Subterranean fiction is a subgenre of adventure fiction or science fiction which focuses on underground settings, sometimes at the center of the Earth or otherwise deep below the surface. The genre is based on and has in turn influenced the Hollow Earth theory.
The earliest works in the genre were Enlightenment-era philosophical or allegorical works, in which the underground setting was often largely incidental. In the late 19th century, however, more pseudoscientific or proto-science-fictional motifs gained prevalence. Common themes have included a depiction of the underground world as more primitive than the surface, either culturally, technologically or biologically, or in some combination thereof. The former cases usually see the setting used as a venue for sword-and-sorcery fiction, while the latter often features creatures extinct on the surface, such as dinosaurs, hominids or cryptids. A less frequent theme has the underground world much more technologically advanced than the surface one, typically either as the refugium of a lost civilization, or (more rarely) as a base for space aliens.
Map of the Interior World, from The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892)
In the sociologist Gabriel Tarde's only literary work, Underground Man (original French title Fragments d'Histoire Future), Humanity escapes a second apocalyptic ice age by delving under the earth and reforming society with Art as its central value.
In Ludvig Holberg's 1741 novel Nicolai Klimii iter subterraneum (Niels Klim's Underground Travels), Nicolai Klim falls through a cave while spelunking and spends several years living on both a smaller globe within and the inside of the outer shell.
Giacomo Casanova's 1788 Icosaméron is a 5-volume, 1,800-page story of a brother and sister who fall into the Earth and discover the subterranean utopia of the Mégamicres, a race of multicolored, hermaphroditic dwarfs.
An early science-fiction work called Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery by a "Captain Adam Seaborn" appeared in print in 1820. In the story, Captain Seaborn leads a group of travelers into the concave inner surface of the Earth. There, they discover an inner continent, which they name Symzonia after John Cleves Symmes, Jr. The story obviously reflected the ideas of Symmes, and some have claimed Symmes as the real author. Other researchers say it deliberately satirized Symmes's ideas, and think they have identified the author as an early American author named Nathaniel Ames (see Lang, Hans-Joachim and Benjamin Lease. "The Authorship of Symzonia: The Case for Nathanial Ames" New England Quarterly, June 1975, page 241–252).
Faddei Bulgarin's short satirical tale "Improbable Tall-Tale, or Journey to the Center of the Earth" (1825) describes three underworld countries: Ignorantia (populated by spiders), Beastland (populated by apes), and Lightonia (populated by humans, with a capital called Utopia).
Although it is often suggested that Jules Verne used the idea of a partially hollow Earth in his 1864 novel, A Journey to the Centre of the Earth, his characters actually descend only 87 miles beneath the surface where they find an underground sea occupying a cavern roughly the size of Europe. There is no indication in the novel that Verne intended to suggest that the Earth was in any way hollow, partially or otherwise.
William R. Bradshaw's science fiction novel The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892) is a utopian fantasy set within the hollow Earth.
Will N. Harben's Land of the Changing Sun (1894) is a utopian fantasy set within a 100 mile wide cavern found below the Atlantic Ocean 200 years prior and settled. The settlers found the atmosphere very rejuvenating, and also build an artificial changing sun to light their world. Two balloonists, an American and an Englishman, discover this world.
Charles Willing Beale's 1899 novel, The Secret of the Earth tells of the adventure of 2 brothers who build an anti-gravity airship and travel to the hollow earth. There they find several lost races, and learn that mankind originated in the hollow earth, but the unruly types were exiled from the hollow earth. They then exit via the South Pole opening and crash on an island in the South Pacific, from which they send off a log of their adventures which forms the novel.
In NEQUA or The Problem of the Ages a visit in a sailing ship is made to Altruria, a society inside the earth. This feminist utopian science fiction novel was published in 1900 in Topeka Kansas. Jack Adams listed as the author, was a pseudonym for A. O. Grigsby and Mary P. Lowe, both newspaper publishers.
