Saturday, February 02, 2008

A Forgotten Episode of Lovecraftian Ufology?

Gray Barker’s famed 1956 book They Knew Too Much About Flying Saucers first introduced the mythology of (what was to later become) the Men in Black into ufology. In the book Barker documents his friendship with Alfred Bender, who claimed to have stumbled upon the truth about flying saucers. Before making this knowledge public, Bender was apparently visited by three strange men dressed in black. The men (who, with diabolic aplomb, always left behind them a faint smell of sulphur) initially claimed to be representatives of the US government. Bender was left terrified and in fear of his life, refusing to say more on the matter.

Bender’s silence lasted until 1962 when he revealed the horrifying truth in his own account of events, Flying Saucers and the Three Men (New York, Paperback Library Inc.) There he states that the MIB’s are in fact aliens in disguise, having established bases on Earth (usually in remote locations) with the intention of siphoning-off a chemical from sea water for some unknown purpose - an activity not so far removed from Lovecraft’s Fungi from Yuggoth. Bender also claims that the MIB’s visited him numerous times, on one occasion - and here the story takes a truly Lovecraftian turn - spiriting him off via some sort of teleportation or hyperdimensional travel to their central base of operations buried deep beneath the Antarctic ice.

There, one of the MiB’s reveal its true form: according to Bender a ‘hideous monster, more horrifying than any I have ever seen depicted in the work of science fiction or fantasy artists’ (p.81). This latter admission of familiarity with the sci-fi genre may be important, and a point I shall return to. Needless to say, in true Lovecraftian fashion the alien is so horrific as to be indescribable. Or in any case, Bender apparently lacks the vocabulary to do so as there is never any attempt at description made in the manuscript.

Perhaps more interesting is the fact, in marked counterpoint to the utopian and millenarian messages offered to other contactees of the period, that the MIBs reveal to Bender a nihilistic cosmology that seems to have jumped right out of the pages of Lovecraft. The monstrous aliens tell him that the physical universe is the product of a ‘vast glowing body so immense one cannot calculate its density. It is the creator of us all, and more families of planets are constantly being formed and thrown off into orbits’ (p.79). I certainly discern here something quite similar to Lovecraft’s Azathoth.

Later in the book this cosmology is elaborated in more detail:

‘there is a large main body from which all the planets and their suns are formed by means of being cast off into the vast void we call space. This main body seems to grow in size and never diminishes, despite the fact that it discards new bodies constantly. It is so hot a mass you could not go near it, even in terms of billions of your light years. All the bodies cast off are hot burning balls of fire, and as they reach the cooler parts of space they explode and form smaller bodies that circle them. These smaller bodies become planets as they cool off, but the cooling-off period consumes many, many years. We have sent out spacecraft to explore the regions beyond the circling bodies where there is an area that is deep black and in which you are unable to see anything…We have lost many of our exploring craft who went too far into the deep black and never returned’ (p.98-99)

This rather dark, melodramatic - and suitably cosmic - vision of the cosmos is reified in the aliens' comments on religious matters: they reveal that there is neither god nor life after death, and that Jesus was a fraud. Morally ambivalent entities themselves - perhaps akin to Lovecraft’s Old Ones who are ‘beyond good and evil’ - the aliens are quite open about the fact that they have abducted, experimented upon, and even killed humans to protect their interests; they also implant Bender with a small metal disk (foreshadowing a key element of later abduction narratives) and make dire warnings not to reveal what they have shown him until they have left the planet. Almost as an afterthought, the MIBs tell Bender that the Dero of Richard Shaver are real (and, in fact, the source of most human accounts of supernatural beings).

Indeed, the themes of abduction, experimentation and implantation by sinister forces which Bender’s apparently experience owe a massive debt to Shaver’s imagined underground worlds book (and in turn inspired the tales of alien underground bases which gained renewed vigour in the 1980s and 1990s when American ufology took a decidedly disturbing turn). Elements of Bender’s tale also seem strikingly akin to themes found in Lovecraft - even moreso given the disparity of Bender’s paranoid vision with the more optimistic provisions supplied from within the contactee movement. A likely source of inspiration for Bender's tale would be The Whisperer in Darkness which seems to have set the template not only for the ‘abductee’ phenomenon that swept ufology in the 1980s – 1990s, but also introduces MiB-like figures in the strangely hypnotic human agents of the Fungi from Yuggoth. Similar to Bender’s narrative, and central to Lovecraft’s Whisperer, are the awe-inspiring but nihilistic revelations of cosmic magnitude revealed to the narrator - albeit only hinted at for the reader - by the character of Akeley (or an alien who is impersonating Akeley).

Sadly, there is no hard evidence to support the claim that Bender was drawing upon Lovecraft in the construction of his and Gray Barker’s conspiratorial narrative (one that set the tone for later ramblings of ‘darkside’ ufologists). However, I noted earlier Bender’s implied familiarity with genre fiction: Bender does, in fact, admit to a fascination with the literature of the weird and supernatural, mentioning Shelley, Stoker and Poe as favourites. No sign of Lovecraft per se, but it seems that Bender was familiar with the later pulps such as Palmer’s Amazing Stories, so it is possible that he had a passing familiarity with Lovecraft’s tales. If so, Bender's work may represent an additional link in the chain between Lovecraft and contemporary ufology.

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