Review: ‘The Coming Race’ by Edward Bulwer-Lytton

Edward Bulwer-Lytton is known for many things. He’s the man who coined the phrases “pursuit of the almighty dollar” and “the pen is mightier than the sword.” He gave us that most (in)famous of opening lines, “It was a dark and stormy night,” which spawned the Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest. He was a novelist, a poet, a politician.

That phrase, “pursuit of the almighty dollar.” It’s interesting because it actually comes from Bulwer-Lytton’s 1871 novel Vril, the Power of the Coming Race, otherwise known simply as The Coming Race.

It’s a short book, very much like Willis George Emerson’s 1908 novel The Smoky God. It tells of an adventure into the cavernous Hollow Earth, where an antediluvian civilization lives peacefully, driven by a mysterious source of power called vril.

“…this fluid is capable of being raised and disciplined into the mightiest agency over all forms of matter, animate or inanimate. It can destroy like the flash of lightning; yet, differently applied, it can replenish or invigorate life, heal, and preserve, and of it they chiefly rely for the cure of disease, or rather for enabling the physical organisation to re-establish the due equilibrium of its natural powers, and thereby to cure itself.”

Now, The Coming Race is a work of fiction, no doubt, but one of strange historical importance. It was very popular in its time, and inspired certain individuals, such as Helena Blovatsky, who took it as truth. It may have even led to the formation of the mythical Vril Society. If such a thing existed, of course.

I could give you a lengthy description of the underground realm and its people found in The Coming Race — giant humanoids with sphinx-like faces and magical flying technologies, again very similar to Olaf Jansen’s account in The Smoky God — but that’s not the interesting part. In fact, you can read the entire book for free on Amazon Kindle or online if you’re interested in that.

The concept of vril and the political ideologies found within the novel are much more compelling. Or troubling, depending on your point of view.

On Vril

Image: Flickr/hobvias sudoneighm via CC by 2.0

“…there is no word in any language I know which is an exact synonym for vril. I should call it electricity, except that it comprehends in its manifold branches other forces of nature, to which, in our scientific nomenlature, differing names are assigned, such as magnetism, galvanism, &c.”

As the narrator of The Coming Race is told by his hosts, vril is a mystical, fluid substance that could be used for seemingly any purpose — to create, to destroy, to light up their caverns and power their technologies. More importantly, upon its discovery, it ended all conflict; it ended any idea of superiority, as anyone could wield it.

“If army met army, and both had command of this agency, it could be but to the annihilation of each.”

Forms of government also vanished, save for the existence of a chosen, though undistinguished, magistrate. Not all in the subterranean caverns beneath the earth wielded vril, but those who did were called the Vril-ya, who carried staves through which they could control its power:

“It is hollow, and has in the handle several stops, keys, or springs by which its force can be altered, modified, or directed — so that by one process it destroys, by another it heals…”

Bulwer-Lytton himself was an esotericist, interested in things like spiritualism and animal magnetism, and the way The Coming Race is written (like The Smoky God) could give someone the impression that it’s a retelling of actual events.

Like I said, if you’re interested in reading The Coming Race, you can find it for free on Amazon. It’s a bit of a chore to read, but the information about vril and the subterranean race sets up a lot in regards to occult mythology and the Hollow Earth Theory.

Rob Schwarz

Writer, blogger, and part-time peddler of mysterious tales. Editor-in-chief of Stranger Dimensions. Might be a robot.

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