“Reality – Is it a Horror?”

Richard Shaver's Subterranean World and the Displaced Self


  • Gabriel Mckee New York University




Conspiracy theories, Science fiction, Monsters in popular culture, Schizophrenia and the arts, Shaver mystery, Theodicy


This paper discusses the works of author Richard S. Shaver, who rose to prominence in the science fiction world in the 1940s with stories describing a vast underworld of caverns under the surface of the earth. These caverns were inhabited by evil beings called “dero” that used high-tech devices to torment the inhabitants of the surface world. Shaver, who had spent several years in mental institutions prior to his writing career, claimed his stories were true, and Amazing’s editor, Raymond A. Palmer, aggressively promted the “Shaver Mystery.” This prompted a backlash from science fiction fandom against both Shaver and Palmer. This paper gives an overview of Shaver’s career and explores his world-system as a form of theodicy, drawing in particular on his novel Mandark, a retelling of portions of the Bible narrative. Shaver’s monsters and their devices are examples of an “influencing machine,” a commonly-occurring delusional phenomenon first described by psychologist Victor Tausk in 1919, an externalized force that a patient believes is the source of thoughts and sensations. This paper argues that, for Shaver, the dero provided a psychological framework for processing tragic and traumatic events, externalizing tormenting forces into monsters. His fiction then became a force for combatting those torments within a narrative context. Like other conspiracy theories, the Shaver Mystery seeks to impose order on a chaotic world.