"The Moon Pool" Re-Read: Part Two

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Welcome to Part Two of my re-read of A. Merritt's classic and influential novella, "The Moon Pool." In Part One, I posted a brief excerpt from the "Introductory Letter" which prefaced the original publication of "The Moon Pool” in All-Story Weekly. The letter is supposedly from the president of the International Association of Science, explaining why the story was appearing in an American pulp magazine and also thanking A. Merritt--who actually held a fairly prestigious position in the newspaper industry at the time--for arranging the facts into a publishable narrative. The letter also vaguely hints at a vast and nebulous threat emanating from the Pacific island of Ponape, as well as possible extreme measures that might be needed to combat said threat.

We know that H.P. Lovecraft considered "The Moon Pool"--as published in its original form--to be one of the greatest weird tales ever written. The introductory letter, coupled with the eerie tale that followed, seems to have hit him like a bombshell. It is not hard to see why.

In a 1930 letter to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft had this to say:

My own rule is that no weird story can truly produce terror unless it is devised with all the care & verisimilitude of an actual hoax. The author must forget all about ‘short story technique’, and build up a stark, simple account, full of homely corroborative details, just as if he were actually trying to “put across” a deception in real life—a deception clever enough to make adults believe it. My own attitude in writing is always that of the hoax-weaver.

All-Story reportedly received hundreds of letters, many of which it published, demanding to know if Merritt's tale was real. Numerous readers wanted to know how to contact the (fictitious) International Association of Science. Some even stated they wanted to volunteer for any rescue expedition to Ponape.

Lovecraft, a steady reader of All-Story at the time--he had previously written a letter praising the pulp's publication of The Gods of Mars--could not have missed all of the uproar and tumult. Here, indeed, was a master "hoax-weaver" at work. As Robert Silverberg has noted, "The Moon Pool" was written with "a tone of quasi-journalistic clarity." This story, more than any other that we know HPL read up through 1918, provides a model which Lovecraft used quite often thereafter. We certainly see it being followed in "The Call of Cthulhu."

In Lovecraft's signature tale, "The Call of Cthulhu," he  makes the same appeal to (fictitious) authority that Merritt used to such great effect in "The Moon Pool." In the third paragraph, Lovecraft's narrator introduces his "grand-uncle George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island." Professor Angell proceeds to investigate various eldritch happenings, lending the whole affair a veneer of credibility. By the second chapter, the reader finds himself at the 1908 meeting of the Archaeological Society of America, where a New Orleans police inspector and a Professor of Anthropology from Princeton further corroborate the existence of the abhorrent Cthulhu cult. The tale ends with the supernatural threat still ominously potent and the narrator quite likely to come to a bad end--just as we find in "The Moon Pool."

Merritt's "care & verisimilitude" in perpetrating his literary hoax and the resultant belief in it by many readers--until they were told otherwise--finds its echo in Lovecraft. There are numerous articles in print and on the Web doing the necessary task of "debunking" the reality of the Cthulhu Mythos and the Necronomicon. Both hoax-weavers, Merritt and Lovecraft, did their work well.

As always, I recommend the Altus edition of The Moon Pool & The Conquest of the Moon Pool. It reprints the unrevised and unabridged version of "The Moon Pool" exactly as it was published in All-Story.