THE MOON POOL (30)
January 7, 2022
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.
The Shaping of the Shining One
We reached what I knew to be Lakla’s own boudoir, if I may so call it. Smaller than any of the other chambers of the domed castle in which we had been, its intimacy was revealed not only by its faint fragrance but by its high mirrors of polished silver and various oddly wrought articles of the feminine toilet that lay here and there; things I afterward knew to be the work of the artisans of the Akka—and no mean metal workers were they. One of the window slits dropped almost to the floor, and at its base was a wide, comfortably cushioned seat commanding a view of the bridge and of the cavern ledge. To this the handmaiden beckoned us; sank upon it, drew Larry down beside her and motioned me to sit close to him.
“Now this,” she said, “is what the Silent Ones have commanded me to tell you two: To you Larry, that knowing you may weigh all things in your mind and answer as your spirit bids you a question that the Three will ask—and what that is I know not,” she murmured, “and I, they say, must answer, too—and it—frightens me!”
The great golden eyes widened; darkened with dread; she sighed, shook her head impatiently.
“Not like us, and never like us,” she spoke low, wonderingly, “the Silent Ones say were they. Nor were those from which they sprang like those from which we have come. Ancient, ancient beyond thought are the Taithu, the race of the Silent Ones. Far, far below this place where now we sit, close to earth heart itself were they born; and there they dwelt for time upon time, laya upon laya upon laya—with others, not like them, some of which have vanished time upon time agone, others that still dwell—below—in their—cradle.
“It is hard”—she hesitated—”hard to tell this—that slips through my mind—because I know so little that even as the Three told it to me it passed from me for lack of place to stand upon,” she went on, quaintly. “Something there was of time when earth and sun were but cold mists in the—the heavens—something of these mists drawing together, whirling, whirling, faster and faster—drawing as they whirled more and more of the mists—growing larger, growing warm—forming at last into the globes they are, with others spinning around the sun—something of regions within this globe where vast fire was prisoned and bursting forth tore and rent the young orb—of one such bursting forth that sent what you call moon flying out to company us and left behind those spaces whence we now dwell—and of—of life particles that here and there below grew into the race of the Silent Ones, and those others—but not the Akka which, like you, they say came from above—and all this I do not understand—do you, Goodwin?” she appealed to me.
I nodded—for what she had related so fragmentarily was in reality an excellent approach to the Chamberlain-Moulton theory of a coalescing nebula contracting into the sun and its planets.
Astonishing was the recognition of this theory. Even more so was the reference to the life particles, the idea of Arrhenius, the great Swede, of life starting on earth through the dropping of minute, life spores, propelled through space by the driving power of light and, encountering favourable environment here, developing through the vast ages into man and every other living thing we know.
Nor was it incredible that in the ancient nebula that was the matrix of our solar system similar, or rather dissimilar, particles in all but the subtle essence we call life, might have become entangled and, resisting every cataclysm as they had resisted the absolute zero of outer space, found in these caverned spaces their proper environment to develop into the race of the Silent Ones and—only they could tell what else!
“They say,” the handmaiden’s voice was surer, “they say that in their—cradle—near earth’s heart they grew; grew untroubled by the turmoil and disorder which flayed the surface of this globe. And they say it was a place of light and that strength came to them from earth heart—strength greater than you and those from which you sprang ever derived from sun.
“At last, ancient, ancient beyond all thought, they say again, was this time—they began to know, to—to—realize—themselves. And wisdom came ever more swiftly. Up from their cradle, because they did not wish to dwell longer with those—others—they came and found this place.
“When all the face of earth was covered with waters in which lived only tiny, hungry things that knew naught save hunger and its satisfaction, they had attained wisdom that enabled them to make paths such as we have just travelled and to look out upon those waters! And laya upon laya thereafter, time upon time, they went upon the paths and watched the flood recede; saw great bare flats of steaming ooze appear on which crawled and splashed larger things which had grown from the tiny hungry ones; watched the flats rise higher and higher and green life begin to clothe them; saw mountains uplift and vanish.
“Ever the green life waxed and the things which crept and crawled grew greater and took ever different forms; until at last came a time when the steaming mists lightened and the things which had begun as little more than tiny hungry mouths were huge and monstrous, so huge that the tallest of my Akka would not have reached the knee of the smallest of them.
“But in none of these, in none, was there—realization—of themselves, say the Three; naught but hunger driving, always driving them to still its crying.
