Lost Continents has one of the most convoluted origin stories of any book in the field.
It starts in the 19th Century, when C. J. Cutcliffe Hyne serialized a rousing tale about the lost world of Atlantis in Pearson’s Magazine, July through December 1899. Hyne was hugely popular in the Victorian world of sensational fiction and an expanded version of The Lost Continent: The Story of Atlantis quickly saw hardcover publication in both the U.S. and Britain. Reprinting classic tales in the public domain was a standard device beloved by hard-pressed pulp editors needing to fill the most pages with the least money, and Mary Gnaedinger surrendered to temptation in the December 1944 issue of Famous Fantastic Mysteries, reprinting it as a “complete novel,” probably the shorter magazine original as the books run over 350 pages. For some reason, the author was credited as Weatherby Chesney, a pseudonym used by Hyne only for two series of short stories in 1898. It’s hard to say whether Chesney or Hyne was more recognizable name in 1944, but the Hyne name was attached to a number of novels that could be considered proto-science fiction and therefore exploitable. Or not. Nobody bothered to revive any others.
De Camp surely knew of the both the book and its recent incarnation. Not only does he call it “one of the best Atlantis novels,” he borrowed the title for his exploration of the Atlantis legend. He sold the book to Philadelphia-based Prime Press, another of the many f&sf small presses started in the late 1940s. Prime makes Gnome look like a deep-pocketed bastion of well-marketed superstars. Its main partners, Oswald Train and James Williams, wanted to publish fantasy and bring back historically-important lost utopian novels in an era that screamed for cutting-edge science fiction. Prime succumbed to many self-inflicted wounds shortly after Williams died in March, 1953. Train found almost nothing but debts left in a company that hadn’t published a book since 1951. He had to declare bankruptcy with about $12,000 owned to creditors. One potential asset was a set of 3000 unbound proofs of Lost Continents. (The patient de Camp had a connection: two books and a translation already published by Prime.)
Alan E. Nourse, still a Philadelphia medical student at the time, and Fred C. Smith started Chamberlain Press with the thought that having a ready-to-go book would ease them over the first book hump. Prime’s creditors wanted all their money, not the pittance Chamberlain could offer. They ignored them entirely. Chamberlain Press managed to publish Richard Matheson’s first book, Born of Man and Women, and then vanished itself.
How did Marty Greenberg snap up Lost Continents then? Perhaps the creditors thought that a firm with more than 40 books in inventory was a better bet. Perhaps he simply offered them more money. Perhaps Train made the contact himself. He is the source for the 3000 number, given to CHALKER. ESHBACH lists 5000 copies printed, but why would Greenberg spend money to print more copies when he had this gift of pre-printed pages, which he could sell for a then-exorbitant $5.00? Greenberg had his regular, Ric Binkley, design the cover based on the design by Prime regular L. Robert Tschirky.
In the meantime, de Camp gave the book some publicity by getting Other Worlds, edited by Ray Palmer, a congenial nutcase who loved lost race speculation, to publish nine chapters.
• “The Story of Atlantis” (Other Worlds, October 1952)
• “The Resurgence of Atlantis” (Other Worlds, November 1952)
• “The Land of the Lemurs” (Other Worlds, December 1952)
• “The Hunting of the Cognate” (Other Worlds, January 1953)
• “The Mayan Mysteries” (Other Worlds, February 1953)
• “Welsh and Other Indians” (Other Worlds, March 1953)
• “The Creeping Continents” (Other Worlds, May 1953)
• “The Silvery Kingdom” (Other Worlds, June 1953)
• “The Author of Atlantis” (Other Worlds, July 1953)
These correspond to the first nine chapters in Lost Continents. There are eleven, the last two being “The Land of Heart’s Desire” and “Evening Isles Fantastical.” De Camp’s introduction says that “Parts of this book have appeared as articles in Astounding Science Fiction, Galaxy Science Fiction, Natural History Magazine… and the Toronto Star.” I haven’t been able to trace exact sources, although de Camp’s article “Where Were We?” from the February 1952 Galaxy mentions Ignatius Donnelly and his three Atlantis volumes.
This is the only nonfiction narrative book that Gnome would publish, although it produced two nonfiction anthologies, 1953’s The Complete Book of Outer Space and 1957’s Coming Attractions.
There’s a coda to the story, one designed to drive casual researchers totally bonkers. De Camp contributed an introduction to a 1974 edition of Hyne’s The Lost Continent when it was published by Oswald Train. Look up any one quickly and you might be fooled into citing the wrong book.
Groff Conklin reviewed Lost Continents for the September 1954 Galaxy Magazine:
A monument of scholarship, the book is at the same time thoroughly readable.
Lost Continents, by L. Sprague de Camp, 1954, title #44, 362 pages, $5.00. 3000 copies printed.
Hardback, mottled green cloth boards with silver spine lettering and a silver drawing of underwater ruins on the front boards copied from the dust jacket. Jacket design by L. Robert Tschirky and Ric Binkley. “First Edition” on copyright page. Printed by H. Wolff. “Lost Continents The Atlantis Theme in History, Science, and Literature” on the title page. 17 illustrations. Back cover: 32 books.. Gnome Press address given as 80 East 11th St., New York 3