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A summer day in Los Angeles, , and the wispy guy in glasses stood before a sizeable crowd. John Uri Lloyd was speaking in the Westminster Hotel, a Victorian brick structure with a castle-like facade that would have looked right in place parked at the foot of Mt.
Weighing pounds, Lloyd was so diminutive folks worried about him, but he had an abundance of energy, and in a deceptively low-key manner, knew how to work a crowd like Louis CK.
He surprised people. On that June day over a century ago, he coolly told them about the future and his place in it, and he did so by claiming he had no place at all. It is only the events that linger and grow clearer year after year. Lloyd was speaking about his amazing, brain-colonizing novel, Etidorhpa, Or the End of the Earth, a book popular enough to draw a West Coast crowd years after it first appeared.
That day, like any day Etidorhpa was discussed, people wanted to know the same thing: What did the book mean? Except that a hundred years on, people remain befuddled by Etidorhpa. It still attracts off-road thinkers, artists, cultists. A follower of Lloyd in Cincinnati, the artist Ken Henson, is even preparing a deluxe new edition of the text. Etidorhpa is probably the only book of its kind: a science fiction story that starts in Cincinnati and ends in the hereafter.
It is weighty, at pages, and even the full subtitle takes its time:. The artwork is precise and unwavering in its evocation of things unseen. The science is laid on with a trowel; there are mechanical drawings and mini-lectures on hydraulics and how gravity works.
Lovecraft, the master of American horror, is said to have been a fan, but many others have fairly called it unreadable. In the end what makes it worth picking up is its extremity, and how much of himself Lloyd puts in.
He pulls you way into his head, and then playfully refuses to be clear about where the exit is. He is both tour guide and kidnapper. Etidorhpa manages to incorporate the diverse interests Lloyd shared with the world, as well as the ones he hid from his neighbors. When Etidorhpa was first published, in , it shocked those who knew him best.
How could it not? The story begins in the then-present, with Lloyd waxing portentous in his private library, breathing deeply of the dust and books around him.
His mood is melancholy. Seven years ago, he writes, a manuscript came into his possession, composed by a man named Llewellyn Drury. The story that follows is the Drury manuscript that Lloyd keeps on a shelf. Peter in Chains Cathedral, he built a large library of occult books, covering various mystical and abstruse subjects. Thirty years before, this… thing happened on a messy November day.
Over subsequent years this fellow reads a manuscript aloud to Drury, and that book, dear reader, is the one you hold in your hands. So, to recap: this is a book introduced by a real-life author, containing a story told to and written down by an ambitious immigrant to Cincinnati, and narrated by a white-bearded homunculus who walks through walls.
A story within a story within a story. And then things go south. Or whatever direction you go in when you fall into a Kentucky cave and hike down to the world within this hollow earth.
Down there, I-Am finds a guide—a curious being whose appearance resembles that of an Olympic luger—and engages him in extended philosophical, scientific, and religious debates. The fault lies in us; the forces out there are divine ones—tipped by the title of the book, Aphrodite spelled backwards—and we need to read up and be humble if we want to feel the full glory of the universe.
The book explores the biggest ideas possible: Why are we here, and where are we going? It seems safe to say Lloyd would have loved string theory. Today, his astounding collection of books—mostly on botanical and pharmaceutical subjects—is housed at the corner of Plum and Court streets. That building, a downtown landmark since , is a brilliant architectural deception, its tossed-off s modernism and humdrum concrete shell camouflaging the amazing curiosities within.
A little like the man himself. In a file among his personal papers at the library, Lloyd left an explanation of how he came to write Etidorhpa. He started the book in the s, he says, just as he began thinking broadly and critically about the scientific establishment.
That was his world. Some considered him the greatest pharmacist of his age, a rare practitioner known far beyond Cincinnati. He was a driven authority on exotic plants and their chemistry; in his lifetime he wrote eight science books and published thousands of articles. Born in in the Finger Lakes region of upstate New York, he was 4 when his family moved to Boone County, where his father found work as a railroad surveyor.
In he moved to Cincinnati, a complicated crossing during the Civil War. He left school at 14 to begin an apprenticeship, sweeping floors in a pharmacy, working his way up to soda jerk, then pharmacist. Studying chemistry and medicine on his own, he began to make elixirs. Mark Twain was a dinner companion, Grover Cleveland was just someone he went fishing with, and he was once commissioned by the Smithsonian to conduct a scientific survey of licorice in the Ottoman Empire.
Authority ruled with an iron hand, and the man who presumed to even question aloud, was likely to be crucified. The reason why is tied up in the perpetual tension between establishments and self-taught innovators. By the time he began questioning the scientific establishment, Lloyd was a leading figure in the Eclectic Medicine movement, a stream of the healing arts that thrived in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The Eclectics drew on folk remedies, Native American practices, and the deepening knowledge of plant biology, finding medical treatments in herbal remedies and other botanicals.
Cincinnati, home of the Eclectic Medical Institute until , was a leading center for the discipline. As the name implies, Eclecticism was a movement that covered a lot of ground, and under its aegis you could find both fraudulent healers and straight-laced men of science like Lloyd.
