In Search of the Unknown: The Cryptozoological Fiction of Robert W. Chambers

This presentation will examine a key early work of cryptozoological fiction in the form of the novel In Search of the Unknown (1904) by the prolific author Robert W. Chambers (1865 – 1933); once regarded as “the most popular writer in America” (Cosmopolitan, April 1911), with over eighty best-selling novels to his name. Today however Chambers work has been all but forgotten apart from The King in Yellow (1895); a slim volume of horror stories which happened to garner the favorable attention of celebrated writer H.P. Lovecraft who praised Chamber’s skill at eliciting terror – some of which is on display in his cryptozoological writings as well.

In Search of the Unknown relates the many adventures of Gilland, a philandering ornithologist who works at the New York Bronx Zoo from whence he is repeatedly dispatched by his boss to go and find various cryptids including living mammoths, anomalous primates, giant birds, amphibious humanoids, and revivified dinosaurs. Published more than 50-years before “Father of Cryptozoology” Bernard Heuvelmans’ now classic non-fiction work On the Track of Unknown Animals (1955), In Search of the Unknown also appeared nearly a decade before Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s equally esteemed The Lost World (1912) which inspired Heuvelmans. Published at the very beginning of the twentieth century, In Search of the Unknown aptly demonstrates that cryptozoology already existed as a fully realized set of ideas not only well in advance of Heuvelmans’ work but even prior to the coining of the word itself in the early 1940s. By examining Chamber’s long neglected novel this presentation aims to bring new insights to the topic of the origins and methodology of cryptozoology, while also working to salvage Chamber’s reputation as a foundational writer of science-fiction.

Speaker Bio

Justin Mullis is a PhD candidate at Bowling Green State University in Ohio. He has a M.A. in Religious Studies from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte where he previously lectured on topics relating to the intersection of religion with science-fiction and horror. His published work includes explorations of the religious aspects of H.P. Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos and Japanese kaijū movies, as well as the cryptozoological folk-horror of Welsh writer Arthur Machen and the importance of science-fiction in the formation of cryptozoology. His current doctorial research involves the role of cryptozoology in the life of American Founding Father Thomas Jefferson.

Curated and Hosted by

Dr. Amy Hale is an Atlanta-based anthropologist and folklorist writing about esoteric history, art, culture, women and Cornwall in various combinations. Her biography of Ithell Colquhoun, Genius of the Fern Loved Gully, is available from Strange Attractor Press, and she is also the editor of the forthcoming collection Essays on Women in Western Esotericism: Beyond Seeresses and Sea Priestesses from Palgrave Macmillan. Other writings can be found at her Medium site and her website

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