“So for time upon time the race of the Silent Ones took the paths no more, placing aside the half-thought that they had of making their way to earth face even as they had made their way from beside earth heart. They turned wholly to the seeking of wisdom—and after other time on time they attained that which killed even the faintest shadow of the half-thought. For they crept far within the mysteries of life and death, they mastered the illusion of space, they lifted the veils of creation and of its twin destruction, and they stripped the covering from the flaming jewel of truth—but when they had crept within those mysteries they bid me tell you, Goodwin, they found ever other mysteries veiling the way; and after they had uncovered the jewel of truth they found it to be a gem of infinite facets and therefore not wholly to be read before eternity’s unthinkable end!
“And for this they were glad—because now throughout eternity might they and theirs pursue knowledge over ways illimitable.
“They conquered light—light that sprang at their bidding from the nothingness that gives birth to all things and in which lie all things that are, have been and shall be; light that streamed through their bodies cleansing them of all dross; light that was food and drink; light that carried their vision afar or bore to them images out of space opening many windows through which they gazed down upon life on thousands upon thousands of the rushing worlds; light that was the flame of life itself and in which they bathed, ever renewing their own. They set radiant lamps within the stones, and of black light they wove the sheltering shadows and the shadows that slay.
“Arose from this people those Three—the Silent Ones. They led them all in wisdom so that in the Three grew—pride. And the Three built them this place in which we sit and set the Portal in its place and withdrew from their kind to go alone into the mysteries and to map alone the facets of Truth Jewel.
“Then there came the ancestors of the—Akka; not as they are now, and glowing but faintly within them the spark of—self-realization. And the Taithu seeing this spark did not slay them. But they took the ancient, long untrodden paths and looked forth once more upon earth face. Now on the land were vast forests and a chaos of green life. On the shores things scaled and fanged, fought and devoured each other, and in the green life moved bodies great and small that slew and ran from those that would slay.
“They searched for the passage through which the Akka had come and closed it. Then the Three took them and brought them here; and taught them and blew upon the spark until it burned ever stronger and in time they became much as they are now—my Akka.
“The Three took counsel after this and said—’We have strengthened life in these until it has become articulate; shall we not create life?'” Again she hesitated, her eyes rapt, dreaming. “The Three are speaking,” she murmured. “They have my tongue—”
And certainly, with an ease and rapidity as though she were but a voice through which minds far more facile, more powerful poured their thoughts, she spoke.
“Yea,” the golden voice was vibrant. “We said that what we would create should be of the spirit of life itself, speaking to us with the tongues of the far-flung stars, of the winds, of the waters, and of all upon and within these. Upon that universal matrix of matter, that mother of all things that you name the ether, we laboured. Think not that her wondrous fertility is limited by what ye see on earth or what has been on earth from its beginning. Infinite, infinite are the forms the mother bears and countless are the energies that are part of her.
“By our wisdom we had fashioned many windows out of our abode and through them we stared into the faces of myriads of worlds, and upon them all were the children of ether even as the worlds themselves were her children.
“Watching we learned, and learning we formed that ye term the Dweller, which those without name—the Shining One. Within the Universal Mother we shaped it, to be a voice to tell us her secrets, a lamp to go before us lighting the mysteries. Out of the ether we fashioned it, giving it the soul of light that still ye know not nor perhaps ever may know, and with the essence of life that ye saw blossoming deep in the abyss and that is the pulse of earth heart we filled it. And we wrought with pain and with love, with yearning and with scorching pride and from our travail came the Shining One—our child!
“There is an energy beyond and above ether, a purposeful, sentient force that laps like an ocean the furthest-flung star, that transfuses all that ether bears, that sees and speaks and feels in us and in you, that is incorporate in beast and bird and reptile, in tree and grass and all living things, that sleeps in rock and stone, that finds sparkling tongue in jewel and star and in all dwellers within the firmament. And this ye call consciousness!
“We crowned the Shining One with the seven orbs of light which are the channels between it and the sentience we sought to make articulate, the portals through which flow its currents and so flowing, become choate, vocal, self-realizant within our child.
