The Null Device

A return to Innsmouth

I haven't been posting much recently, having too much to do (upcoming travel plans and such; more about these later) to sit down, graze on the various memestreams and produce links, opinionated comments or sarcastic asides.

Anyway, I recently had occasion to reread H.P. Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth for the first time in many years, after reading that Zachary Marsh LiveJournal thing (which, after all, was a riff of it). In my opinion, The Shadow over Innsmouth is one of HPL's better stories (alongside the one about the Fungi from Yuggoth, the mind-abduction one about the Great Ones and, for sheer horror, The Thing On The Doorstep); the two-part structure, with the standard escape-from-a-city-of-monsters thing being followed by the far more disturbing realisations that the narrator is one of them, works very nicely. However, in my reassessment, it hasn't aged well.

For one, Innsmouth is predicated on xenophobia. The Deep Ones are nothing more than an evil race of monsters, surrounded by decay and worshipping loathsome gods; they have no positive attributes (except for the beautiful yet disturbingly alien jewellery), and as much substance as the monster under one's bed when one was a child, only with more gruesome detail. Towards the end, the narrator reconciles himself with joining the Deep Ones and their loathsome rites, but it seems insincere, as he doesn't shed any light on the experience of the Deep Ones. (And those things being inherently incomprehensible to humans is a cop-out; amphibious humanoids descended from a common ancestor with humanity and possessing families, language, a culture and a society would have had some common ground with humans, even if their culture and their biology would seem profoundly alien.) It would have been much more powerful had the point of view shifted from the human one (of visceral revulsion) to the Deep Ones' one (with the bizarre consequences of their biology, society and culture gradually revealed) would have been far more interesting.

I suppose the flaw comes from Lovecraft being, if taken as a writer of speculative fiction, lazy; not bothering to create a plausible alien world when an unspeakable, blasphemous horror (which, by virtue of being unspeakable, also saves the author the effort of describing it) will suffice.

There are 5 comments on "A return to Innsmouth":

Posted by: Ben http:// Mon Aug 16 16:07:55 2004

Personally I like The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. I'm in the process of reading The Thing On The Threshold, it is pretty good despite Derleth's efforts. The Haunter In The Dark is also pretty darn good from what I remember.

BTW I take it all back about the B. B. DVD. I remembered it was one of my other reprobate friends who borrowed it.

Posted by: Chris http:// Tue Aug 17 09:51:14 2004

My rule of thumb is any of HPL's stories over 25 pages long or under 6 pages is worth reading once, but anything from 7-24 pages can (and probably should) be skipped.

At the Mountains of Madness is one of his better stories--if you recall, one of the main characters is axtually able to partially overcome his xenophobia upon realizing he has something in common with the elder things.

I also liked The Dunwich Horror. If you've seen the movie, do your best to forget it entirely when reading the story, since they don't have much in common beyond the names of most major characters.

Posted by: Ben http:// Tue Aug 17 13:41:37 2004

I didn't really care for At The Mountains of Madness, maybe because I knew all about what was going to happen long before I read the story because of all the summaries and RPG material I've read on it.

Dunwich Horror is good however. And don't forget Herbert West Reanimator either. I recently saw the 3rd movie and it is worth a look for fans of schlock.

Posted by: dhole bludger http:// Sat Aug 21 04:15:05 2004

It was HPL's birthday yesterday, Oz time.

Posted by: Ben-Baba Ali Gazebo http:// Thu Aug 26 04:37:25 2004

I remember a few years back they had a big thing for his 100th 'birthday'.