There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy. (Shakespeare)
What is the Hollow Earth Theory?
The Hollow Earth Theory attempted to explain the structure of the Earth as being several concentric spheres, one inside the next like Matryoshka nesting dolls. The number of spheres, as well as the thickness, varied between proponents of the theory. However, the general consensus had been that openings between spheres were located near the polar ice caps.
The Hollow Earth Theory has been contradicted by numerous observations, including gravity, seismological activity, geography, and the modern theory of planet formation. Isaac Newton provided one of the earliest evidence against the Hollow Earth Theory. His Shell Theorem proved that anybody standing on the inside of a planetary sphere would experience no net gravitational force at any point within the sphere, regardless of the thickness of the shell (Crowell 194). Virtually nobody believes in the Hollow Earth Theory today.
What was the history of the Hollow Earth Theory during the 19th century?
John Cleves Symmes, Jr. first established the Hollow Earth Theory in the early 19th century. In 1818, he wrote a pamphlet addressed to all institutes of higher education in which he proclaimed the "earth is hollow, habitable within; containing a number of solid concentric spheres; one within the other, and that it is open at the pole twelve or sixteen degrees." He then declared to devote his life in proving his theory (Symmes).
Symmes traveled across the country, trying to persuade others into believing the Hollow Earth Theory. With the help of an Ohio millionaire, James McBride, he lobbied the federal government to fund an expedition to the Arctic Circle. Symmes believed that profitable trade could be conducted with the inhabitants of the inner earth (Boese).
In 1820, Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery, written by a Captain Adam Seaborn, was published. It purported to be a factual recounting of a journey to the polar ice cap which led to the center of the Earth. There, the crew interacted with the strange new inhabitants (Seaborn). Many scholars believe that Seaborn was actually Symmes, writing under a pseudonym.
After lobbying the Congress continuously, James McBride submitted a proposal to Congress to explore the Earth's interior. Congress voted it down, even though John Quincy Adams, president of the United States at the time, supported the expedition (Adams 168). However, he stepped out of office before he could give the expedition the go ahead. Andrew Jackson succeeded Adams and cancelled the project. According to Adams, Jackson believed the world to be flat (Johnson 11). This is one possible reason he cancelled the project. Another is that he believed the popular opinion of the time: that the Hollow Earth Theory was ridiculous nonsense (Adams 168).
During this time, a man named Jeremiah Reynolds was lecturing on a polar expedition. He succeeded in initiating the Great U.S. Exploring Expedition of 1834-42. It was also known as the Wilkes Expedition (FortSpace).
In 1826, Symmes and McBride wrote their ideas in the book, Symmes' Theory of Concentric Spheres. Three years later, in 1829, Symmes died. In 1871, Professor WM. F. Lyon and M. L. Sherman published The Hollow Globe, which presented many of the same ideas that Symmes did (Sherman).
On the night of Poe's death, Poe was heard repeating the name "Reynolds." One can only wonder if he meant Jeremiah Reynolds (FortSpace).
How is the Hollow Earth Theory represented in Poe's writing?
The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket
The narrative ends with the narrator's canoe rushing toward the North Pole. There is no wind. He sees a giant cloud of smoke emanating from the pole and many pure white birds flying away from it. He sails right into the cloud and down a chasm. There, the novel ends with the appearance of a strange white creature. The ending represents many of Symme's beliefs: that the opening to the earth's interior is warmer than the rest of the pole, that the pole ejects certain mysterious gases, and that strange new inhabitants await us beneath the surface (Skeptic's Dictionary).
"The Unparalleled Adventure of One Hans Pfaall"
During his ascent, Hans commented "what mainly astonished me, in the appearance of things below, was the seeming concavity of the surface of the globe." The Hollow Earth Theory sometimes fails to explain whether our civilization is on the outside or inside of the shell. This passage from Poe's short story echoes the second variation of the Hollow Earth Theory – that we live inside a hollow earth that surrounds the entirety of the universe. This passage was basically copied into another of Poe's hoaxes, "The Great Balloon Hoax."
"MS. Found in a Bottle"
The narrator, trapped on the ghost ship, noticed that he was traveling through the polar regions, past giant walls of ice. In the end, he noticed that he was sinking through the Earth's crust and descending into whatever lay beneath.
"A Descent into the Maelstrom"
The primary narrator of the story tells the fisherman that some believe the Maelstrom to penetrate the globe and issue in some remote part of the globe. Like many scholars of Poe's time, the fisherman does not believe this to be true.
Adams, John Quincy. Memoirs of John Quincy Adams. J. B. Lippincott & Co.: Philadelphia, 1875. Print.
Boese, Alex. Symzonia. The Museum of Hoaxes. n.p. 2002. Web. 9 April 2011.
Crowell, Benjamin. Newtonian Physics. Light and Matter: Fullerton, California, 2003. Print.
Griffin, Duane A. Hollow and Habitable Within: Symme's Theory of Earth's Internal Structure and Polar Geography. Lewisburg, Pennsylvania: Bucknell University. Print.
Johnson, David E. and Johnny Ray Johnson. A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the White House. Taylor Trade Publishing: Lanham, Maryland, 1983. Print.
McBride, James and John C. Symmes. Symmes Theory of Concentric Spheres; Demonstrating that the Earth is Hollow, Habitable Within, and Widely Open about the Poles. Morgan, Lodge and Fisher: Cincinnati, 1826. Print.
Seaborn, Adam. Symzonia: A Voyage of Discovery. J. Seymour: New York, 1820. Print.
Sherman, M. L. and WM. F. Lyon. The Hollow Globe; or the World's Agitator and Reconciler. A Treatise on the Physical Conformation of the Earth. Religio-Philosophical Publishing House: Chicago, 1871. Print.
Symmes, John C. Circular No. 1. Philadelphia, 1818. Print.
"Theories of the Hollow Earth." The FortSpace. Florida International University. n.d. Web. 9 April 2011.