Halloween Special: H. P. Lovecraft


It would be inaccurate to describe Howard Phillips Lovecraft as a man with issues. It’s more like he was a bundle of issues shambling around in a roughly bipedal approximation of a man. Chronically depressed, hypersensitive to criticism, almost certainly agoraphobic, prone to horrible nightmares and nervous breakdowns, and thoroughly racist even by the standards of the time… It would be easy to come to the conclusion that HP Lovecraft was simply afraid of everything, but this isn’t true, either. He was just afraid of everything that wasn’t his hometown of Providence, Rhode Island. Lovecraft is famous for codifying the Lovecraftian horror mythos: a cosmology he created with centralized themes of cosmic horror, ancient, unknowable, and malevolent gods, and everything smelling vaguely of fish. Lovecraft’s writing is famous these days for producing an overwhelming sense of sheer hopeless terror at an unfeeling cosmos, wrapped up in visceral descriptions of omnipresent rot and decay. All themes that manage to make perfect sense when contextualized with Lovecraft’s life story, which was pretty much a depressing downward spiral from minute one. Lovecraft was born in 1890 to one of those well-off New England families that still thought of themselves as proper English semi-nobility, an image that became harder and harder to maintain due to their perpetual state of financial decline. Lovecraft was intermittently schooled but never really finished his education, and had access to a decent library with pretty nifty scientific texts but had too delicate of a constitution for math… …and as such made no progress beyond the basics in any of his fields of scientific study, which explains his thorough misunderstanding of non-Euclidean geometry, non-visible light, and the concept of an air conditioner. His mother was institutionalized in 1918, but unfortunately we have no idea what was actually wrong with her, because the medicine of the time had a tendency to exclusively diagnose women with hysteria, a.k.a. “being-a-woman” disease. When she died in 1921, Lovecraft took it really hard, got severely depressed, and started writing the Call of Cthulhu, one of the first stories that brought themes of existential horror into his developing mythos. Lovecraft’s lack of marketable skills stopped being much of a problem for him when he married a breadwinner businesswoman in 1924, and moved into his wife’s apartment in Brooklyn, which he hated more than anything, in large part because New York is one of those places where immigrants happen. Oh, yeah…the racism. So, Lovecraft’s proper New England breeding was a major source of pride for him, and, basically, all of his stories have seriously classist and racist themes, with his heroes being well educated white dudes with no phonetically transcribed accents, and his villains being literally everybody else. This being good old English racism, he cared less about skin color directly and more about breeding overall, so there’s a number of white people bad guys too, albeit uneducated, inbred, and poor, but it’s no accident a lot of his horrors derive from people CROSSBREEDING with OTHER RACES. Part of this might have been Lovecraft’s clear and obvious discomfort and disinterest of all things sexual, but there’s also a bunch of racism wrapped up in there. Lovecraft eventually got overwhelmed by the horror of the outside world and moved back home to Providence, lived on a dwindling inheritance for the rest of his life, and died almost completely unknown from intestinal cancer at age 46. Overall, an unpleasant life steeped in mundane misery and crippled by fear at every turn. With the context of Lovecraft’s overwhelming disgust and horror for everything he didn’t understand, almost his entire body of work begins to make sense. The thing that makes Lovecraftian horror, and the thing that’s kept it popular, is this overwhelming fear of the unknown, a concept that easily translates even as the ‘unknown’ changes with social and scientific developments. Even though Lovecraft’s works haven’t aged well at all, the underlying principle is sound: if you don’t fully understand something, you can interpolate existential horror, and turn every mystery into a nightmare of things man was not meant to know. And separate from that, the aesthetic of horror he chose is also pretty effective on its own. Lovecraft’s overwhelming fear of the ocean produced a memorable and viscerally nasty horror asthetic grounded in slime and rot that was far removed from the cold, stone sterility of the previous Gothic horror genre. So, all that in mind, let’s take a look at a few of the genre-defining short stories cranked out from Horrible Phobias Lovecraft’s darkest nightmares. The Call of Cthulhu is framed as a first-person account from one Francis Wayland Thurston, whose venture into the unknown begins as he’s going through the notes left by his great uncle George Angell, a professor at Brown who recently died under mysterious circumstances. The notes describe a series of interactions between Angell and one Henry Anthony Wilcox, an artist and known airhead who has recently taken to dreaming of ancient sunken cities. An earthquake hit New England on February 28, and that night Henry had this crazy dream that he was navigating an ancient creepy city covered in green ooze and hieroglyphs, and from the depths of the structure, echoed a very spooky voice saying something about “Cthulhu” in a language he didn’t understand. Angell is disproportionately concerned about this dream, and asks if Henry is, by any chance, part of a cult. But Henry’s just your average clean-cut New England artist dreaming