Introduction by Joseph Wrzos
Illustrations and Cover by Steven Fabian
Black Buckram Hard Cover with wrap around Dustjacket, 366 pp.
ISBN 1-55246-003-7 @ $75.00
Introduction by Joseph Wrzos
[Note: For all stories cited below (except those by H.P. Lovecraft referred to
here and in the "Notes" section), dates given are for first publication, in some
instances not necessarily the year of composition.]
In the autumn of 1928, when August William Derleth, still only a junior at the University of Wisconsin, wrote to A. Conan Doyle, asking if Sir Arthur contemplated writing any new stories about Sherlock Holmes, Doyle (his terse response scrawled across Derleth's own returned letter) replied emphatically in the negative.
However, it's doubtful if the world-famous British author recognized (or would have appreciated knowing) that this latest missive from America was not just another typical "fan" letter. For his young American correspondent, though almost completely unknown in the literary world at that time, was nevertheless already a published writer. By then, at least a dozen of his fledgling efforts had appeared in early issues of Weird Tales, the now almost legendary pulp, the first of them, "Bat's Belfry" (May, 1926) seeing print when Derleth was still in his teens. Derleth, characteristically, with or without Sir Arthur's blessing, went on to write his own Solar Pons stories. "Fond and admiring" pastiches, he was careful to call them, eschewing parody as a form of ridicule unworthy of the Great Detective.
During this same period, however, even before writing to Doyle, Derleth was already corresponding with Rhode Island author H. P. Lovecraft, a fellow but senior contributor to Weird Tales, whose own early stories (such as "The Outsider" , "The Rats in the Walls" , and, particularly, "The Call of Cthulhu" ), the neophyte Wisconsin writer perceptively recognized as having literary worth transcending their pulp origins.
Unlike Doyle, however, Lovecraft kept up a steady (and incredibly voluminous) correspondence with a small group of talented and aspiring pulp writers, among them Frank Belknap Long, Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Henry Kuttner, Robert Bloch and, of course, young Derleth. Furthermore, never proprietary or testy about his work, Lovecraft also actively invited his acolytes to expand upon the Mythos he was gradually but loosely developing with such classic tales as "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926), "The Dunwich Horror" (1928), The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931), and At the Mountains of Madness (1931), to cite only a few of the most seminal.
Easier said than done. For the Lovecraft Mythos has been the subject of intense critical debate, especially of late, between the "Purists," on the one hand, who insist that the original premise remain intact, even though the author never developed it systematically, and "Revisionists" (principally, Derleth) bold enough to tinker with it for their own devices. As argued by the former, Lovecraft's Mythos, indirectly reflecting his own essentially nihilistic views, is based on the idea that the unbounded universe, despite Man's ignorant pretensions to the contrary, in actuality is dominated by the Old Ones, cosmic beings (such as Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu) completely indifferent to Mankind's "little drama," who might at any time choose to shut it down.
"Revisionists," on the other hand, tending to ignore Lovecraft's "dark mind-set," apparently feel free – according to their needs – to organize his concepts into a more manageable whole. Derleth, for instance – along the way suggesting a possible Christian Mythos parallel – has even gone so far as to polarize Lovecraft's Old Ones. Subdividing them into Elder Gods (the "forces of good") and the rebellious Great Old Ones (the "forces of evil"), the former – long before the advent of Mankind – defeating their noxious brethren (Cthulhu, Hastur, Nyarlathotep, and the like) and "imprisoning" them at various points in our galaxy. In Cthulhu's case, for example, Earth, where he lies dreaming beneath the sea in sunken R'lyeh, located either off Innsmouth's Devil Reef (in New England) or the Northern Pacific's Ponape, in the Carolines.
