The Land of Black Ice and the Hollow Oerth

“Those who have ventured far into the northlands beyond the Burneal forest tell of a strange phenomenon. Instead of the normal stark white snow and translucent blue-white ice, there is an endless landscape of deep blue-black ice, topped only here and there by normal snowfall. Strange arctic monsters prowl these fields of ebony ice, and the few humans who dwell near the place fear to enter it on account of the beasts and supposedly what lies beyond. Stranger still, they are said to tell of a warmer land beyond the ice where the sun never sets and jungles abound.” — A Guide to the World of Greyhawk, p. 60

Aside from mention of blue bugbears in the Glossography, and a brief mention of the City of the Gods found to the north of Blackmoor, little else is told of the Land of Black Ice in the Gygaxian Greyhawk boxed set and Gazetteer. The implications of the last sentence quoted above are clear; that there is some sort of warm, sun-lit land beyond the ice, possibly within a hollow Oerth itself.

Gygax himself was a bit of a magpie when it came to sources, and was well-read in terms of both fantasy literature and just about everything else. What strikes me, in considering the passage above, is just why would you make the arctic area around a polar hole to a hollow world black? Was that just an inventive twist by Gygax, or might it  have had some sort of other antecedent?

It turns out that the phenomenon of black ice is one that is well-known to arctic explorers, at least as reported by adherents of (real-world) hollow Earth theories.

“The dust in the polar regions, which Nansen speaks of so many times, and which was a source of such annoyance while drifting in the ocean many miles from land, comes from somewhere; it does not grow; it is a commodity without life; cannot reproduce itself; yet it is found in such great quantities that it colors the snow black.”The Phantom of the Poles: Evidence for Hollow Earth, by William Reed, p. 53 (the online transcription has “Hansen”, but this must surely be “Nansen” in the original, after Fridthjof Nansen, a Norwegian arctic explorer who wrote the book “Farthest North” about his expedition)

Nansen isn’t the only explorer to have mentioned the ice-blackening dust, which has been explained by some as either volcanic dust or pollen from the great lush jungles within the hollow sphere of the Earth. Nansen and others also  recorded that the air was warmer as they approached the pole itself, and unexpected patches of open sea where there should have been solid ice. Other arctic explorers explicitly make mention of red, yellow, and green pollen covering miles of what should be pristine white snow, and that animals such as foxes, seals, and birds seemed to grow more frequent the more north they proceeded.

Applied to the hollow Oerth, the Land of Black Ice could be an enormous field of ice in which volcanic dust and tropical pollens have been trapped over the years, giving the whole a distinctive blue-black hue. The further one delved into the region, the closer one would come to the opening, hundreds of miles across, to the Inner Oerth. Naturally, one would never realize it until the Inner Sun became visible, as the shell of the Oerth provides its own gravity along the “lip” of the opening.

And who knows? Perhaps it is here that the Derro have their flying saucer bases whence they launch their attacks on the “outer” world.

Written by 

Wargamer and RPG'er since the 1970's, author of Adventures Dark and Deep, Castle of the Mad Archmage, and other things, and proprietor of the Greyhawk Grognard blog.

4 thoughts on “The Land of Black Ice and the Hollow Oerth

  1. You & scottsz!

    You have both reminded me of my early days of world building. Of course, there was Greyhawk. Then, Kara-Tur (which I think was originally slated for WoG – those early Oriental Adventure modules & PHB don't mention FR at all), Menzoberranzan (Vault of the Drow-Redux), Maztica (which scottsz reminded me of while starting his new cold-case-file on The Hidden Shrine of Tamoachan, Horde Campaign, and of course, now, Hollow World.

    I will add to your comments by reminding you to take a look at Gygax's Aerth & its inner-world from Dangerous Journeys. He may very well have been planning something as you have suggested.

    Thanks for adding another great way to keep stirring the sandbox!


  2. Wow! This was an enlightening look at the LoBI. We've had numerous discussions about the Black Ice on Canonfire, but I never considered Hollow Oerth as a clue/side effect for it's existence. Very cool.

  3. Mr. B,

    Excellent post.

    Not to bring up or glorify an unsavory cult of thugs, but reportedly the Nazis had an interest in such an idea
    (See the 20th Century section of this page (
    The Wiki write up mentions Dönitz, who was instrumental in the U-Boat use that. Had it not been for Hitler's mad obsession with Europe and his addiction to the gold in its banks, Dönitz's vision for Germany as controlling the sea lanes might have come true.
    I wonder if some unlucky National Geographic explorer isn't going to stumble on some pieces of old German steel when exploring Antarctica some day…
    I'll have to re-read some of those Hollow Earth modules.

    Would a home grown journey to the Oerth's interior be a perfect use of I1, Dwellers of the Forbidden City?

Comments are closed.