of things beyond mortal ken. He comes in daily with new dreams, all in the same city, but sometimes different parts of it, and with the same spooky voice saying spooky stuff. Until one day, March 23rd, when he doesn’t come in at all, because as it turns out, Henry’s become very sick and has been deliriously yelling about some giant monster. Nine days later, Henry abruptly gets better, and stops having the dreams entirely. Angell launches an investigation, pulling a large population for reports of what their dreams were like during the interval when Henry was all wonky. He discovers that salt-of-the-earth working-class folk were totally unaffected, sciency types had the occasional nightmare, and artists and poets were almost incapacitated by their crazy nightmares. Many of them dreamt of the same city as Henry, along with the same ominous chanting he reported. Overall, the interval between February 28th and April 2nd saw a worldwide spike in madness, mania, and general unrest. That’s pretty spooky all on its own, but it turns out Angell had asked Henry about cult activity for a reason. This wasn’t his first run-in with the name Cthulhu. 17 years prior in 1908, Angell is attending an academic archeological get together, when hard-boiled New Orleans cop Inspector Legrasse crashes the party with an ancient and creepy statuette they recently confiscated from a particularly nasty cult, and they need to know what it means. The statuette looks like a weird half-human half-octopus half-dragon thing. The archaeologists pass it around, but nobody can identify the culture of origin, and nobody can read the glyphs. But one dude claims he’s dealt with a tribe of devil worshipers who seemed to have worshipped a similar figure. When asked where the heck he got this statue, Legrasse explains they’d gotten some reports from some friendly swamp-dwelling New Orleansers that some seriously freaky stuff was happening in the swamp, and their women and children kept getting kidnapped. The cops crashed the party and found a large number of very naked cultists dancing around a burning monolith with the statuette on top, surrounded by the extremely dead bodies of all those kidnapped swamp people. Oh, but don’t worry, circa 1920s New England readers, I know you want to know the exact ethnic backgrounds and skin color of these cultists before you render moral judgment. Well, don’t you worry, Lovecraft has you covered. We’ve got some Native Americans, some black people, some biracial people, some ethnically ambiguous folk thrown in for flavor, and basically everybody who’s definitely not a white people. I won’t say Lovecraft got subtler about his deep abiding loathing and terror of anyone with a skin tone darker than Pantone 727, but this is probably the most all-inclusive it ever gets in his writing. Anyway, Lovecraft’s charmingly diverse death cult explains that they worship the Great Old Ones, ancient gods who predate humanity and are currently dead, but still dreaming, and through their dreams can communicate with humanity, which is how they facilitated the formation of this ancient globe-spanning cult in the first place. The Old Ones are currently all preserved in the ancient city of R’lyeh, which sunk into the ocean a while back, which makes it harder for them to psychically bump up with humanity. Cthulhu is the name of one of the Old Ones, specifically the one playing nanny to all the others while they’re dead and waiting for the stars to align so they can come back. So our narrator Francis understands why Angell was so freaked out at hearing the name Cthulhu 17 years after dealing with the murder cult, but is pretty sure this must have been some kind of practical joke and decides to start investigating on his own. Also, he begins to suspect Angell might have been killed by the cult, because shortly before he died, he bumped into a black guy! I can’t stress enough how hard it is to read this today. After retracing Angell’s contacts to try and flesh out the story, he finds a newspaper article dated to the same timeframe as Henry’s crazy dreams that talks about a derelict ship found adrift at sea with a single survivor on board. A man named Johansen, who you know you can trust, because he’s Norwegian, a.k.a. very, very white. According to the article, Johansen claimed the ship had been attacked by a yacht full of suspicious not-white people, but they managed to kill all of them, board the yacht, and sail along its original course, whereupon they landed on an island that didn’t appear on any map. Six of the crew members somehow died, and Johansen and one other made it back to the boat, at which point the other one died too. Francis bounces around the globe a bit trying to locate this Johansen, who he finds tragically died quite recently, but conveniently left a whole lot of notes for him to sift through. Hooray! So the notes are basically just Johansen’s horrified recollection of his harrowing ordeal, which fills in what the newspaper left out. The ship lands on an island that shouldn’t exist, surprise surprise, the topmost part of R’lyeh, and as they explore, the sailors note that the island is extremely spooky because all of its architecture is non-euclidean. For those of you with a Lovecraftian level geometry education, non-euclidean geometry is just geometry on a curved surface. You may note, since we live on a globe, all of our geometry is non-euclidean. Anyway, the island’s terrifying geometry notwithstanding, the sailors soldier on, until they encounter a very big door. Following, I guess, video game logic, the sailors agree that opening this very big door sounds like a fun idea, and surprise, surprise, Cthulhu comes out.