As if this weren't radical enough, Derleth – some have protested – has also gone too far by attempting to classify the Great Old Ones into groups of Elementals, beings (according to Medieval belief) akin to the "spirits" thought to reside within Earth's four basic elements. Thus, Cthulhu's realm became "water," Ithaqua's "air," and so on. Not a viable departure from Lovecraft's original premise, however. For his Old Ones are clearly of extraterrestrial origin, and cannot be thought of as being "confined" to Earth alone, whether in an elemental milieu or otherwise. As a consequence, in some of his Mythos stories, Derleth found it necessary either to sidestep this inconvenience or gloss over illogical inconsistences by inventing a god or two of his own. For example, the air elemental Cthugha, in "The Dweller in Darkness."
Nevertheless, whether a Derleth Mythos story adheres to or departs from the original Lovecraft "design," it usually centers on "first contact," belated though it be, between Mankind and the Great Old Ones – "aliens" from elsewhere, dominant on Earth before mankind! Most often Cthulhu, his spawn or his minions. Such encounters often involve an inquisitive scholar or some unwitting descendant of Innsmouth miscegenation. Whose researches into "forbidden texts," commonly the dread Necronomicon and at times the Confessions of the Mad Monk Clithanus (a favorite Derleth device) invariably lead to traumatic revelations and hideous consequences for the overly persistent.
The Lovecraft challenge, then, was indeed formidable for any acolyte, whether during H.P.L.'s own lifetime or in the years following his early death. But a good number of them rose to the occasion, their variations on the Mythos theme (particularly those by Smith, Howard and Long) still worthy of the Canon. As are Derleth's own Mythos tales, particularly if taken as a whole, one of the prime considerations for making them available once more in this special, illustrated edition.
Even so, it must be admitted that Derleth's first (published) attempt to pay homage to Lovecraft (written during the latter's lifetime) was far from auspicious. "Those Who Seek" (Weird Tales, January, 1932) proved to be minor and derivative formula writing. The English artist, the ruined abbey (inexplicably "shifting" in time), the terrifying dreams of long-dead monks making blood sacrifice to a huge gelatinous "thing," tentacled, green-eyed – all this, even then, was overly familiar. However, it was suggestive of Cthulhu, or one of his minions, and at least it was a start.
Concurrently with these early attempts at emulating Lovecraft, Derleth, one summer in 1931, in collaboration with his Sauk City boyhood friend Mark Schorer (later to make his own Mainstream mark as novelist, short story writer and biographer), churned out at least a dozen "chillers" aimed unabashedly at the pulp horror story market, most of which sold, though not immediately. Of these, "Lair of the Star Spawn" (1932), "Spawn of the Maelstrom" (1939), and "The Horror from the Depths" (1940), though far from the first rank, are very much in the Mythos vein, and worth attention.
In all three narratives (possibly due, in part, to Schorer's influence), unlike the traumatized artist in "Those Who Seek," the protagonists, facing a more immediate Mythos threat, gamely try to fight back. In "Star Spawn," for instance, the Chinese doctor Fo-Lan and Eric Marsh (a scion of the Innsmouth line?) both prisoners of Burma's Tcho-Tcho people, nevertheless manage to foil the "little men's" plans for "releasing" Lloigor and Zhar (Great Old Ones). Doing so by enlisting the aid of the the Star Warriors of the Ancient Ones, sent from far Orion, and by the arrival of the Elder Gods themselves! Even today, however, such direct intervention from the stars is rare in a typical Mythos story.
Narrowing the focus considerably, the two young collaborators, in "Spawn of the Maelstrom," export Mythos menace to the British Isles, where two upper-class Englishmen manage to "disintegrate" a monstrous "undying creature" (allegedly spewn up from the depths of the earth by the sea), which has usurped the form of an eccentric scientist friend. They do so by wielding a "star-stone" bearing the seal of the Elder Gods, an almost ubiquitous plot device in many of Derleth's later solo stories in the Mythos cycle. Centrally so, in "Something from Out There" (1951) – another of the author's few "English" Mythos pieces – where it provides the only means for re-entombing Cthulhu spawn. And pivotally, in the postwar-written Laban Shrewsbury series (collected as The Trail of Cthulhu, Arkham House, 1962), in which Derleth concocts ingenious deployments for the star-stone.
