The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana

by Jess Nevins

Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea (1863)

copyright © Jess Nevins 2022

Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea was written by William S. Hayward and first appeared in (The Boys’ Journal, Feb-Aug 1863). Hayward (1825-1870) was a member of the British Navy who wrote widely in retirement, producing travelogues, sensation novels, and juvenile adventure novels, including a number of serials in British story papers.

Even as a child Victor Volans was crazy about balloons. When young he made small balloons and sent them into the air, to see how far they could and would go. Merely watching them quickly palled, and he began sending balloons aloft with passengers. First he used a pair of kittens as passengers, but they died from exposure to the cold air. Next he used his baby brother, who survived the trip. But Victor’s parents were unreasonably angry with Victor over his experiment with his brother and forbade him from any further experiments with balloons. When Victor was a teenager his parents moved to California to capitalize on the gold strike there. Victor saved up his money and built his own balloon. He takes it up for a test flight, but the wind catches the balloon and blows him west toward the sea. He sees a ship founder on coastal rocks, but he is unable to help any of the survivors. Victor’s balloon is blown across the Pacific. He passes the Sandwich Islands and drifts for five days. He enters what seems to be a bank of monstrous darkness, but which is actually dense smoke, covering “raging, roaring furnaces”1 of volcanoes. Volans passes out from the smoke, and while unconscious his spirit travels into the air above the volcanic land, which is actually the “Region of Eternal Night.” Volans’ spirit is approached by phantoms with gleaming white eyes and evil faces which “glowed like molten iron.”2 The phantoms shriek like banshees and circle around him, leaping forward to touch his throat with their dangerously hot fingers. He wakes up and leaps to his feet, which frightens the phantoms off.

Volans’ balloon descends, and he lands in a wonderful land which he calls the “Enchanted Valley.” It has “glorious fertile plains, silvery lakes, gorgeous palaces glistening and sparkling with gems”3 and is inhabited by “fairy-like beings...they looked brighter, fairer, handsomer, and more graceful than any men, or women either, whom I had ever seen.”4 Volans has no interest in staying and takes off, but when he tries to use his compass he finds that it does not work, and when the people notice him they jump twenty feet in the air en masse and pull his balloon to the ground.

The people drag Victor to a nearby river and force his face into it. However, he does not drown. He discovers that he can breathe underwater; the river is lighter than water, so he can’t float in it, but he can walk in it. The people offer him no further violence, so he decides to stay among them for a while. He finds that due to the lessened gravity of the valley that he can take enormous leaps into the air, just like the natives. He stays with them for two years and learns their language. The people are “in a state of primitive innocence,”5 but their valley has a great deal of food, huge amounts of precious and base metals, and because of the lessened gravity the natives do not age. Underneath the valley is “a vast chasm instead of the solid earth. This chasm extended to the center of the globe, and thus the only attractive power exercised was by the solid matter on the other side of the centre.”6 

The people live in a simple monarchy, and Victor falls in love with their Princess. When he is ready to leave the valley he decides to take her with him. She is in love with him and agrees to leave, even though she is horrified by the idea. When Victor asks the King for permission to leave he is refused, so Victor lies to the King and says that he will not attempt to escape. Victor then tries to take the balloon and the Princess into the air. Victor is discovered and caught before he can get the balloon to a sufficient altitude. Victor’s punishment is banishment, but he is told that if he manages to find the valley again he will be allowed to stay. (The King originally wanted Victor put to death, but the Princess begged her father to let Victor leave, which the King eventually agreed to). Victor leaves the valley in his balloon and eventually lands in Sydney, Australia. He spends time in the seas around Australia discovering sunken treasure and then sails west in his balloon. In Ceylon he finds more sunken treasure, but also discovers a glowing, phosphorescent, spike-headed sea demon, who tries and fails to kill him. Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea ends with Victor returning to England with £170,000 and planning on returning to the valley and to the Princess, his own beloved “Glorious Golden Hair.”

Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea is an ordinary ballooning narrative told in the thick, dull prose style of mid-century story papers. It is nonetheless of note. By the time Up in the Air, and Down in the Sea was published stories about balloon travel had been appearing for decades. Jules Verne’s Five Weeks in a Balloon (1863) began a new vogue for stories about flight in a balloon, and most post-1863 balloon stories were influenced by Verne. But Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea appeared simultaneously with Verne: Five Weeks in a Balloon was published on Jan. 31, 1863, while the first appearance of Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea in Feb., 1863. Because of this it is free of the Verne influence. While Hayward’s story is unexceptional as a ballooning story, it is unusual as a Lost Race story. There were some Lost Race stories before H. Rider Haggard formalized the genre (see: The Allan Quatermain Adventures), but most of them were Utopias, and few used the outsider-falls-in-love-with-native-royalty plot that Hayward uses in Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea and which would later become an essential part of the Lost Race novel.

Lastly, while it is doubtful that Edgar Rice Burroughs ever read Up in the Air; and Down in the Sea, it is an interesting coincidence that the idea that an ordinary human would be able to leap great distances due to lessened gravity, which plays a part in Burroughs’ John Carter of Mars stories, should appear almost forty years earlier in a similar Lost World story.

Recommended Edition

Print: William S. Hayward, The Cloud King, or, Up in the Air and Down in the Sea: Being a History of the Wonderful Adventures of Victor Volans. London: Charles H. Clarke, 1871.



1 William S. Hayward, The Cloud King, or Up in the Air & Down in the Sea (London: Darton and Hodge, 1865), 27.

2 Hayward, Cloud King, 31.

3 Hayward, Cloud King, 36.

4 Hayward, Cloud King, 38.

5 Hayward, Cloud King, 49.

6 Hayward, Cloud King, 50.