Way to do the cult’s job for ’em, geniuses! So two of the sailors die of fright, one trips on a corner and clips through the map, and three of them get squished. Johansen and one other guy exit pursued by Cthulhu, and once in the boat, Johansen, brave snow white Norwegian that he is, turns the boat around and rams the pursuing Cthulhu right in his big jelly face. It smells awful, there’s jelly everywhere, but as the boat retreats Cthulhu is seen pulling himself back together. Because if you could kill an Elder God the same way you kill a rampaging Disney villain, most of Lovecraft’s stories would have very different tones. Anyway, Johansen’s hair turns white from the shock, his crew member looked at Cthulhu for too long and went crazy, and that’s where the story ends. R’lyeh evidently sunk back under the sea since the island is gone, and Francis wraps up the story by contemplating how now that he knows so much about Cthulhu, it seems likely that his evil death cult is probably gonna be gunning for him any day now. Oh no! How will he be able to function in polite society if he’s cripplingly paranoid that every not white person he runs into might be trying to… (laughs) I’m just kidding. It’s 1920s rural America.
No one will notice. “Cool Air” was written while Hippo Potamus Lovecraft was living in New York City, and consequently takes place in a crowded apartment building full of immigrants, every element of which the narrator hates. Even worse, one night something gross starts leaking through his ceiling, and the landlady explains a reclusive and mysterious doctor, homebound due to a lasting illness, lives in the apartment above him and must have spilled one of his chemicals. The knowledge that his upstairs neighbor is a doctor becomes relevant when our narrator randomly has a heart attack one day and scoots upstairs for some pro-bono medical attention. He finds that his neighbor, Dr Muñoz, is a very tidy and well-groomed dude who our narrator judges as being of superior blood and breeding, but he keeps his apartment really cold for some reason, and also comes across as inexplicably creepy, talking the whole time he’s treating our narrator, but seemingly never pausing for breath. Place your bets now, folks! Anyway, Muñoz tells the narrator not to be too down about his poor health, since modern science is incredible and can sustain a human body almost indefinitely. He himself has had a complex bouquet of medical issues for the past 18 years, which is why he keeps his apartment
so cold and rarely leaves. (Fun fact: this story was written only a few years after air-conditioning began to become a widespread phenomenon in major US cities, which is probably why Muñoz takes the time to explain how exactly his cooling system works and also why Hates Progress Lovecraft
is so scared of it.) Anyway, the narrator likes having such interesting company and routinely returns for visits and conversation, though he does notice that the doctor’s health continues to deteriorate, and he does increasingly frantic modifications to the a/c in order to compensate. He winds up looking so creepy that he gives a hardened war veteran a seizure just by looking at him. Basically, homeboy’s face is jacked. Then one warm night mid-October the air conditioner breaks, and the doctor freaks out and locks himself in the bathroom while he sends the narrator out to bring him as much ice as he can manage as well as arrange for repairs to the air pump. The narrator subcontracts a dude to keep the ice coming while he runs off to find repair people, but when he returns to the house, it’s in total chaos. Apparently the ice guy got curious and looked into the bathroom, then ran screaming from the building. Upon investigation a trail of god-knows-what leads from the bathtub to the writing desk and then dead ends in a pile of something horrible on the couch. It’s so horrible, the narrator doesn’t even want to describe it, attempting to preserve the horror of the unknown, even though at this point we all know it’s the doctor. Anyway, he wrote out a last confession about how he’s been dead for 18 years and staved off decay through the cold and a lot of chemicals, but now thanks to the failure of modern technology, death has finally come for him. Yay! At this point, most of us learn the basics of the electromagnetic spectrum somewhere in middle school. You got that little zone of visible light and then a huge amount of radiation our eyes can’t perceive, from gamma rays up through radio waves. Since we can only see such a thin slice of the spectrum, our concept of color is very limited compared to the full spectrum of light, but it’s kind of what we’re stuck with. But if you told Lovecraft about the wide spectrum of light humans