This Elder Gods talisman also appears prominently in "The Horror from the Depths," the last of the Derleth-Schorer Mythos collaborations. For it is the only weapon available to Professor Jordan Holmes (the surname perhaps a tipping of the hat to Doyle) and the unnamed narrator for driving Cthulhu's monstrous spawn back into watery confinement in Lake Michigan, from which dredging for the 1939 World's Fair had inadvertently freed them.
Interestingly enough, though "Horror from the Depths" did not finally see print for nine years, it is the only Derleth-Schorer collaboration from that period to mention not only the Necronomicon but Derleth's Elder Gods/Great Ones revision as well. But if these details were actually included in the first draft of the story (written ca. 1931), this would suggest that the young Derleth (who later claimed responsibility for the plots worked out in the collaborations) had begun tampering with Lovecraft's Mythos substructure, even while his mentor was still alive and developing it further in his own writing.
But that's hardly likely. Probably, by decade's end, after he and Schorer had gone their separate ways, Derleth himself – then more confident with the Mythos framework – heavily revised "Horror from the Depths," bringing it "up to date." If so, the "modernized" version apparently wasn't original enough for the author's usual market, Weird Tales, for instead it appeared in Strange Stories, one of the latter's rivals.
From 1932 onwards, however, Derleth's Mythos work was done solo. Except for the later Lovecraft "collaborations" – The Lurker at the Threshold (1945) and The Survivor and Others (1957) and a Robert E. Howard fragment (or outline) which Derleth "amplified" for publication in 1971, the year of his own death. However, his own initial attempts, in the ‘30's, were crafted very much under Lovecraft's eye, so to speak, for the two writers continued corresponding until the latter's sudden death in 1937. After which, Derleth's subsequent Mythos stories (whether solo or "collaborative") took shape always in his mentor's shadow. The challenge, implicit every time he began a new Mythos variation, must have been daunting, but over the next two decades Derleth was to face it, time and again.
Derleth's second solo Mythos effort, "The Thing That Walked on the Wind" (1933), was heavily influenced by "The Wendigo," Algernon Blackwood's classic Wind-Walker story. It is also liberally sprinkled with Mythos references (to Lovecraft himself, to Cthulhu, R'lyeh, and the forbidden Plateau of Leng). Set in Manitoba's North Woods, it recounts the inexplicable disappearances of a few local residents, apparently "plucked up" into thin air and never heard from again. Until a Royal Mountie investigates, and several of the "missing persons" (cocooned in ice but still alive!) begin dropping back down out of the sky (a possible Fortean influence at work here).
Although at first, the garbled and feverish ravings of a survivor fail to convince the Mountie, soon enough he too sees Ithaqua, the Wind-Walker, and is snatched up in his turn. Eight years later, in "Ithaqua" (1941), Derleth would return to the circumstances depicted in "Thing That Walked on the Wind." But instead of making it a sequel, he virtually "retells" the original story, adding nothing whatsoever new on the subject.
But in 1939, Derleth did much better by the Mythos. "The Return of Hastur" – prominently featured, though not the cover story itself, in the March issue of Weird Tales – is prudently set in the outskirts of Arkham and evokes much of the same outré atmosphere so pervasive in Lovecraft's best Arkham-Dunwich-Innsmouth tales. The basic circumstances of the story are also still Mythos familiar. Old Amos Tuttle, a now-dying New Englander, after studying all the requisite "forbidden texts," learns all about the Old Ones, but still needs to consult one of the most important but elusive volumes. In order to acquire it, however, he must make a sinister but unspecified "promise" to Hastur, and he does.
