THE MOON POOL (31)
January 11, 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 Building of the Moon Pool
She paused, running her long fingers through her own bronze-flecked ringlets. Selective breeding this, with a vengeance, I thought; an ancient experiment in heredity which of course would in time result in the stamping out of the tendency to depart from type that lies in all organisms; resulting, obviously, at last, in three fixed forms of black-haired, ruddy-haired, and silver-haired—but this, with a shock of realization it came to me, was also an accurate description of the dark-polled ladala, their fair-haired rulers and of the golden-brown tressed Lakla!
How—questions began to stream through my mind; silenced by the handmaiden’s voice.
“Above, far, far above the abode of the Shining One,” she said, “was their greatest temple, holding the shrines both of sun and moon. All about it were other temples hidden behind mighty walls, each enclosing its own space and squared and ruled and standing within a shallow lake; the sacred city, the city of the gods of this land—”
“It is the Nan-Matal that she is describing,” I thought.
“Out upon all this looked the Taithu who were now but the servants of the Shining One as it had been the messenger of the Three,” she went on. “When they returned the Shining One spoke to them, promising them dominion over all that they had seen, yea, under it dominion of all earth itself and later perhaps of other earths!
“In the Shining One had grown craft, cunning; knowledge to gain that which it desired. Therefore it told its Taithu—and mayhap told them truth—that not yet was it time for them to go forth; that slowly must they pass into that outer world, for they had sprung from heart of earth and even it lacked power to swirl unaided into and through the above. Then it counselled them, instructing them what to do. They hollowed the chamber wherein first I saw you, cutting their way to it that path down which from it you sped.
“It revealed to them that the force that is within moon flame is kin to the force that is within it, for the chamber of its birth was the chamber too of moon birth and into it went the subtle essence and powers that flow in that earth child: and it taught them how to make that which fills what you call the Moon Pool whose opening is close behind its Veil hanging upon the gleaming cliffs.
“When this was done it taught them how to make and how to place the seven lights through which moon flame streams into Moon Pool—the seven lights that are kin to its own seven orbs even as its fires are kin to moon fires—and which would open for it a path that it could tread. And all this the Taithu did, working so secretly that neither those of their race whose faces were set against the Shining One nor the busy men above know aught of it.
“When it was done they moved up the path, clustering within the Moon Pool Chamber. Moon flame streamed through the seven globes, poured down upon the pool; they saw mists arise, embrace, and become one with the moon flame—and then up through Moon Pool, shaping itself within the mists of light, whirling, radiant—the Shining One!
“Almost free, almost loosed upon the world it coveted!
“Again it counselled them, and they pierced the passage whose portal you found first; set the fires within its stones, and revealing themselves to the moon king and his priests spake to them even as the Shining One had instructed.
“Now was the moon king filled with fear when he looked upon the Taithu, shrouded with protecting mists of light in Moon Pool Chamber, and heard their words. Yet, being crafty, he thought of the power that would be his if he heeded and how quickly the strength of the sun king would dwindle. So he and his made a pact with the Shining One’s messengers.
“When next the moon was round and poured its flames down upon Moon Pool, the Taithu gathered there again, watched the child of the Three take shape within the pillars, speed away—and out! They heard a mighty shouting, a tumult of terror, of awe and of worship; a silence; a vast sighing—and they waited, wrapped in their mists of light, for they feared to follow nor were they near the paths that would have enabled them to look without.
“Another tumult—and back came the Shining One, murmuring with joy, pulsing, triumphant, and clasped within its vapours a man and woman, ruddy-haired, golden-eyed, in whose faces rapture and horror lay side by side—gloriously, hideously. And still holding them it danced above the Moon Pool and—sank!
“Now must I be brief. Lat after lat the Shining One went forth, returning with its sacrifices. And stronger after each it grew—and gayer and more cruel. Ever when it passed with its prey toward the pool, the Taithu who watched felt a swift, strong intoxication, a drunkenness of spirit, streaming from it to them. And the Shining One forgot what it had promised them of dominion—and in this new evil delight they too forgot.
“The outer land was torn with hatred and open strife. The moon king and his kind, through the guidance of the evil Taithu and the favour of the Shining One, had become powerful and the sun king and his were darkened. And the moon priests preached that the child of the Three was the moon god itself come to dwell with them.
“Now vast tides arose and when they withdrew they took with them great portions of this country. And the land itself began to sink. Then said the moon king that the moon had called to ocean to destroy because wroth that another than he was worshipped. The people believed and there was slaughter. When it was over there was no more a sun king nor any of the ruddy-haired folk; slain were they, slain down to the babe at breast.
“But still the tides swept higher; still dwindled the land!
“As it shrank multitudes of the fleeing people were led through Moon Pool Chamber and carried here. They were what now are called the ladala, and they were given place and set to work; and they thrived. Came many of the fair-haired; and they were given dwellings. They sat beside the evil Taithu; they became drunk even as they with the dancing of the Shining One; they learned—not all; only a little part but little enough—of their arts. And ever the Shining One danced more gaily out there within the black amphitheatre; grew ever stronger—and ever the hordes of its slaves behind the Veil increased.
“Nor did the Taithu who clung to the old ways check this—they could not. By the sinking of the land above, their own spaces were imperilled. All of their strength and all of their wisdom it took to keep this land from perishing; nor had they help from those others mad for the poison of the Shining One; and they had no time to deal with them nor the earth race with whom they had foregathered.
“At last came a slow, vast flood. It rolled even to the bases of the walled islets of the city of the gods—and within these now were all that were left of my people on earth face.