“But as we shaped, there passed some of the essence of our pride; in giving will we had given power, perforce, to exercise that will for good or for evil, to speak or to be silent, to tell us what we wished of that which poured into it through the seven orbs or to withhold that knowledge itself; and in forging it from the immortal energies we had endowed it with their indifference; open to all consciousness it held within it the pole of utter joy and the pole of utter woe with all the arc that lies between; all the ecstasies of the countless worlds and suns and all their sorrows; all that ye symbolize as gods and all ye symbolize as devils—not negativing each other, for there is no such thing as negation, but holding them together, balancing them, encompassing them, pole upon pole!”
So this was the explanation of the entwined emotions of joy and terror that had changed so appallingly Throckmartin’s face and the faces of all the Dweller’s slaves!
The handmaiden’s eyes grew bright, alert, again; the brooding passed from her face; the golden voice that had been so deep found its own familiar pitch.
“I listened while the Three spoke to you,” she said. “Now the shaping of the Shining One had been a long, long travail and time had flown over the outer world laya upon laya. For a space the Shining One was content to dwell here; to be fed with the foods of light: to open the eyes of the Three to mystery upon mystery and to read for them facet after facet of the gem of truth. Yet as the tides of consciousness flowed through it they left behind shadowings and echoes of their burdens; and the Shining One grew stronger, always stronger of itself within itself. Its will strengthened and now not always was it the will of the Three; and the pride that was woven in the making of it waxed, while the love for them that its creators had set within it waned.
“Not ignorant were the Taithu of the work of the Three. First there were a few, then more and more who coveted the Shining One and who would have had the Three share with them the knowledge it drew in for them. But the Silent Ones in their pride, would not.
“There came a time when its will was now all its own, and it rebelled, turning its gaze to the wider spaces beyond the Portal, offering itself to the many there who would serve it; tiring of the Three, their control and their abode.
“Now the Shining One has its limitations, even as we. Over water it can pass, through air and through fire; but pass it cannot, through rock or metal. So it sent a message—how I know not—to the Taithu who desired it, whispering to them the secret of the Portal. And when the time was ripe they opened the Portal and the Shining One passed through it to them; nor would it return to the Three though they commanded, and when they would have forced it they found that it had hived and hidden a knowledge that they could not overcome.
“Yet by their arts the Three could have shattered the seven shining orbs; but they would not because—they loved, it!
“Those to whom it had gone built for it that place I have shown you, and they bowed to it and drew wisdom from it. And ever they turned more and more from the ways in which the Taithu had walked—for it seemed that which came to the Shining One through the seven orbs had less and less of good and more and more of the power you call evil. Knowledge it gave and understanding, yes; but not that which, clear and serene, lights the paths of right wisdom; rather were they flares pointing the dark roads that lead to—to the ultimate evil!
“Not all of the race of the Three followed the counsel of the Shining One. There were many, many, who would have none of it nor of its power. So were the Taithu split; and to this place where there had been none, came hatred, fear and suspicion. Those who pursued the ancient ways went to the Three and pleaded with them to destroy their work—and they would not, for still they loved it.
“Stronger grew the Dweller and less and less did it lay before its worshippers—for now so they had become—the fruits of its knowledge; and it grew—restless—turning its gaze upon earth face even as it had turned it from the Three. It whispered to the Taithu to take again the paths and look out upon the world. Lo! above them was a great fertile land on which dwelt an unfamiliar race, skilled in arts, seeking and finding wisdom—mankind! Mighty builders were they; vast were their cities and huge their temples of stone.
“They called their lands Muria and they worshipped a god Thanaroa whom they imagined to be the maker of all things, dwelling far away. They worshipped as closer gods, not indifferent but to be prayed to and to be propitiated, the moon and the sun. Two kings they had, each with his council and his court. One was high priest to the moon and the other high priest to the sun.
“The mass of this people were black-haired, but the sun king and his nobles were ruddy with hair like mine; and the moon king and his followers were like Yolara—or Lugur. And this, the Three say, Goodwin, came about because for time upon time the law had been that whenever a ruddy-haired or ashen-tressed child was born of the black-haired it became dedicated at once to either sun god or moon god, later wedding and bearing children only to their own kind. Until at last from the black-haired came no more of the light-locked ones, but the ruddy ones, being stronger, still arose from them.”
 Professor Svante August Arrhenius, in his Worlds in the Making—the conception that life is universally diffused, constantly emitted from all habitable worlds in the form of spores which traverse space for years and ages, the majority being ultimately destroyed by the heat of some blazing star, but some few finding a resting-place on globes which have reached the habitable stage.—W. T. G.
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”