The Doom that Came to Sarnath was written in 1919 and published in 1920 in an amateur fiction magazine. It is a pretty cool story with one significant downside which we’ll talk about in a bit. Unlike many of the stories we have covered so far, The Doom that Came to Sarnathis not written in first-person perspective.

There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no stream and out of which no stream flows. Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shore the mighty city of Sarnath, but Sarnath stands there no more.

Apparently there was another city that stood by the lake, many aeons before Sarnath. This city was called Ib “which was as old as the lake itself, and peopled with beings not pleasing to behold.” These inhabitants were green-skinned with bulging eyes and they worshipped a stone idol of their god Bokrug, before which they “danced horribly” under the moon.

Humans eventually arrived, building cities of their own including Sarnath, near the city of Ib. The humans disliked the residents of Ib so they went to war against them and slaughtered them. They pushed their bodies into the lake and cast down their monoliths. The only thing they left was the stone idol of Bokrug, the water-lizard. They brought this back to Sarnath as a trophy and set it up in their temple. That night the lake glowed with a weird light and the next morning the idol was gone and the high priest of Sarnath was found dead “as from some fear unspeakable.” Before he died he scrawled upon the altar the “sign of DOOM.” Apparently capital letters are important when someone is pronouncing DOOM on you!

There now follows several long paragraphs that talk about how amazing the city of Sarnath became in its heyday. These paragraphs open with lines such as The wonder of the world and the pride of all mankind was Sarnath… or But more marvellous still were… or Lofty and amazing were… or Wonderful likewise were… In short, Sarnath was freaking awesome and if you don’t believe me, go ask Lovecraft and he will explain it to you in excruciating detail. There’s really no plot developing here, just pages of descriptive text that bring the story to a halt. It’s really the only flaw, albeit a major one, in a story that is otherwise wonderful, lofty amazing and marvellous.

And a thousand years of riches and delight passed over Sarnath, wonder of the world and pride of all mankind.

To celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the destruction of Ib a great feast was held. It had been planned for a decade and everyone was invited. Ominously, the night of the feast the high priest saw shadows descend to the lake from the moon. Green mists came from the lake and covered Sarnath. Then near midnight everyone fled the city, running in fear from “a horde of indescribable green voiceless things with bulging eyes, pouting flabby lips, and curious ears; things which danced horribly.” I’m trying to imagine everyone running from these green-skinned horrible battle-dancers. DOOM indeed.

And that’s it. Sarnath was DOOMED a thousand years after its great crime. All traces of the city were gone, leaving only the swamp and the long-missing idol of Bokrug, the great water-lizard.

On the whole, it is a fantastic story. Obviously the pages describing the awesomeness of Sarnath could have been excised and would have left a much better and more concise story. But the concept of slow but total vengeance is appealing. I found myself rooting for the green-skinned dancers and was glad they came back to topple Sarnath.

The thing that really sticks with me from the story is an almost throwaway line that occurs early on. Describing the green dancers, Lovecraft writes “not much is written of these beings, because they lived in very ancient times, and man is young and knows little of the very ancient living things.” That seems to encapsulate one of Lovecraft’s main themes: There are certain things that happened long before humanity ever lived. Creatures roamed the earth, cities existed and strange and powerful beings were worshipped – all predate our history and awareness. We can sometimes find traces, hints of what was and what may still be out there, buried. But it might be best to turn away lest we risk DOOM much like Sarnath.

The White Ship was written by Lovecraft in 1919. It has a different feel to it: a dreamy, rambling tone that reminds me of Polaris.

The narrator is Basil Elton “keeper of the North Point light that my father and grandfather kept before me.” Basil is fascinated by the ocean and by the stories he imagines it could tell, “the secret lore of ocean.” He watches the sea night after night, trying to catch a glimpse of objects far in the distance or deep beneath the surface.

Out of the South it was that the White Ship used to come when the moon was full and high in the heavens. Out of the South it would glide very smoothly and silently over the sea. And whether the sea was rough or calm, and whether the wind was friendly or adverse, it would always glide smoothly and silently, its sails distant and its long strange tiers of oars moving rhythmically.

He spots the captain of the White Ship, a bearded and robed man who beckons to him and one night he crosses to the ship on a “bridge of moonbeams.” Together they journey into the mysterious South.

They visit many strange places and they are all described with lovely, poetic language. At the end of their sea voyage they come to a waterfall “wherein the oceans of the world drop down to abysmal nothingness.” As the ship begins to plummet over the edge Basil closes his eyes, bracing himself for the inevitable crash.

He then opens his eyes to the sound of the crash and realizes he is standing on the platform of his lighthouse. The light has gone out while he was on his (dream?) journey. A ship has crashed on the rocks and when he examines the wreckage he is saddened to discover it may have been the White Ship that crashed.

And thereafter the ocean told me its secrets no more; and though many times since has the moon shone full and high in the heavens, the White Ship from the South came never again.

The White Ship reminds me a lot of Polaris in that it features a protagonist who journeys far away to a dreamlike land yet winds up failing at the job he has been given. In The White Ship the job was in the “real” world and his failure resulted in a shipwreck. In Polaris the narrator was given a job in the “dream” world but couldn’t complete it because he was pulled back to the “real” world.

