Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd


I wouldn’t usually post so many illustrations but these depictions by J. Augustus Knapp for Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd add a great deal to the attractions of this early work of science fiction. Lloyd’s book is subtitled The End of Earth; The Strange History of a Mysterious Being; The account of a remarkable journey as communicated in manuscript to Llewellyn Drury who promised to print the same, but finally evaded the responsibility. The novel was published in 1895, and shares features with similar works that concern travellers exploring the interior of the Earth. What sets it apart is a degree of imagination that generated enough interest for it to be reprinted many times.


Science fiction and fantasy evolved so rapidly in the early 20th century that the products of previous centuries often seem uninventive in comparison. Whatever hidden cities, lost continents or subterranean kingdoms are promised, too many of them reveal a race of pompous individuals, usually clad in Greek, Roman or Egyptian attire with little variety to their civilisations unless their world is also populated by the odd monster or two. The manuscript in Lloyd’s novel relates a journey to the Earth’s interior by a bearded, white-haired character variously named I-Am-The-Man and The-Man-Who-Did-It who reads his adventures in a series of visits to the irresponsible Llewellyn Drury. I-Am-The-Man is kidnapped by a secret society who take him to a cave in Kentucky where he’s eventually delivered into the care of a mysterious, unnamed guide from the subterranean world:

The speaker stood in a stooping position, with his face towards the earth as if to shelter it from the sunshine. He was less than five feet in height. His arms and legs were bare, and his skin, the color of light blue putty, glistened in the sunlight like the slimy hide of a water dog. He raised his head, and I shuddered in affright as I beheld that his face was not that of a human. His forehead extended in an unbroken plane from crown to cheek bone, and the chubby tip of an abortive nose without nostrils formed a short projection near the center of the level ridge which represented a countenance. There was no semblance of an eye, for there were no sockets. Yet his voice was singularly perfect. His face, if face it could be called, was wet, and water dripped from all parts of his slippery person.

The illustrations by J. Augustus Knapp show the guide as naked but conveniently sexless. The pair descend into the Earth’s interior where they encounter a succession of wonders, from giant fungi (possibly derived from A Journey to the Centre of the Earth) and a sea of “crystal liquid” which the pair traverse in a metal boat, to a variety of strange fauna and flora. Knapp’s illustrations make the journey seem much more interesting than it is on the page where Lloyd spends far too much time lecturing the reader—there’s a chapter about the evils of drunkenness—or having I-Am-The-Man relate his continual bewilderment. “Etidorhpa”, it turns out, is “Aphrodite” reversed, and Etidorhpa herself appears as the embodiment of love at the culmination of what has become a spiritual journey rather like a weak precursor of David Lindsay’s extraordinary A Voyage to Arcturus (1920). Lindsay had the good sense to write a continuous narrative whereas Lloyd frequently interrupts his story with scientific speculations that seek to qualify some of the less outlandish features of his interior world. There’s also a curious note from the author on page 276 about the various properties of intoxicating drugs, and the possibility that they might be combined by a chemist to create strange visions for a writer. Lloyd was a chemist as well as a writer so the speculation that he might have experimented on himself—and thus produced this book—is understandable. Speculation aside, L. Sprague de Camp dismissed the novel as “unreadable” (despite its multiple reprintings) whereas HP Lovecraft apparently enjoyed it. You can judge for yourself here.





























Elsewhere on { feuilleton }
The illustrators archive

Previously on { feuilleton }
The Angel of the Revolution
A Strange Manuscript Found in a Copper Cylinder

4 thoughts on “Etidorhpa by John Uri Lloyd”

  1. It took me a few tries to make it through Etidorhpa, plunging deeper into the book each time. It was the illustrations that attracted me to the book in the first place. I find the chapter on the evils of drunkenness charming coming as it does from a proto-stoner since of course it’s usually been the other way round.

    The only mass market version of the book I’ve seen here in he states was a paperback printed in the late 70s under the Pocket Books imprint. It has the illustrations. One thing that interests me about the illustrations is that they are always reproduced in black & white. However the cover of the paperback has the “I was in a forest of colossal fungi” illustration in color. I was wondering if the original drawings were in color or if the publisher “colorized” the illustration for the cover?

  2. Hmm, that’ll be this one:

    Looks to me like a 70s colouring job. If you compare it to the following post you can see how he might have painted it. The guide character is described as being bluish in the text but he doesn’t look very blue there. If the b&w picture above had been painted those shades then some of the mushrooms would look darker than they do. They chose the right picture for the decade anyway!

    Searching around turned up another colourised example from 1962:

  3. Some of these images were laboriously repainted by Jess (Burgess Collins) in his Translations series. A quick Google search yielded no results but they’re reproduced in ‘Jess: A Grand Collage 1951-1993’ by Michael Auping. An unrelated image, ‘No Traveller’s Borne’ gives a good example of their style of execution, viewable here:

  4. Damn, now I want to see that! Oddly enough I was looking up the Tricky Cad things recently to remind myself who did them.

Comments are closed.

Discover more from { feuilleton }

Subscribe now to keep reading and get access to the full archive.

Continue reading