Merritt's "The Moon Pool" Turns 100

Merritt is certainly great stuff — he has a subtle command of an unique type of strangeness which no one else has been able to parallel.
— H.P. Lovecraft, May 21, 1934

Today marks the centennial of the first publication of A. Merritt's novelette, "The Moon Pool." Such a small thing--only about twenty thousand words--but one that has had an extraordinarily outsized impact in the century since.

Before "The Moon Pool" was published, Merritt had made a bit of a name for himself in the pulp pages of All-Story Magazine with short tales such as "Through the Dragon Glass" and "The People of the Pit." When the readers of All-Story got a hold of the June 22 issue, the reaction was instantaneous and overwhelming, apparently dwarfing the response six years earlier for Burroughs' first tale of Barsoom. All-Story's editor demanded a sequel and Merritt followed up in February 1919 with The Conquest of the Moon Pool, which weighed in at a word-count six times larger than its older sibling. More fan adulation followed and Merritt was well on the road to clinching his title as "Lord of Fantasy" for the next half century.

Therein lies the importance of "The Moon Pool" beyond its literary merits. It launched the career of the most important American fantasist of the early and mid-twentieth century. Merritt went on to influence everyone from Lovecraft to CL Moore to Clark Ashton Smith to Robert E. Howard to... on and on and on. Without the enormous success of "The Moon Pool"--which HPL considered one of the top ten weird tales ever written--Merritt might've simply gone on sending in short stories to the pulps now and then while holding down his lucrative job at The American Weekly and enjoying bourbon with his large circle of friends. "The Moon Pool" changed all of that. We have such seminal novels of American fantasy as The Ship of Ishtar and Dwellers in the Mirage thanks to "The Moon Pool," in my opinion.


The story itself is narrated by one Dr. Walter T. Goodwin, who encounters an old friend and colleague in Papua. The friend, Dr. David Throckmartin, has experienced uncanny and mind-shattering events. He and an expedition--which included his wife--had been exploring the ruins of Nan Matal in the Caroline Islands. Goodwin, who one should never forget is a botanist, describes Nan Matal as a "colossal riddle of humanity, a weird flower of civilization that blossomed ages before the seeds of Egypt were sown; of whose arts we know little and of whose science and secret knowledge of nature nothing." Throckmartin is uncertain regarding the fate of the rest of the expedition. He believes that the "Dweller" whose depredations ended the expedition has marked him and may be stalking him across the Pacific.

I don't want to provide any more spoilers, so I'll leave it at that. If you want to read the original version which appeared in the pages of All-Story, I heartily recommend the Altus Press edition, which publishes "The Moon Pool" and The Conquest of the Moon Pool in their pulp versions in one book for the first time. It's a high-quality book loaded with classic illos by the legendary Virgil Finlay. While Lovecraft considered the original version superior, the version Merritt revised when it and "Conquest" were combined into one novel is still quite good. You can read that in the first five chapters here, on Roy Glashan's excellent website.