can’t see, he’d get a funny look on his face, say something like “You mean there exist colors that man has never seen? WHAT MIGHT THEY BE CAPABLE OF!?” and go write “The Color Out Of Space”, a story about a color of demonstrably visible light, that is nonetheless nowhere on the visible spectrum. This is what happens when you “don’t have the constitution for math”. Anyway, the narrator of “The Color Out Of Space” is a surveyor examining an area in the middle of Nowhere, Massachusetts because they’re planning on diverting a reservoir there. During his meanderings, he comes to an area referred to as a “blasted heath.” It almost looks like it was burned, but nothing ever grew back. The trees around the edges are sick and rotting, the plants are all growing weird, there’s an inexplicably creepy well in the middle, and the narrator wisely decides to head back to town and prompt some NPCs to fill him in on the regional lore. Conveniently, the area has a local old crazy person, always a goldmine of information in a Lovecraft story. This one’s named Ammi Pierce, who’s more than happy to regale him with colorful tales of horror. So the story begins with a meteorite crash landing by the well in the otherwise sedate and charming forest estate of one Nahum Gardner; a friendly farmer with an idyllically charming family. Some folks from the nearby Miskatonic University swing by to examine the meteorite, and are surprised at its small size. Nahum says it’s shrunk since it landed, and also it glows in the dark and hasn’t cooled down since the impact. The Miskatonic folks attempt to break off some samples, but find the meteorite is soft like plastic and gouges rather than being chipped. They take it away for tests, then come back for more because the material is reacting very strangely to everything they do to it,
and also vanished completely overnight. As they carve out another chunk, they hit a little bubble in the rock. It’s a small embedded glob with a *mysterious color unlike any seen on earth!* and when they hit it with a hammer it pops and disappears. The next day they come back for more meteor but find it’s completely vanished. A storm blew in overnight and struck the rock with lightning over half a dozen times, and apparently that made it stop existing. Nahum is of course an instant celebrity on account of the magic rock, and as a bonus all his crops are growing in really big and glossy. But when the time comes to harvest them Nahum finds they’re all completely inedible. They’ve got a nasty aftertaste *unlike any seen on earth!* and they have to scrap the whole crop. The animals around the farm also start growing weird. Nahum’s family is on edge, and everyone’s basically avoiding the farm in the quiet understanding that whatever the meteor did to it wasn’t good. All the trees start blooming in
*mysterious colors unlike any seen-* and they seem to move on their own without any wind. The Gardner family basically holes up in the farm and has a collective, silent nervous breakdown. Nobody’s even surprised when Mrs. Gardner goes crazy and gets locked in the attic,
and also starts GLOWING IN THE DARK. JUST MOVE AWAY! All the plants in the area start turning
gray and disintegrating, and though Pierce warns the Gardeners that the well water started tasting suspicious, they keep drinking it anyway. Then one of the kids goes crazy and starts screaming about *colors in the well, unlike any-* and gets locked in the attic too. Then the…crazy kid dies somehow and the youngest kid vanishes when going out to get well water one night. After two weeks of radio silence, Pierce finally works up the nerve to see how Nahum’s doing, and finds him ill and delirious and very much alone. Pierce goes to check in on the wife and finds SOMETHING INDESCRIBABLY HORRIFYING curled up in the corner leaking *mysterious colors unlike any seen on earth!* and writes her off as pretty thoroughly dead. When he heads downstairs, he hears some pretty disgusting noises, plus a sploosh, from the well outside. He also notices the house glows in the dark now and finds a very disintegrating Nahum has dragged himself to the base of the stairs for some last-minute exposition. He explains that *mysterious color, etc etc*