“I am of those people,” she paused, looking at me proudly, “one of the daughters of the sun king whose seed is still alive in the ladala!”
As Larry opened his mouth to speak she waved a silencing hand.
“This tide did not recede,” she went on. “And after a time the remnant, the moon king leading them, joined those who had already fled below. The rocks became still, the quakings ceased, and now those Ancient Ones who had been labouring could take breath. And anger grew within them as they looked upon the work of their evil kin. Again they sought the Three—and the Three now knew what they had done and their pride was humbled. They would not slay the Shining One themselves, for still they loved it; but they instructed these others how to undo their work; how also they might destroy the evil Taithu were it necessary.
“Armed with the wisdom of the Three they went forth—but now the Shining One was strong indeed. They could not slay it!
“Nay, it knew and was prepared; they could not even pass beyond its Veil nor seal its abode. Ah, strong, strong, mighty of will, full of craft and cunning had the Shining One become. So they turned upon their kind who had gone astray and made them perish, to the last. The Shining One came not to the aid of its servants—though they called; for within its will was the thought that they were of no further use to it; that it would rest awhile and dance with them—who had so little of the power and wisdom of its Taithu and therefore no reins upon it. And while this was happening black-haired and fair-haired ran and hid and were but shaking vessels of terror.
“The Ancient Ones took counsel. This was their decision; that they would go from the gardens before the Silver Waters—leaving, since they could not kill it, the Shining One with its worshippers. They sealed the mouth of the passage that leads to the Moon Pool Chamber and they changed the face of the cliff so that none might tell where it had been. But the passage itself they left open—having foreknowledge I think, of a thing that was to come to pass in the far future—perhaps it was your journey here, my Larry and Goodwin—verily I think so. And they destroyed all the ways save that which we three trod to the Dweller’s abode.
“For the last time they went to the Three—to pass sentence upon them. This was the doom—that here they should remain, alone, among the Akka, served by them, until that time dawned when they would have will to destroy the evil they had created—and even now—loved; nor might they seek death, nor follow their judges until this had come to pass. This was the doom they put upon the Three for the wickedness that had sprung from their pride, and they strengthened it with their arts that it might not be broken.
“Then they passed—to a far land they had chosen where the Shining One could not go, beyond the Black Precipices of Doul, a green land—”
“Ireland!” interrupted Larry, with conviction, “I knew it.”
“Since then time upon time had passed,” she went on, unheeding. “The people called this place Muria after their sunken land and soon they forgot where had been the passage the Taithu had sealed. The moon king became the Voice of the Dweller and always with the Voice is a woman of the moon king’s kin who is its priestess.
“And many have been the journeys upward of the Shining One, through the Moon Pool—returning with still others in its coils.
“And now again has it grown restless, longing for the wider spaces. It has spoken to Yolara and to Lugur even as it did to the dead Taithu, promising them dominion. And it has grown stronger, drawing to itself power to go far on the moon stream where it will. Thus was it able to seize your friend, Goodwin, and Olaf’s wife and babe—and many more. Yolara and Lugur plan to open way to earth face; to depart with their court and under the Shining One grasp the world!
“And this is the tale the Silent Ones bade me tell you—and it is done.”
Breathlessly I had listened to the stupendous epic of a long-lost world. Now I found speech to voice the question ever with me, the thing that lay as close to my heart as did the welfare of Larry, indeed the whole object of my quest—the fate of Throckmartin and those who had passed with him into the Dweller’s lair; yes, and of Olaf’s wife, too.
“Lakla,” I said, “the friend who drew me here and those he loved who went before him—can we not save them?”
“The Three say no, Goodwin.” There was again in her eyes the pity with which she had looked upon Olaf. “The Shining One—feeds—upon the flame of life itself, setting in its place its own fires and its own will. Its slaves are only shells through which it gleams. Death, say the Three, is the best that can come to them; yet will that be a boon great indeed.”
“But they have souls, mavourneen,” Larry said to her. “And they’re alive still—in a way. Anyhow, their souls have not gone from them.”
I caught a hope from his words—sceptic though I am—holding that the existence of soul has never been proved by dependable laboratory methods—for they recalled to me that when I had seen Throckmartin, Edith had been close beside him.
“It was days after his wife was taken, that the Dweller seized Throckmartin,” I cried. “How, if their wills, their life, were indeed gone, how did they find each other mid all that horde? How did they come together in the Dweller’s lair?”
“I do not know,” she answered, slowly. “You say they loved—and it is true that love is stronger even than death!”
“One thing I don’t understand”—this was Larry again—”is why a girl like you keeps coming out of the black-haired crowd; so frequently and one might say, so regularly, Lakla. Aren’t there ever any red-headed boys—and if they are what becomes of them?”
“That, Larry, I cannot answer,” she said, very frankly. “There was a pact of some kind; how made or by whom I know not. But for long the Murians feared the return of the Taithu and greatly they feared the Three. Even the Shining One feared those who had created it—for a time; and not even now is it eager to face them—that I know. Nor are Yolara and Lugur so sure. It may be that the Three commanded it: but how or why I know not. I only know that it is true—for here am I and from where else would I have come?”
“From Ireland,” said Larry O’Keefe, promptly. “And that’s where you’re going. For ’tis no place for a girl like you to have been brought up—Lakla; what with people like frogs, and a half-god three quarters devil, and red oceans, an’ the only Irish things yourself and the Silent Ones up there, bless their hearts. It’s no place for ye, and by the soul of St. Patrick, it’s out of it soon ye’ll be gettin’!”
Larry! Larry! If it had but been true—and I could see Lakla and you beside me now!
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”.