Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Temple by H.P. Lovecraft

The Temple
by H.P. Lovecraft

Purporting to be a manuscript found in a bottle on the coast of Yucatan, written by German Naval officer Karl Heinrich during WWI, this Lovecraft tale is a strange one even by his standards. Heinrich and his crew aboard a U-29 submarine sink an enemy vessel and then submerge. When they next break the surface, they find resting atop their sub the corpse of one of that vessel's men, and around his waterlogged neck an ivory medallion of some strange and unknown being. Believing in the old adage of 'to the victors go the spoils', they claim this aged and possibly valuable icon as their own.

This sets off an improbable series of unfortunate events that include motor malfunctions, madness, murder, mutiny and mayhem, concluding with the submarine being trapped at the bottom of the ocean floor, caught in some sort of slipstream that is carrying it to an unknown destination.

At first this may seem like the forefather of that quirky episode of The Brady Bunch where Johnny Bravo finds a cursed tiki idol, but unlike that classic of TV cheddar, this ivory carving is actually pulling them towards its big poppa, an identical but much larger statue in the lost city of--can you believe it?--Atlantis!

By this time, Heinrich is the sole survivor, and as he glances out at this forgotten city, he feels the local temple calling to him. Sensing that the end is near, he scrawls out his story on some convenient stationary, shoves it in a bottle, and sends it to the surface for the benefit of all mankind...or at least all of Germany.

Now, this may sound relatively tame for a piece of so-called "Weird Fiction", and it is...which is precisely why I say that it is strange for a Lovecraft work. Beyond that, there's no real tangible evil here, which has always been a mainstay in the man's work, whether it be an unglimpsed evil or one on full display. The closest hint of a malevolent force at work here is the (likely supernatural) bad luck that befalls the crew, and that was really only the side-effects of Atlantis calling its ivory idol home. Outside sources have claimed that these events seemingly have no cohesion, but viewing it in this manner, I didn't have the same complaints.

Decent enough, but the militaristic narrative gets a little grating.

What say you?


1 comment:

  1. I love the bit where they see the their recently dead peeking in on them through the portholes of the sub. You have to admit, that was pretty creepy.


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