WAR OVER LEMURIA: RICHARD SHAVER, RAY PALMER AND THE STRANGEST CHAPTER OF 1940’S SCIENCE FICTION by Richard Toronto (2013, McFarland)
War Over Lemuria concerns The Shaver Mystery, largely forgotten today. It was big news in the late 1940’s. In 1943, Ray Palmer, the editor of Amazing Stories received a cryptic letter from a Pennsylvania defense plant worker named Richard Shaver who claimed to have knowledge of the true history of earth. When one of his assistant editors tossed the letter into the trash, Palmer fished it out and, to the wonder of his office staff, announced he was going to print it in the next issue.
The appearance of the letter is a milestone in the history of magazine publishing. When “I remember Lemuria”, Palmer’s rewriting of the original letter Shaver had sent him, was published, the sales of Amazing Stories went stratospheric. Readers began sending in their own confirmations of Richard Shavers claims. All over the country, people began writing of their encounters with Deros and evil rays. Palmer had struck publishing gold with the Shaver letter and was determined to capitalize on it. For the next three years, Amazing Stories became the center of a brand new spirituality.
But the Shaver Mystery cult had its detractors. Organized science fiction fandom was outraged by their favorite editor trying to start his own religion, or so they believed. Palmer and Amazing Stories were denounced from the pulpit at SF conventions and a vicious letter writing campaign ensued. Palmer, who had come from the ranks of the SF faithful himself, ignored their taunts in his editorials and stayed fast to his new discovery. There were even Richard Shaver fan clubs organized.
It all came to a bitter end in 1948. After a visit by government men to the Astounding Tales publisher, Ziff-Davis, Palmer was told to knock it off. It was all good and fine to boost magazine sales, but Uncle Sam was taking a dim view of the latest incarnation: flying saucers. Valuable government time was being spent investigating them which could be better used in the Cold War. Palmer was forced to print an editorial outlining the policy of Astounding Tales as a fiction magazine. He would later resign his editorship and move into independent publishing. Shaver would fade from memory, although still remembered as a John the Baptist type, a lone voice crying in the wilderness.
Richard Toronto is unique in his background to write about the adventure. For years, he edited Shavertron, a publication dedicated to all things Shaver Mystery. He first made contact with Richard Shaver in the early 70’s, when the man was in the final years of his life. At this point, Shaver was obsessed with “Rock Books”, i.e., evidence left in stones by alien visitors. He had drifted away from what the voices in his head were telling him to a new passion. Later, Shaver’s paintings based on what he saw in the rocks would become exemplary standards of Outsider Art.
War Over Lemuria is a labor of love. Toronto has done his research on the whole incident and it’s aftermath. He’s interviewed are the principal players who are still alive. He’s talked with family members and business associates. And he’s put it out on the scholarly McFarland press at $45.00 a pop. Well you can get it cheaper on kindle, which is what I did. I’m told the paper version is a little hard on the eyes, but this is why God invented e-publishing, so you can adjust the type size.
What emerges is a tale of two amazing men from a different time and place. A world where livid pulp magazines was a popular entertainment medium. A world where people could dream of flights to mars and beyond. The world outside in your Brooklyn or Chicago neighborhood might look like garbage, but a new one beckoned. Even if you had a broken physic, such a Ray Palmer or heard voices, suck as Richard Shaver.
And it’s the life story and backgrounds of these two men which make the book so difficult to put down. You read about Ray Palmer who survived repeated injuries and yet became the editor of an influential fiction magazine. Or Richard Shaver, who grew-up in poverty, was committed to an insane asylum by his in-laws, and became a guru to people who felt there had to be more to life than the boring reality they endured. Neither one of them died wealthy and famous. Palmer managed to raise in family in the farm lands and run a successful publishing business. Shaver gave-up farming and lived in a rural area most of his life, sawing rocks in half looking for more evidence of the Unseen World.
I think the best summary of both their lives can be found in this story Ray Palmer told after a fall which nearly paralyzed him:
[Ray Palmer to his friend William Hamling]:… “I was visited that night by a team of doctors. I don’t remember their names, but they analyzed my problem. I found out the identity of one of them.”
“What are you saying?”
“These were men who were no longer living. One of the doctors said to another doctor in the room, ‘I failed this man when he needed me most as a child, and I will not allow a failure today.’ They operated on me and that’s why I am alive now.
In some ways, the Shave Mystery would foreshadow both the UFO and unexplained phenomena pursuits of the 50’s and 60’s. Had Shaver been alive in the 1980’s, he’d have been on the New Age Trance Channeler circuit. It’s a shame both he and Palmer are so little remembered today.
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