THE DEEP ONES: "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" by Ambrose Bierce

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THE DEEP ONES: "An Inhabitant of Carcosa" by Ambrose Bierce

gen. 3, 2012, 2:22pm

Happy New Year!

Discussion begins tomorrow

gen. 4, 2012, 2:46am

Thanks for the links, nice to to have a quick story to digest on a work break. The second read (it was short, read it twice) was more enjoyable for me actually, I could look for clues leading to the twist at the end.

Speaking of the twist, when did this start? I feel it's almost commonplace now (I'm thinking of some other short SF and horror i've read recently, then the movie the Sixth Sense also comes to mind). Was this type of thing pioneered by Bierce and his contemporaries?

Overall, on the initial reading the first few paragraphs didn't grab me as far as building the atmosphere or psychological drama, though the gotcha! did get me in the end.

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 9:21am

Problem posting

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 9:34am

Hello Brian - good points! I also wonder what effect this tale had on HPL's "The Outsider"? We could possibly include the likes of O. Henry as an influence, but "Carcosa" just has that "weird" ring to it.

I can't say that the "shock" reveal at the end really surprised me (although it surely must have for readers in 1887!), but I really, really enjoyed the manner in which Bierce builds up the oppressive, nearly noiseless atmosphere. You get a feeling that something is very, very wrong.

So, what do the animals in this otherwise barren place represent? Jung might have said that the lynx represents that narrator's refusal to admit his situation to himself. And what of the owl? I'm reminded of Twin Peaks!

I liked the scene with the savage seeming to arise from the ground (as if from a burial mound?), "half naked, half clad in skins". I take it that he can sense but not see or hear the ghostly being who is accosting him.

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 9:39am

This is the THIRD protagonist-discovers-he-is-dead story I've read in under a month! The first was Blackwood's "Transition," which we discussed here, and the second was Machen's "The Soldier's Rest." Of the three, I think Bierce was the earliest, and he was certainly the best. His story suffers none of the sentimentalism that I disliked in the other two, plus it has a tasty Orientalist-Romantic ambiance (like a bite-sized Vathek!). All of this repetition in my reading matter has me a little concerned ... I'm still kicking, right? Have any of you ever read Ubik, or seen Waking Life?

In addition to being an early example of the protagonist-discovers-he-is-dead trope, this story also provides precedents for the protagonist-discovers-he-is-the-monster trope, so enthusiastically embraced by Lovecraft in several stories. Robert Price observes that Hali (though transformed from an oracular person to a mysterious lake by Robert Chambers) may well have been the original inspiration for Abdul Alhazred, who originally appeared independently from the Necronomicon in HPL's writing. He also points out that Hali is the Arabic name for the constellation of Taurus, wherein are Aldebaran and the Hyades.

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 9:37am

> 5 I also wonder what effect this tale had on HPL's "The Outsider"?

Yes, that and similarly "The Shadow over Innsmouth."

gen. 4, 2012, 10:14am

I like this one a lot. Clearly we are back in prose poetry territory here, and Bierce as a stylist is up to the task of working in this difficult form. Favorite bit: "Scattered here and there, more massive blocks showed where some pompous tomb or ambitious monument had once flung its feeble defiance at oblivion." Seems to me that is as quintessential and timeless a statement of cosmic and/or existential horror as has ever been written; it sounds like something out of Ecclesiastes.

Once again we see the generic fluidity of the weird tale - this could almost be viewed as a post-apocalyptic science fantasy story in which mankind has reverted back into savagery, vis-à-vis the narrator's encounter with the caveman-like gentleman in the story.

Interesting that you guys mentioned "The Outsider" and "Innsmouth". The Lovecraft tale it reminded me most of (formally, thematically, and in terms of genre) is "Memory" (

>3 brianjungwi:

Wonderful to see you here, Brian! You have to come and join us for these discussions more often! :D

>5 KentonSem:

I really, really enjoyed the manner in which Bierce builds up the oppressive, nearly noiseless atmosphere. You get a feeling that something is very, very wrong.

Yeah, exactly. I haven't read a ton of Bierce's fiction, but of the stuff I've read, this is the piece that does the best job at making you feel ill at ease (as a good weird fiction writer should!).

>6 paradoxosalpha:


From what I know of Bierce, he was about the least sentimental human being on the face of the earth. :D

Have any of you ever read Ubik, or seen Waking Life?

