Previous: What if a lot of the Cynicism is Unjustified???
Next: I Searched for "Science Side of Twitter" and Answered As Many Questions as I Could



View count:115,700
Last sync:2022-10-29 09:45
In which John reads The Sunless City by J. E. Preston Muddock, a book that only survives because of a Canadian mining town on the border between Manitoba and Saskatchewan.

Subscribe to our newsletter!
And join the community at
Help transcribe videos -
Learn more about our project to help Partners in Health radically reduce maternal mortality in Sierra Leone:
If you're able to donate $2,000 or more to this effort, please join our matching fund:
John's twitter -
Hank's twitter -
Hank's tumblr -
Good morning Hank, its Tuesday.
Today, I would like to tell you the story of the unlikely survival of a book. Alright, so during the Turtles All The Way Down movie shoot, I became friends with the second assistant director, Tracy who's worked on everything from like, Irobot to Hot Tub Time Machine, and one day we were chatting and she revealed that she grew up in the small town of Flin Flon, Manitoba.

Now as the grandson of somebody from Skullbone, Tennessee, I have long been fascinated by unusual place names. And Tracy explained to me that Flin Flon got it's name from a novel: The Sunless City, published in 1905. Now, I have a longstanding rule that if a friend gives me a strange, out of print book, I read it, because you never know when you're going to find a long lost literary treasure, and I told Tracy about this, and then, just as Covid was settling upon my house, what should arrive in my mailbox but the Sunless City?
Okay, first, the author Joyce Emerson Prestig Mutik wrote over 50 books in his lifetime. He was mostly known as an author of detective stories, like he wrote detective stories about this Glasweigian detective called Dick Donovan, and they were as popular as the Sherlock Holmes stories for a while. 

But, Mutik also wrote travel logs and literary fiction and true crime, and a bit of sci-fi. You've probably never heard of Mutik, I know I haven't, and it's important to remember: He's more the rule than the exception, like, books don't last forever, and very, very few books even last for an average human lifespan. 

Like, I've never heard of ASM Hutchinson, or Gertrde Atherton, but they wrote the best selling American novels of 1922 and 1923 respectively. The year the Great Gatsby came out, these were the ten most popular novels in the United States. And if you've heard of more that one of these authors, you're better read than I am. 

In general, books, for lack of a better term, die young. Like, it is far more rare for a book to live to 100 than it is for a person. And so, there's nothing surprising about JEP Mutik's work being totally forgotten, what's surprising is that it's not totally fogotten. 

Which brings us back to the Sunless City, a tale of a vast and seemingly endless lake whose secrets are discovered by one Josiah Flintabaddy Flonatin. A Snuffin man of science. And by Snuffin, I mean he snorts tobacco up his nose over and over again in the book. Flin Flon, as he is nicknamed, discovers that the lake is a kind of portal into a world underneath our world, and he takes this mechanical fish submarine that also doubles as a sailboat way down deep into the lake and then eventually come out in the new earth!

That part is really quite exciting, and in this upside down interior world within a world, everything is paved with gold, and tin is the valuable mineral. It's the one that's used in coins and crowns. And then he discovers a great underground kingdom with all these people who have tails, and the kingdom is run by a counsel of women, which Flin Flon does not like. 

Now I suppose that one could read Flin Flon's wildly misogynistic response to a matriarchal society as satire, but the problem is, Flin Flon is consistently presented as the smartest and most wise man in the world. And at one point he says that if women were in the US congress, I very much fear that I should be false to my allegiance and forsake my dear old stars and stripes. 

So, yeah. There's a reason we don't read a lot of Mutik these days, but to be fair, the book hasn't survived because of it's story, it survived because of its protagonists incredible name. Because when the Canadian prospector named Tom Creighton came across a large and deep vein of copper, he decided to name his mine the Flin Flon mine, because he'd just read the Sunless City, and the town that grew up around that mine came to be called Flin Flon as well. 

Flin Flon is going though time. The biggest mine in the town is closing this year, but it continues on, and as long as it does, the best of JEP Mutik's work will also survive. And I find that kind of lovely. 

Hank, I'll see you on Friday.