The Shaver Mystery (Part Two of Two)

Continued from Part One

When Ray Palmer met with Shaver, he was apparently impressed enough by his sincerity to devote entire issues of his magazine to presenting this fantastic story to his readers.   And it paid off.  While Palmer usually received only 50 fan letters a month from a typical issue of Amazing Stories, this swelled to 2500 a month once Shaver's story ran.   That first issue in March 1945 sold out at the newsstands, despite Palmer arranging for an extra 50000 copies to be printed and fans showed that they wanted more.   Lemuria was suddenly a hot topic with a new story appearing in every issue leading up to a special issue devoted to Shaver in 1947.  

Not that the Shaver Mystery went entirely unchallenged.   Loyal fans objected to the fantastic nature of Shaver's stories and made certain the editor knew it.   Despite this thoguh, the number of regular subscribers rose steadily and Ray Palmer got a raise for his efforts.   While Amazing Stories also featured stories from other writers,  Shaver's stories continued to boost circulation and gained a cult following by readers who believed what Shaver wrote about.

Along with the "Shaver Mystery Club", there was enough interest to launch a new magazine, The Shaver Mystery Magazine, which featured stories that Palmer considered too taboo to publish in Amazing Stories.   Shaver (and Palmer) were also quick to exploit the interest in "flying saucers" that burst on the scene in 1947 by suggesting they were actually dero spaceships from underground.

Through it all, there was Richard Sharpe Shaver himself who continued to insist that what he wrote about was completely true, which may have been his undoing.  By 1947,  William Ziff Senior, the publishing magnate who owned Amazing Stories and a host of other magazines, became alarmed at all the negative publicity the magazine was receiving.    Even the serious magazines were taking notice and Harper's Magazine ran an article in 1946 titled, "Little Superman, What Now?" that basically denounced Amazing Stories for becoming a mouthpiece for crackpots.   This was enough for Ziff and he ordered Palmer to "tone down" the Shaver stories and go back to regular science fiction.

While Palmer went along with Ziff's ultimatum, this marked a final break with Amazing Stories for him. Along with his fascination with The Shaver Mystery, he had also become intrigued by stories about UFOs and decided to leave Amazing Stories and launch his own magazine exploring fringe areas such as the occult.   In the same year he had been ordered to cut back on Shaver stories, Palmer launched a new publishing company and created a new magazine, Fate, which premiered in 1948.

Even though he originally hid his involvement  by publishing under an alias, that changed quickly enough once the new magazine became successful.  Palmer then launched a new SF magazine, Other Worlds, and formally resigned from from Ziff-Davis.   He would go on to publish numerous other books on spirituality and flying saucers and became one of the dominant forces in the fringe science movement.   Along with publishing Oahspe: A New Bible,  he would co-write The Coming of the Saucers with Kenneth Arnold.   His impact on SF would be given a boost in 1961 when Gardner Fox used his name for the alter-ego of the DC superhero, The Atom.  Palmer died in 1977.

As for Richard Sharpe Shaver himself,  the fading interest in the Shaver Mystery hardly stopped him from trying to publish stories about his underground robots.   Shaver Mystery clubs stayed in vogue throughout the 1950s though Shaver himself slowly faded into obscurity.   As it soon became apparent, it was Ray Palmer's writing ability that really made Shaver's stories popular.   Shaver was not a terribly good writer on his own and even his diehard fans came to realize this. 

By the 1960s however, things took an even more bizarre turn.   Searching for evidence of his ancient civilizations, Shaver claimed to discover ancient rocks which he insisted were "books" left behind by the ancients.    Many of these "rock books" resembled simple minerals but Shaver insisted that the Atlanteans had inscribed text and pictures in them using their advanced science.  He even operated a "rock book" lending library through the mail for a while.  

Considering that all anyone else ever saw in these "books" were just oddly formed rocks, you can probably guess how much success Shaver had in selling the books and pictures based on his discoveries.   At least during his lifetime anyway.  In the years since his death in 1975,  interest in Richard Sharpe Shaver's ideas has blossomed with exhibits of his paintings and photographs in cities across the United States.   Web sites devoted to Shaver's ideas are still around and he is still regarded as an "outsider" artist and photographer, not to mention being widely credited for the influence he has had on UFO and paranormal culture. 

And he may have been influential in another way as well...

While it may just be a coincidence, the same era that saw the rise of the Shaver Mystery also saw the rise of another fringe movement, again involving a science fiction writer, which would prove to be much more successful.   L. Ron Hubbard was a prolific writer whose stories tended to be controversial because of his radical ideas about human psychology and science.   It was in a 1950 issue of Astounding, a major competitor of Amazing Stories, that a new article by Hubbard would be published in conjunction with a book that Hubbard would consider his masterpiece.   The book, Dianetics: The Modern Science of Mental Health, would become a bestseller and eventually lead to the founding of the Church of Scientology. 

Much like The Shaver Mystery, Dianetics would be presented as hard fact and was intended as a way of eliminating mental health problems allowing users to attain a higher state of consciousness.   Though the more fantastic elements that Hubbard included in his later works in Scientology would only be made available to those who actually dedicated themselves to his Church, it's hard not to spot certain resemblances to Shaver's ideas about integrant and disintegrant energy and the Titans who had left for the stars.   If nothing else, Shaver may have provided Hubbard with a good idea of how willing many people are to believe something incredible if  presented in the right way.

Whether or not Shaver directly inspired Hubbard's later career, The Shaver Mystery remains as a clear example of how one man's fantastic vision can gain believers and create a cult following that can endure long after his death.  It is this same willingness to believe the incredible that has ensured the survival of  countless other fringe movements as well.   


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