At this point, however, Derleth gives the plot a novel twist. For Amos tries to renege on his "promise," both by dying before it can be kept and by specifying peculiar conditions in his will, instructing his heir to destroy the dead man's library of esoterica and demolish Tuttle House as well! But nephew Paul has no intention of honoring so singular a bequest. Instead, he moves into Tuttle House, dips recklessly into the unholy texts and, following in his uncle's footsteps, in due course himself is claimed by an Old One. This time, however, it is Cthulhu, not Hastur, though the latter is not to be denied. In a literally explosive climax, in which Tuttle House is blown to pieces, Hastur arrives on Earth, flinging his adversary Cthulhu far back out to sea, and is ready to claim his due. If not the uncle, then the nearest kin will have to suffice, and that means hapless Paul, who by then, like his deceased uncle before him, has metamorphosed into a batrachian monstrosity!
All these novel plot flourishes in "The Return of Hastur," only his third Mythos effort alone, reflect Derleth's still respectful but increasingly revisionist attitude towards the Lovecraft legacy. An emerging difference in view that becomes more pronounced in "The Sandwin Compact" (published the following year, also in Weird Tales). In this fourth variation, three generations of Sandwins have profited financially from a pact made with the Old Ones, the fine print most likely worked out with the latter's minions. The terms of the agreement stipulate that each generation, with no right of appeal, "sign away," the next into bondage to the Old Ones.
Finally, Asa Sandwin, the current head of the family, decides to end the family curse and spare his son Eldon from a lifetime (and "more"!) of abominable servitude. Hideously transfigured but confident of success, Asa stops up all access to his room and waits – but overlooks a small windowpane crack in the attic above. And fails, of course, when Lloigor the Old One (see Derleth-Schorer, "Lair of the Star Spawn") comes for him, sucking the rebellious Asa right out of his clothes, discovered horribly vacant and draped across a bedroom chair. But even though he failed to outwit the Old Ones, as a father Asa succeeded, the attempt alone serving to free his son from the family curse. A note of paternal compassion more typical of Derleth than of his mentor.
During the Second-World-War years, however, Derleth relocated his next Mythos stories Midwestward again, setting "Beyond the Threshold" and "The Dweller in Darkness" (both published in Weird Tales, "Threshold" in 1941, "Dweller three years later) deep in the Wisconsin's North Woods. Although each story basically recapitulates the standard Mythos plot (overzealous researcher swallowed up by Old One), of all the author's Lovecraft homages, "Beyond the Threshold" and "The Dweller in Darkness" are the most richly atmospheric, exhibiting all the considerable narrative and descriptive skills which Derleth, by then a noted regional writer, had begun to hone at this stage of his career.
Once more, in typical Mythos fashion, an overly curious scholar or adventurer stumbles upon the way to the Old Ones. In "Beyond the Threshold" (the first published of the two), it is willful Josiah Alwyn, an adventurous but elderly world traveler, who gets too close to Mythos "truth" when he minutely studies cryptic papers left by a relative (Uncle Leander of Innsmouth!). In "The Dweller in Darkness," it is Prof. Upton Gardner – a collector of "place legends" – who, while investigating reports of a local "monster" sighted in the North Woods, suddenly finds himself confronted by Nyarlathotep, an Old One without a face! Derleth also injects an element of suspense in both tales by keeping each protagonist in the dark as to exactly which Old One he is dealing with. Doubts soon end, however, when one windy night Ithaqua plucks Old Josiah right out of his bed, and Nyarlathotep (the Crawling Chaos) completely ingests the hapless professor, condemning him thereby to a "living death" and endless servitude to the Dweller in Darkness.
There is, however, a striking contrast between the endings of these two North Woods Mythos stories. Published three years earlier than "Dweller" (in the same year as "Ithaqua," in fact), "Beyond the Threshold," not unexpectedly, ends very much like the author's first attempts at transplanting New England Mythos to Wisconsin woods. For, in a final note, it is revealed that seven months after old Josiah Alwyn mysteriously disappeared from his room one windy night, his body was found, inexplicably far from Wisconsin, "... on a small Pacific island not far southwest of Singapore," encased in ice and crushed as if dropped "from an aeroplane." A denouement, by then far from original and already utilized twice before by the author himself. Thus, even though "Beyond the Threshold" is wonderfully realized as a story, it still breaks no new ground in extrapolating on Lovecraftian Mythos lore.