There’s a definite theme here and it is tempting to speculate about Lovecraft’s psychological make-up based on some of the stories he has written. Without going too far out on the limb, I think we can say that frustration was a definite part of the lens through which he viewed the world.

Today’s entry is The Transition of Juan Romero which was written in 1919. It was never published in Lovecraft’s lifetime as he apparently was unhappy with the story.

Of the events which took place at the Norton Mine on October 18th and 19th, 1894, I have no desire to speak… But I believe that before I die I should tell what I know of the – shall I say transition – of Juan Romero.

The unnamed narrator speaks of having served at one time in India and of having “delved not a little into odd Eastern lore” in his past. He eventually wound up in the American West, employed as a laborer at a gold mine. While there, he made the acquaintance of Juan Romero who became fascinated with the narrator’s “quaint and ancient Hindoo ring,” which was adorned with hieroglyphs. Their friendship was only hampered by the language barrier between them.

The mine was expanded by the detonation of dynamite which revealed that “a new abyss yawned indefinitely below the seat of the blast; an abyss so monstrous that no handy line might fathom it, nor any lame illuminate it.” This scared some of the workmen who refused to enter the chasm so no work was completed that evening. Late that night Romero awakened, agitated, and telling the narrator about the sound he was hearing. The narrator gradually began to hear it as well.

Deep, deep, below me was a sound – a rhythm, just as the peon had said – which, though exceedingly faint, yet dominated even the dog, the coyote, and the increasing tempest. To seek to describe it were useless – for it was such that no description is possible… Of all its qualities, remoteness in the earth most impressed me.

The narrator and Romero then begin involuntarily moving toward the mine, drawn by the sound. As they go deeper in the mine, the narrator’s ring begins to glow and lights his way. Romero runs ahead and gets swallowed up by the abyss. The narrator looks over the edge.

At first I beheld nothing but a seething blur of luminosity; but then shapes all infinitely distant, began to detach themselves from the confusion, and I saw – was it Juan Romero? – but God! I dare not tell you what I saw!… Some power from heaven, coming to my aid, obliterated both sights and sounds in such a crash as may be heard when two universes collide in space. Chaos supervened, and I knew the peace of oblivion.

The narrator awakens in his bunk, safe and sound. Juan Romero lies next to him on a table, apparently having died while he slept. Neither man had been observed leaving the cabin during the night. The storm caused the mine to cave in, closing the abyss. And the narrator’s “Hindoo ring” was missing. The end.

It is definitely not one of Lovecraft’s top-tier stories and I can understand why he shelved it. What would have made it more interesting is having the narrator actually describe something… you know… relevant. He starts the story by saying he has no desire to speak. He then spends the entire story relating details which aren’t all that important to the story. Then when he gets to the pit and looks down he sees something. What is it? What does it mean. I dare not tell you what I saw! Take that! Whatever it was, it is important enough to relate the tale before he dies but not important enough to actually describe in any sort of meaningful detail.

Lovecraft’s teasing aside, it does contain seeds of other themes which he later develops in detail. Juan Romero is not a particularly scary story and might have been better off left on the shelf.

Quick looks at two stories today. Neither is a typical Lovecraft tale yet both have their merits.

First up is Memory which was written in 1919. There’s… just not much to this story. He paints a poetic picture of a nature setting juxtaposed with ancient ruins and this description takes up most of the story. It’s lovely and dreamlike in its prose. The two characters are the Daemon of the Valley who has a conversation with the Genie “that haunts the moonbeams”. The Genie wonders who built the ruins and the Daemon replies that it was creatures “like to that of the little apes in the trees… These beings of yesterday were called Man.”

And that’s it. Memory is a nice story but there’s not much to it. One thing I do appreciate is that it is short. Many of Lovecraft’s stories rely on a “Holy crap!” twist at the end and this one is no exception. Sometimes it is nice to get right to the point. Go ahead and read Memory. It’ll take about 2 minutes if you take your time.

Old Bugs was also written in 1919 and is a horse of a different color. It is a type of morality tale about the evils of alcohol. It tells of a bar and a young man who comes to take his first drink. In the bar is a strange man, an alcoholic named Old Bugs and when the young man is served liquor, Old Bugs takes a mop and knocks the alcohol to the floor where it spills.

Numbers of men, or things which had been men, dropped to the floor and began lapping at the puddles of spilled liquor, but most remained immovable, watching the unprecedented actions of the barroom drudge and derelict. Old Bugs straightened up before the astonished Trever, and in a mild and cultivated voice said, “Do not do this thing. I was like you once, and I did it. Now I am like – this.”

Then Old Bugs goes crazy and throws a fit and drops to the floor, dead. In his possession is a picture which the young man examines and discovers that “the gentle and noble features were those of his own mother.”

The moral of the story: drinkin’ will ruin yer life, son. Old Bugs is an amusing story but doesn’t have much to recommend it other than as a stepping-stone on the way to bigger and brighter stories to come.

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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