is alive and living in the well, and is sucking the life out of everything around it. It came out of the meteor, those weird color globs were probably seeds, and they’ve been feeding on the family and their farm as they grew. Anyway, Nahum dies and Pierce gets the heck out of there to report the deaths. He returns with some investigators, they investigate the well and find a whole lot of skeletons including the two missing children, plus some weird spongy junk at the bottom *unlike any seen on-* and then everything starts freaking out. The horses freak out, the trees freak out, everything starts glowing and the crew wisely decide to vacate the area before anything else happens. As they exit the glow radius they see a lot of *mysterious colors unlike any-* erupting out of the well, and then the entire area lights up, and the light blasts into space, leaving nothing but the blasted heath. But Pierce reveals one final scrap of horror. As the light left, he saw one weaker blob of light try and fail to escape the well before falling back in. It’s still down there, which is why he’s so spooked, and also so glad the area will soon be entirely underwater. Narrator guy, thoroughly creeped out, decides to never drink the water from this reservoir, and also briefly contemplates if Pierce is still being affected by the horrible color and whether that would explain why he’s never even left the area. If there’s one thing Lovecraft hates more than not-white people, it’s the crushing existential terror he feels every time he leaves the house. If there’s one thing he hates *slightly less*, it’s low-class white people. This story is narrator-less and takes place entirely in the rural Massachusetts town of Dunwich, an old town that smells bad and is generally creepy and off-putting. The story begins when Wilbur Whateley is born on February 2nd, 1913 to Lavinia Whateley, an albino, deformed, inbred woman who likes wandering the hills and hanging out in creepy stone circles. Her father is Old Whateley, sometimes referred to as “Wizard” Whateley, due to his large collection of creepy occult books. As for who Wilbur’s father is… Well, that’s not exactly clear, and old Whateley is being ominously cryptic about the whole thing. But this is Lovecraft cryptic, so it doesn’t take a genius to put together from his mutterings that Wilbur’s dad is something named Yog-Sothoth. Anyway shortly after Wilbur is born, the Whateleys board up one of the sheds and also start buying a lot of cows, although oddly they never seem to HAVE a lot of cows, and the ones they do have look really anemic and seem to have weird marks on their necks. All right, place your bets, everyone. So Wilbur grows preternaturally fast, and can talk and walk at 11 months old. But he’s also super ugly and goat looking, and really neurotic about never being seen naked. Also, dogs hate him, so you know he’s evil. So old Whateley keeps doing house repairs and at one point builds a big ramp up to the second floor from the outside. This is also around the same time that locked shed gets opened. Now the story pretends like this is a mystery, But we’ve all put together that there’s something unspeakable in the shed and Wheatley relocated it to the house. Got it? Good, moving on. So now the shed is empty except for a horrible smell, Wilbur is four but looks 10, and has taken to carrying a gun to shoot any and all dogs that randomly attack him
during his daily goings-on. In case you were wondering
if you were supposed to like him. Also, people keep hearing mysterious sounds coming from the sealed up second floor of the Whateley house, you know, where they put
the horrible thing from the shed. What a mystery this is. Anyway, twice-yearly Wilbur and Lavinia do weird rituals on one of the nearby hills with a stone circle. Wilbur and old Whateley continued to remodel the house, by which I mean they knock out every wall on the second floor clearly because the horrible whatever is growing bigger and then old Whateley has an attack of some kind and dies… but not before expositing in the longest death monologue ever about how Wilbur will need to be careful to take care of the “thing in the house!” and then he’ll be able to “Open up the gates to Yog-Sothoth with the chant you’ll find on page 751 of your textbook!” Anyway, he dies, Wilbur continues to grow hella fast, and Lavinia is actually getting scared of him now. She vanishes one Halloween, probably because of the giant horrible monster in the Whateley house Just a guess, obviously… and Wilbur relocates all the stuff into the shed and knocks out all the remaining walls in the house for reasons I can’t -possibly- fathom. Anyway, Wilbur, who now looks fully adult and is about ten feet tall, seems to be getting a little desperate. See, he has a copy of the Necronomicon, but it’s damaged and incomplete and is in fact missing the crucial page 751. So he starts shopping around nearby universities trying to locate an undamaged copy. When he heads to Miskatonic University, the librarian, Dr. Armitage happens to look over his shoulder while he’s examining the page and notices a lot of conveniently expositional lore about the Old Ones and how they exist in the spaces between reality and that this Yog-Sothoth character is the key and the guardian