THE MOON POOL (10)
August 25, 2021
HiLoBooks is pleased to serialize A. Merritt’s 1919 proto-sf novel The Moon Pool for HILOBROW’s readers. Often cited as an influence on Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, it was first published in All-Story Weekly (1918–19) as two short stories.
A Lost Page of Earth
When I awakened the sun was streaming through the cabin porthole. Outside a fresh voice lilted. I lay on my two chairs and listened. The song was one with the wholesome sunshine and the breeze blowing stiffly and whipping the curtains. It was Larry O’Keefe at his matins:
The little red lark is shaking his wings,
Straight from the breast of his love he springs
Larry’s voice soared.
His wings and his feathers are sunrise red,
He hails the sun and his golden head,
Good morning, Doc, you are long abed.
This last was a most irreverent interpolation, I well knew. I opened my door. O’Keefe stood outside laughing. The Suwarna, her engines silent, was making fine headway under all sail, the Brunhilda skipping in her wake cheerfully with half her canvas up.
The sea was crisping and dimpling under the wind. Blue and white was the world as far as the eye could reach. Schools of little silvery green flying fish broke through the water rushing on each side of us; flashed for an instant and were gone. Behind us gulls hovered and dipped. The shadow of mystery had retreated far over the rim of this wide awake and beautiful world and if, subconsciously, I knew that somewhere it was brooding and waiting, for a little while at least I was consciously free of its oppression.
“How’s the patient?” asked O’Keefe.
He was answered by Huldricksson himself, who must have risen just as I left the cabin. The Norseman had slipped on a pair of pajamas and, giant torso naked under the sun, he strode out upon us. We all of us looked at him a trifle anxiously. But Olaf’s madness had left him. In his eyes was much sorrow, but the berserk rage was gone.
He spoke straight to me: “You said last night we follow?”
“It is where?” he asked again.
“We go first to Ponape and from there to Metalanim Harbour—to the Nan-Matal. You know the place?”
Huldricksson bowed—a white gleam as of ice showing in his blue eyes.
“It is there?” he asked.
“It is there that we must first search,” I answered.
“Good!” said Olaf Huldricksson. “It is good!”
He looked at Da Costa inquiringly and the little Portuguese, following his thought, answered his unspoken question.
“We should be at Ponape tomorrow morning early, Olaf.”
“Good!” repeated the Norseman. He looked away, his eyes tear-filled.
A restraint fell upon us; the embarrassment all men experience when they feel a great sympathy and a great pity, to neither of which they quite know how to give expression. By silent consent we discussed at breakfast only the most casual topics.
When the meal was over Huldricksson expressed a desire to go aboard the Brunhilda.
The Suwarna hove to and Da Costa and he dropped into the small boat. When they reached the Brunhilda‘s deck I saw Olaf take the wheel and the two fall into earnest talk. I beckoned to O’Keefe and we stretched ourselves out on the bow hatch under cover of the foresail. He lighted a cigarette, took a couple of leisurely puffs, and looked at me expectantly.
“Well?” I asked.
“Well,” said O’Keefe, “suppose you tell me what you think—and then I’ll proceed to point out your scientific errors.” His eyes twinkled mischievously.
“Larry,” I replied, somewhat severely, “you may not know that I have a scientific reputation which, putting aside all modesty, I may say is an enviable one. You used a word last night to which I must interpose serious objection. You more than hinted that I hid—superstitions. Let me inform you, Larry O’Keefe, that I am solely a seeker, observer, analyst, and synthesist of facts. I am not”—and I tried to make my tone as pointed as my words—”I am not a believer in phantoms or spooks, leprechauns, banshees, or ghostly harpers.”
O’Keefe leaned back and shouted with laughter.
“Forgive me, Goodwin,” he gasped. “But if you could have seen yourself solemnly disclaiming the banshee”—another twinkle showed in his eyes—”and then with all this sunshine and this wide-open world”—he shrugged his shoulders—”it’s hard to visualize anything such as you and Huldricksson have described.”
“I know how hard it is, Larry,” I answered. “And don’t think I have any idea that the phenomenon is supernatural in the sense spiritualists and table turners have given that word. I do think it is supernormal; energized by a force unknown to modern science—but that doesn’t mean I think it outside the radius of science.”
“Tell me your theory, Goodwin,” he said. I hesitated—for not yet had I been able to put into form to satisfy myself any explanation of the Dweller.
“I think,” I hazarded finally, “it is possible that some members of that race peopling the ancient continent which we know existed here in the Pacific, have survived. We know that many of these islands are honeycombed with caverns and vast subterranean spaces, literally underground lands running in some cases far out beneath the ocean floor. It is possible that for some reason survivors of this race sought refuge in the abysmal spaces, one of whose entrances is on the islet where Throckmartin’s party met its end.
