I brought up at Mo’s birthday celebration that in ‘the Shadow Over Innsmouth,’ the government illegally destroys half the town and places many residents in concentration camps. This is what passes for suitable birthday conversation in our circle, though to be fair, Mo was talking to her sister. It was Julian, our mutual friend Pat, and I having the discussion.
Julian’s brow furrowed.
“Yeah, man. They put the Innsmouthers in literal detainment camps. They bomb Y’ha-
“I… I don’t remember that.”
And upon closer inspection, I realized that I couldn’t remember exactly where it happened in the story. I knew it did, though, knew it bone-deep with the zealous fervor that all people willing to read Lovecraft’s canon more than once must have. I just couldn’t recall exactly when. Did I make it up? Was this social justice run rampant through my childhood once more? I was so certain they put the fish people in camps!
Upon returning home, I pulled out my Necronomicon, flipped frantically to the story, and started reading. I didn’t have to read very long.
The very first two paragraphs are the ones about concentration camps.
How the fuck did I forget that?
‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ is a triumph of personal horror. Not just for the protagonist, though that’s often the focus,
But it is Zadok Allen who truly embodies the depths of personal horror.
“Hey, yew, why
Zadok was really screaming now, and the mad frenzy of his voice disturbed me more than I care to own.
His weeping, booze-fueled monologue is the real emotional centerpiece of the story. My eyes frankly glaze over by the time we get to the climactic flight from the town. Normally info-dumps like this are death to tension and to investment, but its placement in the narrative, after pages of unsettling, inexplicable details, keep it from being mere exposition. It ties together everything we’ve seen
Most importantly, though, it gives us a valid reason to be afraid of what’s happening in Innsmouth, something beyond Lovecraft’s terror of miscegenation. The Deep Ones’ involvement in the town’s affairs has destroyed it. There’s nothing there except for what they choose to grant, and they have precious little care for the needs of their human supplicants. They proved that they are capable of atrocity and destruction in the night raid that killed Zadok’s father. But mostly they don’t feel like it (nearly verbatim the explanation), and are content to do little things in exchange for their stream of sacrifices, since it’s really no bother to them. The apathy of the Elder Gods in microcosm.
Zadok’s monologue shows the emotional cost of dealing with things beyond man’s ken. His ruined life is symbolic of the ruination of the town as a whole. Even the ones who don’t want to mate with fishes and worship Dagon are forced to go along for their survival—at this point in time, the Deep Ones have so
It’s weird that constant reference is made to the almost lazy apathy of the Deep
They don’t even seem very upset when the town is nearly wiped out. The protagonist will have to pay a penance, but apparently ‘that would not be heavy.’ They’ll bring near-apocalyptic terror to the world of
All this, and they’re still willing to bend over
Oh, wait, wait, this is racism again, isn’t it? This is the fevered terror of racial mixing, which is never motivated by love or desire or anything like that, only a compulsion by the ‘lesser races’ to ‘pollute’ precious white genes. Oh, okay. Phew. I was so busy getting emotional over the pathos in Zadok’s story that I nearly forgot Lovecraft truly is my Problematic(TM) Fave.
Deep Ones and their human-blooded relatives are a popular topic of the Lovecraftian fiction of today. Portrayals run the gamut from alien and monstrous, like the old lad intended, to sympathetic,
Imagine how much harder people would cling to the Deep Ones in that case. The coercive element could be played down while carrying the exact same stakes, and increasing the emotional horror of it. Is it gross, mating with fish, worshiping weird gods? Yes. But if you make them go away, everything falls apart. An abusive, toxic relationship made more believable by the idea that more than just the three dissolute rich families have everything to lose. A reason for the people to be protective of their monstrous fellow villagers aside from ‘once an obvious lunatic told me to do so, and then
I guess that’s not very cosmic. But I’m not sure ‘the Shadow’ is a very good cosmic horror story. Is it scary? Sure. But sex is hardly an alien, inscrutable motivation. It’s kinda base, actually. The Deep Ones aren’t cosmic, for all they are monstrous and weird. Maybe that’s the point, that they’re just
It’s never been my favorite, but I did reread it recently for my short ‘Light the Sea,’ and was struck by how much I enjoyed the
I’m fascinated by the idea of what the relationship between the Deep Ones and their human mates must have been. Do you have to deal with them long term? Is it ritualized? Or does
How did Pth’thya-
And, uh, the monsters are so into humans they’ll swim countless leagues to Get Some when they can’t even muster up the energy to do what their Extremely Real God tells them to do??? You know me. There had to be a baser reason for my fascination.