One hundred years ago today, A. Merritt's novella/short novel, "The Conquest of the Moon Pool," was unleashed upon an eager public. The story which spawned it, "The Moon Pool," had been met with such an outpouring of enthusiasm by the readership of All-Story Weekly that the pulp's legendary editor, Robert H. Davis, practically demanded that A. Merritt write a sequel. Seven months later, Merritt delivered the goods.
"The Conquest of the Moon Pool" clocked in at over one hundred and eighteen thousand words, dwarfing its nineteen thousand-word predecessor. Obviously, Merritt had decided to swing for the fences on this one, taking the narrative—as presented in “The Moon Pool”--far beyond Throckmartin and his small group of scientists. By the time the breathless readers had reached the end of Merritt's epic, they had been presented with two non-human races dwelling beneath the earth for eons, warring factions of a human race long-vanished from the Earth's surface, technological marvels, human sacrifice on a monumental scale and the discovery of a source of transcendent power and menace that could decide the fate of nations and--possibly--the world. All of this and two smoking hot women, one a protagonist, the other the antagonist.
What was the reaction to this new tale by Merritt? From all indications, it was possibly even better received than "The Moon Pool" itself. As pulp scholar, Will Murray, puts it in his introduction to the Altus edition, this story is what caused Merritt to "detonate as a supernova star in the early era before the science fiction and fantasy genres came into their own." After its initial six-week run, Merritt revised the two tales, combining them into one "fix-up" novel, which quickly saw two editions published. That novel received good reviews, even from The New York Times Book Review.
That said, H.P. Lovecraft was not nearly as impressed as he was with the original story, "The Moon Pool." I can understand his reasons, but I certainly don't agree with all, or even most, of them. Merritt was simply going for something different with his follow-up. The new direction veered away somewhat from the atmosphere of brooding menace and horror that pervaded the initial story, going instead more towards epic adventure, a sense of wonder and romance.
The story itself is a tour de force of imagination. This was acknowledged at the time and reaffirmed for decades after. In response to those who have called many or most of its elements "cliched", Robert Silverberg once said, "The very cliches out of which innumerable fantasy trilogies are spun today are cliches that Merritt invented." Merritt got there first and he did the job pretty damned well. Suck it, haters.
I'll probably take a further look at "The Conquest of the Moon Pool"--the original pulp version--in the future. While Lovecraft might not have liked the new tone and direction he found in "Conquest," he certainly seems to have liked parts of it well enough to use those concepts in his own work. It is also in "The Conquest of the Moon Pool" where I found compelling evidence that Robert E. Howard likely read some version of it, probably in an edition of the fix-up novel.
In the meantime, I very likely have a couple more "Moon Pool Re-Read" posts in me, so we'll see. As always, I recommend the Altus Press edition which presents the stories exactly as Lovecraft and other pulp SFF fans read them one hundred years ago.