Willis George Emerson's science-fiction novel The Smoky God (1908) recounts the adventures of one Olaf Jansen who traveled into the interior and found an advanced civilization.
Edgar Rice Burroughs wrote adventure stories (beginning with At the Earth's Core in 1914) set in the inner world of Pellucidar, including at one point a visit from his character Tarzan. Burroughs's Pellucidar has oceans on the outer surface corresponding to continents on the inner surface and vice versa. Pellucidar is lit by a miniature sun suspended at the center of the hollow sphere, so it is perpetually overhead wherever one is in Pellucidar. The sole exception is the region directly under a tiny geostationary moon of the internal sun; that region as a result is under a perpetual eclipse and is known as the Land of Awful Shadow. This moon has its own plant life and (presumably) animal life and hence either has its own atmosphere or shares that of Pellucidar.
The Russian geologist Vladimir Obruchev uses the concept of the hollow Earth in his 1915 scientific novel Plutonia to take the reader through various geological epochs.
Morgo the Mighty by Sean O'Larkin was serialized in The Popular Magazine in 1930. It featured the adventures of a Tarzan-like character in a network of giant caverns beneath the Himalayas. The caves are ruled by a cowled magician and populated by primitive men, giant intelligent bats, giant warring ants and giant killer chickens.
Tam, Son of the Tiger by Otis Adelbert Kline from 1931 features the adventures of Tam (another Tarzan-like character) in a subterranean world beneath Asia.
In the Middle-earth books by J.R.R. Tolkien the kingdom of Angband and its predecessor Utumno are deep underground, under mountains called Ered Engrin; they are home to Orcs, monsters and Morgoth, the Dark Lord. Also, the Dwarves and even elves live underground – the underground realms of Moria and Erebor and cities like Nargothrond and Menegroth play a major role in the stories.
Richard Sharpe Shaver's The Shaver Mystery stories are about ancient civilizations still living in caverns beneath the Earth surface
The End of the Tunnel (aka The Cave of Cornelius) (1959), by Paul Capon. Four boys in England get trapped in a cave by a landslide, and by following the cave, they encounter a forgotten civilization.
Dark Universe (1961) by Daniel F. Galouye. A post-apocalyptic science fiction novel where two clans live deep underground and are descendants from humans who escaped an old war.
City of the First Time (1975) by G.J. Barrett. British survivors of an atomic holocaust venture downward into the earth through a series of caves and encounter two other races, survivals of previous extinctions.
The history of the Hollow Earth theory is explored in Umberto Eco's 1988 novel Foucault's Pendulum, alongside a wide range of other pseudo-scientific and conspiracy theories.
Rudy Rucker's novel The Hollow Earth (1990) features Edgar Allan Poe and his ideas. Rucker claims in an afterword to have transcribed the novel from a manuscript in the University of Virginia library; the call number given is that of a copy of Symzonia.
In Jeff Long's 1999 novel The Descent and its 2007 sequel Deeper, a vast labyrinth of tunnels and passages underlying the Earth is inhabited by a brutal species of once-civilized but now degenerate hominid, Homo Hadalis.
The 2000 novel Abduction by Robin Cook includes the concept of a third world under the sea called "Interterra."
Eoin Colfer's Artemis Fowl series (2001–2012) focuses on crimes committed by or against the fairy-folk who live beneath the earth's crust in a technologically advanced society.
Underland (2002) by Mick Farren has the vampire hero Victor Renquist traveling to a hollow Earth populated by Nazi scientists, subjugated proto-scientific lizard people, and a fungus addicted race of sub-vampires.
Tunnels (2005) is the first of a series of books by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams, taking place in a hollow Earth with an interior sun, in which multiple civilisations exist within and beneath the crust.
Metro 2033 (2005) and Metro 2034 (2009) by Dmitry Glukhovsky are post-nuclear-apocalyptic novels which describe the last remaining humans fighting to survive in the metro system underneath Moscow with the surface being too irradiated for humans to survive.