of the gate and can bring the Old Ones out of the spaces between and into reality again. Armitage is very creeped out and when Wilbur asks to take the book with him, Armitage refuses and also warns all the other universities in the area to turn him away. Armitage immediately starts researching Wilbur and the Old Ones and while he’s at that, an increasingly desperate Wilbur breaks into Miskatonic University to steal the Necronomicon. Unfortunately, Wilbur runs afoul of the university’s guard dog, who completely wrecks him and upon finding the dying Wilbur the horrible truth is revealed… He looks… *really* nasty. Specifically, the only human parts of him are his face and hands. His chest and back are scaly and below the waist he goes completely bonkers covered in coarse black fur with weird mouth tentacles hanging from his waist, eyeballs on his hips, a tail trunk thing, and crazy hoof pad feet. Wilbur dies muttering something about Yog-Sothoth, and his body completely disintegrates, showing the horrified onlookers
that apparently he had no bones. Anyway, everyone’s super creeped out already, but then the night of September 9th about a month after sh*t goes down in Miskatonic University, sh*t goes sideways in Dunwich, as whatever was growing in the Whateley house got too big and too hungry to stay put, and is now rampaging around town. And it’s also invisible, which certainly doesn’t make things easier on anyone. Back in Miskatonic University, Armitage and the other professors have been trying to decrypt Wilbur’s diary and figure out what the heck is going on with the monster he keeps talking about, when they learn via an innocuous newspaper article that it’s broken loose. So they march over to Dunwich to find that the rampaging monster has crushed and eaten at least one family house and seems to spend its days lurking in the Glen while going out to feed at night. A quick headcount suggests that the local cops went down to the Glen to bother it and got eaten, but the professors are much better prepared. Armitage has some Latin spells, Rice has a bug sprayer full of magic not-being-invisible-anymore juice, and Morgan just brought a really big gun. That night nothing happens, but the next day the monster eats another farmhouse and Armitage rallies the dudes to go after it. When they see it moving on the hillside Armitage and the other professors break off from their crew of terrified villagers, who observe the goings-on through a telescope. The one unlucky guy with the telescope gets to see the de-invisibled monster, and immediately, but descriptively, panics and starts yelling out adjectives. Anyway, as they watch, they see the professors head for the stone circle and yell something in Latin, and the monster responds by shrieking a lot about Yog-Sothoth in a very much non-English language, before transitioning to English to scream for help, before it gets struck by lightning and disappears. The professors return and broadly explained that the monster couldn’t really exist in normal reality since it was half Yog-sothoth, so they “magicked it” into not really existing anymore. Anyway, Mr. “I looked through the telescope and saw the face of madness” starts yelling that the monster had a huge face, and it looked like the Whateleys, And yeah, the big plot twist is the giant blob monster was Wilbur’s twin brother, though he looked a lot more like his old man. Now so far most of Lovecraft’s narrators,
if they exist at all, are horrified onlookers to an otherwise fairly distant nightmare. They’ll find notes about it, or interview the people who actually lived it, or live next door to the monster and completely miss all the excitement. The Shadow Over Innsmouth, written closer to the end of Lovecraft’s life and well after he moved back to Providence, is a serious departure from form in that the narrator and main character, Robert Olmstead, is point blank on the action and in fact personally invested in the story. So the story begins with Robert warning us that he’s breaking a long and government-mandated silence about what exactly happened in Innsmouth in 1927, and you’ll see why he’s breaking that silence when he explains what’s up. His narrative starts with him travelling along on a tour of New England, where his mother is from, trying to get in touch with his roots and research his family tree a little bit. However, being broke or thrifty or something, he’s attempting to take the cheapest route possible, and this is how he hears about Innsmouth in the first place. There’s a very cheap bus route that runs through it, mostly because nobody goes there. The dude expositing this tells Robert, completely unprompted, and it goes on for pages, that Innsmouth used to be a decent town but had recently fallen into ruin after a nasty epidemic wiped out a lot of the population. All they do is fish,
