Into the north window of my chamber glows the Pole Star with uncanny light.  All through the long hellish hours of blackness it shines there… winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey.

These first three Lovecraft stories are all very different from each other, though Polaris leaves the other two behind and goes way out into left field. It is written in a dreamy prose that effectively suits its narrative.

The story is about an unnamed narrator who is suffering from insomnia, caused by the intrusion of the North Star Polaris’ “insane watching eye” into his bedroom.  He lives in a swamp and, try as he might, the light from the star won’t allow him to sleep. He lies there through “the long hellish hours of blackness”, frustrated and despairing.

One night he does finally fall asleep after viewing the light of the Aurora Borealis, followed by clouds which obscure Polaris.

And it was under a horned waning moon that I saw the city for the first time. Still and somnolent did it lie, on a strange plateau in a hollow betwixt strange peaks.

In his dream he views the city and watches the inhabitants rise from slumber, go about their business and then fall asleep again. He awakens but “not as I had been.” He becomes preoccupied with the city and views it several more times during his dreams. It seems so compelling to him that he begins to think that the city is real and his “other life in the house of stone and brick” is the dream.

One night as I listened to the discourse in the large square containing many statues, I felt a change; and perceived that I had at last a bodily form.

That was not the only change for him.  The city was now known to him as Olathoë in the land of Lomar and his friend Alos (“a true man and patriot”) talked about the advance of the Inutos.  These are “squat, hellish, yellow fiends” who have been attacking the civilization of Lomar. Alos speaks to the citizens of Olathoë, preparing them for war with the Inutos.

To me Alos denied a warrior’s part, for I was feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected to stress and hardships.  But my eyes were the keenest in the city…

Alos sends the narrator to the watch-tower with instructions to light a signal fire if the Inutos attempt a surprise attack. Initially determined in his task, he sees the Pole Star “fluttering as if alive, and leering like a fiend and tempter.” He perceives Polaris whispering a mysterious rhyme over and over and he struggles to stay awake.

My head, heavy and reeling, drooped to my breast, and when next I looked up it was in a dream; with the Pole Star grinning at me through a window from over the horrible swaying trees of a dream-swamp. And I am still dreaming.

He feels shame that he has let down his friends and the city of Olathoë yet cannot wake himself from the dream and return to the land of Lomar. He is helpless and trapped.

Polaris is a weird little story with interesting implications.  First, let’s get the necessary evil out of the way. The narrator talks about “squat, hellish, yellow fiends” he calls “Inutos”.  Later in the story he refers their possible descendants as “Esquimaux”. We know that Lovecraft, especially early on, was a bit of a xenophobe and his disdain for the Inuits/Inutos/Eskimos/Esquimaux is a pretty clear example. We can safely say “That’s Racist!” and Polaris unfortunately won’t be the last time we deal with the issue.

Yet we also understand that Lovecraft was a product of his time and his peculiar upbringing. It’s not fair to expect modern understanding about race from someone born late in the 19th century. We don’t give him a pass on the racism. It’s there and we observe it, shake our head and move forward.

Another notable thing about Polaris is the whole idea of what is real and what is a dream. The narrator starts out in our world and dreams of Lomar. Then he falls asleep while in Lomar and believes that his return to our world is a dream he cannot awaken from. He found himself at home in Lomar in ways he never felt in his little cabin in the swamp.

The theme of this story has to be frustration. The narrator begins by explaining that he wants to sleep and is frustrated by Polaris shining in his window. Once he journeys to Lomar, he wants to help with the invasion but is unfit for combat because he is “feeble and given to strange faintings”. He then is given an important job to do and falls asleep, possibly allowing the Inutos to invade. He knows he must be sleeping but cannot wake himself. The little I have read of Lovecraft’s life, the more I think frustration played a major role and certainly some of that bled through into the pages of Polaris.

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