Against the Day (2006) by Thomas Pynchon makes extensive mention of the Earth's interior as a place to be explored, positing inner-Earth seas. Pynchon's Mason & Dixon (1997) also uses the idea of a Hollow Earth as the planet's final holdout for magic against the calculations of the surface's most eminent men of science.
The Silo series narrates post-apocalyptic human life in a subterranean city extending one hundred forty-four stories beneath the surface.
Kameron Hurley's 2017 novel The Stars Are Legion takes place on an alien world with various separate underground societies that the protagonist must work her way through on a long journey back to the surface.
One adventure of Alan Moore's Pulp-style hero Tom Strong involved a gateway into the Hollow Earth in the Arctic where Nazis had fled after World War Two only to be devoured by its inhabitants. Much of the story is spent discussing many of the varying Hollow Earth concepts mentioned above. (Tom Strong's Terrific Tales #1)
In the 1970s, comic-book artist Mike Grell produced the comic-book Warlord, about a pilot who finds himself in Skartaris, a sword-and-sorcery world reached through an opening at the North Pole. First believed to be the hollow interior of the Earth, Skartaris was later revealed to be a parallel dimension.
The 1951 short feature Superman and the Mole Men postulated a race of little people living inside a hollow earth. The film was later reconfigured into a two-part TV episode called The Unknown People, with most or all explicit references to "Mole Men" being excised.
The 1951 film Unknown World is the story of a small crew in a drilling vehicle exploring for a refuge from nuclear war, and finding great caverns at tremendous depths.
The 1971 film "THX 1138" is an American science fiction film set in a dystopian future in which the populace is controlled through android police officers and mandatory use of drugs that suppress emotion, including outlawed sexual desire.
The 2013 anime film Patema Inverted features a civilization that lives in a system of tunnels and caverns deep underground.
In the Tiny Toon Adventures episode "Journey to the Center of Acme Acres", a series of earthquakes shake up the city, causing Plucky and Hamton to fall into a crater in the ground. They fall for hours before finally reaching the center, which is hollow.
The Spider Riders series of books and anime take place in an "Inner World" inhabited by humans and intelligent insects.
The anime series Gurren Lagann is initially set in an underground civilization.
The Transformers: Cybertron cartoon series features a character, Professor Lucy Suzuki, who believes in the Hollow Earth Theory.
The Japanese anime Gaiking: Legend of Daiku-Maryu has the protagonists spend much of their time in a hollow Earth called Darius, home of an empire of humanoids that are currently amassing a force to invade and conquer the surface world.
Sanctuary has a Season 3 storyline that deals with Helen Magnus and her team finding and visiting Hollow Earth.
In Detentionaire, the main antagonist of the series known as "His Eminence" is from a long lost race of ancient reptilian humanoids who retreated beneath the earth and lay dormant for thousands of years.
In The Hungry Earth and Cold Blood, Series 5, episode 8 and 9, in the British series Doctor Who takes place in an underground city populated by Silurians, lizardmen who want to have their earth back.
The manga and anime series JoJo's Bizarre Adventure in its arc Battle Tendency mentions a race coming from inside the Earth known as Pillar Men, that were adopted by the ancient humanity as deities in different cultures. Their skills consist of an immunity over the time and disease as well as a complete control of their bodies, but they are weak to sunlight.
The tabletop Pathfinder Roleplaying Game's main setting, Golarion, features an extensive underworld known as the Darklands. The deepest region of the Darklands, known as Orv, consists of a series of caverns (referred to as Vaults) roughly the size of surface nations, home to a variety of alien environments, creatures and cultures.
In Mage: The Ascension, the Hollow Earth exists as an alternate reality, but virtually all ways of accessing without magic have ceased to exist in the modern age because people no longer believe the Earth could be hollow.
