Saturday, August 06, 2011

Mammoth Book of Fantasy (Cont.):The Platypus Reads Part CXXII

The Moon Pool by A. Merritt

Evidently, A. Merritt was popular at the turn of the century and then promptly disappeared from the public mind.  However, one can see strong similarities between his work and more well known contemporaries H. Rider Haggard and H.P. Lovecraft.  There's quite a bit of similarity in tone and plot to Lovecraft's "At the Mountains of Madness."  That said, Merritt's inclusion of women as major characters keeps him from simply being "Lovecraft before Lovecraft" and places him in with Haggard in terms of sensibilities.  All that to say that if you like either of the other two authors, it's worth giving Abraham Merritt a try.

The plot of "The Moon Pool" falls into the "lost world" genre, and narrates the quest of Dr. Throckmartin and company to uncover a lost Pacific civilization in the doctor's own words.  As a clever Platonic move, Dr. Throckmartin himself is not our narrator, but his friend Mr. Goodwin, thus placing us a two removes from the events of the story.  At the point at which Goodwin  begins his narration, Dr. Throckmartin has lost his fellows and is mentally disturbed.  The two friends meet on a boat traveling to Melbourne.  When Goodwin witnesses a mysterious being traveling by moonlight to trouble Dr. Throckmartin, Throckmartin decides to tell Goodwin his tale and plead for help.  As it turns out, Throckmartin claims to have discovered evidence of an incredibly ancient and incredibly advanced society having once lived in the far reaches of the Pacific ocean.  Predictably, the locals are all terrified of the ruins and it takes quite a bit of money to induce any to come and help in the excavations.  In the end, several of the natives agree on the condition that they be released from the dig every full moon.  The reason for this becomes clear at the full moo when mysterious music comes from the ruins and Thora, Dr. Throckmartin's wife's friend, has a fit of temporary insanity.  Convinced that the natives are behind the music and withholding some secret ritual or knowledge from the party, the explorers decide to hide out among the ruins at the next full moon.  When the time comes, the party finds a mysterious door charged with unexplainable energy.  When the full moon strikes it, the music begins and all but one who hear it are struck with sleep or immobility.  The one of the company who is not is carried away by mysterious lights.  One, by one, the company is carried off until only Throckmartin and his wife, Edith, remain.  Deciding to be proactive, the couple waits by the door and the doctor rushes in as the moonlight opens it.  He descends to a strange pool which seems to be the source of the light and music.  Out of its depths comes a strange apparition that Throckmartin attempts to combat.  The noise of the conflict brings Edith down from the door and she is caught and dragged into the water by the creature.  Throckmartin wanders mad for days until he is picked up by fishermen.  He tells Goodwin that he is now attempting to put together a rescue for his friends, who he believes to be kept alive by the creature, and enlists Goodwin.  Before they can carry out their plans, the light and music return and Dr. Throckmartin is carried off.

"The Moon Pearl" is a caution against scientific arrogance and the corresponding refusal to acknowledge the supernatural.  Throckmartin and his company all meet their end through a dogmatic unwillingness to acknowledge that there may be some things science cannot bend to the human will.  In this aspect, "The Moon Pearl" can also be seen as the ancestor of works like "Jurassic Park."  It also bear comparison to earlier works such as Bram Stoker's "Dracula" or Mary Shelley's "Frankenstein."  Cautions against scientific arrogance abound in Western literature, but they seem to serve more as outlets for our fears than actual breaks or checks on the scientific enterprise, but whether you're seeking a morality play or just a gripping read, A. Merritt's "The Moon Pool" is worth the read.

Nota bene: There is a novel length treatment of "The Moon Pool" which Mike Ashley warns readers against in his brief write up.  The version I have read and the version he puts forth in the collection is the original short story.

Next Up: The Man Who Painted the Dragon Griaule by Lucius Shepard

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