Wednesday, January 16, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "Dagon"

Spooky Synopsis: An unnamed, morphine-addled, suicidal sailor pens a hasty memoir detailing why he can no longer go on living. While once part of a merchant sailing crew, his ship was taken captive during the start of World War I. He managed to escape in a small boat five days after being taken prisoner and drifted aimlessly on the wide ocean. But when waking from sleep, he found his vessel grounded in the middle of a vast expanse of dark, stinking soil, a putrescent plain stinking of rotting fish and marked only by a distant hill to the west. The sailor struck out for the sole marking, yet he would find only horror there, the remnants of a heretofore unknown civilization and an inhabitant so terrible the mere sight of it would forever rend his psyche.

Lovecraftian Language: "I know not why my dreams were so wild that night; but ere the waning and fantastically gibbous moon had risen far above the eastern plain, I was awake in a cold perspiration, determined to sleep no more. Such visions as I had experienced were too much for me to endure again."

Eerie Evaluation: Short and sweet, "Dagon" contains just about everything you could want in a horror story. A creeping sense of unease. A well-executed high concept. A shocker of an ending. Lovecraft anchors his vision of "the nameless things that may at this very moment be crawling and floundering on [the ocean’s] slimy bed, worshiping their ancient stone idols and carving their own detestable likenesses on submarine obelisks of water-soaked granite" with a reference to the titular Philistine deity Dagon, whom the narrator terms "the Fish-God." Sadly, the editor of my edition, S.T. Joshi, points out that the linkage of Dagon to the sea arises from a linguistic misunderstanding rather than any archeological discovery. Also, it seems a bit implausible for the protagonist to awake surrounded on every side by mire at the beginning and at the end to find himself swept out to sea during a fit of madness by a half-remembered storm. Still, the story’s final lines chill one down to the marrow, and I count that a compositional success.

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):


To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft's work), please click here.


Joseph D'Agnese said...

Thanks for this. Looking forward to this series. But I'm beginning to wonder why kids in school get to read so much Poe but no Lovecraft. What's the English department got against H.P. that they don't embrace in E.A.?

Loren Eaton said...

Glad you're enjoying it! You know, I think some of the reason why HPL isn't embraced by the academy is due to his style. I'm only a couple of stories in, but it feels a bit clunky.