"Dweller in Darkness," on the other hand, ends much more inventively,even moreso than "The Return of Hastur" and "The Sandwin Compact." For though Nyarlathotep succeeds in "silencing" the intrusive Prof. Gardner – whose form he can assume (as does the shape shifter for his victim, in "Spawn of the Maelstrom") – when the Old One attempts to deal with the two young colleagues in search of the missing scholar, he is foiled by the incendiary arrival of Cthugha, a fire elemental, summoned by the terrified youths, with the "posthumous" aid (via a recorded message) of the professor himself! However, this "new" Old One, invented by Derleth for the occasion, though fancifully depicted (as a myriad of "living entities of flame"), does seem somewhat deus ex machina.
Another interesting feature in both "Beyond the Threshold" and "The Dweller in Darkness" (one also present elsewhere in his Mythos fiction, but perhaps not employed so puckishly) might be called Derleth's refinement of the "Escher Effect." A Moebius-like melting of fiction into "fact" and back into fiction again, and so on. For, besides citing the now obligatory Canonical shelf of "forbidden texts" (most frequently the dread Necronomicon) – to which the author himself has contributed Cultes des Goules – with straight face (but no doubt twinkling eye), Derleth has characters like Josiah Alwyn (who owns a copy) and Prof. Gardner (who orders one, which has to be shipped by the publishers [Derleth himself!]) either hold up for examination or refer to H.P. Lovecraft's The Outsider and Others (Arkham House, 1939) as substantive "proof" that the Old Gods do indeed actually exist!
However, such glints of humor are rare in Derleth's Mythos writing, or in anyone else's (including Lovecraft's) for that matter. And perhaps rightly so, for unless deftly applied, its presence (like an accidental woodwind squeak marring a swelling Wagnerian theme) would detract, even if momentarily, from the unified intention toward horror implicit in any serious Mythos story. Nevertheless, on two other Mythos occasions, in "The Passing of Eric Holm" (1939) – the author's only pseudonymous Mythos story (published as by "Will Garth," a house name) – and "The God Box" (1945), Derleth manages to sport a grin, at the least, as he illustrates what dire consequences can follow when fools tinker with the Old Ones, whether directly or indirectly. Such as bungling amateurs like Eric Holm, who can't quite get the Clithanus incantations right, and pilfering English archeologists like Philip Caravel (in "God Box"), who opens one Druidic copper box too many.
All humorous grace notes aside, however, after "Beyond the Threshold" and "The Dweller in Darkness," Derleth never again set one of his solo Mythos stories in the Midwest, or even just north of there, as he did in the "Ithaqua" tales. Nevertheless, in "The Whippoorwills in the Hills" (1948) and "The House in the Valley" (1953), both "Northeastern" Mythos stories, he does transplant some of his love of small-town rustic life (evident in the best of his Midwestern regional writing) to New England soil. Where – in the outskirts of Arkham and Innsmouth – insular little villages still fearfully believe in the Old Ones or, at the least, that their minions may be nigh. In both narratives, too, Derleth is also quite adept at capturing the laconic dialect and dark suspicions of the local residents, united in resenting "outsiders. Like the relative, in Whippoorwills," in search of his "lost" cousin, and the painter, in "House in the Valley," needing seclusion to concentrate on his work. In addition, both stories, besides paying homage to Lovecraft, also hearken back to one of the latter's influences, Edgar Allan Poe, for at story's end both of Derleth's "mad as a hatter narrators" – traumatized by "dream" contact with Cthulhu and charged with brutal murder – have no conscious awareness of guilt, and lay the blame elsewhere, on the Old Ones, on their minions, on anyone but themselves.
