Crom Your Enthusiasm (15)
August 17, 2015
One of 25 installments in a series of posts analyzing and celebrating a few of our favorite fantasy novels from the Thirties (1934–43). Enjoy!
THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | H.P. LOVECRAFT | w. 1931, p. 1936
“I was celebrating my coming of age by a tour of New England — sightseeing, antiquarian and genealogical,” explains the narrator of H.P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth. This being Lovecraft, these three benign ambitions accumulate into a horrific triple-threat of unfathomable locales, occult history, and ominous inheritance. Written in 1931 and released in 1936, Innsmouth is the only story of Lovecraft’s to be published as a book in his lifetime. With this story Innsmouth assumes its place alongside Arkham and Dunwich as one of the most dreadful municipalities in that eldritch New England that forms Lovecraft’s uncanny analogue to Faulkner’s Yoknapatawpha.
Compelled by his curiosity about a town shrouded in terrible rumors, the unnamed narrator (“Robert Olmstead” in HPL’s notes) takes a detour to Innsmouth. The dilapidated Massachusetts seaport town changed utterly after Captain Obed Marsh returned from his South Sea voyage and founded The Esoteric Order of Dagon. What can explain the townsfolk’s “Innsmouth look”? When the narrator studies the designs of Innsmouth’s renowned gold jewelry he becomes fascinated by its “monotonously aquatic nature” and reliefs of figures “half ichthyic and half batrachian in suggestion.” At the close of the story, these “fish-like frogs or frog-like fishes” will be called by another name familiar in the Lovecraft Mythos, the Deep Ones. A submerged world is rising up out of the reef in the sea beside the town. The greatest horror stems from the revelation that the Deep Ones have mated with Innsmouth’s inhabitants, whose human spawn eventually transform into immortal wanderers of the deep.
The story is saturated with images of decay and degradation, olfactory to evolutionary. Lovecraft’s profuse racism and terror of degeneracy through miscegenation throw another more troubling shadow over the tale. Fleeing the flippy-floppy grotesques of Innsmouth provides no escape from what flows in one’s veins. After the narrator returns home to Ohio to resume studies at Oberlin, he discovers the town’s tainted history is entangled with his own. As dreams of an undersea city called Y’ha-nthlei possess him, he declares his intent to rescue his cousin from a nearby Canton asylum so they can return to Innsmouth and join their aqueous brethren. The story’s final line echoes the 23rd Psalm, but it can also be read as a closing proclamation in a portrait of the Deep One as a young man: to forge in the Innsmouthy of his soul the uncreated conscience of his inhuman race.
CROM YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2015): Erik Davis on Jack Williamson’s DARKER THAN YOU THINK | Sara Ryan on T.H. White’s THE SWORD IN THE STONE | Mark Kingwell on C.S. Lewis’s OUT OF THE SILENT PLANET | David Smay on Fritz Leiber’s THIEVES’ HOUSE | Natalie Zutter on Robert E. Howard’s QUEEN OF THE BLACK COAST | James Parker on J.R.R. Tolkien’s THE HOBBIT | Adrienne Crew on Dion Fortune’s THE SEA PRIESTESS | Gabriel Boyer on Clark Ashton Smith’s ZOTHIQUE stories | John Hilgart on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD | Barbara Bogaev on William Sloane’s TO WALK THE NIGHT | Rob Wringham on Flann O’Brien’s THE THIRD POLICEMAN | Dan Fox on Hergé’s THE SEVEN CRYSTAL BALLS | Flourish Klink on C.S. Lewis’s PERELANDRA | Tor Aarestad on L. Sprague de Camp and Fletcher Pratt’s THE ROARING TRUMPET | Anthony Miller on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OVER INNSMOUTH | Suzanne Fischer on E.R. Eddison’s MISTRESS OF MISTRESSES | Molly Sauter on Herbert Read’s THE GREEN CHILD | Diana Leto on Edgar Rice Burroughs’s TARZAN AND THE LION MAN | Joshua Glenn on Robert E. Howard’s THE HOUR OF THE DRAGON | Andrew Hultkrans on H.P. Lovecraft’s AT THE MOUNTAINS OF MADNESS | Lynn Peril on Fritz Leiber’s CONJURE WIFE | Gordon Dahlquist on H.P. Lovecraft’s THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME | Adam McGovern on C.L. Moore’s JIREL OF JOIRY stories | Tom Nealon on Fritz Leiber’s TWO SOUGHT ADVENTURE | John Holbo on Robert E. Howard’s CONAN MYTHOS.
KERN YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2014): ALDINE ITALIC | DATA 70 | TORONTO SUBWAY | JOHNSTON’S “HAMLET” | TODD KLONE | GILL SANS | AKZIDENZ-GROTESK | CALIFORNIA BRAILLE | SHE’S NOT THERE | FAUX DEVANAGARI | FUTURA | JENSON’S ROMAN | SAVANNAH SIGN | TRADE GOTHIC BOLD CONDENSED NO. 20 | KUMON WORKSHEET | ELECTRONIC DISPLAY | DIPLOMA REGULAR | SCREAM QUEEN | CHICAGO | CHINESE SHIPPING BOX | SHATTER | COMIC SANS | WILKINS’S REAL CHARACTER | HERMÈS vs. HOTDOG | GOTHAM.
HERC YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2013): “Spoonin’ Rap” | “Rapper’s Delight” | “Rappin’ Blow” | “The Incredible Fulk” | “The Adventures of Super Rhyme” | “That’s the Joint” | “Freedom” | “Rapture” | “The New Rap Language” | “Jazzy Sensation (Bronx Version)” | “Can I Get a Soul Clap” | “The Adventures of Grandmaster Flash on the Wheels of Steel” | “Making Cash Money” | “The Message” | “Pak Jam” | “Buffalo Gals” | “Ya Mama” | “No Sell Out” | “Death Mix Live, Pt. 2” | “White Lines (Don’t Do It)” | “Here We Go (Live at the Funhouse)” | “Rockit” | “The Coldest Rap” | “The Dream Team is in the House” | The Lockers.
KIRK YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2012): Justice or vengeance? | Kirk teaches his drill thrall to kiss | “KHAAAAAN!” | “No kill I” | Kirk browbeats NOMAD | Kirk’s eulogy for Spock| The joke is on Kirk | Kirk vs. Decker | Good Kirk vs. Evil Kirk | Captain Camelot | Koon-ut-kal-if-fee | Federation exceptionalism | Wizard fight | A million things you can’t have | Debating in a vacuum | Klingon diplomacy | “We… the PEOPLE” | Brinksmanship on the brink | Captain Smirk | Sisko meets Kirk | Noninterference policy | Kirk’s countdown | Kirk’s ghost | Watching Kirk vs. Gorn | How Spock wins
KIRB YOUR ENTHUSIASM (2011): THE ETERNALS | BLACK MAGIC | DEMON | OMAC | CAPTAIN AMERICA | KAMANDI | MACHINE MAN | SANDMAN | THE X-MEN | THE FANTASTIC FOUR | TALES TO ASTONISH | YOUNG LOVE | STRANGE TALES | MISTER MIRACLE | BLACK PANTHER | THOR | JIMMY OLSEN | DEVIL DINOSAUR | THE AVENGERS | TALES OF SUSPENSE | THE NEW GODS | REAL CLUE | THE FOREVER PEOPLE | JOURNEY INTO MYSTERY | 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY