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.