Subterranean fiction

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Subterranean fiction is a subgenre of adventure fiction or science fiction which focuses on underground settings, sometimes at the center of the Earth or otherwise deep below the surface. The genre is based on and has in turn influenced the Hollow Earth theory. The earliest works in the genre were Enlightenment-era philosophical or allegorical works, in which the underground setting was often largely incidental. In the late 19th century, however, more pseudoscientific or proto-science-fictional motifs gained prevalence. Common themes have included a depiction of the underground world as more primitive than the surface, either culturally, technologically or biologically, or in some combination thereof. The former cases usually see the setting used as a venue for sword-and-sorcery fiction, while the latter often features creatures extinct on the surface, such as dinosaurs, hominids or cryptids. A less frequent theme has the underground world much more technologically advanced than the surface one, typically either as the refugium of a lost civilization, or (more rarely) as a base for space aliens.


Map of the Interior World, from The Goddess of Atvatabar (1892)





  • The video game Final Fantasy IV for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System (Released as "Final Fantasy II" in the United States) features a subterranean world that is inhabited by dwarves.
  • The video game Terranigma for the Super Nintendo Entertainment System features both a hollow and normal Earth.
  • A pulp roleplaying game, Hollow Earth Expedition.
  • The Dungeons & Dragons role-playing game's Mystara campaign setting included a Hollow World expansion, featured in the Hollow World Campaign Set.
  • The tabletop Pathfinder Roleplaying Game's main setting, Golarion, features an extensive underworld known as the Darklands. The deepest region of the Darklands, known as Orv, consists of a series of caverns (referred to as Vaults) roughly the size of surface nations, home to a variety of alien environments, creatures and cultures.
  • In Mage: The Ascension, the Hollow Earth exists as an alternate reality, but virtually all ways of accessing without magic have ceased to exist in the modern age because people no longer believe the Earth could be hollow.
  • In Aion: Tower of Eternity, the world of Atreia used to be a hollow planet with the Tower inside it, connecting the northern and southern hemispheres together, providing light and heat to the creatures living inside of the planet.
  • The video games Dragon Age: Origins and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim both feature a subterranean city, along with other subterranean caves.
  • Arx Fatalis takes place almost entirely in an underground setting.
  • Avernum, and its predecessor, Exile, are set in a nation based in an underground cavern system originally used as a penal colony.
  • The role-playing game Breath of Fire: Dragon Quarter for the PlayStation 2 console is set entirely in an underground world, where the main characters try to reach the surface.
  • The browser-based game Fallen London, as well as its roguelike spin-off Sunless Sea, are set in an alternate history in which Victorian London is now located a mile beneath the surface, in an enormous cavern colloquially referred to as the "Neath" dominated by a large subterranean ocean.
  • In the adventure video game series Myst, the D'ni civilization lies in a large cavern under the U.S. state of New Mexico.
  • In the roleplaying game Undertale, the character falls into the Underground, a subterranean realm which serves as the setting for the game. The Underground is populated with a society of monsters which were banished there by humans.
  • In the MMORPG The Secret World, the Hollow Earth serves as a central hub allowing the player to travel between the different area of the outer world. In its reboot Secret World Legends, it has been redesigned for being the central place for trade, meetup and services
  • The interactive fiction computer games in the Zork series are set in the Great Underground Empire


  • Japanese psychedelic rock band Far East Family Band named their 1975 debut album Chikyu Kudo Setsu, (Hollow Earth Theory), although the official English title was The Cave Down to Earth. The album's sleeve notes refer to familiar stories of entrances at the north and south poles, and of an ancient civilisation dwelling inside the Earth with connections to UFOs.[4]
  • The band Bal-Sagoth has, on their album The Chthonic Chronicles (2006), a song about the hollow Earth called "Invocations Beyond the Outer-World Night".
  • Sunn O))) on their album Monoliths & Dimensions has a song called Aghartha.
  • In Coldplay's first full album Parachutes there's a song called Spies. It may refer to a subterranean location, but the lyrics themselves are ambiguous.
  • Science Babble, on their album Membrane" has a song "Rock Bottom" revolving around hollow earth theory

Other celestial bodies[edit]

Subsurface fiction may also be set on other planetary bodies:

  • The most common example of a hollow body other than Earth has historically been a hollow Moon. A breathable interior atmosphere allowed various SF writers to postulate lunar life (including intelligent life) in spite of scientific observations of the uninhabitability of the Lunar surface. The subgenre largely died out following the actual Moon landings.
  • The console Strategy/RPG series Super Robot Wars features a Hollow Earth world named La Gias.
  • The role-playing video game Septerra Core takes place on an eponymous world with seven separate layers, similar to the theory of Edmund Halley.
  • The PC Adventure game Torin's Passage features a depiction of the hollow fictional planet Strata, similar to the one described by Edmund Halley.
  • The planet Naboo in Star Wars has a "hollow core," but it is filled with water.
  • In the Star Trek: The Original Series episode "For the World Is Hollow and I Have Touched the Sky", there is a hollow, artificially created, planet-shaped spaceship whose inhabitants falsely believe that they are living on the surface of a planet.
  • "World Without Stars", the third volume of the French graphic space novel series "Valérian - spatiotemporal agent" takes place mainly inside a hollow planet inhabited by a matriarchal and a patriarchal culture continuously at war with each other.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Jules Verne, Journey to the Centre of the Earth, (Oxford, 1992) William Butcher translation.
  2. ^ Standish, David (2006), Hollow earth: the long and curious history of imagining strange lands, fantastical creatures, advanced civilizations, and marvelous machines below the earth's surface, Da Capo Press, ISBN 0-306-81373-4
  3. ^ "Turtles at the Earth's Core". TV.Com. 1989. Retrieved 29 November 2017.
  4. ^ Reported in Julian Cope's Japrocksampler, pp. 246–7.

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