During this same period (between 1944 and 1957), Derleth would also begin work on his longest Mythos opus, the "Shrewsbury" series, which opened with two Weird Tales novellas, "The House on Curwen Street" (1944) and "The Watcher from the Sky" (1945). In the former, he introduces the scholarly but activist Dr. Laban Shrewsbury, recently returned after a mysterious twenty-year absence from Arkham. Even though "blind" – his eyes "lost" during torture on Celaeno in the Pleiades – the professor can still somehow "see," and sets about making himself Cthulhu's most formidable adversary.
By means of stealth, cunning, and force (applied wherever possible), the professor and his newly acquired aides begin to fight back against Cthulhu's minions, attempting to block all new efforts to free the Old One from the "exile" imposed by the Elder Gods. On one occasion, the professor even tries to dynamite one of Cthulhu's "Doorways to the Outside ...." But he fails completely, bitterly lamenting, "Too little! Too little!" – though he will try again. In the second "Shrewsbury" episode, "The Watcher from the Sky," however, two of his aides fare better, managing (by torching its star-stone-encircled dwelling) to assassinate one of Cthulhu's frog-like Deep Ones, who has been masquerading as human in still-haunted Innsmouth.
However, such short-lived victories have little lasting effect on Cthulhu and his followers, serving only to alert them to the presence of their enemies, who must then take flight. And that is what the professor and (in succession) his aides expeditiously proceed to do. First, by swallowing some of the Elder Gods' "golden mead" (to heighten sense perceptions and allow travel "among the dimensions"). Next, by calling upon Hastur for help, appealing to him in the lost "Aklo" language (derived from the chants of the Great Old Ones' former priests), for the "Unspeakable One," no friend to his fellow Old One Cthulhu, has been known to give shelter to the latter's foes. Finally, by blowing upon a strange stone whistle in order to summon Hastur's bat-like byakhee "steeds," who bear the imperiled to sanctuary in Celaeno, the faintest star in the Pleiades cluster of the Taurus constellation. There, most likely on one of its planets, they wait, until the time is right to do battle again with the Lord of R'lyeh.
After 1945, however, Derleth would leave off writing about the Dr. Shrewsbury's guerrilla warfare strikes against Cthulhu. He devoted his energies to the New England "regional" Mythos stories and the "English" tales – one of them, "Something from Out There" (1951), essentially a reworking of the "monster in the abbey ruins" theme of "Those Who Seek," his first Mythos story, written almost two decades earlier. As well as to "Something in Wood" (1948), marginally interesting today for its allusions to early Lovecraft acolyte Clark Ashton Smith, and for the few glimpses it affords of Derleth's familiarity with the art and music of his day.
But six years later, in 1951 – most likely with the idea of expanding the series into a "novel" – Derleth revived Laban Shrewsbury, though perhaps somewhat hesistantly. No doubt recognizing, thorough professional that he was, the difficulties inherent in devising new adventures based on the premise set in the first two tales. For how – he must have asked himself – does one tell basically the same story five times in a row without repeating oneself? Particularly when it is a Mythos story, which by this time, not only for himself but for other Lovecraft emulators, had become rather formulaic, every ending – almost without exception – a foregone conclusion. With the Old Ones and their minions basically unharmed and their frustrated adversaries always forced to take flight. And, in Cthulhu's case, with his followers, almost without missing a beat, stealthily returning to continue work on completing the Grand Design – freeing the awesome Old One from his undersea "tomb."
