Good day Hivers and Book Clubbers,
Welcome to part two of my exploration and reviewing of short stories by H.P. Lovecraft. These are compiled in the 2008 book 'H.P. Lovecraft: the Fiction. Complete and unabridged', which I am slowly combing through. Let's get right into it!
The story starts with a sailor during the First World War. The ship he was on got captured by a German vessel, but he managed to escape on a small boat. While adrift in the Pacific, he falls asleep. When he wakes, he finds himself and his boat in the middle of a vast landmass, which seems to have risen from the ocean depths. When looking for water, the man stumbles upon an obelisk/monolith, which is full of inscriptions and bas-reliefs. The signs used on it are unintelligible, but the drawings are. They portray men, but with fish-like characteristics, who seem to worship a sort of fish-god (named Dagon by the protagonist). An encounter with an unknown being means that the sailor goes on the run, never to return. Back in San Francisco, no one believes him, which does not bode well for his mental well-being.
A Reminiscence of Dr. Samuel Johnson
This one is, remarkably enough, not a horror story. It's a homage to 18th century English writer Samuel Johnson. The most remarkable thing about Lovecraft's story is that he completely changes his writing style to that of the 18th century. A small citation to get a feel for this change:
''Tho' many of my readers have at times observ'd and remark'd a Sort of antique Flow to my Stile of Writing, it hath pleased me to pass among the Members of this Generation as a young Man, giving out the Fiction that I was born in 1890, in America. I am now, however, resolv'd to unburden myself of a Secret which I have hitherto kept thro' Dread of Incredulity; and to impart on the Publick a true knowledge of my long years...''
Notice the old-time spelling and the capitalisation of nouns, in the same way as is still used in German. Anyways, this story is a change of pace of the normal horror-oeuvre of Lovecraft.
Named for the Pole Star, which is a motif throughout this short story, Lovecraft got the main idea for this story in a dream. According to the subscript, he saw in his dream a vision of a city in the sky, between two hills. In the story itself, all these ideas are combined together: it is unclear if the main character is dreaming the entire ordeal, or actually is a citizen of the (imagined) city.
As a citizen, he is tasked with keeping watch over the horizon, as the civilization that the city belongs to is constantly threatened by an orc-like race just beyond their realm. The main character, however, struggles to remain awake (or is unable to wake up, according to the reverse hypothesis). It is a complicated read, which in my view can have several conclusions, all related to the odd state of being one is in when dreaming.
Of these three short stories, only the first, Dagon, is typically 'Lovecraftian'. By this, I mean that it leans on the 'horrors from the deep' aspect that is also popularized by him in his Cthulhu-writings. Polaris plays around with the fear of not being able to wake up from a dream (or reversely, thinking one is asleep while being awake) in an interesting way. I'll be doing more reviews of Lovecraft's story in a next part in this series. If you have any comments/questions/remarks, do let me know. These stories are open to many interpretations, and I'm interested in other viewpoints. Until the next one,
(Top image: source)