be extracted. Pending further study, Shaver began mail ordering these pieces of art brut through advertisements in various magazines.

Richard Shaver died of cancer in 1975, now forgotten by all. Ray Palmer, after a life spent advertising one mystery after another while maintaining a sly agnostic attitude, passed away in August 1977. What about all of this? The historiography of science fiction has handed down the figures of Palmer and Shaver as those of two profiteers who mocked the naive pulp audience of the XNUMXs. But was it really so? But above all did Shaver and Palmer really believe what they were saying? As for Shaver, the answer is probably yes. Everyone who knew him recognizes his firm belief in his beliefs. There has also been speculation about a possible schizophrenia, given the similarities between the canvasug with which the dero tormented him and the so-called influencing machine, a typical element of the fantasies of schizophrenics.

As for Palmer, the matter is more complex. Although the image of a manipulative and cynical Palmer has now crystallized, some of his colleagues instead tell of a Palmer genuinely fascinated by mystery. His was a much more complex figure. As he explains Richard Toronto in its War Over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction the name of the "Mystery Shaver" was not chosen at random. A mystery for Palmer was something that should not and could not be solved because his existence prompted us to think and question our certainties. In 1977, speaking at a conference on flying saucers, he made explicit his thoughts about him:

« If we knew exactly what flying saucers are […] we would have solved the mystery and we would go back to boredom and stop thinking again. I hope the flying saucer mystery will never be solved. "

Toronto paints a Palmer convinced that 99% of the population was stupefied by education and religion. A Palmer convinced that the new and provocative ideas of science fiction could produce citizens with a critical sense. As far as I'm concerned, I think that Shaver and Palmer limited themselves to selling a dream, an alternative reality in which to take refuge, to a nation exhausted by war and the economic crisis. A new mythology that explained the secret laws underlying an increasingly chaotic and incomprehensible world.

9781559500159-uk-300Now that we have entered the XNUMXst century, all this is repeating itself once again, with the flourishing of pseudoscientific mythologies that no longer make use of the economic charter of pulpmagazines to spread, but of web pages and the network. As Walter Krafton-Minkel rightly points out in his seminal Underground worlds: the myth of the Hollow Earth, Shaver's mythology did not outlive itself as it lacked a salvific element. His world view envisioned a humanity at the mercy of dark forces, doomed even before it was born. In a short article on The Hidden World Shaver summarized his vision of the world in a few lines:

“If only today we had love instead of hate. If only […] we possessed the knowledge of our predecessors. If only […] our short lives were happy. If only […] they were all dead, and we were never born; wouldn't it have been better? "


  • Underground worlds: the myth of the Hollow Earth by Walter Kafton-Minkel
  • War Over Lemuria: Richard Shaver, Ray Palmer and the Strangest Chapter of 1940s Science Fiction by Richard Toronto

7 comments on ““I remember Lemuria!”: The Shaver Mystery, a myth for the atomic age"

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