"The Testament of Claiborne Boyd" (Weird Tales, 1949), Derleth's third attempt to resolve some of these problems, didn't go too well. The least original and most clearly repetitive of them all, this new "Shrewsbury" novella simply shifts the customary New England setting to New Orleans and South America, and introduces a new "assistant," a student of Creole culture in the Mississippi bayou country. Whose curious legacy – the usual at first puzzling documents and such bequeathed by his late great-uncle, formerly on the faculty at Arkham's Miskatonic University – plunges Claiborne Boyd into the thick of things. All of it familiar Mythos trappings, though with one unusual difference. For instead of playing a central role in this new adventure (indeed, in the previous episode, he wasn't present at all!), Dr. Shrewsbury remains on Celaeno throughout, remotely influencing events on Earth from afar.
Communicating with Claiborne Boyd through the latter's dreams, the professor advises his willy-nilly new assistant on the best way to evade the approaching enemy, on how to blow up (Shrewsbury's forte) a Peruvian Cthulhu "doorway," and, finally, how to shoot to death yet another batrachian Deep One, this one disguised as a religious leader. But in the end, the outcome mirrors that of the first two Shrewsbury adventures, for like his predecessors, Claiborne Boyd must hastily summon Hastur's byakhee "steeds" and join the professor and his allies in safety on Celaeno.
However, in the final two "Shrewsbury" stories, "The Keeper of the Key"(1951) and "The Black Island" (1952), even though both are replete with the by now inescapable appurtenances of the series, Derleth finally finds the way. First, he diversifies the story locales, leaving the Western Hemisphere behind altogether, setting one episode primarily in Arabia, the other at various points in the Pacific. Next, he transports Shrewsbury back to earth and – despite the introduction of two new assistants, each of whom tells his own tale – gives the professor the central role in the events leading up to the cataclysmic conclusion near Ponape.
However, in "The Keeper of the Key," Derleth makes a startling disclosure. In all the previous Shewsbury episodes, the professor and his aides had never left this planet at all! Only their "life essences, souls, astral selves" made the light-years' journey to Celaeno. All the while, back on Earth, their physical "shells" lay safely stored in wooden sarcophogi hidden in underground tunnels buried deep beneath the sands of Arabia. Waiting, when needed, to be reclaimed.
And it is in those subterranean passageways lying far below the "Nameless City" (see Lovecraft's 1921 story, so titled) that Dr. Shrewsbury makes two major finds. He and his new aide, novelist Nayland Colum – whose Mythos narrative, The Watchers on the Other Side, has attracted the unwelcome notice of Cthulhu's followers – discover not only the original manuscript of the Necronomicon but the actual remains of its author, the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred himself! Whom the professor quickly proceeds to conjure the "spectre" of in order to learn the true location of R'lyeh, Cthulhu's lair beneath the sea.
In the final Shrewsbury novella, "The Black Island," the professor and his aides (the count now up to four) "return" from Celaeno to do final battle with Cthulhu. In order to pinpoint R'lyeh's exact location, Shrewsbury takes on yet another assistant, the young American archeologist Horvath Blayne, whose knowledge of the Ponape region will be invaluable. Guided by the Abdul Alhazred map and aided by Blayne's "instincts" (he as yet doesn't know his true "tainted" Innsmouth heritage), the Cthulhu hunters finally locate R'lyeh, the ruins of a black stone structure on an uncharted island which has recently re-surfaced due to earthquake activity in the area.
Wasting no time, the professor and his men go ashore, set explosive charges about the alien "building," and hastily return to their boats. None too soon, for emerging swiftly out of the structure's dark portal is a horrifying protoplasmic mass of tentacles, Cthulhu himself! At that moment, Shrewsbury gives the signal, the explosives are detonated,and the Lord of R'lyeh is blown apart, but not for long. For in the twinkling of an eye, the shattered mass quickly begins to reconstitute itself and swell up to gigantic proportions, overflowing almost the entire surface of the island.
