“The Night Ocean”

The portion of the Lovecraft series involving his ghostwriting efforts concludes with another story by R. H. Barlow.

Barlow was about 18 when he wrote this story and would go on to significant things in his short life.

Lovecraft named him his literary executor though August Derleth seized that title.

In 1942, he moved to Mexico where he became a professor at the University of Mexico and did landmark research in the Indian languages of the area.

He died by his own hand in 1951 after an academic scandal threatened his exposure as a homosexual.

If the title “The Night Ocean” sounds familiar, it’s because it’s also the title of Paul La Farge’s 2017 novel which improbably imagines a sexual relationship between Lovecraft and Barlow. (Lovecraft strikes me as being uninterested in sex of any sort.)

Raw Feed (2005): “The Night Ocean”, R. H. Barlow [and H. P. Lovecraft], 1936.hm

This is the last piece of fiction Lovecraft worked on before his death. S. T. Joshi says his hand on the text was light and that seems probable.

Despite the thematic linking of the external landscape and the narrator’s internal emotional landscape being an element in some of Lovecraft’s solo efforts (and, one suspects, influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Fall of the House of Usher”), I really only saw a few lines in the last two paragraphs which seemed Lovecraftian.

This is a literary type fantasy, a skillful creation that sustains its tone and atmosphere as the narrator becomes fascinated by the strange moods of the ocean outside of the house he is vacationing in.

He sees something enigmatic come out of the ocean, but it is never explained. The ocean is linked to death of several swimmers, but we see no monsters or aliens.

As story’s end, the night ocean becomes the one constant of the universe, a feature of horrible beauty, a power and beauty and mystery the narrator must “abase myself before”. The ocean is a link to mystery — perhaps extradimensional life (though, again, that is not explicitly said or explained) — and its dismal beauty will outlast life on Earth: “Silent, flabby things will toss and roll along empty shores, their sluggish life extinct.”

That line seems Lovecraftian and reminiscent, as is the Barlow-Lovecraft collaboration of “‘Till A’ the Seas'”, of H. G. Wells.) An exquisite mood story.

Barlow is the only one of Lovecraft’s collaborators whose solo efforts I would be interested in reading.

[Hippocampus Press collected Barlow’s fiction and poetry in Eyes of the God: The Weird Fiction and Poetry of R. H. Barlow.]


More reviews of Lovecraft related titles are indexed on the Lovecraft page.

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