Dagon

Summary

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.

The monster

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.

Verdict

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.

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The Tomb

Summary

This story is told by Jervas Dudley, who has been put in an asylum due to a breakdown near the tomb of the Hyde family. Jervas, a self-proclaimed daydreamer, discovered the tomb in a forest and became instantly curious if not downright obsessed with it. He cannot open the tomb and sleeps next to it. One day, he is awoken to the sound of chatter and sees a light getting extinguished. When he gets home, he finds the key to the padlock in a box and enters the tomb. There he finds an empty coffin for a Jervas Hyde. One evening, despite his fear of storm and lightning, he visits the tomb and, all of a sudden, returns to the mansion of the Hyde family, that burnt down, with a party going on. Jervas relives the moment of the fire and thinks he dies, but wakes up in the custody of two men, with his father watching. A box is unearthed, featuring a statue of Jervas Hyde, being the spitting image of Jervas Dudley. Apparently he always slept near the tomb and never visited it., though he still believes everything he remembers actually happened. His trusted servant visits the tomb and sees the empty coffin for Jervas Hyde.

Analysis and Lovecraftian Themes

The first of the “real” collection of H.P. Lovecraft. This is a rather interesting story. It has a good “What is real, what is not?”-vibe to it, especially with the payoff. The reader is invited to think that Jervas Dudley is delusional and has imagined things all along. Yet the end, with the empty coffin, just as Dudley saw it, makes you reconsider it. Perhaps there is another plane of reality? Perhaps Jervas Dudley is the reincarnation of Jervas Hyde, or possessed by him? Who knows. It might all be a coincidence.

The monster

There’s even less of a monster than in the first two stories. There is the ghost of the past and a possible possession by the ghost of Jervas Hyde himself. But it’s not really scary.

Verdict

I don’t like this one as much. I find the main character a bit obnoxious and the restless spirit a bit too cliché. The “what is real and what is not”-question is good, but I didn’t find the main character particularly interesting.

 

The Alchemist

Summary 

This story begins with a tale of a cursed family. The narrator’s predecessors have all died at the age of 32. This is due to a curse from a wizard’s son called Charles le Sorcier, obviously he himself one who works wonders with magic. His father, Maurice Mauvais, was killed by an ancestor of the narrator. When the man’s own 32nd birthday is approaching, he decides to dwell in his ancestral castle to look for the truth behind the curse. In one of the abandoned towers he finds a trapdoor, that leads to another door. There he sees a mysterious figure, who attacks him. The narrator is able to fend him off and eventually mortally wounds him. It turns out to be Charles le Sorcier, who has fabricated the elixir of life and killed all of the narrator’s ancestors.  

Analysis and Lovecraftian Themes 

Another one written at a relatively young ago. This one poses an interesting setting, with its medieval, almost Arthurian story about the wrongdoings of a nobleman, and how a curse is put upon him and his predecessors. The parallel between H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe is an well-known and frequently cited one and is rather obvious in this particular case. Again, the early signs of Lovecraftian themes are obvious. There’s a cursed family or lineage. It does divert in a sense. The narrator prevails. The shock lies with the revelation that it was Charles le Sorcier all along. Perhaps the narrator does go mad afterwards, but it isn’t implied in the story.

The monster 

Again, this isn’t really a monster and you do get where he’s coming from. Finding an elixir to kill the ancestors of the murderer of your father at a set age may seem quite a bit of work, but if you’re going to cause ill to a wizard and his son, you might expect a backlash.

Verdict 

It’s a good setting and I really like how the castle is described. As the narrator walks in the hidden and ruined rooms and depths of his ancestral home, you do get the feeling danger is lurking somewhere. The ending is a bit so-so and rather predictable though, but again, this is early Lovecraft.

The Beast in the Cave

Summary 

A man gets lost in a Mammoth cave. At first, he seems to accept his fate, a certain death in a labyrinth of chambers and passages. But then he hears footsteps, drawing nearer. He gets confused as he deducts that the beast treads both on four and two legs. At that moment his torch has been extinguished. When the creature comes close, he throws a rock at it, which is a critical hit. His luck turns for the better as the guide who had led him through the caves finds him. Together they decide to check out what the creature is. When the beast, in the last moment of his death-struggle, turns around they see it is actually a bewildered man. 

Analysis and Lovecraftian Themes 

This is a short and very early story, written by a young Lovecraft, and doesn’t involve the cosmic splendour of the latter and more famous stories of H.P. Lovecraft. It is however already encompassing some well-known themes that would feature in the later ones. The narrator is a rational man. Even when confronted with a certain death he remains rather calm and balanced. And when the beast draws nearer, he remains in control, cold-blooded enough to aim his projectile. His reaction at the end of the story isn’t really a weird or unusual one as anyone would be shocked when he finds out that, unknowingly, he has just killed a man, bewildered or not. What is perhaps the most Lovecraftian about this story, is the fact that despite his rescue by the guide, he still decides to check out the strange beast. The thirst for knowledge doesn’t bring salvation, but leads to shock and terror.

The monster 

The monster isn’t really a monster. It is a man, lost in a cave who has become a monster. It isn’t a larger-than-life figure or cosmic entity. The fact that it is a recognisable monster may add to the horror for some

Verdict 

Lovecraft wrote this one as a teenager. So it can be expected this isn’t quite as polished as later works. It is however an interesting setting and the climax, although a bit predictable, is executed rather well.