“As for their persistence in these caverns—we know they possessed a high science. They may have gone far in the mastery of certain universal forms of energy—especially that we call light. They may have developed a civilization and a science far more advanced than ours. What I call the Dweller may be one of the results of this science. Larry—it may well be that this lost race is planning to emerge again upon earth’s surface!”
“And is sending out your Dweller as a messenger, a scientific dove from their Ark?” I chose to overlook the banter in his question.
“Did you ever hear of the Chamats?” I asked him. He shook his head.
“In Papua,” I explained, “there is a wide-spread and immeasurably old tradition that ‘imprisoned under the hills’ is a race of giants who once ruled this region ‘when it stretched from sun to sun before the moon god drew the waters over it’—I quote from the legend. Not only in Papua but throughout Malaysia you find this story. And, so the tradition runs, these people—the Chamats—will one day break through the hills and rule the world; ‘make over the world’ is the literal translation of the constant phrase in the tale. It was Herbert Spencer who pointed out that there is a basis of fact in every myth and legend of man. It is possible that these survivors I am discussing form Spencer’s fact basis for the Malaysian legend.
“This much is sure—the moon door, which is clearly operated by the action of moon rays upon some unknown element or combination and the crystals through which the moon rays pour down upon the pool their prismatic columns, are humanly made mechanisms. So long as they are humanly made, and so long as it is this flood of moonlight from which the Dweller draws its power of materialization, the Dweller itself, if not the product of the human mind, is at least dependent upon the product of the human mind for its appearance.”
“Wait a minute, Goodwin,” interrupted O’Keefe. “Do you mean to say you think that this thing is made of—well—of moonshine?”
“Moonlight,” I replied, “is, of course, reflected sunlight. But the rays which pass back to earth after their impact on the moon’s surface are profoundly changed. The spectroscope shows that they lose practically all the slower vibrations we call red and infra-red, while the extremely rapid vibrations we call the violet and ultra-violet are accelerated and altered. Many scientists hold that there is an unknown element in the moon—perhaps that which makes the gigantic luminous trails that radiate in all directions from the lunar crater Tycho—whose energies are absorbed by and carried on the moon rays.
“At any rate, whether by the loss of the vibrations of the red or by the addition of this mysterious force, the light of the moon becomes something entirely different from mere modified sunlight—just as the addition or subtraction of one other chemical in a compound of several makes the product a substance with entirely different energies and potentialities.
“Now these rays, Larry, are given perhaps still another mysterious activity by the globes through which Throckmartin said they passed in the Chamber of the Moon Pool. The result is the necessary factor in the formation of the Dweller. There would be nothing scientifically improbable in such a process. Kubalski, the great Russian physicist, produced crystalline forms exhibiting every faculty that we call vital by subjecting certain combinations of chemicals to the action of highly concentrated rays of various colours. Something in light and nothing else produced their pseudo-vitality. We do not begin to know how to harness the potentialities of that magnetic vibration of the ether we call light.”
“Listen, Doc,” said Larry earnestly, “I’ll take everything you say about this lost continent, the people who used to live on it, and their caverns, for granted. But by the sword of Brian Boru, you’ll never get me to fall for the idea that a bunch of moonshine can handle a big woman such as you say Throckmartin’s Thora was, nor a two-fisted man such as you say Throckmartin was, nor Huldricksson’s wife—and I’ll bet she was one of those strapping big northern women too—you’ll never get me to believe that any bunch of concentrated moonshine could handle them and take them waltzing off along a moonbeam back to wherever it goes. No, Doc, not on your life, even Tennessee moonshine couldn’t do that—nix!”
“All right, O’Keefe,” I answered, now very much irritated indeed. “What’s your theory?” And I could not resist adding: “Fairies?”
“Professor,” he grinned, “if that Thing’s a fairy it’s Irish and when it sees me it’ll be so glad there’ll be nothing to it. ‘I was lost, strayed, or stolen, Larry avick,’ it’ll say, ‘an’ I was so homesick for the old sod I was desp’rit,’ it’ll say, an’ ‘take me back quick before I do any more har-rm!’ it’ll tell me—an’ that’s the truth.
“Now don’t get me wrong. I believe you all saw something all right. But what I think you saw was some kind of gas. All this region is volcanic and islands and things are constantly poking up from the sea. It’s probably gas; a volcanic emanation; something new to us and that drives you crazy—lots of kinds of gas do that. It hit the Throckmartin party on that island and they probably were all more or less delirious all the time; thought they saw things; talked it over and—collective hallucination—just like the Angels of Mons and other miracles of the war. Somebody sees something that looks like something else. He points it out to the man next him. ‘Do you see it?’ asks he. ‘Sure I see it,’ says the other. And there you are—collective hallucination.
