1917 Dagon

(Artwork: Lee Brown Coye, Arkham House, 1965)
Written in July, 1917, published in The Vagrant 1919.11 and then Weird Tales 1923.10 (HPL's 1st story for Weird Tales). This story was written just after "The Tomb".

Opening Statement:
     I am writing this under an appreciable mental strain, since by tonight I shall be no more.
What in Brown Jenkin's Name..?
     In the middle of a large, dried out area of the sea-bed, a lost sailor encounters a gigantic human-aquatic creature worshiping an alien monolith.
     During WWI, a man’s lifeboat becomes stuck in an area of black mire. He assumes that this is the ocean floor, projected to the surface by volcanic activity. After a couple days of walking across the dried out sea-bed he discovers a gigantic white monolith, covered with aquatic hieroglyphs featuring whale-sized mermen. Suddenly, a giant, scaled creature emerges from a nearby channel of water and proceeds to wrap its arms around the monolith in a manner portrayed by the hieroglyphics. The sailor flees and winds up in a hospital. Later, he asks an ethnologist about the legendary fish-god Dagon. Afraid that someday the fish-men will take over the world, the sailor contemplates suicide. As he hears some suspicious, "wet, slippery" noises at his door, he makes for the open window.
From Dr. Armitage's Notes:
     In his second mature short story (after "The Tomb"), Lovecraft already begins to develop a sense of mythological scope, encompassing ancient, long-hidden forces, discovered by lone explorers in stark surroundings. Moving away from the usual contemporaneous horror fare of witches, ghosts, vampires and werewolves, Lovecraft instead leverages mankind's fear of the ancient and the gigantic, as well as the alien (or mutant). 
     This is also his first story to use an adult "official" as its narrative voice, which begins Lovecraft's frequent device of presenting his stories as legal depositions, scientific journal articles, police reports, confessions, messages in bottles and suicide notes. Often these stories open with the narrator proclaiming his earnestness, credentials and competence, and then preemptively confronting the anticipated ridicule and disbelief of the reader by addressing the tale's outlandishness head on. Although this approach sometimes (often) results in a somewhat anti-climactic narrative arc (we know the narrator is still alive, after all), it is another way for Lovecraft to couch his horrific fantasies in an acceptable (credible) presentation.
  • First use of an isolated wilderness as an eerie setting.
  • First "Cyclopean" (gigantic) creature.
  • First "alien" hieroglyphics.
  • Possibly related to Innsmouth amphibians or Cthulhu/R'lyeh?
Weird Tales, Oct. 1923
Essential Saltes:
     When at last I awakened, it was to discover myself half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellish black mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I could see... The region was putrid with the carcasses of decaying fish, and of other less describable things which I saw protruding from the nasty mud of the unending plain.
* * * * * 
     Across the chasm, the wavelets washed the base of the Cyclopean monolith, on whose surface I could now trace both inscriptions and crude sculptures. The writing was in a system of hieroglyphics unknown to me, and unlike anything I had ever seen in books, consisting for the most part of conventionalised aquatic symbols such as fishes, eels, octopi, crustaceans, mollusks, whales and the like...
* * * * *  
     ...(Also visible was) an array of bas-reliefs whose subjects would have excited the envy of a Doré.* I think that these things were supposed to depict men -- at least, a certain sort of men; though the creatures were shown disporting like fishes in the waters of some marine grotto, or paying homage at some monolithic shrine which appeared to be under the waves as well.. they were damnably human in general outline despite webbed hands and feet, shockingly wide and flabby lips, glassy, bulging eyes, and other features less pleasant to recall. Curiously enough, they seemed to have been chiseled badly out of proportion with their scenic background; for one of the creatures was shown in the act of killing a whale represented as but little larger than himself.... 
* * * * * 
     ...With only a slight churning to mark its rise to the surface, the thing slid into view above the dark waters. Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.
The Horrible Conclusion:
     The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!
Read it here.

Follow'd by "Polaris".

* One of Lovecraft's favorite illustrators was Gustave Doré, and Doré's illustrations for "Rime of the Ancient Mariner" had a huge impact on him as a child.
Gustave Doré, "Rime of the Ancient Mariner". Plate 11: The Death-Fires Danced at Night