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Book Review:

The Power of the Coming Race

by, Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton

Before I actually sat down and read this book, I felt sorry for Sir Bulwer Lytton. people made fun of the way he wrote, calling him dull, dry, boring and long-winded. True, he had been the originator of the opening line “It was a dark and stormy night” but every quotation I had ever read from him seemed simple and straight-forward, so I didn’t understand what all the fuss was about. I figured it was just the standard campaign of disinformation that is waged against anyone whose works have been associated with Nazism, whether or not that work actually preceded the Nazi movement by huge spaces of time. (Vril is associated with Nazism because it inspired a secret society which operated in pre-WWII Germany and helped to form the Nazi party.) So I cut him some slack. It wasn’t until I finally sat down and slogged my way through Vril that I began to understand what they were talking about, A 248-page book should have only taken me a couple of days to read, but I suffered with it for a week and a half. But it wasn’t the lifeless and matter-of-fact manner of the writing that bothered me, which seems perfectly normal for the time period. I was not thrown for a moment by sentences like this: “Those which are called the moral organs, such as conscientiousness and benevolence, are amazingly full: amativeness and combativeness are both small; adhesiveness large; the organ of destructiveness (i.e., of determined clearance of intervening obstacles) immense, but less than that of benevolence; and their philoprogenitiveness takes rather the character of compassion and tenderness to things that are in need of aid or protection than of the animal love of offspring.” Nor was I offended when he casually remarked that in this advanced civilization of highly evolved underground dwelling humanoid beings (the “Vril-Ya”) about which the story is written, they regard those of their own species who don’t conform to their customs with, “More disdain than the citizens of New York regard the Negroes.” I just smile when I read that, and think about how Sir Edward Bulwer Lytton would have reacted to the New York of the modern era. Actually, it’s not the language at all, but the content of the story that had me turning each page so slowly. Quite frankly, nothing happens.

The story begins when the main character falls down a hole deep at the bottom of a mining shaft, and discovers an underground world populated by strange humanoid creatures with clip-on wings who believe themselves to have evolved from frogs. These are the Vril-Ya, so named because of a fantastic power that they’ve evolved over the Ages called “Vril” This is an orgone, primordial energy that has the power for moth massive destruction and the miraculous healing of the body. This they shoot forth from a special vein in their hands, and in a flash of lightening, a building can be leveled or an enemy destroyed. By using its destructive capabilities they’ve been able to keep utopian-like peace throughout their realm, and through its healing powers they are able to extend their average lifespan out to a fantastic 120 years (fantastic that is, in Bulwer Lytton’s time.)

Sounds like a great set-up for a novel, doesn’t it? Well, in this case it isn’t. After he discovers these people, there is a brief, tense moment in which the Vril-Ya Elders discuss whether or not to destroy him. But they end up letting him live, although he is not allowed to leave or to tell anybody where he’s from, and he gets to stay with a local family who treat him quite cordially as their honored house guest. For the next 150 pages there is no drama, no danger, no compelling interest in the story. He just spends his entire time there absorbing their culture, and the author spends each chapter relating to us what nice, kind, gentle people the Vril-Ya are - so peaceful and civilized, so technologically advanced, so egalitarian, having dispensed with all forms of jealousy, passion or ambition. And yet how dull they are for without passion and ambition, they lack life, so their art and literature suffers accordingly, possessing no soul or emotion. The lead character hatches a plan to take over their world by marrying into the royal family, as their leader's daughter has a crush on him - or whatever the Vril-Ya equivalent of a crush is. But the plan backfires when the daughter of the family he’s staying with also falls in love with him. This is a real problem, because her father disapproves of the union, and the narrator doesn’t want to marry her either, but because women are the dominant sex in their society (another aspect of their Utopia), her father cannot forbid her to marry him, nor can our hero respectfully refuse. Her father’s only option is to have him killed, and he announces his intention to do so. How this gels with their “peaceful” image, I can’t figure, but nevertheless, the lead character must escape back to the upper world, and quickly, providing the first hint of action in almost 200 pages. This he accomplishes with the help of the girl who loves him, and their is a lukewarm moment of tenderness as they part. Then he makes his way up the mine shaft again and out onto the surface, with no indication that he ever intends to do anything about this amazing experience that he’s just had. And so the story ends even more limply than it began.

It’s hard to believe that such a lame piece of literature was so influential on te pre-Hitler formation of the Nazi party, but it was, especially upon a group called “The Vril Society” or “The Luminous Lodge.” As Willey Ley wrote in “Pseudoscience in Naziland”:

“ The Vril Society was literally founded upon a novel... Yes, their convictions were founded upon Bulwer Lytton’s The Coming Race. They knew that the book was fiction. Bulwer Lytton had used that device in order to tell the truth about this ‘power.’ Possibly it had enabled the British, who kept it as a state secret, to amass their colossal empire. Surely the Romans had had it, enclosed in small metal balls, which guarded their homes and were referred to as lares. For reasons which I failed to penetrate, the secret of Vril could be found by contemplating the structure of an apple, sliced in half.” Perhaps the author should be discounted for describing the Nazi intellectual pursuits as “pseudo-science”, like all the other idiot half-wit scholars on the subject, but I think he’s partially correct. What’s even more exciting is that Bulwer Lytton and the Vril Society might have been correct about the little people living under the Earth, and the strange power that they possess. We can only hope.

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