“When your friends got it bad they most likely jumped overboard one by one. Huldricksson sails into a place where it is and it hits his wife. She grabs the child and jumps over. Maybe the moon rays make it luminous! I’ve seen gas on the front under the moon that looked like a thousand whirling dervish devils. Yes, and you could see the devil’s faces in it. And if it got into your lungs nothing could ever make you think you hadn’t seen real devils.”
For a time I was silent.
“Larry,” I said at last, “whether you are right or I am right, I must go to the Nan-Matal. Will you go with me, Larry?”
“Goodwin,” he replied, “I surely will. I’m as interested as you are. If we don’t run across the Dolphin I’ll stick. I’ll leave word at Ponape, to tell them where I am should they come along. If they report me dead for a while there’s nobody to care. So that’s all right. Only old man, be reasonable. You’ve thought over this so long, you’re going bug, honestly you are.”
And again, the gladness that I might have Larry O’Keefe with me, was so great that I forgot to be angry.
 William Beebe, the famous American naturalist and ornithologist, recently fighting in France with America’s air force, called attention to this remarkable belief in an article printed not long ago in the Atlantic Monthly. Still more significant was it that he noted a persistent rumour that the breaking out of the buried race was close.—W.J. B., Pres. I. A. of S.
RADIUM AGE PROTO-SF: “Radium Age” is Josh Glenn’s name for the nascent sf genre’s c. 1900–1935 era, a period which saw the discovery of radioactivity, i.e., the revelation that matter itself is constantly in movement — a fitting metaphor for the first decades of the 20th century, during which old scientific, religious, political, and social certainties were shattered. More info here.
SERIALIZED BY HILOBOOKS: Jack London’s The Scarlet Plague | Rudyard Kipling’s With the Night Mail (and “As Easy as A.B.C.”) | Arthur Conan Doyle’s The Poison Belt | H. Rider Haggard’s When the World Shook | Edward Shanks’ The People of the Ruins | William Hope Hodgson’s The Night Land | J.D. Beresford’s Goslings | E.V. Odle’s The Clockwork Man | Cicely Hamilton’s Theodore Savage | Muriel Jaeger’s The Man With Six Senses | Jack London’s “The Red One” | Philip Francis Nowlan’s Armageddon 2419 A.D. | Homer Eon Flint’s The Devolutionist | W.E.B. DuBois’s “The Comet” | Edgar Rice Burroughs’s The Moon Men | Charlotte Perkins Gilman’s Herland | Sax Rohmer’s “The Zayat Kiss” | Eimar O’Duffy’s King Goshawk and the Birds | Frances Hodgson Burnett’s The Lost Prince | Morley Roberts’s The Fugitives | Helen MacInnes’s The Unconquerable |
Geoffrey Household’s Watcher in the Shadows | William Haggard’s The High Wire | Hammond Innes’s Air Bridge | James Branch Cabell’s Jurgen | John Buchan’s “No Man’s Land” | John Russell’s “The Fourth Man” | E.M. Forster’s “The Machine Stops” | John Buchan’s Huntingtower | Arthur Conan Doyle’s When the World Screamed | Victor Bridges’ A Rogue By Compulsion | Jack London’s The Iron Heel | H. De Vere Stacpoole’s The Man Who Lost Himself | P.G. Wodehouse’s Leave It to Psmith | Richard Connell’s “The Most Dangerous Game” | Houdini and Lovecraft’s “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” | Arthur Conan Doyle’s “The Sussex Vampire” | Francis Stevens’s “Friend Island” | George C. Wallis’s “The Last Days of Earth” | Frank L. Pollock’s “Finis” | A. Merritt’s The Moon Pool | E. Nesbit’s “The Third Drug” | George Allan England’s “The Thing from — ‘Outside'” | Booth Tarkington’s “The Veiled Feminists of Atlantis” | H.G. Wells’s “The Land Ironclads” | J.D. Beresford’s The Hampdenshire Wonder | Valery Bryusov’s “The Republic of the Southern Cross” | Algernon Blackwood’s “A Victim of Higher Space” | A. Merritt’s “The People of the Pit” | Max Brand’s The Untamed | Julian Huxley’s “The Tissue-Culture King” | Clare Winger Harris’s “A Runaway World” | Francis Stevens’s “Thomas Dunbar” | George Gurdjieff’s “Beelzebub’s Tales” | Robert W. Chambers’s “The Harbor-Master” | Mary E. Wilkins Freeman’s “The Hall Bedroom” | Clare Winger Harris’s “The Fifth Dimension” | Francis Stevens’s “Behind the Curtain” | more to come.