I've had Waking Life DVRed since June(!) and still haven't watched it yet, even though I've enjoyed the other Richard Linklater films I've seen (I am particularly a sucker for The School of Rock). I'll have to make it a point to check that one out after I get home from work tonight.

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 10:26am

I'm appreciative of the meta-textual features of this story. After the epigram from Hali, which is chilling enough on its own, and doesn't so much give away the twist as open a wide range of possibilities for one, comes the story proper. But at the end there's this thing that the Wikipedia article calls a "footnote":
Such are the facts imparted to the medium Bayrolles by the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin.
Bierce actually goes to the trouble of providing a coherent rationale for our ability to read the reflections of a dead man! It's really such a 19th-century thing to do. They seem to have been more nervous about issues of fictional epistemology than we are today.

ETA: Spiritualism was very much in the ascendant when Bierce wrote this story, so the jargon of "medium" and "spirit," would not have been lost on most readers, the way they might be today.

gen. 4, 2012, 10:25am

>6 paradoxosalpha:

I'll have to take your word for it that you're still kicking, although now that you mention it, you could well be an interweb ghost, right? Nah.....

I agree that there is a refreshing lack of sentimentalism in Bierce's tale. It's nice for me to have encountered another early, important influence on what would later become the weird tale, thanks to this group.

Didn't know about Hali's shift from person to lake. That's pretty odd! Wikipedia states the following under "Aldebaran":

"The Cthulhu Mythos (1921- ), fictional universe created by H. P. Lovecraft et al. Hastur is a fictional entity in the Mythos, ambiguously referred to as a place, an object, or a deity, and developed into a Great Old One by August Derleth. Robert W. Chambers uses Hastur to represent both a person and a place associated with the names of several stars, including Aldebaran: more particularly, Hastur inhabits the shores of Lake Hali on a planet circling a dark star near Aldebaran".

Does (1921-) imply that the Cthulhu Mythos might have a death date?

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 10:27am

> 9 Does (1921-) imply that the Cthulhu Mythos might have a death date?

Of course: when the stars are right, the Mythos will die in the face of the terrible reality.

gen. 4, 2012, 10:32am

>8 artturnerjr:

...least sentimental human being on the face of the earth.

Art, you've got that right! For more evidence, see Bierce's The Devil's Dictionary. It's a hoot!

gen. 4, 2012, 10:47am

>12 KentonSem:

Yeah, everything I've read from Devil's Dictionary has cracked me up. Have to make it a point to sit down & read the entire thing before too long here. :)

gen. 4, 2012, 11:06am

>6 paradoxosalpha:

Paradoxosalpha, you have me half-convinced that I should read Vathek! :)

gen. 4, 2012, 11:14am

>14 KentonSem:

It's on my TBR list for this year. The convincer for me was finding out that it was a big influence on both HPL and Clark Ashton Smith. It also just sounds too zany to pass up. :)

gen. 4, 2012, 11:26am

>15 artturnerjr:

Reading "Carcosa" also brought Clark Ashton Smith to mind, due to its otherworldly qualities.

gen. 4, 2012, 11:29am

Art - from post 8: that was the sentence that really grabbed me in the story, good stuff

Editat: gen. 4, 2012, 12:01pm

> 14 half-convinced that I should read Vathek! :)

Go ahead! It's not like you'd be picking up The Phenomenology of Spirit or something. It's a quick, highly evocative read.

gen. 5, 2012, 4:48am

I think this is one of those works that should be read twice. Reading it for the first time (a year ago?), not knowing what to expect, I appreciated it less than I did rereading it now, catching foreshadowings and hints I didn't register the first time.

gen. 5, 2012, 8:51am

>15 artturnerjr:, 18

Ok, I'm fully convinced. Vathek is on my list!

>19 AndreasJ:

Andreas, I actually read it twice this week. The first time through, my initial overall reaction was tempered a bit by being disappointed by the not-so-shocking reveal. However, I couldn't shake the mood that the rest of the tale generated. When I read it again, I savored all of that good stuff. "Carcosa" is an unexpected winner.

Still have to look into the the symbolism of the owl...

maig 2, 2020, 3:19pm

Two points on this one for me - firstly, it reminded me of CAS' Xeethra, and secondly I think it's interesting that the medium Bayrolles also plays a role as spiritual mediator in Bierce's The Moonlit Road.

maig 4, 2020, 4:07pm

>21 cd96:

Well spotted.