But the professor (apparently with powerful connections in Washington)is not discouraged. As back up, he has arranged for a nuclear bomb to be dropped on Cthulhu's island. And the colossal detonation, the towering mushroom cloud, and the blasted remains of R'lyeh (still visible as the island sinks back beneath the waves) give every sign that at last the Old One has been destroyed, this time for good. However, Horvath Blayne (born an Innsmouth "Waite"), deep in his DNA, knows better, for his guilt is great. He has betrayed his heritage by participating in this attack upon Cthulhu. But still he senses that somehow the Old One has survived even nuclear holocaust. And he "knows" that someday soon he must pay for his treachery, for there is no escape for the likes of him, not even to Celaeno.
Up to this point – the final phase in Derleth's development of his own Mythos stories – most of his protagonists, whether inquisitive scholars or descendants ignorant of family ties to the Old Ones, have tended to recoil from their first encounter with the cosmic. But with the character of Horvath Blayne (narrator of the final Shrewsbury episode), a significant shift in attitude becomes increasingly apparent. For unlike the author's previous protagonists descended from a "corrupted" family line, Horvath Blayne, even before he learns the truth about himself, is subtly "responsive" to Cthulhu's call, rather than feeling threatened by it. But not strongly enough, for he betrays the Old One and must be punished for it.
Five years later, in "The Seal of R'lyeh" (1957), the coda to his Mythos work, Derleth would elaborate on this new idea, carrying it – through the person of young Marius Phillips – to its logical conclusion. Yet another in the author's gallery of "tainted" Innsmouth portraits, Marius knows nothing of his blighted heritage. Even when he discovers, in his deceased Uncle Sylvan's journal (which is packed, of course, with notes on Old Ones lore), that the old fellow had been searching for a place called "R'lyeh," he still refuses to "believe." However, things change when, in quick succession, he finds a "wizard" ring (which puts the wearer in touch with a terrifying "presence" nearby) and, under the house, a secret passage to the sea, which, he assumes, his uncle used in the search for R'lyeh.
However, by far, the most important factor influencing the progress of Marius' enlightenment is his meeting with Ada Marsh, one of Derleth's most intriguing female characters and the only one of consequence in all of his Mythos writings! Although she is described as "not a good-looking girl," with her "wide, flat-lipped mouth ... and undeniably cold eyes," at first sight of her faintly frog-like appearance, rather than being repelled, Marius is strangely attracted to her, though unable as yet to understand why. But soon, once his own metamorphic changes begin to match her own, he will know better. And when that takes place, though only Ada realizes it now, these "children" of Cthulhu (which is what they've become) must go forth – in answer to his "call" – and seek the Old One wherever his watery kingdom may lie.
And that – once Marius, like Ada, becomes amphibious – is just what they set out to do, convinced that R'lyeh lies not below Devil Reef, but somewhere in the North Pacific. Making good use of Uncle Sylvan's ample legacy, they charter a ship, explore Polynesia's uncharted regions, and near Ponape discover a strange basaltic island, in the waters below which they find R'lyeh at last! Standing upon a great undersea slab within one of the oldest monolithic structures, they listen in awe, as from below come the sounds of a "vast amorphous body, restless as the sea, stirring in dream ...." The Old One himself! But dare they break the seal and enter that mighty presence? At this point in the narrative, Marius Phillip's manuscript ends, leaving one to wonder how Derleth meant "The Seal of R'lyeh" to be taken. As a Cthulhu minion's paean to an Old One, or something much darker? For Derleth adds a final note to the story – one severely undercutting its apparently euphoric surface effect. A newspaper extract revealing that the last anyone saw of both Mr. and Mrs. Marius Phillips (and she with child) was when they were cast up out of the deep on a gigantic geyser and then sucked back down again into the depths. So much for purblind faith in the Old Ones.
Thus, with his final solo Mythos story, Derleth, though sometimes accused of tampering with it too freely, seems to share his mentor's basic vision, depiciting the Old Ones – in "The Seal of R'lyeh," at least – as being so remote from Mankind's petty concerns that with cosmic indifference and without compunction they crush both "friend" as well as foe.
– Joseph Wrzos
Saddle River, NJ