Monday, June 21, 2010

A Look Into The Mound, by HPL and Zealia Bishop

Impelled by a completist's desire, I tracked down The Mound, a collaboration between H.P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop, one of the few HPL stories I hadn't read (posted on the fun Spacewesterns website). Set in western Oklahoma, The Mound reads like a pastiche of an A. Merritt novel, sandwiched in the middle of a typical Lovecraft story- it starts as an account of an ethnologist seeking out native legends in the vicinity of a mound (which recalls the sĂ­dhe, which open onto the underworld in Irish legend). In his investigations, the ethnologist finds a metal tube, which contains an account by a member of Coronado's expedition, who persuades a native guide to bring him to the entrance to an underground realm. The focus of the tale then shifts to the conquistador, Pamphilo Zamacona, and his adventures in this underworld. This portion of the tale, featuring a "man of action" rather than an academic, reads like a typical Merritt tale, with its theme of a lost race possessing the vestiges of a now poorly-understood "super-science". As is characteristic of most pulp-fiction lost races, the inhabitants of this underworld are bloodthirsty- in this case, their depravity is the result of ennui resulting from immortality, combined with a horror of the inhabitants of the outside world, who are characterized as "evilly connected" slaves of the "space devils" which drove them underground. In true "Merritt-fashion", the protagonist enlists the aid of a smitten noblewoman of the lost race, an element foreign to the bulk of Lovecraft's works (although Ms. Bishop was apparently better known for romantic tales than for weird fiction). After the account of Zamacona's adventures underground, the tale shifts back to the ethnologist, who is compelled to enter the mound, in which he finds corroboration of the conquistador's tale, and barely escapes a horrid end.

The bulk of The Mound is somewhat flat, it is not so much a narrative as a metanarrative- we are reading a story about a man reading a synopsis of an adventure story. Rather than a stirring narrative, The Mound is a travelogue of an imaginary place, inserted into a lesser Lovecraft tale. The tale would have been better served if the framing device had been left out, and the conquistador had been the protagonist (or, perhaps, left out altogether, with the ethnologist playing an exploratory role, rather than reading about another's expedition). It's Lovecraft phoning in a Merritt pastiche for a client who apparently stiffed him- that doesn't sound very promising. That being said, for the true Lovecraft fan, it is worth reading, as it concerns not only the sinister Vaults of Zin, but also locales mentioned in The Whisperer in Darkness:

They’ve been inside the earth, too — there are openings which human beings know nothing of — some of them are in these very Vermont hills — and great worlds of unknown life down there; blue-litten K’n-yan, red-litten Yoth, and black, lightless N'kai.

The story also features a somewhat jarring, totally unexpected characterization of an old friend:

Temples to Great Tulu, a spirit of universal harmony anciently symbolised as the octopus-headed god who had brought all men down from the stars, were the most richly constructed objects in all K’n-yan

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