except for one gold refinery ran by an Old Man Marsh, who’s the grandson of one Captain Obed Marsh, who supposedly had a lot of trade with South Sea Islanders and maybe married one of them,
although it’s confusingly worded. People in the general area tend to be ashamed and cover up any Innsmouth heritage they have, and while exposition dude notes that Marsh’s descendants all look pretty normal, Old Man Marsh himself has supposedly developed some kind of skin condition or deformity in his old age. Innsmouth has a lot of nasty old rumors about it, including devil worship and some stuff about a very spooky reef in Innsmouth Harbor called Devil’s Reef. Exposition man says most of the hate is probably race prejudice, but he can’t say he disagrees with it. So props for self-awareness, I guess? Anyway, he says most Innsmouth people look kind of weird with like big bulgy eyes and stuff, and they tend to go bald really young. And place your bets, everyone! So yeah, Innsmouth is weird and private and they don’t like strangers, but the bus is really cheap,
so what are you gonna do? Robert does a little more research and finds a piece of very weird-looking gold jewelry covered in weird oceanic designs and fish-frog-humanoid monsters. The curator mentions that the Marsh family keeps trying to get this piece back, and she suspects it might be part of some obscure pirate horde found by Obed ages ago. She also explains that the devil worship rumors aren’t completely unfounded, since the locals have apparently taken to worshiping Dagon, who in real mythology is a Mesopotamian grain and fertility God, but in Lovecraft Land is a fish-demon-nightmare-thing. Anyway, our hero Robert “what are warning bells” Olmstead hops on the bus the next day and is immediately creeped out by the bus driver, who is very distinctively ugly. Big bulging eyes, receding forehead and chin, overall fishy look and also smells really bad. I’m sure it’s nothing. Anyway, Robert begins his walking tour of Innsmouth and finds the place very creepy, very smelly,
very empty, and very inhospitable. He notices that almost everyone looks similarly fishy to the bus driver and hops into a general store to try and find someone who seems remotely normal. Luckily, the storekeep is a 17-year old normal guy
from Arkham, Massachusetts who is also uncomfortable in town. He warns Robert to be careful where he wanders and to stay away from the churches. He also fills in some exposition the other guy missed. The old people always look way nastier
than the young people, and despite spending a lot of time in town. he doesn’t really know any of the Innsmouth people. They all keep to themselves. In fact, the only person Robert has a hope of getting exposition from his one Zadok Allen, a normal-looking 96 year old man who spends his days wandering the town, getting really drunk, and muttering ominously to himself. Fulfilling his role of video game NPC, the storekeep draws a map for Robert and send him on his way. Robert locates Zadok, lures him into an abandoned part of town with a bottle of booze, and gets him talking. Zadok is a drunken fountain of exposition – Hooray, more of this! – and starts at the very beginning with tales of Obed Marsh, who starts off his exploits by sailing to a South Sea island he heard had disproportionately good fish hauls and luxurious but creepy gold jewelery. Obed learns that these people are sacrificing their young men and women to some kind of underwater fish people community thing, and getting all kinds of favor in return, including fish and gold. The fish people also come up to the surface twice a year to mate with the humans, having told them that their kids will start off looking human, but will gradually become more fish like until they become full fish people and can live underwater full time. Also, being a fish person means you’re immortal unless directly killed, which is a pretty sweet deal, kind of. At this point you can close the book because you’ve basically got Innsmouth figured out but let’s stick with the story for funsies. So Obed maintains very lucrative trade with this island for years until one year when he returns to find the island completely destroyed by the neighboring islands, who caught wind of their Shape of Water shenanigans and burned them to the ground. This is bad for Obed since his other trade routes aren’t doing so hot and if he stops raking in the cash, Innsmouth stops prospering, so instead Obed uses some stuff he learned from the fish island people to make contact with some fish people right off the coast of Innsmouth, at Devil’s Reef in fact, and renounces the Christian God to start