Wednesday, 16 February 2011


“Dagon”, first published in The Vagrant, No 11, November 1919.

This is the first entry in my read-through of Necronomicon: The Best Weird Tales of H P Lovecraft.

I own this book so I thought I might as well use the image, even though it's not the best H P L cover image there's ever been. Still, it captures something of the nightmare quality this story has.

This is quite a short story, with a dreamy ambience, but even so it takes a while for not very much to happen. A sailor's ship is captured by a German gunboat during the War. The sailor escapes on a row boat and drifts for days, before waking up in the middle of a weird landscape that turns out to be the bottom of the sea, risen to the surface.  the sailor explores the island and finds a strange idol carved with scenes of fishy looking men involved in all sorts of wondrous feats.

I have read the story before, but old Lovecraft hands will know what's coming next. Yes, the sailor convinces himself that they are the doodlings of some primeval humanity before he sees one of the fishman creatures coming towards him! He flees, before waking up in a anvy hospital and, on discharge, taking up a career as a morphine addict to try and forget the horror he saw on that island.

Lovecraft based this one of a dream he had, of wandering across the uncanny undersea lanscape, and added the military details when he came to make a story of it. The language seems closer to the late nineteenth century, more like M R James or Arthur Machen than something at the dawn of the jazz age, but when it was first published this tale of a morphine addicted ex-soldier would have seemed like something straight out of the news, the suffering post-traumatic stress disordered vet of their time. The fact he isn't named ( a common Lovecraft device, which I'll come back to eventually) enhances the story's eerie atmosphere.

The last lines of the story are “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!”

An H P Lovecraft Encyclopedia dismisses the idea that this is the return of the monster, saying that “the notion of a hideous creature shambling down the streets of San Francisco is preposterous” and that we're surely to believe that the sailor is suffering a kind of drug withdrawal hallucination.

That did occur to me, too, but perhaps the creature has returned not just to wreak revenge on the the sailor but on the whole of mankind? After all, the narrator tells us in the previous paragraph “I dream of the day when they may rise above the billows to drag down in their reeking talons the remnants of puny war-exhausted mankind.” Perhaps the knowledge of this  early run of  the apocalypse promised by Great Cthulhu himself is what he's been trying to forget in his drugged state!

Next up: "The Statement of Randolph Carter".


  1. It's probably been remarked upon before, but the First World War seems to have had a considerable influence on Lovecraft. As well as "Dagon", the obvious ones are "Herbert West - Re-animator" and "The Temple", but the war also plays a role in "The Rats in the Walls".

  2. Yes, that's an interesting point (I don't think The Temple is in the collection, alas, but Herbert West: Reanimator is coming up soon). More generally, HPL wrote very much about his own times - middle eastern archeaology was in the news, as was polar exploration, eg. He wrote very much of his times, although it gets hidden a bit by his fusty style.

  3. Dagon does seem to be an early appearance of many of HPL's tropes as a writer with non-human creatures, lost cities undersea and strange godlike beings. It is one of the better early stories in my opinion.

  4. Yes, it's kind of surprising how much is there from the start. I've read a few a head of the blog now (in fact, I'm through to "The Nameless City", blog entries shall follow shortly) and while the themes are intact, it's technique which is improving by leaps and bounds.


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