Book Review: The Shadow Over Innsmouth

I finished reading this story while spending the night at a run-down inn in the mountains of New Hampshire. It was dark, the pool was empty and secluded, and the place reeked of not waking up in the morning due to something the guy who wrote Saw would have thought of. Finishing a story meant to terrify probably wasn’t the best idea.

Possibly inspired by his allergy to seafood, The Shadow Over Innsmouth shows how a town’s greed and/or quest for riches can lead to a deal with an underwater devil, which then leads to an interspecies marriage and an ancestor learning too much about his past. Told years after the incident occurred, this first person recount sheds some light on events seemingly covered up by the powers that be. Granted, the narrator is the one who called for the investigation in the first place, taking a trip to his New England family roots as a coming-of-age celebration. A budget-saving decision leads to him learning of Innsmouth, a small, run-down town in Maine that neighboring townies steer clear of. That piques the narrator’s curiosity, and the ensuing visit starts off eccentric and ends in a horror show. What happens next, what I considered the post ending, struck me as very odd, though brought everything full circle and grew on me the more I thought it over. Eventually, everyone needs to accept who they are, both the strengths and horrifying weaknesses.

I specifically chose this story to review, as it was one that Lovecraft didn’t particularly like. He wrote in a letter to friend and publisher, August Derleth, that The Shadow Over Innsmouth includes “all the defects I deplore.” I wanted to read these so-called “defects” that he spoke of for myself. While the flow seemed a bit choppy at times, I still was captivated at every page and fearful at just the right spots. Lovecraft’s words, while outdated, painted a fantastic description of a decaying town. I could feel the foulness of each street jump off the page, and the vision of the hybrid creatures is quite clear.

This story, the only one published on its own in Lovecraft’s lifetime, is pretty readily available. I found it in Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre, a collection that I bought in college that still contains a bookmark receipt from September 1999, and a simple Google search brought up numerous free ebooks and mp3 audio books.

Lovecraft is a local cult figure with a plethora of stories to keep readers frightened enough to keep a battery-operated nightlight handy in case the electricity goes out.  His influence on the horror genre is undeniable, and he is a true Rhode Island inspiration.

Lovecraft’s Influence on the Locals

HP Lovecraft is a famous Rhode Islander, right up there with Roger Williams. While unappreciated during his lifetime, Lovecraft has become a cult figure, complete with pilgrimages to his grave to honor him on the date of his death. His influence is not lost on local artists. I asked each of the following artists one simple question: How has HP Lovecraft influenced your art?

Sean Branney (HP Lovecraft Historical Society): My colleague, Andrew Leman, and I run the HP Lovecraft Historical Society. We’ve made three motion pictures inspired by Lovecraft’s writings, a dozen audio CDs and countless other items, like shirts, props, playing cards and mugs. We have found tremendous joy in the works of Lovecraft and take pleasure in creating works that spread that joy to others. We’ve had the chance to collaborate with great artists and fans around the world and we owe it all to the “old gent of Providence.” The HP Lovecraft Historical Society is located in Los Angeles, CA.

Chris Cox (Author): I got exposed to Lovecraft growing up in England, initially through my youthful obsession with the band Morbid Angel, who use the mythos as a primary topic in their music.

I particularly loved the notion of the cosmic elder gods, asleep and dreaming throughout all eternity, being the source of all creation. And I especially liked that these ancient, sleeping beings don’t really care what we humans are up to. The idea of being absolutely inconsequential was very refreshing.  I also found a lot of romantic power in the idea of entities so great and horrific that getting too close or catching a glimpse led to madness and insanity in the beholder; things too big to wrap our tiny heads around fascinate me no end.  Part of the appeal is that we love challenges, and as a kid, I decided I would definitely be the one who saw Cthulu and lived to tell the tale!

Derek Dubois (Filmmaker): Lovecraft is an interesting figure who has influenced so much of modern horror / weird fiction as we know it. It is, like the Beatles’ influence on everything that came after in pop music, impossible to say there is no connection between my work and Lovecraft’s.

Though I don’t consider myself a horror filmmaker, my last two short films (Fallout (http://vimeo.com/26594772) and Lucid (http://vimeo.com/57335935)) have worked within the genre. As such there is a marked influence from Lovecraft in terms of introducing the weird/science fiction external event (the threats outside the walls in Fallout; the mysterious stranger in Lucid) as well as notions of existential crisis and fate.

That said, in the interest of full disclosure, I’m not much of a Lovecraft reader. His influence on me comes, indirectly, from his descendants (King, Oates, Matheson) and from his shifting of the horror paradigm into what it became at the tail end of the 20th century.

Adrienne Jones (Author): My writing has often been called Lovecraftian, and I’m not sure if it’s simply the presence of oogedy boogedies from the deep or something more. What I’m drawn to about Lovecraft – and I can certainly see this reflected in my own work – is the theme of humanity sticking its hand in the wrong cookie jar. Whether it’s reaching for things beyond our world or delving into our own past, Lovecraft suggests there might be something lurking there we’re not quite prepared for. People think they yearn for something bigger than themselves, yet they can only handle the idea in the form of a benevolent god who loves them and wants to be their kitty. Lovecraft takes the filters off and confronts the logic that what we’re poking sticks at has just as great a chance of being malevolent, and instead of loving us and wanting to be our kitty, it will tear us apart for daring to disturb its slumber.

George T Marshall (Executive Director of Rhode Island International Film Festival): HP Lovecraft’s legacy is significant since his work illustrates the power of imagination and how the art of storytelling can inspire and touch lives. Lovecraft’s work touches a primal core in all of us and links us by shared human experiences.”

Jeff O’Neill (Organizer of Zombie Pub Crawl): HP Lovecraft’s ability to constantly change the definition of who he was and how he was portrayed is an aspiration of The Reverend Al Mighty aka DustyLove aka The Phury aka Jeff O’Neill.

Dave Prata (Hallowed Entertainment): HP Lovecraft’s writing inspires my design work in the haunted attraction industry; of his numerous writings, my favorite and most inspirational is Halloween in a Suburb. It is a true New England Halloween, and a setting I strive to include in my haunt designs.

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