Shadows Over Innsmouth

One of the many books I’ve read and hope to review shortly is Darrell Schweitzer’s collection Awaiting Strange Gods from Fedogan & Bremer.

I haven’t done any weird fiction postings lately, so I thought I would post what little I have on other books from that publisher.

They’re relatively easy to come by in my part of the world since I have access to two specialty bookstores, Uncle Hugo’s and Dreamhaven Books, and Fedogan & Bremer started out in Minneapolis. These days it’s headquartered in Nampa, Idaho, but one of the shareholders still lives around the Twin Cities and keeps the above stores stocked with them — and genially urges the titles on me when I run into him in those stores.

Raw Feed (2004): Shadows Over Innsmouth, ed. Stephen Jones, 1994.shadows-over-innsmouth 

“Introduction: Spawn of the Deep Ones”, Stephen Jones — Brief history of the story that is at the center of this accretion of tales: H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. I was surprised that, unlike most of Lovecraft’s famous tales, it was not first published in Weird Tales, but in a small (only 150 were ever actually printed though 400 were planned) hardcover published by Lovecraft’s friend Frank Utpatel. It’s now highly collectible. The story did finally show up in Weird Tales but only in the January 1942 issue, some five years after Lovecraft’s death.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth“, H. P. Lovecraft — This is either the second or third time I’ve read this, one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. This time I noticed a couple of new things. First, it is interesting that this story, perhaps even more than Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, is an example of the passive, scholarly hero. There is action here when the narrator flees Innsmouth and when he reveals to the authorities what he has seen, but the main horrors of the town are revealed by others: a railroad agent in Newburyport, a young man from outside of Innsmouth working at a national chain’s grocery story there, and Zadok Allen, a 90 year old man who remembers the beginnings of the horror in Innsmouth. It is their dialogue, rather than any efforts on the part of the narrator — who is, after all, just passing through the town — that reveal details of the horror’s past and present. Rather than histories and diaries like in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, this story’s revelations are through history but oral history. The narrator’s moonlit glimpse of the shambling horrors that threaten man’s existence is just a confirmation of what he’s been told. The second thing I noticed is the details of Lovecraft’s visions. We usually think — because of his characteristic adjectives and habit of having heroes (this story is no exception) faint or go mad at the moment of ultimate revelation — of Lovecraft as a vague writer. Here his descriptions of Innsmouth are rather detailed. After reading Tim Powers say he carefully generated his plots and outlines using techniques developed by Lovecraft, I wonder if he actually drew up a map of Innsmouth. (I didn’t pay close enough attention to know if the narrator’s journey makes sense and is consistent.) I did see remnants of the Old Ones’ magic that Brian Lumley uses in his Cthulhu tales in the magic the Kanakys’ neighbors use. The story, written in 1931, strikes a modern note with its opening talking about massive government raids, and secret internments in “concentration camps” (not yet a consistently pejorative term — for that matter, a magic symbol of the Old Ones is described as resembling a swastika) as well as the “complaints from many liberal organisations” about those internments. In some ways, this is the archetypal Lovecraft tale: an alien race threatening man’s existence, miscegenation, possible madness, and a hero discovering his tainted blood. I thought the moment of supreme horror was Allen saying:

“Haow’d ye like to be livin’ in a taown like this, with everything a-rottin’ an’ a-dyin’, an’ boarded-up monsters crawlin’ an’ bleatin’ an’ barkin’ an’ hoppin’ araoun’ black cellars an’ attics every way ye turn? Hey? Haow’d ye like to hear the haowlin’ night arter night from the churches an’ Order o’ Dagon Hall, an’ know what’s doin’ part o’ the haowlin?”

Beyond the Reef“, Basil Copper — Copper takes the most mundane part of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” – the Federal raid on the town and the idea of policemen being involved with his cosmic horrors, and builds his sequel around that. The year is 1932. Captain of Detective Cornelius Oates for Arkham County finds himself involved, along with the county coroner, in an investigation of the death of a janitor of Miskatonic University, some mysterious tunnels underneath the university, and a series of mysterious vandalisms and thefts involving the attempt to decrypt certain old manuscripts. Copper manages to introduce some new elements – tunnels underground between Innsmouth and Arkham being used to infiltrate the latter city and spread the influence of the alien denizens under the sea off Innsmouth, plain old corruption of the Arkham police force by parties in Innsmouth, an invisible entity that sabotages cryptologist Jefferson Holroyd’s efforts to decrypt certain rare volumes in the Miskatonic University. Copper renders a variation on Lovecraft’s traditional scholar-gone-mad-horrible-knowledge theme when he has Holroyd killing the dean of Miskatonic University. Holroyd may be mad or he may be correct that an invisible entity has taken control of the dean’s mind. Some of Copper’s additions to Lovecraft’s tales are a bit jarring: it seems odd (though you could write it off to a lack of Federal/local coordination and cooperation) that Oates is so ignorant of the details of the Federal raid on Innsmouth and the idea of Innsmouth actually supporting a library (where Oates does some research under the very suspicious eye of the locals) is rather hard to believe. Initially, I found the ending – where massive amounts of gasoline and explosive are fed under the sea bottom off Innsmouth and detonated – somewhat annoying because of its explicit lack of a resolution. We don’t know, since the explosives haven’t been detonated yet, whether the horrors of Innsmouth will be vanquished. The horrors of Lovecraft stories can never be vanquished, they are always with us. We only have reprieves, not victories.

