Monday, May 13, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"

Spooky Synopsis: Robert Olmstead liked to travel, and the cheaper the better. But for this frugality, he might've never faced a horror deep as the Mariana Trench. A rickety old bus provided cheaper carriage from Newburyport to Arkham than the train or trolley, and on this vacation Olmstead decided he needed to save every penny. So what if the bus stopped in old Innsmouth? The whispered tales about the place sounded like nothing more than small-town gossip. The hamlet was mostly depopulated, with scores of deserted houses. Travelers had been known to mysteriously vanish. The reef that squatted on Innsmouth's easterly horizion had once seen horrible Satanic rituals. Olmstead shrugged the rumors off. But even he had to admit that the Innsmouth residents -- with their staring eyes, slouching postures, and oval skulls -- had a strange look about them, a look that somehow resonated deep within Olmsted's own past.

Lovecraftian Language: "'Yew want to know what the reel horror is, hey? Wal, it's this -- it ain't what them fish devils hez done, but what they're a-goin' to do! They're a-bringin' things up aout o' whar they come from into the taown -- ben doin' it fer years, an' slackenin' up lately. Them haouses north o' the river betwixt Water an' Main Streets is full of 'em -- them devils an' what they brung -- an' when they git ready. . . . I say, when they git ready . . . ever hear tell of a shoggoth? . . .

"'Hey, d'ye hear me? I tell ye I know what them things be -- I seen 'em one night when . . . EH -- AHHHH -- AH! E'YAAHHHH. . . .'"

Eerie Evaluation: S.T. Joshi, who annotated the edition of Lovecraft's stories that I'm reading, noted that the editor of Weird Tales rejected "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" because "it was too long and could not be conveniently serialized without destroying the tale's unity." But calling it "too long" is far too kind. Like a slightly tipsy obsessive-compulsive tour guide, Olmstead wanders here and there in his tale while promiscuously narrating unnecessary details, including a travelogue of everything he eats while in Innsmouth. What's more, the story contains what Joshi calls "Lovecraft's most exhaustive utilization of backwoods New England dialect." Peruse the snippet for your reading pleasure, and imagine a solid 11 pages of the stuff. Worse yet, that lengthy monologue from a drunk Innsmouth resident demands careful consideration because it contains a number of important plot points. It's a shame, because a good story lurked beneath all the blubber of "Shadow," one about Faustian bargains and hereditary curses that terminates in an ending of whispered horror. If only it hadn't been such a chore to read.

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

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

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