Dagon tells the story of a soldier who’s captured by the Germans during the first world war. He escapes and sails his lifeboat on the ocean. After falling asleep and waking up again, he finds himself on a strange black landmass, something he identifies as an island that has just risen from the sea. It is covered with dead fishes and other creatures. He walks towards a pit or canyon and sees a strange white monolith with equally bizarre creatures carved into it. All of a sudden a vast, horrible creature emerges from the water, towards the monolith. Finding a way to escape, struck by a certain madness, he returns home, after being rescued by a U.S. ship, and becomes addicted to morphine. Now that his supply of morphine is almost gone, he cannot fend of his maddening fear and when he hears an immense slippery body lumbering against the door, he decides to jump through the window.
Analysis and Lovecraftian Themes
I cannot think of the deep sea shuddering at the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on its slimy bed, worshiping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite. I dream of a day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny, war-exhausted mankind — of a day when the land shall sink, and the dark ocean floor shall ascend amidst universal pandemonium.
This is a great sample of the cosmic horror that H.P. Lovecraft would coin, in combination with his misanthropic worldview. The terrible depths of the ocean harbours dreadful monsters that would destroy mankind in a heartbeat. The soldier comes face to face with the Philistine deity and loses his mind. He can only survive by numbing himself with morphine. The truth and he horror are too much to cope with. Again, it is up to us to believe whether this soldier is crazy or if he actually got lost in the sea, found an unknown spot in the Pacific and bumped into Dagon, the sea-monster/deity.
Four stories in and here’s the first actual Lovecraftian monster. Dagon is based on the Sumerian god with the same name.
Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.
Often depicted as half man, half fish Dagon is a rather classic monster, especially compared to later creations of H.P. Lovecraft. But personally, I find creatures rising from the vast ocean very effective when it comes to scaring the hell out of you, so points for Dagon.
A great story, mysterious vibe, ancient cults, a sea-monster. What’s not to like? For me this is the real start of the core stories of the H.P. Lovecraft-oeuvre, even if it isn’t part of the Chthulu-mythos.