Lemuria was originally a scientific hypothesis created to explain the sporadic distribution of lemurs in Africa, Madagascar and India. In the 1870s the German biologist Ernst Haeckel (1834-1919) speculated that a landbridge or small continent had once connected these regions. The discovery of continental drift rendered the hypothesis unnecessary. However, H P Blavatsky worked Haeckel's Lemuria into her Theosophical cosmology (see Theosophy), where it was a Lost Land preceding Atlantis: the Lemurians were semi-material, semi-solid beings of monstrous shape and size, who had developed enormous magical abilities. They perished in a cataclysm, a few survivors evolving into Atlanteans. In later occult literature Lemurians are often identified with Elementals – vague, hostile, malevolent supernatural beings.
Often confused with Lemuria is Mu, a purported lost continent in the Pacific Ocean, whereas Lemuria was properly in the Indian Ocean. Mu was the creation of Colonel James Churchward in The Lost Continent of Mu (1926; rev 1931), Cosmic Forces of Mu (1932), and other books. Based partly on Blavatsky's writings and more on his own imagination, Churchward's books described an ancient culture possessed of high occult wisdom that left traces in various parts of the world, notably Mexico. Churchward's forte was the interpretation of geometric designs as solemn messages about Mu. It has never been clear whether Churchward was a crank or a hoaxer or both. In any case, he seems to have been the source for the motif that lost continents were destroyed by the explosion of subterranean gas caverns.
In fantastic fiction, Lemuria/Mu has been far less important than Atlantis. Drawing on occult sources, Charles Vivian's City of Wonder (1922) describes surviving Lemurian beings, primal forces not wholly intelligent or individualized, who threaten a Lost Race. In most instances, however, Lemuria is simply a resonant placename. Relevant titles are Lin Carter's Wizard of Lemuria series and Henry S Whitehead's "Scar Tissue" (1946) and "Bothon" (1946). A Merritt's "The Conquest of the Moon Pool" (1919) describes a huge cavern world beneath Micronesia inhabited by descendants of ancient Lemurians. Richard Shaver's paranoid I Remember Lemuria (1948) invokes both Atlantis and Mu, but with a private interpretation of both. [EFB]