I recently came across some striking llustrations by John Augustus Knapp, taken from Etidorhpa, or, the End of the Earth, the title of an allegorical science fiction novel published in 1895, written by John Uri Lloyd, a pharmacognocist and pharmaceutical manufacturer of Cincinnati, Ohio.
Etidorhpa, sub-titled “The strange history of a mysterious being and the account of a remarkable journey”, has survived as a cult book, the story starting with an occult student who is surprised by a ghostly, uninvited guest, who reveals his past as a member of a secret society which he betrayed. His punishment for this is a journey inside the hollow earth, to slowly abandon his humanity and to be a keeper of knowledge and something else… A journey to Etidorhpa.
Etidorhpa has been re-released many times, including in paperback by Pocket Books in 1976, and is also available on Project Gutenberg.
To say this is an early science fiction narrative wouldn’t be enough, according to the Nighttime Editions, publishers of a restored edition of the novel last year, which includes three extra chapters from a 1901 edition, not found on other modern reprints, and five pages of an incomplete Etidorhpa sequel.
“It’s a fantastic story about an initiate’s journey to the Earth’s interior, a compendium of scientific hypothesis that goes from geology to metaphysics, an illustration of the miseries and hopes of men,” they enthuse, “that would, at least, be a better example to describe this singular work, inasmuch as this great narration contains multiple layers of interpretation.”
J. Augustus Knapp, born John Augustus Knapp (1853 – 1938), also known as “Occult Knapp”, was born and raised in Newport, Kentucky, and was a contemporary of Frank Duvenek and Henry Farney, who studied at the McMicken School of Design in Cincinnati.
At one time, Curtis Gates Lloyd, youngest brother of John Uri Lloyd, met Knapp while working at Standard Publishing. This proved the beginning of a long friendship, as well as many collaborations between Knapp and the Lloyds, a friendship that grew into a partnership, when Lloyd hired Knapp to illustrate his first novel, Etidorhpa.
Knapp went on to illustrate several other Lloyd novels, as well as a commission from Curtis Gates Lloyd, who became one of the leading authorities of early mycology research, to paint 40 watercolours of various fungi in the early 1900s, plates today on display at the Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio, which includes John Uri Lloyd’s personal library, along with his brother’s collection of books and specimens.
In 1918, Knapp moved to Los Angeles, where he continued working as a designer, illustrator and painter, at one time employed by Thomas H. Ince Studios, where he participated in the very early days of the film industry. (Thomas H. Ince turned movie-making into a business enterprise. Progressing from actor to director and screenwriter, he revolutionized the motion picture industry through developing the role of the producer).
He was also illustrator of many of the works of esoteric scholar Manly P. Hall, working with him on Initiates of the Flame, and, later, his magnum opus, The Secret Teachings of All Ages. He also designed a Tarot deck in collaboration with Hall, which has been widely circulated.
• Lloyd Library and Museum in Cincinnati, Ohio