Beyond the Wall of Sleep is not one of my favorite Lovecraft stories and is definitely the weakest of the ones I’ve reviewed thus far. Like Polaris, this tale concerns what happens when we are dreaming and how the dreaming world and the waking world interact.

The narrator tells us that he works for a “state psychopathic institution” as an intern.  A patient is brought in named Joe Slater.  He is described as

one of those strange, repellent scions of a primitive colonial peasant stock whose isolation… has caused them to sink to a kind of barbaric degeneracy… Among these odd folk, who correspond exactly to the decadent element of “white trash” in the South, law and morals are non-existent; and their general mental status is probably below that of any other section of the native American people.

Joe is described as having “an absurd appearance of harmless stupidity”, is known for sleeping a lot and, upon waking, would often talk and act bizarrely. One morning he murders someone while in this state, “leaving behind an unrecognisable pulp-like thing that had been a living man but an hour before.” He was apprehended and taken to the institution for confinement and treatment.

While there, the narrator witnesses Joe having more of these attacks.

Slater raved for upward of fifteen minutes, babbling in his backwoods dialect of great edifices of light, oceans of space, strange music, and shadowy mountains and valleys. But most of all did he dwell upon some mysterious blazing entity that shook and laughed and mocked at him.

The narrator becomes increasingly fascinated by the case of Joe Slater. He begins to speculate that Slater essentially becomes a different person while he dreams at night and the narrator devises a plan to better understand what is going on. You see, the narrator had previously developed an apparatus to transmit and receive telepathic communications which failed. Undeterred, he retrofits this device to allow him to receive Slater’s dreams.

Of course, the device works as planned and the narrator spends the evening with a “brother of light” who “drew near and held colloquy with me, soul to soul, with silent and perfect interchange of thought.” Once the dream ends, Slater wakes but his voice is now the luminous being of light.  He announces that Slater is essentially dead and that the being must face his foe.

You on earth have unwittingly felt its distant presence – you who without knowing idly gave to its blinking beacon the name of Algol, the Daemon-Star.

Then presence then leaves, Slater is dead and the narrator leaves the scene. The story then ends with a newspaper report of a new star discovered near Algol which briefly grew in brightness and then essentially disappeared.

So what are we to make of this? First, it is difficult to escape the idea that Lovecraft (or at least his narrator) is a prick, demonstrated by the condescending manner in which he describes Joe Slater and other people like him. This would be easier to overlook if the rest of the story did a better job keeping us afloat. It does not.

Aside from the silly, rabbit-pulled-out-of-hat-quality of the telepathy machine, the story is devoid of most of what I look for in a Lovecraft story. There is nothing fearful within, nothing that sticks with me and makes me think “Hmm” hours later. There’s a dream-world with beings who sometime war with each other. A simple mountain man begins to channel one of these beings and a hospital intern becomes aware of the whole thing. That’s it.

There’s nothing really to see here, other than a pretty neat title to the story.  We move along.

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