THE DEEP ONES: "Dagon" by H.P. Lovecraft

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THE DEEP ONES: "Dagon" by H.P. Lovecraft

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gen. 16, 2015, 9:42am

I think I'll give my trusty ol' copy of Black Seas of Infinity a break and read this one from the highly addictive New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft.

gen. 16, 2015, 11:09am

Also in The Best of Weird Tales: 1923, which is an interesting way to compare it to other works in Weird Tales that year.

gen. 16, 2015, 12:30pm

>2 KentonSem: Same for me. I'm breaking out my Christmas gift of The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft.

gen. 16, 2015, 4:52pm

Reread this last night out of an eBook I just purchased entitled H.P. Lovecraft: The Ultimate Collection ( I found 3 typos in that tale alone; kind of a lot for a 2,000 word short story, don't you think? :/

>2 KentonSem:
>4 RandyStafford:

That book is something else, isn't it? I toyed with the idea of checking out my local public library's copy, but if you guys both have it, I trust that you'll share any interesting annotations therein with the group (I'll supply S.T. Joshi and David Schultz' commentary from An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, as always).

gen. 18, 2015, 11:54am

Some kind soul has posted the Necronomicon Press edition of In Defense of Dagon (actually, HPL anglicized the spelling (as was his wont) to "Defence", but when I spell it that way, I can't get the touchstone to work) online, if anyone wants to take a look at it:

gen. 18, 2015, 2:47pm

I've read it in several versions. I've also heard Wayne June read it on Audio Realms' Lovecraft series. It was volume 2, I think, coupled with "The Shadow over Innsmouth." Great combination.

gen. 18, 2015, 2:55pm

The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft for me. I also listened to the reading by William Roberts on the Naxos Audiobook "The Call of Cthulhu and Other Stories". Yes, they put "The Call of Cthulhu" and "Dagon" together in the same (4-CD) set - to the latter story's disadvantage, it must be said.

gen. 19, 2015, 4:48am

It seems I only have this one in Dutch translation, in Griezelverhalen

Editat: gen. 21, 2015, 9:22am

HPL does quite a bit of name-dropping here, including Milton, Doré, Poe and Bulwer, not to mention Polyphemus and Dagon. I have to wonder if he didn't also have William Hope Hodgson in mind, as the narrator's oceanic encounter with a "vast reach of black slime" that turns into a very weird landscape indeed is a scenario right out of a number of WHH's nautical horror stories.

gen. 21, 2015, 9:37am

This early story seems to include a lot of tropes that HPL would re-use later, but they don't seem to really gel here. Is our narrator simply bonkers? He doesn't set up the continued imminence of the threat until it is invoked in the final paragraph.

I thought Bulwer was an odd choice for a paragon of horrific writing. Does HPL instance particular Bulwer tales in his critical reflections?

Editat: gen. 21, 2015, 10:01am

>11 paradoxosalpha:

Is our narrator simply bonkers?

In The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft it's mentioned that a number of HPL scholars consider the narrator to be quite obviously mad and hallucinating by the end of the story, although it's not uncommon for some readers to imagine that the Polyphemus-creature has actually followed the narrator back to San Francisco. But why would the creature do that, if it existed?

gen. 21, 2015, 11:32am

>10 KentonSem: I have to wonder if he didn't also have William Hope Hodgson in mind

As I understand it, HPL hadn't come across WHH when he penned this tale.

Re the final paragraph, I guess it's slightly easier to picture a hallucinating narrator penning it than one actually menaced by a gigantic monster. The narrator narrating his own doom is very hard to pull off convincingly if the text is supposed to be a record left to posteriority, and I don't think it works very well here. (The best way to do it is probably having the narrator on a phone or radio.)

gen. 21, 2015, 11:35am

>12 KentonSem: But why would the creature do that, if it existed?

Indeed. And given the highly-delusional state of the narrator, the whole story seems rather reduced to ravings not meriting belief. I like the passing reference to Piltdown Man (not known to be a hoax when HPL was writing).

Editat: gen. 21, 2015, 11:48am

>13 AndreasJ:

As I understand it, HPL hadn't come across WHH when he penned this tale.

Ah, right. HPL includes WHH in Supernatural Horror in Literature, but that was written in the mid-1920's. Have to do some research to find out when Grandpa first encountered Hodgson.


Found it in an online excerpt from An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia: "HPL read Hodgson in 1934 at the urging of bibliophile Herman C. Koenig, who was circulating his Hodgson volumes among HPL's circle".

gen. 21, 2015, 12:04pm

>11 paradoxosalpha:

Does HPL instance particular Bulwer tales in his critical reflections?

