Just Read: “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” by H.P. Lovecraft

Horror, MFA, Reading, SHU


So here is my first introduction to something associated with the Cthulhu mythos. Granted, it’s a subtle reference, but it’s there. I think Lovecraft had a thing for marine organisms. Really big, ugly marine organisms.

Anyway, as I read Lovecraft, I’m enjoying subsequent stories better than previous ones. This is the first I’ve read where the narrator is a direct participant in the horrific events that happen. This really makes a difference. I still think there’s entirely too much telling and not enough showing, but it would be a novel if it went by modern strictures, rather than a short story.

Setting is still a character in this story. Indeed, Lovecraft seems on top of his game in bringing out the complete creepiness of the town of Innsmouth. The dilapidation of the town can be seen clearly in the descriptions. An interesting tactic that I think was a bit overdone was Lovecraft’s attribution of “fish” properties to things. A fishy odor is one thing, but he tended to drop fish or water references for lots of descriptions, regardless of whether it was an odor, something visual or even something aural. It was okay for awhile, but soon it became silly to attribute a fishy look to some inanimate object.

The ending I found interesting. Once it became clear that the narrator was one of the Innmouth people, I didn’t need Lovecraft to point out the things in the story that supported this conclusion (the Marsh woman who married the man by trickery, etc). I remembered those things. So having them told to me undermined the “ah ha!” moment I was having. I found this disappointing.

The ending also calls to mind the narrator’s flight from Innsmouth. He was never caught, so the reader is left to wonder: were the Innsmouth people chasing him to kill him, as he assumed, or were they chasing him because they recognized him as one of their own? That’s a question that won’t be answered, but I still find it intriguing. How would things have been different had be been captured before escaping? Would they have been able to convince him of his heritage? Would he have, instead, gone mad? Would they have kept him against his will? It leads to some interesting questions.

Overall, I like this story better than the others. The narrator is the protagonist, which I tend to prefer. Also, there’s more of a balance between setting and character in this story that is lacking in the previous stories. This really works, I think, because Lovecraft really was a setting mastermind, but when it’s all setting, I find the story itself to be lacking. Having a balance is ideal. Again, I would have liked a lot more action and dialogue rather than so much exposition (even the dialogue was exposition!), but on the whole, I didn’t hate it. 🙂

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  • Reply
    March 11, 2010 at 6:21 am

    Hah! I so agree with the overuse of the fishy references. After a while, they pulled me out of the story – I kept laughing when I hit some of the more unusual ones.

    But we’re in agreement on the setting here being fully realized – Innsmouth is a creepy, yet somewhat familiar place. I think because everyone knows of a town kinda like it – one in which the jobs have dried up and the inhabitants become insular. Decrepit steel towns in the north, old paper mill towns in the south. Lovecraft is writing about what is familiar to him, yet it rings true (I think) across the country, with geographical differences.


  • Reply
    March 11, 2010 at 2:35 pm

    I think it’s more fun to read this as "they wanted to grab him because he is one of their own" instead of because he knew too much. Then you start to wonder what they would do to him if they caught him…

  • Reply
    March 12, 2010 at 11:01 pm

    I agree with all of the fish references too. If I recall there was even a street named Fish street. I wonder, and this is just speculation, since this story is so long if it was originally published in installments. This would explain the need to rehash all of the content in the end.

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    Swea Nightingale
    March 13, 2010 at 7:47 pm

    Yes, I agree to with all those "fish" references. We all know what it smells like, feels like, looks like. He tapped into an immediate response from his reader with the fish thing. (And mostly it’s a ewhh thing or ick.) Now I also know what the reference to the "fishy smell" of the two servants in "The Thing on the Doorstep" referred to as well.

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