The Shadow over Innsmouth / TCL #61

While many of Lovecraft’s stories were published in periodical magazines like Weird Tales in his lifetime, only one was ever published as a book, even then the whole print run was only 200 copies each priced at a dollar. It carried many typos and print errors, so many in fact that Lovecraft insisted a corrections sheet be included after the fact. Lovecraft himself was not even particularly taken with the tale in question and originally had no plans to offer it for publication at all. It was too long for most magazines, hard to split in to more reasonably sized parts as was done with ‘Call of Cthulhu‘ and ‘At The Mountains of Madness‘. When it was published in hardback Lovecraft complained about the poor quality of the typesetting and was generally disappointed by the whole enterprise. The publication was a failure and contributed to the collapse of the small publishing house. None of which did much to lighten Lovecraft’s own view of the story.

These days of course, a good quality 1st edition copy of this book, which in case you missed the obvious was, ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ will cost you anything up to $7000 now as copies are highly sought after by Lovecraft collectors.

Despite Lovecraft’s own lack of faith and general dissatisfaction with Innsmouth it is widely considered to be one of his seminal works. It also has within it some of the best action sequences of any of Lovecraft’s stories, which make it more accessible than many of his stories. there is actual pace to that action, which helps drag the reader along, something many of Old tentacle Huggers tales often lack. All the while it keeps the level of steadily building tension and slowly impending dread that you expect from Lovecraft.

The story begins simply enough, with Lovecraft’s favorite trope of a narrator retelling his tale after the fact. Robert Olmstead (the narrator) never actually names himself, his name is only known from Lovecraft’s notes on the story which were publish after his death. Olmstead is doing a tour of New England doing government genealogical research when he arrives in the small dilapidated fishing village of Innmouth which by coincidence was the birth place of one of his ancestors. He realizes fairly soon that there is something odd about the place, and more interestingly in terms of genealogy the people.

They walk with a distinctive shambling gait and have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes.

As a government researcher Olmstead is not exactly made welcome by the insular inhabitants. But he starts to gather information all the same, and so the strange history of the town, its links to a strange religious cult  ‘The Esoteric Order of Dagon’. A cult which he is told by a clerk called Zadok practiced human sacrifices and worshiped the ‘deep ones’. As well as the local population interbreeding with the deep Ones themselves. Olmstead is understandably a tad unnerved by all this, but finds it hard to credence the fantastical tale he is told.

Side note. Dear old Dagon, it’s oddly comforting to read that name, from way back in January 2017 when I started this little challenge, the first six tentacle story and only the forth of these blog posts. On how happily naive I was back then… but I digress.

Olmstead might have brushed all this off if he had not then been marooned in the town when the bus he planned to leave on develops engine problems and he is forced to stay the night. Going back to the clerk to talk more he discovers the man has vanished, the same man who had urged him to leave town. then some time in the night, as he sleeps in a crappy hotel room, he wakes to find someone trying to break in to his room , and the action starts as unnerved he makes a break for it into the night through the hotel window.

What happens next is uncharacteristically for Lovecraft all a bit pulp action adventure as Olmstead tries to elude the strange inhabitants of Innsmouth, and an influx of deep-ones (best described as fish-men, or perhaps merlocks…) who have come for there tribute and congress.

All of which makes for a cracking read, for all Lovecraft’s dismissal of the story. It then spirals towards a conclusion, before the epilogue which goes back to Lovecraft’s more tried and tested style. As an older Olmstead becomes aware he is undergoing a transformation of s his own and his ancestral Innsmouth blood is calling him to the sea…

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of Lovecraft most loved tales, its also one of his most accessible, it has few of his faults (which as we know are many) and ironically the very things about the story Lovecraft felt were weaknesses by are probably its strengths. It had a little action and adventure about it as well as Lovecraft’s brooding dark horror and steady building of tension. It, along with At the Mountains of Madness, and Call of Cthulhu form a somewhat unholy trinity in some respects as the stories most recognizable by non-Lovecraft fans, they may know little about Lovecraft but these three they have heard of. It has also, like the other two, has inspired artwork, pc-games and board-games as well as countless other writers.

Including a little known science-fiction writer from the north east of England who wrote a story inspired by this particular bit of Lovecraft’s mythos called ‘The salmon swim both ways’ that was first published in the Harvey Duckman Anthologies V5, and later as part of my own anthology Cheesecake, Avarice & Boots.

Of the trinity its my least favorite, mountains and Cthulhu have something a little extra about them that this story falls just short of, I was tempted to give it only five tentacles because of this, but that was mostly because it came straight after mountains, so I thought i should give it five and a half, but then, possibly because of its deep one connections the half tentacle grew back…

Further Lovecraftian witterings as ever can be found here

 Welcome to the Lexinomicon, a bluffers guide to the writings of H P Lovecraft.
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