If we're talking about Edward Bulwer-Lytton here, yeah, he does; he discusses Bulwer-Lytton's novels Zanoni and A Strange Story (and his short story "The House and the Brain") in the "Aftermath of Gothic Fiction" chapter of Supernatural Horror in Literature.

gen. 21, 2015, 12:39pm

Some of Joshi and David Schultz' remarks on the tale in An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia:

"Dagon" was in part inspired by a dream. In responding to a criticism regarding the narrator's actions, HPL writes: "...the hero-victim is half-sucked into the mire, yet he does crawl! He pulls himself along in the detestable ooze, tenaciously though it cling to him. I know, for I dreamed that whole hideous crawl, and can yet feel the ooze sucking me down!"... William Fulwiler senses the general influence of Irvin S. Cobb's "Fishhead,"* a tale of a fishlike human being who haunts an isolated lake, and a tale that HPL praised in a letter to the editor when it appeared in the Argosy on January 11, 1913. HPL exhaustively rewrote "Dagon," in various ways, in both "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926) and "The Shadow over Innsmouth" (1931).

Some critics have believed that the monster actually appears at the end of the story; but the notion of a hideous creature shambling down the streets of San Francisco is preposterous, and we are surely to believe that the narrator's growing mania has induced a hallucination. HPL remarked, shortly after writing the story, that "Both {'The Tomb' and 'Dagon'} are analyses of strange monomania, involving hallucinations of the most hideous sort"

*which we discussed here:

gen. 21, 2015, 12:42pm

Fun fact: This is the first HPL story ever published in Weird Tales.

gen. 21, 2015, 12:53pm

I'll take this opportunity to recommend Fred Chappel's 1968 novel Dagon. It's an emotionally brutal, withering, kind of sideways-nod to HPL's work.

gen. 21, 2015, 1:24pm

> 17

The reference to 'monomania' and the verisimilitude of the story put this firmly in the category of HPL 'Poe stories'. The only part of the story I question, since I already know about Old Ones, Deep Ones, etc. is that the narrator managed to get back to the boat while raving mad. He ascended the hummock on 'the fourth day', so he must have been quite some distance from the boat.

Of course, leaving the boat to traipse across mud that might sink at any moment was pretty crazy to begin with.

gen. 21, 2015, 1:37pm

>20 bertilak:

I think it's all too easy to conclude that the exploration of the "risen land" was itself a dream. The speaker doesn't know how the boat got back to the water and he's strangely silent even about his circumstances when picked up by the Americans, which he surely would have learned from his rescuers, even if he was amnesiac or had been unconscious.

This story inspired by HPL's dream takes a step toward the waking world, but doesn't quite arrive there -- certainly not in the way it later did in "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth." Traces are even present in "The Mountains of Madness," I'd say.

gen. 21, 2015, 1:47pm

> 21

No, I did not mean to dismiss the exploration as delirium. I was picking holes in HPL's narrative technique.

The narrator seems to sink through levels:

(1) 'normal'
(2) shocked by the German attack and sun-stroke
(3) is ill but actually saw bas-reliefs, heard 'measured sounds', etc.
(4) is driven more crazy by (3)
(5) tries to suppress (4) with morphine but ends up hallucinating.

Given this reading, I still like the image of a web-footed giant pursuing him through California, like Bradbury's story of the dinosaur called by the foghorn.

Editat: gen. 21, 2015, 1:59pm

>22 bertilak: Bradbury's story of the dinosaur called by the foghorn.

I always think of Bradbury's lovelorn dinosaur whenever I read "Dagon"!


On a related note, I always seem to imagine HPL's Polyphemus in Harryhausen-style stop motion, a la The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms. Stop motion also figures in what is perhaps the finest cinematic adaptation of HPL to date, 2005's The Call of Cthulhu. As Art notes up in >17 artturnerjr:, that story can trace its origins back to "Dagon".

gen. 21, 2015, 2:08pm

>22 bertilak:, >23 KentonSem:

We should nominate "The Fog Horn" for the spring list. I don't recall if I had any definite reason, but in my mind when I read the story (something like 20 years ago) the creature was a plesiosaur.

gen. 21, 2015, 2:27pm

This is not the "Dagon" I remember so the revisit was welcome.

>10 KentonSem: Yes, a lot of Milton influence in proper names and adjectives (e.g. "pandemonium").

I was one of those readers who has always taken the end literally and was not aware of an alternate reading until reading Klinger's annotations. I agree now, though, a deluded narrator is a definite possibility.

Having an interest in geology, I liked Klinger's annotation citing a National Geographic article of the time about suddenly appearing islands. However, an island with this topography seems unlikely to suddenly show up. Tectonic activity wouldn't raise it that high and a recent eruption seems unlikely to produce a hill with a crater, but I appreciated the effort.

