THE DEEP ONES: "Bells of Oceana" by Arthur J. Burks
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Discussion begins on February 12, 2020.
First published in the December 1927 issue of Weird Tales.
No online versions found to date.
SELECTED PRINT VERSIONS
The Ghost of Fear and Others
H.P. Lovecraft's Favorite Weird Tales: The Roots of Modern Horror
Weird Tales: Seven Decades of Terror
Sea-Cursed: Thirty Terrifying Tales of the Deep
In a letter to Weird Tales, HPL noted that this story "had the genuine thrill of Outsidedness".
I caught the echoes of Hodgson (I think the story is "The Voice in the Night") but Burks isn't as convincing, for me. There was an air of someone spinning a yarn - which it is, of course but the best writers manage to infuse some truth, or something of themselves in between the words, somehow.
I don't know if anyone has ever levelled the criticism of misogyny against this story, for its use of a seductive female or female-disguised monster. For what it's worth I don't think such criticisms would be fair. For me, the point it that it's a predator exploiting its prey's weakness.
That seems to be pitting my judgement against Lovecraft's, since he praised the story in Weird Tales. Well, sometimes the elements of a story can grab you or resonate with you at a level that bypasses the rational part of the brain or literary analysis. Somewhere there's a book or literary essay that illustrates this with the example of Dr Samual Johnson - one of the greatest literary critics of the 18th century - praising a not particularly good poem by William Congreve which was built the image of a house (I think) that becomes or is revealed to be a tomb. Th implication being that this image struck deep because it chimed with Johnson's Religiosity and (publicly hidden) mental anxiety.
Well, to be fair, it was actually HPL's second-best favorite story in that issue.
I think this might be Burks at his finest, unless you are looking to swing in the complete opposite direction for pure pulp. He could do both. Either way, I don't think he rated a massive Centipede Press Masters of the Weird Tale volume. Hardly a master.
I basically liked this one because I'm a sucker for revenants returning from a watery grave, all blue and squishy... :D
It has some logic problems. Why are there wet footprints, but the lorelei is serpentine in the lower body? Are there two types of monsters hiding in the deep?
Second, what are we to make of the end? The night the narrator went in the sea seems to have really happened, so it wasn't a precognitive vision. But nobody else on board remembers, so has some amnesia been induced.
The dis-enchantment of the narrator by kissing a corpse seems very convenient.
However, despite all this, sometimes weird fiction works because of the illogic and mystery, and this story works for me.
>You might be thinking of Hodgson's "The Habitants of the Middle Isle" though, checking over my blog post on it (https://wp.me/p4jmub-6ln), the correspondence is not exact. There's also F. Marion Crawford's "The Upper Berth", but it's not very similar.
Speaking of Hodgson, I liked something Hodgson never did -- sort of animate the seaweed into its monster and not just a hideout for monsters.