Hermetic Library fellow T Polyphilus reviews The Coming Race by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.
Lytton’s Coming Race is brief, even if a little slow at points. As a seminal piece of 19th-century science fiction, the whole plot is just an excuse for fictional anthropology, since the protagonist/narrator is utterly unchanged by the experience. The utopian element reflects a little bit of Fourierist background (with one explicit reference to Robert Owen), mostly in the small scale of community and the valorizing of the industry of children.
The reader may weigh the extent to which Lytton was actually employing the subterranean civilization of Vril-ya as an alternative in order to criticize modern industrialized nations, democratic politics, and traditional gender mores. The protagonist is never fully persuaded of the superiority of the Vril-ya’s social system, but the fact that the English author used a proud American narrator suggests that the fictional speaker’s convictions don’t necessarily match those of the writer.
What goes without question by the narrator is the physical and technological superiority of the Vril-ya. The book’s title alludes to the idea that any full-scale contact between them and the humanity of the Earth’s surface will only leave the Vril-ya as complete conquerors. But this scenario is left as an intimation of the future.
This novel was almost as influential on the hollow earth conspiracy meme (and eventually UFO culture) as the same author’s Zanoni was for traditional Western occultism. The story seems even to have contributed to Aleister Crowley’s Atlantis, where Lytton’s Vril energy sets a precedent for Crowley’s mysterious ZRO.
Read for it’s own sake as a fictional entertainment, The Coming Race is a little exotic, but fairly dated and plodding. Taken as a node in the discourse of 19th-century social reform and occult science, however, it is abidingly curious and engaging. [via]