The Big Fish“, Jack Yeovil — Jack Yeovil is a pen name of Kim Newman, and this story shows the typical Newman penchant for cross-genre stories and references to pop culture. Here the result is, unlike most Newman I’ve read, pretty good. Newman takes H. P. Lovecraft’s Deep Ones and takes them to Raymond Chandler’s Bay City setting circa 1942. In his afterword, Newman notes some interesting similarities between Chandler and Lovecraft. They were born within two years of each other. Both revolutionized their genre and produced prose that was widely imitated. ( Newman says he went through a period in his younger days when he imitated Lovecraft a lot and was saved from more Lovecraft imitations by reading Chandler’s prose.) Both liked depicting seaside towns rife with corruption — albeit of different sorts. (I question this. There are not that many seaside towns in Lovecraft’s fiction.) Both married older women and supposedly featured sinister, almost inhuman women in their stories. (While there are few women characters in Lovecraft, I don’t think they are depicted universally bad. I can’t speak for Chandler.) The strong points of this tale is that Newman cleverly moves the Esoteric Order of Dagon to California where it just becomes another strange cult appealing to the rich. One of its adherents is the rather fish-eyed Janice Marsh, a popular actress. (Newman rightly points out the similarity to the odd looks of Peter Lorre.) She is, of course, related to the Marshes of Innsmouth. Unfortunately, Newman can’t resist intruding pop culture and genre references. Thus the Chandleresque narrator reads Weird Tales and adopts the alias Herbert West Lovecraft. Newman can’t resist some smug British moralizing on America interning Japanese in the wake of Pearl Harbor. Still, those two shortcomings don’t fatally flaw this tale which was fun.

Return to Innsmouth“, Guy N. Smith — This story was originally published in something called Reminisicon 40 Souvenir Programme. I suspect that was a program for a Cthulhu centered convention. Basically, as near as I can tell, this story quickly recapitulates — through a narrator of an indeterminate year (it is at least 1947) under a compulsion to return to the Innsmouth he has family ties to — H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” up to the point of the attempted assault on both narrators in the Gilman House. In this story, the attempt suddenly ceases, the narrator wakes up the next day and, walking the streets of Innsmouth, seems to discover — because he now has no shadow — that he’s a ghost.

The Crossing“, Adrian Cole — There are family issues in the typical Lovecraft story. Not only is there miscegenation, incest, and the call of tainted blood, but sacrifice as well. Cole does a nice job of using some of these. The narrator is invited by a father he never knew to go to Appledore, England. (Cole explains in his afterword that this is a real English town that he has a great deal of affection for but that it always reminded him of H. P. Lovecraft’s Innsmouth.) The narrator encounters a town strangely changed at night and a father that reveals he is a trawler for souls for the Deep Ones. (This is sort of an evil, anti-version of Christ. This is alluded to by what, I presume, is a fake epigram from Ludwig Kreigmann’s “The Hungry Stars” which says that Christians often make the mistake of assuming the Devil is the only one trawling for souls.) The father reveals that the Deep Ones require him, in order to be freed of his trawling duties, to get his son to substitute for him. (His father has lived in excess of a hundred years.) In exchange, he will be able to join the other Innsmouthers under the sea in immortality. The narrator appeals to his decency, and the father’s love for a son he never really knew asserts itself and he refuses to give the Deep Ones what they want. The title comes from a supernatural pathway between Appledore and Innsmouth — the strange streets of nocturnal Appledore are really those of Innsmouth.

Down to the Boots“, D. F. Lewis — According to the contributor notes, D. F. Lewis — an English horror writer unknown to me — is highly regarded. However, I found this story so opaque from metaphors and strange viewpoints that it was worthless, and I can’t honestly even say what it was about.

