Jeb J. Card points me to the June 1947 issue of Amazing Stories which has become available online in its entirety at Archive.org. Published at the dawn of the UFO era, just before Kenneth Arnold’s June 24, 1947 UFO sightings, it preserves a snapshot of just how much science fiction had absorbed and developed pseudoscience and paved the way for the explosion of fringe history to come.
The lead story is the so-called Shaver Mystery, a follow-up to the fictional account of an ancient subterranean civilization by the writer Richard Shaver, who strongly implied in time-honored fantasy fiction fashion that his story was a little bit more than fiction. In 1945, he had published I Remember Lemuria! as a novella in Amazing, but both he and editor Ray Palmer insisted that the action plot had been grafted by Palmer onto a nonfiction history of an actual civilization that echoed Bulwer-Lytton’s Coming Race and the supposedly nonfictional subterranean world of Dweller on Two Planets. In a follow up article late in this issue, Shaver winks at this interplay between fact and fiction, daring readers to consider his truth claims to be nothing more than “stupid contributions from a man who is purposely hoaxing stupid readers into believing silly things that could not possibly be true.” If only Erich von Däniken had been half so honest! Nevertheless, Shaver went on to say that he was unable to tell the truth, except as fiction! Among these revelations is that the underground ancient civilization possesses death beams (a commonplace in movie serials of the era) and receive cosmic intercourse from visiting ancient astronauts (shades of Flash Gordon).
He also ventures into a conspiracy theory reminiscent of the Freemason conspiracies of the nineteenth century and of today: “I am saying that earth’s peoples are a destructive, extravagantly luxurious and decadent ‘secret class’ who rob us of our birth right—the science that could be learned from the mechanisms of the Elder race; which same mechanisms are the instruments that have held this lass in power for many, many centuries.” Oh, and these underground people are arch-conservatives, capitalist pigs, and kidnap humans and keep them as slaves under the earth to work in their “sweatshops.” (Just like the Anunnaki!) Proof, he says, can be found in ancient mythology, but science is blind to the literal truth of myths.
Here is the key to all that would follow in fringe history, from Shaver’s own words: “But there is a vast number of eye-witness testimony; there is a vast amount of writing from the past that is misunderstood; there is a mass of incontrovertible proof—IF YOU INTERPRET IT CORRECTLY!” Foremost, he believes that “college products” and “professors” are willfully blind to the truth and suppressing the real history of the world in the hidebound dogma.
Among the four (fictional) parts of Shaver’s Mystery printed as the feature selection of the issue, there is a racist story called “The Red Legion,” which tells “a tale of the Red Men (Native Americans) and their struggle to inherit the ancient secrets of their Red Gods in the caverns under America.” Of course America is the focal point for a lost ancient race who was responsible for the achievements of Native Americans. What else could possibly be the case?
But for my money, one of the most interesting pieces has to be Vincent H. Gaddis’s column “Visitors from the Void” that simultaneously anticipates the UFO craze that would launch in a few weeks’ time as well as the ancient astronaut movement that would gradually develop in the wake of the UFO flap.
There have been signs, symbols and objects in the skies of earth described as snakes, swords, lights and rockets. Slow-moving so-called meteors have zig-zagged their way above the clouds, and stratospheric explosions have rocked the land below. Mysterious rays stopped airplane motors over the world's largest city as unidentified phantom planes puzzled the war departments of four nations. Ships and men were observed to drop from the heavens in isolated areas only to vanish.
It’s interesting that the “sightings” that observers today would jump to label flying saucers were attributed to phantom airplanes and dirigibles—shiny silver blimps and shiny flying discs have very similar profiles. These ghost planes demonstrate superior airmanship according to observers, easily outmaneuvering even European aviators. Intriguingly, some of the sky lights aren’t planes at all, as one 1935 noted. Instead, observers saw “a large shining form resembling a gigantic snake, wriggling forth in the northwestern sky.” Some of these ships crashed, and their pilots parachuted out, only to vanish.
Gaddis immediately links reports of strange men abandoning crashing airship to similar reports in “the original records of the late Charles Fort,” still today a major source for pre-Arnold UFO reports. He goes on to describe a “radio ray” that supposedly stopped plane engines in mid-air (another UFO-era claim prefigured here). He talks about strange lights seen in the sky in the 1940s, hallmarks of the UFO phenomenon, and complains that they cannot be meteors or comets or any other natural thing: “No, meteors do not linger or hover in the skies of earth, nor do they resemble rockets or airplanes.”