And, in this early story, we have Grandpa sending his hero into something like a subterranean environment to confront horror.

I'm interested in how World War One shows up in fantastic fiction so I noticed the reference, in a story written during the war, to "puny, war-exhausted mankind". However, I get no sense that Lovecraft meant that as a metaphor or prediction of the post WWI horrors we did get.

gen. 21, 2015, 2:50pm

There's a lot here that HPL expanded or reworked to greater effect in his later stories. In addition to the instances already noted, there's the long painful descent into danger and a headlong mad-with-panic escape from it (shades of both "At the Mountains of Madness" and "The Shadow out of Time").

And on the subject of literary influences, is there a suggestion of Robinson Crusoe in the early parts of the narrative, where the narrator is exploring the island but still has his wits about him and describes everything in rather dry detail? If the narrator was indeed being followed or haunted by the "Polyphemus", then there would also be an echo of M. R. James' characters (not all of whom survive their encounters with the supernatural). However that's not my reading.

At the beginning of the story the narrator states his intention to commit suicide by throwing himself from his window. The sequence of events at the end seems to be (i) a real or imagined noise at the door leads to (ii) panic and remembrance of the monster's hand (perhaps not terrifying simply because of its size but because it can e.g. carve bas-reliefs: it belongs to an intelligence humans unknowingly share the Earth with), which (iii) is the final impetus that drives him out of the window and to his death. Granted, the setting down broken sentences in real time right to the last second is unlikely, but it's not unique to Lovecraft (there are arguably less believable examples in Dracula, for instance).

Interestingly (or perhaps not!), in his recording for Naxos William Roberts evidently goes for the "thing at the window" reading, the final lines being, not a sudden self-exhortation (like, maybe, someone doing a bungee-jump and leaping into space with a "geronimo", or whatever) but a rising note of panic: "there's something at the door and now it's at the window!!"

gen. 21, 2015, 3:05pm

>25 RandyStafford:

I'm with you on WWI settings for fantastic fiction. A very conducive time frame! "The Great Lover" by Dan Simmons comes to mind. The beginning of "Dagon" also reminded me just a bit of the Edgar Rice Burroughs novel The Land That Time Forgot with a captured WW I U-boat finding it's way to a primordial realm .

gen. 21, 2015, 3:28pm

>27 KentonSem: Thanks for reminding me of "The Great Lover". I've recently started a blog listing of relevant WWI related titles as I read them or, in this case, am reminded of ones I've already read.

"The Great Lover" might be worth a Deep Ones nomination.

I've already listed ERB's Beyond Thirty and need to list other ERB titles.

gen. 21, 2015, 4:19pm

>20 bertilak:

The reference to 'monomania' and the verisimilitude of the story put this firmly in the category of HPL 'Poe stories'.

Joshi again (this time quoting from the introductory paragraph on "Dagon" in The Complete Fiction): in Poe, it is the narrator's emotional trauma that is at the heart of the tale.

>26 housefulofpaper:

And on the subject of literary influences, is there a suggestion of Robinson Crusoe in the early parts of the narrative, where the narrator is exploring the island but still has his wits about him and describes everything in rather dry detail?

Oh yeah, I think so. I remember thinking to myself that this is a sort of a weird fiction version of a Robinsonade while I was reading it. Of course, speculative fiction Robinsonades are nothing new, and one could even make an argument for other works being weird-fictional examples of the genre (e.g., M.P. Shiel's The Purple Cloud).

>27 KentonSem:
>28 RandyStafford:

Speaking of ERB, the Wikipedia article on "Dagon" notes his novel At the Earth's Core as a possible influence on this tale:

gen. 21, 2015, 7:03pm

It's interesting to compare this one to "The Hound." While I think the earlier story was more effective in its own right, this slightly later effort was a much clearer adumbration of the distinctive directions HPL's work would later take.

Editat: gen. 25, 2015, 1:24pm

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft conjectures that the island in "Dagon" is the very same one visited by the ill-fated schooner The Emma in "The Call of Cthulhu". Interesting idea.

feb. 1, 2015, 8:16pm

>25 RandyStafford:

Weird Fiction Review Vol 5, just published by Centipede Press, features an excellent WWI trenches-set short story by Sam Gafford called "The Land of Lonesomeness, featuring real-life writer you're sure to know.

feb. 2, 2015, 1:21pm

>32 KentonSem: Thanks for the info. I'll check it out.

Editat: gen. 31, 2020, 6:35pm

I've only just read this little lovely and it outranked both The Haunter of the Dark and The Rats in the Walls. Maybe it was the influence of Moby-Dick and mortal madness but the water setting was terrifying to me. It seemed to be a primeval Loch Ness monster kind of creep. Loved it!