The Church in the High Street“, Ramsey Campbell — There is no connection between this story and the seed for this anthology: H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. However, Campbell is perhaps the most famous and respected British horror writing working today, and he started out writing Lovecraft sequels and pastiches. In fact, this one is a 1962 story that is partially an uncredited collaboration with August Derleth. The story’s flavor (including a descent underground which reminded me of Lovecraft’s “The Festival”) is Lovecraftian — Elder Gods, hideous rites, disappearing scholar/heroes. Apart from the rotting town which is something like Innsmouth, there is no connection explicit or implicit to Innsmouth. Still, especially considering he was only 15 when he wrote it, this is not a bad story from Campbell.

Innsmouth Gold“, David Sutton — This was an interesting story. A modern day freelance cryptozoologist goes to Innsmouth in search of some gold he thinks was hidden there during the 1927 Federal raid on the place. Of course, he doesn’t find the gold, but he does, at story’s end, see the disturbing sight of gravid female Deep Ones coming ashore and that he has escaped, by avoiding a sort of succubus encounter at night, mating with one.

Daoine Domhain” Peter Tremayne — Tremayne is evidently a pen name for Peter Berresford Ellis, a noted Celtic scholar. In his afterword, Tremayne notes that H. P. Lovecraft, in his “seminal” essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature”, dismissed the Irish horror genre as whimsical. Tremayne says this is because of the translators of the tales he read and their misrepresentative samples. Tremayne/Ellis spins an interesting sequel to Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” featuring a naval lieutenant who participated in firing torpedoes at the reef off Innsmouth and then — along with the rest of the naval personnel who participated in the raid. The story features the Daoine Domhain, Irish for the Deep Ones. Also known as the Fomorii, they were led by the giant Balor of the Evil Eye and defeated by the Tuatha Dé Danann, the gods of goodness and sent beneath the sea. The lieutenant ends up being sacrificed, as part of a ritual done every nine years (nines are an important number in Celtic mythology), and his grandson, reading his account in a typically Lovecraft framing device, discovers that the sinister inhabitants of the island of Baltimore will sacrifice him to the Deep Ones. Tremayne speculates that Lovecraft may have come across the legend of the Daoine Domhain from Irish immigrants to New England.

A Quarter to Three“, Kim Newman — This is Newman at his worst. Basically, this story is a use to quote a lot of popular song lyrics in connection to a man working the late night shift in a fast food chicken dive in Innsmouth. The story is an excuse for a concluding pun built around the Johnny Mercer and Harold Arlen song “One for My Baby (And One More for the Road)”. The narrator is joined in the restaurant by a young girl pregnant by one of the Deep Ones.

The Tomb of Priscus“, Brian Mooney — One of the advantages of being English (and all the contributors to this anthology are English) and doing Lovecraft stories set in England is that you can throw Roman Britain in. Here Mooney has a pair of Holmes and Watson style occult investigators named Professor Calloway and Father Shea. (They are evidently in other stories by Mooney.) Of course, when doing a story featuring occult history, you can not feature deductive logic like Arthur Conan Doyle did in his Sherlock Holmes. Mooney’s tale involves an archeological dig discovering the tomb of Priscus with its odd image of a human/fish hybrid being crucified. Priscus was a high-ranking army officer in the Roman Army about the time of Nero. Something of a scholar, he went to Egypt and begin occult studies with a group of priests associated with the Deep Ones. He eventually writes an occult treatise chronicling his climb in the brotherhood of priests. The Twenty-one Essays talk of abominations so disgusting the book is proscribed in the Empire and Priscus is exiled to Britain where he begins to look more and more like the later Innsmouth hybrids. Eventually the locals crucify him. When the tomb is cracked open, Priscus’ spirit possesses the head archaeologist (rather like Curwen in Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), and he undertakes human sacrifice in rites to open a doorway for alien entities (rather like Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror”). He is stopped by Calloway and Shea and the hostile and suspicious local natives who don’t turn out to be the stereotypical menaces but guards against just such an event.

The Innsmouth Heritage“, Brian Stableford — This story combines two typical Stableford concerns: a commentary on the genre of sf and biology. The biology comes in when an English biologist doing research in New England decides to sample the genes of those possessing the “Innsmouth look” as featured in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” (thus the genre commentary). He encounters an Innsmouth of the 1990s which never really took off after a brief flurry of yuppies buying vacation homes there. An old acquaintance of his, a woman he once asked to marry him, is heir to a large chunk of the town since she is a member of the English Eliots. He interviews the most prominent carrier of the Innsmouth look (all such people are getting up in age and tend to disappear into the sea). He is a sane, educated man who helps the narrator get genetic samples from the other carriers of the look. He mentions the worst part of the condition (which turns out to be some ancient genes for pithican morphology becoming turned out) is the dreams that call to him to go join the Deep Ones beyond Innsmouth’s reef. It turns out the narrator’s woman acquaintance has the same dreams. The narrator writes it off as a psychological condition of those fearing the mutant genetic heritage asserting themselves. But there is some ambiguity about the real cause of the dreams and, hence, the reality of the Deep Ones. Once again, Stableford writes an interesting story.