How interesting that ambiguous lights in the sky receive an interpretation based on the observer’s own cultural ideas and knowledge. The exact same phenomena interpreted as blimps and airplanes in the 1930s and 1940s would suddenly become flying space discs in the 1950s and triangles in the 1980s and 1990s. I can’t imagine that there is anything more to these reports than the same phenomena behind their 1950s and 1960s successors: military test planes and balloons, atmospheric phenomena, and cultural hysteria.
A final interesting article comes from the pen of Marx Kaye, who writes of the “Peruvian Giants” as a follow up to an article from the previous year on, of course, the lost race of giants that once populated the United States. His article is based on Garcilaso de la Vega’s Royal Commentaries on the Incas Book 9, chapter 9, on the giants, though Garcilaso is quoting chapter 52 of the first part of Pedro de Cieza de Leon’s Chronicle of Peru, unbeknownst to Kaye. That author actually states that the story can’t be trusted because the natives “exaggerate everything.” It’s a standard myth that giant men arrived from overseas in boats and took over the land. I don’t have the time to look up the original Spanish to find out what the original English translator, Clements R. Markham, omitted as “unfit for translation,” but presumably it must have had to do with kinky giant sex—Kaye only indicates that it involves “self-gratification” in a way that the magazine won’t permit him to describe. Oh, heck… Now I’m curious. Let’s find out what the translators have forbidden us from hearing about the giants.
Markham translated the first three sentences (my own translation, not his, is used below), but everything following “After a few years…” he left untranslated:
They were detested by the Natives, for in using their (the natives’) women they killed them, and they did the same to the men in other ways. And the Indians were not numerous or strong enough to kill these new people who had come to occupy their land and rule over it. Although large meetings were held to discuss them, they dared not take action. After a few years of these giants being yet in these parts, either they began missing their own women and the natural agreement of their bodies for their height, or perhaps it was due to the counsel and inducement of the accursed Devil, but they began to indulge in vice, including using one another for the heinous sin of sodomy, both grave and horrendous, which they used and committed publicly and openly, without fear of God and little ashamed of themselves. (my trans.)
OK, so killing women by raping them to death with giant penises is OK for family reading, but gay giant sex is an abomination. Good to know that translators had their priorities straight.
If anything, this would be the only report of giants I’d be willing to believe had any basis whatsoever in fact since it is the only time in mythology that we have the supernatural creatures actually discovering that they couldn’t have satisfying sex with comely human women. If for no other reason, this must be the most special of all giant stories. Good luck, though, getting Giorgio Tsoukalos or Erich von Däniken, who rhapsodized about alien penises on Ancient Aliens a couple of weeks ago, to tell you how their alien gods had public gay sex.
After this, the story says that an angel then came down from heaven and killed all the giants for their iniquity, in a tale almost certainly derived from Christian interpretation of a native story in terms derived from the fate of the Nephilim-giants of Genesis 6:4 and/or the gigantomachy of Greek mythology. (It’s weirdly identical to 1 Enoch, a book that wouldn’t be known again in the West for two more centuries.) That the story concerns angels and the Judeo-Christian God counts against the version we received being the original of the story. I wouldn’t put it past the sly natives to have tried explaining to their new Christian overlords (who, I imagine, they were likening to the rapacious giants) that the Bible story was rife with illogic in terms of physiology and biology.
At any rate, Cieza de Leon says that proof could be found in a “double tooth” and a “shin bone” of marvelous size—almost certainly those of a mammoth or giant sloth. Markham notes that the area where the giants were supposedly living was known to French naturalists as a rich source of prehistoric megafauna fossils, which almost certainly created the giant legend. Kaye’s seemingly-serious account of the legend degenerates into a wonder-tale, a secondhand account of seeing the footsteps of these giants and of discovering a gold ingot weighing 48 kg where the giants trod.
In sum, just weeks before the alien craze would erupt across America, Amazing Stories was already anticipating the major themes that would come to dominate the ufology and ancient astronaut/ancient mysteries movements of the next few decades. The interplay between science fiction and pseudoscience is truly astonishing.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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