In Aion: Tower of Eternity, the world of Atreia used to be a hollow planet with the Tower inside it, connecting the northern and southern hemispheres together, providing light and heat to the creatures living inside of the planet.
The video games Dragon Age: Origins and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim both feature a subterranean city, along with other subterranean caves.
Arx Fatalis takes place almost entirely in an underground setting.
The role-playing game Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter for the PlayStation 2 console is set entirely in an underground world, where the main characters try to reach the surface.
The browser-based game Fallen London, as well as its roguelike spin-off Sunless Sea, are set in an alternate history in which Victorian London is now located a mile beneath the surface, in an enormous cavern colloquially referred to as the "Neath" dominated by a large subterranean ocean.
In the adventure video game series Myst, the D'ni civilization lies in a large cavern under the U.S. state of New Mexico.
In the roleplaying game Undertale, the character falls into the Underground, a subterranean realm which serves as the setting for the game. The Underground is populated with a society of monsters which were banished there by humans.
In the MMORPG The Secret World, the Hollow Earth serves as a central hub allowing the player to travel between the different area of the outer world. In its reboot Secret World Legends, it has been redesigned for being the central place for trade, meetup and services
The interactive fiction computer games in the Zork series are set in the Great Underground Empire
Japanese psychedelic rock band Far East Family Band named their 1975 debut album Chikyu Kudo Setsu, (Hollow Earth Theory), although the official English title was The Cave Down to Earth. The album's sleeve notes refer to familiar stories of entrances at the north and south poles, and of an ancient civilisation dwelling inside the Earth with connections to UFOs.
In Coldplay's first full album Parachutes there's a song called Spies. It may refer to a subterranean location, but the lyrics themselves are ambiguous.
Science Babble, on their album Membrane" has a song "Rock Bottom" revolving around hollow earth theory
Other celestial bodies
Subsurface fiction may also be set on other planetary bodies:
The most common example of a hollow body other than Earth has historically been a hollow Moon. A breathable interior atmosphere allowed various SF writers to postulate lunar life (including intelligent life) in spite of scientific observations of the uninhabitability of the Lunar surface. The subgenre largely died out following the actual Moon landings.
The console Strategy/RPG series Super Robot Wars features a Hollow Earth world named La Gias.
"World Without Stars", the third volume of the French graphic space novel series "Valérian - spatiotemporal agent" takes place mainly inside a hollow planet inhabited by a matriarchal and a patriarchal culture continuously at war with each other.
Arqtiq: A Story of the Marvels at the North Pole is a feminist utopian adventure novel, published in 1899 by its author, Anna Adolph. The book was one element in the major wave of utopian and dystopian fiction that marked the later nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
Closer (sometimes known simply as Tunnels 4) is the fourth book in the Tunnels series, written by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. Released in the UK by Chicken House on 3 May 2010, its publication in the US by Scholastic Inc. followed on 1 February 2011.
Freefall (sometimes known simply as Tunnels 3) is the second sequel to the book Tunnels, and is the third book in the series by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. Contrary to a number of erroneous comments in the media, Freefall was not the final novel in the Tunnels series, and the fourth book, Closer, was published by Chicken House in the UK on 3 May 2010.
Freefall picks up the story where the second book left off, and describes the events after Will Burrows, Chester Rawls, Elliott, and Bartleby have plummeted down a huge opening in the Deeps, finding themselves at an even greater depth in the Earth. As the story unfolds, Will and his father, Dr. Burrows, discover a way back to Topsoil and return to Highfield, a new character, Martha, is introduced, and there are two major confrontations with the Rebecca twins, the main antagonists of the series.
The Hollow Earth is a historical concept proposing that the planet Earth is entirely hollow or contains a substantial interior space.
Notably suggested by Edmond Halley in the late 17th century, the notion was tentatively disproven by Pierre Bouguer in 1740, and definitively by Charles Hutton (1778).