The Homecoming“, Nicholas Royle — This is a problematic story. Read in the context of an anthology that purports to contain takeoffs on H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, it is a major disappointment. The only thing that links it to that story is some oblique references to the Deep Ones beneath the sea. The plot itself concerns a Romanian exile leaving Yugoslavia after the death of Ceausescu, the dismal world she sees on returning home, her attempts to find her vanished brother, and her seeming mental disintegration due to the constant paranoia of living in the Communist totalitarian state. However, it is somewhat doubtful that Royle’s oblique, Lovecraft-inspired metaphors would even be picked up by many outside the context of this anthology. And those reading the anthology find woefully little of Lovecraft in the tale. This story would have been better sold to a purely mainstream market since it is, basically, a mainstream tale of psychological disintegration.

Deepnet“, David Langford — This is the way that H. P. Lovecraft should updated for the modern age. Langford doesn’t try to imitate Lovecraft’s style though his story has some Lovecraftian plot elements: a tale of horrible genetic mutation and taint being narrated in the first person by a man who fears what he is contemplating. The tale takes the idea (since discredited but probably not yet in 1994 when the story was written) that video display units (VDUs) can cause cancer and mutagenic changes in germ cells. A husband and wife team uses the Deepword word-processing program from Deepnet Communications Inc of Innsmouth, Massachusetts. (Many odd things are said about the clannish Deepnet Communications including their massive 45-inch fiber optic cable which runs out to the local reef. Not to mention the company’s odd workers.) The narrator fears that Deepnet’s software is mutating or killing women — his wife died delivering his odd looking daughter, that the mutagenic properties of Deepnet’s software are deliberately harnessed to create mutants of a certain type. Outbreeding, he calls it. His daughter is attracted to the imaginative video game “Undersea Quest” from Pelagic Software Products, a wholly owned subsidiary of Deepnet. It depicts a strange, attractive underwater city — partly presented by the Shoggoth graphics engine. The narrator is also speculating on his daughter’s odd looks and inbreeding since the story ends with (the narrator is typing this to a disk) the narrator commenting on his daughter’s “salt-sea smell” and how “I love her and I want her”. A very good story and tribute to Lovecraft and his tale “A Shadow Over Innsmouth”.

To See the Sea”, Michael Marshall Smith — An ok story about a man and his lover going to Dawton on the west coast of England. It is the site where the woman’s mother was rescued after the ship she was on unexpectedly wrecked itself on the coastal rocks and sank. However, the passengers were all rescued after surviving in an air pocket. After some encounters with odd locals and being drugged, the horrible truth is revealed: nobody survived the ship’s wreck — including the woman’s mother. She was substituted by something alien from the sea and the narrator’s lover is not human and has returned to her home. A competent working on the call of tainted blood that was such a part of Lovecraft’s work.

Dagon’s Bell”, Brian Lumley — Lumley is certainly associated with writing takeoffs on Lovecraft, but this is much closer to Lovecraft in spirit than the first two rather (with its Wilmarth Corporation battling Cthulhoid horrors) thriller like novels of his Titus Crow series — which became sort of mystical planetary space opera in the last three books. Again, the advantage of Britain’s Roman past is used in this anthology. Lumley has the same Deep Ones as in H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”. In fact, a local crazy man, Jason Carpenter, is in fact, from Innsmouth and determined to, if not exterminate, at least contain the Deep Ones from coming up through tunnels from the sea. But the flavor of the isolated farm house threatened by alien horrors corrupting everything, including June Anderson, wife of the narrator’s friend, is very reminiscent of Lovecraft’s “The Colour Out of Space” and the horrors in the catacombs below reminded me of Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (I suppose catacombs and subterranean settings are a natural setting for horror stories even apart from Lovecraft).

Only the End of the World Again”, Neil Gaiman — Apart from some arch dialogue and the horrifying image of the blasé narrator vomiting up, at story’s beginning, some children’s fingers, this story doesn’t have much to recommend it. For his narrator, Gaiman has Lawrence Talbot, the protagonist of the movie The Wolf Man, has sort of a antihero guardian against apocalypse and its three representatives in the town of Innsmouth. The contributor notes say this story is dedicated to Fritz Leiber so I might be missing some allusions. On the other hand, maybe Gaiman has just adopted Leiber’s (who had some connection with H. P. Lovecraft) urban horror.


More reviews of fantastic fiction are indexed by title and author/editor.

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