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  • Writer's pictureMartyn Rhys Vaughan


Edward George Earle Lytton Bulwer-Lytton (1803-73) {this is not a typo}

An English aristocrat, he was first a Whig (Liberal) MP, and then a Tory (Conservative) MP, rising to the post of Secretary of State to the Colonies, where he was influential in the affairs of British Columbia.

He was also a writer of short stories and novels and several of his phrases have entered the English language e.g. “The pen is mightier than the sword”, “the pursuit of the almighty dollar.” The opening line of his novel, ‘Paul Clifford’, - “It was a dark and stormy night”- is often parodied.

His best known work is the historical novel ‘The Last Days of Pompeii’ but he also wrote several fantastical stories.

In ‘The House and the Brain’, he describes the experiences of a man who agrees to spend the night in a haunted house. Despite all the apparitions the protagonist sees, he rejects a supernatural solution or belief in the dead returning, and opts for the phenomena coming from a living brain, in a way which foreshadows the twentieth century concept of “psi powers.”

His best work in the genre is ‘The Coming Race’ (1871) in which the narrator descends to a subterranean world and finds it populated by superhumans called the Vril-ya.

These beings employ a kind of force-field called “vril” which gives them great powers of telekinesis and telepathy. The males – “An” – are smaller and weaker than the females – “Gy”, and it is the latter who take the lead in sexual relationships.

However, they are forbidden to enter into relationships with inferior males. If any such relationships are detected, the authorities use vril to turn the unfortunate male into a cinder. The narrator discovers that one of the Gy has become attracted to him, and thus his life is in danger. He manages to escape from the underground world, but not before learning that population pressures will soon force the Vril-ya to emerge onto the surface, which will inevitably result in the extermination of homo sapiens.

The novel was very popular and the idea of “vril” as an energy-dispensing life-force was taken up in food production, and the beef paste “Bovril” is named after it.

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