It was still occasionally defended in the early-to-mid 19th century, notably by John Cleves Symmes Jr. and Jeremiah N. Reynolds, but by this time was part of popular pseudoscience and no longer a scientifically viable hypothesis.
The concept of a hollow Earth still recurs in folklore and as the premise for subterranean fiction, and a subgenre of adventure fiction (Journey to the Center of the Earth, At the Earth's Core).
Journey to Mars the Wonderful World: Its Beauty and Splendor; Its Mighty Races and Kingdoms; Its Final Doom is an 1894 science fiction novel written by Gustavus W. Pope. (The author called his work a "scientific novel.") The book has attracted increased contemporary attention as a precedent and possible source for the famous Barsoom novels of Edgar Rice Burroughs. A sequel, Journey to Venus, followed in 1895.
Pope's novel is the story of a Lt. Frederick Hamilton, USN. On a voyage to Antarctica, his ship is wrecked; he and a Māori sailor are cast onto a barren island. Though near the end of his endurance, Hamilton rescues a strange-looking man before he loses consciousness. He awakens three weeks later, aboard a spaceship traveling to Mars. (Hamilton at first does not realize his hosts are Martians; he suspects they might have come from within the Hollow Earth through a polar opening, as per John Symmes's theory. Pope also wrote a subterranean fiction novel.)
On Pope's Mars there are three human-like races: red, yellow, and blue Martians. They have attained a sophisticated technology while preserving a feudal society (which allows for duels and swordplay), much as in Burroughs's later books. The Martians travel in "ethervolt cars" and anti-gravity aircraft; they enjoy communications devices that are equivalent to television and video telephone. Pope also provides a Martian magician who is telepathic, invokes spirits, and reads the hero's future.
Hamilton has various adventures, including a romance with the yellow-complexioned Princess Suhlamia. The Martians need to relocate from their world because of impending planetary catastrophe: meteors bombard the planet (the so-called Martian canals are actually linear cities, which makes them thinner targets), and the moons Phobos and Deimos threaten to crash to the surface. Hamilton returns to Earth to try to find space for them. A Martian revolution disrupts his plans, however; he writes no account of his adventures prior to an attempt to return to the red planet.
Gustavus W. Pope (1828–1902) was a physician based in Washington DC, who wrote several books on a range of subjects (including one on Shakespeare's supposed Roman Catholicism). Pope followed his Journey to Mars with Journey to Venus the Primeval World; Its Wondrous Creations and Gigantic Monsters (1895), in which Hamilton and Suhlamia visit that planet.
Journey to Mars has been reprinted in two modern editions, from Hyperion Press in 1974 and from Wildside Press in 2008. The Hyperion edition features an Introduction by Sam Moskowitz.
Journey to the Center of the Earth (French: Voyage au centre de la Terre, also translated under the titles A Journey to the Centre of the Earth and A Journey to the Interior of the Earth) is an 1864 science fiction novel by Jules Verne. The story involves German professor Otto Lidenbrock who believes there are volcanic tubes going toward the centre of the Earth. He, his nephew Axel, and their guide Hans descend into the Icelandic volcano Snæfellsjökull, encountering many adventures, including prehistoric animals and natural hazards, before eventually coming to the surface again in southern Italy, at the Stromboli volcano.
The genre of subterranean fiction already existed long before Verne. However, Journey considerably added to the genre's popularity and influenced later such writings. For example, Edgar Rice Burroughs explicitly acknowledged Verne's influence on his own Pellucidar series.