worshiping Dagon and raking in the fish and gold. Of course this isn’t a unilaterally positive decision, especially due to the string of disappearances required to maintain the fish people deal, and after a while the townspeople revolt and Obed and his cult were arrested. A couple weeks after that however, the fish people erupt out of the harbor and descend on the town, enraged due to the lack of sacrifices. They wipe out over half the town, which is the so-called epidemic from the history books, and Obed takes over and goes full crazy, including leading into the “start banging the fish people” thing. Zadok mentions how Obed took a second wife who is obviously a fish lady, since she was literally never seen in public, and they had three kids together. One of whom looked perfectly normal, was educated in Europe, and then went to live and get married in Arkham. She’s basically the only Innsmouth person to have ever left. Anyway, Obed eventually died, but Old Man Marsh is still kicking and probably only a few years away from a full fishy transformation. Zadok starts getting increasingly manic and tells Robert that the fish people are planning something, and they’ve been bringing stuff out of the water and hiding it in the abandoned old houses. He also namedrops shoggoths, a Lovecraftian staple that are basically big blob monsters
with lots of eyes and mouths. Anyway, then Zadok freaks out because he sees something swimming for shore, orders Robert to get the heck out of town because now they know he knows too much, and then runs screaming into the town and is never seen again. Robert nervously heads back to the bus, but wouldn’t you know it, it’s got sudden engine trouble and Robert has no choice but to stay the night in the Gilman hotel. The Gilman…”Gill man”… (groaning) O-kay… So Robert gets a room, but is too hopped up on adrenaline to get any rest, in part because his door bolt was removed and he spent some time replacing it. Which is good because a few hours into his stay he starts hearing someone trying to get into his room. This is when Robert wisely decides the time has come to get the heck out of Dodge and manages to escape through a window, while an increasing horde of not very human sounding people try to batter down the doors. Robert makes it down to street level and sees a very large crowd of very fishy looking people streaming out of the hotel carrying lanterns, clearly looking for him but with no idea where he went. So he starts trying to Metal Gear his way out of town, and upon realizing they’re going to be blocking off his means of escape, decides to try and follow the abandoned train tracks out of town towards Arkham hoping they won’t be guarded. He imitates the Innsmouth fishy shuffle to avoid attracting attention and manages to make it to the tracks before he has to hide in the undergrowth to avoid a large and very not human procession of fully fishified Innsmouth folk tramping
down the road looking for him. Overwhelmed by the incomprehensibleness of it all, Robert passes out and awakens conveniently
not dead the next morning, at which point he jets over to Arkham, gets cleaned up, and then goes straight to the authorities. What follows is a series of raids on Innsmouth,
including a lot of arrests and at least one torpedo
fired into Devil’s Reef. But while all this is going down, Robert’s not quite done. See, he does a little genealogical research,
and finds out that that one Marsh daughter
who married an Arkham dude was actually his great-grandmother
and he is part fish man. He starts having weird dreams where he communicates with his fish lady grandmother and great-great-grandmother who tell him his destiny is to live with them in luxury under the sea
until the day when they rise up, consume the surface world and worship
the Old Ones when they return. Robert is surprisingly on board with this,
and when he wakes up to discover he’s acquired the trademark Innsmouth look, he decides to do this ASAP and also to break out a cousin of his who was put in a sanatorium four years ago for a disfiguring illness he now understands was just fish puberty. I can’t help but feel like this story would be written very differently in today’s culture of hot fish people. (singing) The seaweed is always greener,
in somebody else’s lake. You dream about going up there,
but that is a big mistake. Just look at the world around you,
right here on the ocean floor! Such wonderful things surround you,
what more are you looking for? Under the sea, under the sea! Darling, it’s better down where it’s wetter,
take it from me! Up on the shore they work all day,
out in the sun they slave away,
while we devotin full time to floatin, under the sea!

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