Gazing into the Abyss: Truth and Fiction in Amazon’s “Hunters”

Part 1: What the Hell is Vril?

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Some of the Hunters. From left: Mindy and Murray Markowitz; Roxy Jones; Joe Torrance; and Lonny Flash. (Christopher Saunders/Amazon)

It’s Summer, 1977. New York City. After his grandmother — a Holocaust survivor — is murdered, young Jonah Heidelbaum discovers that she was a member of a group dedicated to tracking and murdering Nazis living in America under assumed identities. Seeking vengeance, Jonah joins the group — a motley crew of characters that includes their leader, multi-millionaire Meyer Offerman; Sister Harriet, a pistol-packing foul-mouthed nun; obnoxious B-movie actor Lonny Flash; black power activist Roxy Jones; Asian-American kung-fu expert Joe Torrance; and tech wizards Mindy and Murray Markowitz.

In Hunters Episode 6: “Ruth 1:16” the “red journal” owned by various Nazis is found to be a wacko science fiction novel called Vril that is, as Lonny Flash describes it, “an instruction manual” for the coming Fourth Reich.

A real book published anonymously in 1871, the short novel Vril: The Power of the Coming Race was written by Edward Bulwer-Lytton.

Once as popular an author as Charles Dickens, Bulwer-Lytton would probably now be best remembered for inventing the phrase, “The pen is mightier than the sword,” if not for Charles Schulz’s beagle Snoopy, who mercilessly parodied the opening line — “It was a dark and stormy night” — of Bulwer-Lytton’s 1830 novel Paul Clifford in countless Peanuts comic strips.

Vril: The Power of the Coming Race is narrated by an American who stumbles on an underground race who call themselves the Vril-ya. The Vril-ya are descended from ancient Aryans, having left the surface millennia before to escape a massive flood, and who have survived and thrived by harnessing a source of infinite power — Vril.

Vril the novel pretty much follows the conventions of 19th century adventure science fiction from that point on. Our hero, who is never named, is alternately mystified, amazed, and horrified by the doings of the Vril-ya and by Vril itself, which confers on the wielder godlike abilities to heal or to destroy — including the destruction of entire cities.

At book’s end, our hero has fallen in love with a Vril-ya and the two flee back to the surface after discovering that the Vril-ya race are running out of room underground and planning to retake the Earth, destroying topside mankind in the process.

The book was popular enough at the time that “vril” became a period synonym for “life-giving elixir,” and even lent its name to a British bouillon called “Bovril” that is still marketed today.

Vril also enjoyed a certain vogue among British occultists in the 1920s and ‘30s as a fictionalized account about a real subterranean Aryan race who had gained superhuman powers through a mystic force. Bulwer-Lytton had used the fictional device, the “Vril is Real!” theorists said, to share the truth about the Vril power to initiates without having the mundane world go into a mass freak-out about the imminent coming of our new Aryan Overlords.

From the British Isles to Germany was just a hop-skip-and jump for the power of Vril. Rocket engineer Willy Ley, who had fled Germany for the United States in 1937, wrote that popular mystic and pseudoscience groups in Germany at that time of the rise of Nazism included the Berlin-based “Wahrheitsgesellschaft”— in English, the “Truth Society” — whose self-avowed mission was to discover the location of the underground Vril-ya and grab themselves some of that there Vril for the greater good of Aryans everywhere.

But Vril, either as book or concept, never gained much traction with the Nazis, who, with the exception of witchy fetishist Heinrich Himmler, were not all that into occultism. Contrary to pop culture retellings, there were no Nazi attempts at opening gateways to Hell and no searches for the Holy Grail, Spear of Destiny, or Ark of the Covenant, and no hunt for the Vril-ya and Vril.

The connection between the Vril super-force and the Nazis apparently began with a book first published in 1960 in France, The Morning of the Magicians, which claimed the existence of a secret community of German occultists — the Vril Society — that had eventually spawned the Nazi Party. According to the Morning of the Magicians’ authors, the Vril Society had not only been successful in discovering the substance Vril, but the Nazis had used it to power prototype flying saucers, which were occasionally seen during World War II and later, and chalked up as “foo fighters” aka U.F.O.s.

From that genesis, the Vril / Nazi theories spawned fast and furious over the years, becoming a meta-story claiming that Hitler had actually fled to South America in a Vril-fueled U.F.O., made contact with the underground Aryans via a hole in Antartica, and with the Vril-ya began plotting an all-Vril-powered Fourth Reich.

The details vary, but if the conspiracy theory involves some combination of Hitler, a hole leading to the center of a hollow Earth, an underground race of Aryan Übermensch, flying saucers, and Nazis, the chances are good that it can be traced back to Vril: The Power of the Coming Race.

Even Charlie Manson took bits of the Vril story — which he reputedly learned from an offshoot branch of the Ordis Templis Intelligentis (O.T.O.) occultists — to convince members of his “Family” that they would survive a coming race war by descending deep into an underground hole in Death Valley where they would be cherished by a group of Aryan supermen who would later help them to conquer and rule the aboveground survivors of the aforementioned race war.

Or something like that.

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Corporate Storyteller. Tech enthusiast. Mini Cooper fanboy. One-time chronicler of Bob Dylan’s Theme Time Radio Hour. Husband of Peggy. Human of Lily Rose.

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