Hollow Earth: A Travel Guide

BBC Radio 4

Robin Ince takes us on a tour of a world beneath the earth’s crust, exploring the history of Hollow Earth theory through literature, legend and scientific theory.

Virtually every ancient culture, and most religions worldwide, have shared a belief in some sort of mysterious subterranean world, often inhabited by strange and powerful creatures. To the Greeks and Romans it was Hades. To many early Christians, Hell was conceived as a fiery pit deep in the centre of the earth, a scene most elegantly depicted by Dante in his Inferno.

Hollow earth narratives have also inspired many great fantasy and science fiction writers including Jules Verne, Edgar Allan Poe and Tarzan creator, Edgar Rice Burroughs.

Robin Ince’s tour of this world within a world, starts with the obvious question of how to get into it. Is the entrance at the North Pole, the South Pole or even in Newcastle? With the help of his “tour guides”, including the graphic novelist Alan Moore, Robin gets advice on where to descend and what he might see once he gets down there. Is this a Dystopia full of desperate souls, or the Utopia imagined by someone like the messianic 19th century physician Cyrus Teed, who established a hollow earth cult in Florida and whose ideas later went on briefly to inspire the Nazis.

On his subterranean journey, Robin also meets a classicist, a biblical scholar, and a literary critic. Together they explore the physical aspects of this world and consider who he might bump into. Will it be the three-headed dog Cerberus, or the plesiosaurs and dinosaurs of Jules Verne? Or is this voyage into the interior, actually just a journey into the depths of our own minds?

Producer: Philippa Goodrich
A Juniper production for BBC Radio 4.