Thursday 5 October 2023

The Lure of Atlantis (part 1) Edited by Michael Wheatley


This is one of the British Library's ever-growing collections of mostly forgotten short stories and extracts from novels, all focused on particular themes. They have recently been concentrating on "Weird Tales" which consist mainly of fantasy and horror stories. This anthology, consisting of ten stories, is subtitled Strange Tales of the Sunken Continent and is devoted to the tale of the marvellous island civilisation which was drowned in ancient times. A review copy was sent to me by the Library.

In Wheatley's introduction, he makes the point that the Atlantis myth has proved remarkably durable considering that there is only one ancient source for it: the Greek philosopher Plato, who lived about 2,400 years ago. Since then, countless stories featuring the fabled land have emerged. Different authors have taken different approaches to such stories, and Wheatley has chosen to identify four categories, which he lists as follows: 

Atlantis Rediscovered (deep sea encounters with the vestiges of a drowned civilisation)

Atlantis Revisited (journeys through time via the memories of Atlantean ancestors).

Atlantis Resurrected (what if Atlantis had never been lost, but remained hidden by design?)

Atlantis Reimagined (experimental tales of Weird Fantasy, tentacled cultists, and Atlanteans in space.

The ten stories, and my thoughts on them, are as follows:


 A Submerged Continent, by Jules Verne (from his novel 20,000 Leagues Under the Seas, written 1860-70. This episode from the author's famous novel is concerned with a walk along the sea floor by the two main characters - Captain Nemo of the submarine Nautilus and Professor Arronax, using an advanced aqualung system. After seeing numerous sea monsters and other strange sights, the pair come across a vast area strewn with the ruins of a huge city - Atlantis. Added drama is provided by a continuously erupting submarine volcano providing illumination. Verne typically provides a sciency-sounding commentary explaining how the volcano can burn underwater.

I recently tried re-reading 20,000 Leagues for the first time in half a century but was disappointed with it. Despite the fact that Verne was essentially an SF rather than fantasy writer, with a mission to educate as well as entertain, in my view he did not pull this off quite as convincingly as he did in Journey to the Centre of the Earth reviewed here previously.

The Lure of Atlantis by Joel Martin Nichols Jr. (published 1925). In contrast to Verne, Nichols firmly planted his flag in the fantasy field. This story concerns a search for Atlantis by two professors, Tyrrel and Randolf, who locate the island under the Sargasso Sea (which itself was regarded as mysterious at that time).  They discover a temple, still intact and containing the crystal tomb of the perfectly preserved Wynona, fabled daughter of the last king of Atlantis. This discovery prompts an intense rivalry between the professors and stimulates a battle in which semi-sentient Sargasso creatures become involved.  This tale is a curiosity rather than a must-read.

The Temple by H. P. Lovecraft (published 1925). For the benefit of readers who do not normally delve into the horror/fantasy sub-genre, Lovecraft (after a slow start)  is now recognised as among the foremost writers in this field. This story has an unusual setting, on board a German U-boat in the Great War, and the events which take place within it only come to light because of the traditional message in a bottle, released from the submarine. 

An explosion in the engine room strands the U-boat on the floor of the Atlantic Ocean, virtually unable to move. The commander of the fictional U-29 is the source of some sardonic amusement; his name is given as Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein, and he is the most arrogant and merciless character imaginable. He casually mentions machine-gunning lifeboats from the ships he had sunk as routine, and doesn't hesitate to shoot his own crew members if their performance is unsatisfactory (they are not real Germans - i.e. Prussians - after all). Unsurprisingly, a general mutiny follows, after which only the commander and his deputy remain alive - the deputy commits suicide shortly afterwards.

The vessel slowly sinks to the ocean floor and ruins become visible, gradually increasing in size and extent. The commander realises that these must be the ruins of Atlantis.The submarine gradually loses power, condemning the commander to await his fate in darkness. He observes a phosphorescent glow and hears wild music and demonic laughter, while he prepares to leave the vessel to enter a huge temple which is the focus of the light and sound. This is another rather strange story, in this case with relatively little in the way of obvious fantasy elements. The commander assumes that his experiences are symptoms of insanity until close to the end.

An internet search reveals that there was a UB-29 which served in the Imperial German Navy during 1916. Despite its short existence it managed to sink 36 ships in 17 patrols before being depth-charged. Even more curiously, the wreck of the UB-29 was discovered in 2017 "exceptionally well preserved and with the hull still intact". As far as I know, there have been no reports of imposing ruins being found in the vicinity...


Under the N-Ray by Will Smith and R.J.Robbins (published 1925). Another change of mood, switching to a pseudo-scientific fantasy/horror theme. Madame Losieva, a medium, and Professor Ember, a physicist, have developed a method of reading the suppressed experiences of past ancestors and projecting them onto a screen via the mysterious "N-Rays". The story mostly consists of a public demonstration of this apparatus, preceded by much testing and explanation. 

The test subject is a reporter, Jack Hodge, who is hypnotised. Some of the scenes show him being tortured, others are in ancient Egypt, before the destruction of Atlantis is shown. As the N-Rays go further and further back in time, so the humans become more and more primitive, until the appalling conclusion.

The Lives of Alfred Kramer by Donald Wandrei (published 1932). More pseudoscience in this tale, this time focused on "Kappa Radiation", which allows an individual to "revisit the suppressed memories of past lives housed within their cells." A chance meeting on a train between the narrator and Alfred Kramer revealed a shared interest in psychology in general and dreams in particular. Kramer describes his discovery of Kappa radiation, which allowed him to visit a wide range of events from his cellular past, including the destruction of Atlantis. Just as with the N-Rays, the subjects gradually lost control of the process which raced backwards in time before reaching its ultimate conclusion.

(to be continued)


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