The Eclectics were taking on Big Pharma long before it was cool, or very big. And for that reason, along with their inability to come up with accepted standards and practices, Eclecticism was attacked by mainstream medical institutions. If so, John Uri Lloyd does not interest you, for to him it is life itself….
He follows her [science] as lovers, romance; and children, the rainbow. Alkaloids are not things to be made into medicine, but voices which speak from another world. As that quote suggests, Lloyd may have loved science a little too much.
But there was a place for the ideas that he was playing with: fiction. In a novel one could speculate. Fiction was a way to make an argument without having to stake your professional reputation on it.
Even so, as he planned Etidorhpa , Lloyd moved cautiously. There was no description of what the book would be about, merely the title. Word circulated that its author would field no questions regarding its nature. He was simultaneously testing the waters and creating buzz.
Give Lloyd credit for going viral, years before anybody knew what a virus was. More than 1, subscribers ordered the book, and they got a handsome package. Published by the author himself in a limited edition, with his signature on every one, Etidorhpa was born a collectible, and targeted at readers who were not going to give Lloyd the kind of treatment the AMA was giving Eclectics.
Years later, Lloyd would note how he never pushed the book, just circulated it among the cognoscenti, in ever widening circles, until editions reached around the world. Morgan made provocative boasts in the press that he had been paid an advance to write a book exposing Masonic practices. One account says that Morgan was kidnapped, taken on a boat to the middle of a New York lake, and drowned in order to protect the secrets. After he is kidnapped, I-Am-The-Man is sent to a cave in Northern Kentucky, which serves as a portal to the world inside the Earth, a realm forested with giant mushrooms.
Captain John Symmes after whose family Symmes Township is named was a hero of the war of who wrote and lectured around the country on his passionate belief that the earth was as empty as a balloon. But back to those Tesla-sized mushrooms. When I-Am-The-Man ingests them, he launches on an extended hallucination that may be the most vivid part of the story.
Indeed, after Curtis died in , his collection of mushrooms was bequeathed to the Smithsonian. But Nicholas Money, a world-famous mycologist at Miami University, is someone who has thought about such issues far more than most, and he disagrees. He suggests that Lloyd was taking his inspiration from several contemporary accounts of experimentation well-known at the time. The book is vast, maddening, sodden with crackpot notions and plot devices probably culled from Jules Verne and other fantasists.
And yet it deeply mattered to Lloyd. What he wants the reader to understand most, it seems, is that an inflexible orthodoxy will never understand the universe. Lloyd believes that with humility we can see the divine forces that drive the universe. And that with humility and the right science we can understand the universe.
Much of the novel is a running argument between the doubting rationalist and his underground guide. After Etidorhpa , Lloyd was a credentialed predictor of future events. When Mt. Vesuvius erupted in , an Enquirer story noted that such geologic phenomena had already been explained in the novel.
Lloyd died in , just days before his 87th birthday, and by then he was remembered fondly as both scientist and seer. On a cold day in February, John Uri Lloyd makes an unexpected appearance at the library that bears his name. From a FedEx package sent by his great granddaughter in California, his eyeglasses tumble out. The lenses are small flat ovals, held in place by a delicate wire figure eight; they look like antique props that would be right at home in a Sherlock Holmes movie or a Decemberists video—appropriate for the Steampunk of Plum Street.
Heran holds them up to the light. Behind her are bookshelves containing a fraction of the , volumes Lloyd collected in his lifetime, and a display case holding treasures he brought back from trips around the world: pottery from Turkey, a bust from Japan.
As the sunlight hits the spectacles, she decants a loud cackle. They are too small to put on.
Etidorhpa: Strange History of a Mysterious Being and an Incredible Journey Inside the Earth
A summer day in Los Angeles, , and the wispy guy in glasses stood before a sizeable crowd. John Uri Lloyd was speaking in the Westminster Hotel, a Victorian brick structure with a castle-like facade that would have looked right in place parked at the foot of Mt. Weighing pounds, Lloyd was so diminutive folks worried about him, but he had an abundance of energy, and in a deceptively low-key manner, knew how to work a crowd like Louis CK. He surprised people. On that June day over a century ago, he coolly told them about the future and his place in it, and he did so by claiming he had no place at all. It is only the events that linger and grow clearer year after year.
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To Prof. Venable, who reviewed the manuscript of this work, I am indebted for many valuable suggestions, and I can not speak too kindly of him as a critic. The illustrations, excepting those mechanical and historical, making in themselves a beautiful narrative without words, are due to the admirable artistic conceptions and touch of Mr. Augustus Knapp. Structural imperfections as well as word selections and phrases that break all rules in composition, and that the care even of Prof. Venable could not eradicate, I accept as wholly my own.
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Etidorhpa, or, the end of the earth: the strange history of a mysterious being and the account of a remarkable journey is the title of a scientific allegory or science fiction novel by John Uri Lloyd , a pharmacognocist and pharmaceutical manufacturer of Cincinnati , Ohio. The word "Etidorhpa" is the backward spelling of the name " Aphrodite. Eventually a popular success, the book had eighteen editions and was translated into seven languages. Drury's adventure culminates in a trek through a cave in Kentucky into the core of the earth.