Written genres (more commonly known as literary genres) are those works of prose, poetry, drama, hybrid forms, or other literature that are distinguished by shared literary conventions, similarities in topic, theme, style, or common settings, character types, or formulaic patterns of character interactions and events, and an overall predictable form. Genres are not wholly fixed categories of writing, but their content evolves according to social and cultural contexts and contemporary questions of morals and morés. The most enduring genres are those literary forms that were defined and performed by the Ancient Greeks, definitions sharpened by the proscriptions of our earliest literary critics and rhetorical scholars such as Plato, Aristotle, Socrates, Aeschylus, Aspasia, Euripides and others. The prevailing genres of literary composition in Ancient Greece were all written and constructed to explore cultural, moral, or ethical questions; they were ultimately defined as the genres of epic, tragedy, and comedy. Aristotle's proscriptive analysis of tragedy, for example, as expressed in his Rhetoric and Poetics, saw it as having six parts (music, diction, plot, character, thought, and spectacle) working together in particular ways. Thus Aristotle establishes one of the earliest delineations of the elements that define genre.
Literary genres are often defined by the cultural expectations and needs of a particular historical and cultural moment or place.
The major literary genres defined by topic are:
DystopiaOther major genres are clustered together based on the form of how they are written, from the constrained syllables of a haiku to the controlled rhymes of a limerick.
DIY (Do It Yourself)
DictionaryOther genres are defined by their primary audiences:
NEQUA or The Problem of the Ages, according to Reginald's Science Fiction & Fantasy Literature 1700–1974, is one of the first feminist science fiction books published in the United States. It was first serialized in the newspaper Equity. Two editions were published in Topeka, Kansas in 1900. The title page lists Jack Adams as the author. Jack Adams is a pseudonym.
The following outline is provided as an overview of and topical guide to fantasy:
Fantasy – genre of fiction that commonly uses magic and other supernatural phenomena as a primary plot element, theme, or setting. Many works within the genre take place in imaginary worlds where magic is common. Fantasy is generally distinguished from the genre of science fiction by the expectation that it steers clear of scientific themes, though there is a great deal of overlap between the two.
Pellucidar is a fictional Hollow Earth invented by American writer Edgar Rice Burroughs for a series of action adventure stories. In a crossover event between Burroughs's series, there is a Tarzan story in which he travels into Pellucidar.
The stories initially involve the adventures of mining heir David Innes and his inventor friend Abner Perry after they use an "iron mole" to burrow 500 miles into the Earth's crust. Later protagonists include indigenous caveman Tanar and additional visitors from the surface world, notably Tarzan, Jason Gridley, and Frederich Wilhelm Eric von Mendeldorf und von Horst.
Spiral is the fifth novel in the Tunnels Series, written by Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. It continues the story of Will Burrows in his struggle against the Styx, who have been a major and pernicious influence throughout mankind's history. Spiral was published in the United Kingdom by Chicken House on September 1, 2011, and publication in the US followed on May 1, 2012.
Travelling to the Earth's center is a popular theme in science fiction. Some subterranean fiction involves traveling to the Earth's center and finding either a Hollow Earth or Earth's molten core. Planetary scientist David J. Stevenson suggested sending a probe to the core as a thought experiment. Humans have drilled over 12 kilometers (7.67 miles) in the Sakhalin-I. In terms of depth below the surface, the Kola Superdeep Borehole SG-3 retains the world record at 12,262 metres (40,230 ft) in 1989 and still is the deepest artificial point on Earth.
Tunnels is a subterranean fiction novel by British authors Roderick Gordon and Brian Williams. It was initially self-published as The Highfield Mole in 2005, and re-released as Tunnels by Chicken House in 2007. The story follows Will Burrows, a 14-year-old 'archaeologist', who stumbles upon an underground civilization called The Colony. Will and friend Chester flee The Colony and set out to find Will's father, in the Deeps, a place even deeper in the Earth than The Colony.
Tunnels was critically well received, although some complaints about its lengthy, slow start were recorded. The book placed on The New York Times Children's Chapter Books Bestseller List in February and March 2008. It is the first book in the Tunnels series, and was followed by Deeper (2008), Freefall (2009), Closer (2010), Spiral (2011) and Terminal (2013). BBC Audiobooks and Recorded Books have released audio editions. On February 28, 2013, Relativity Media announced Mikael Håfström would direct a film adaptation of the novel.
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