The Science of Reanimation, Part 3

Previously I suggested that there appears to be three “phases of progress” associated with Herbert West’s reanimation serum. Phase I of the serum is described from Part I: From the Dark to Part III: Six Shots by Midnight in Lovecraft’s tale “Herbert West – Reanimator” and the previous article focused on this phase of the serum. It could reanimate the dead but bodies had to be largely intact with a minimal amount of organ / tissue damage. Also, while it appears that the longer the individual is dead, the more brain damaged experienced once reanimated. However, to date, it has not been determined if this brain damage is due to solely to the brain receiving no oxygen and nutrients over a prolonged period of time or if the serum itself actually contributes toward this brain damage.


Herbert West by Verreaux (

To at least partially address the issue associated with brain damage and the resulting irrational and dangerous behavior of the reanimated, Dr. West went to Phase II, which is described in Part IV: The Scream of the Dead. In this chapter a traveling salesman supposedly dies right at West’s home / lab in Bolton. Since West’s assistant is not around at the time, West decided to try his new embalming compound. Typically embalming compounds are a mix of chemicals designed to preserve bodies to prevent or minimize decomposition. In West’s case, his embalming compounds was also designed to prevent decomposition; however, it did not use toxic chemicals such as formaldehyde or methanol. Instead, West’s formula prevents decomposition and preserves the tissues and organs so they could be reanimated with his serum. However, the real purpose of these compounds was to eliminate the brain damage that occurs with the onset of death.

When Cain (West’s assistant) came back to Bolton, the experiment resumed. The first thing West did was inject another compound into the well preserved body to neutralize the embalming compound and “…release the system to a normal relaxation so that the reanimating solution might freely work when injected.” What is interesting is that after this neutralizing agent was injected the body started to twitch and West put a pillow over its face to make sure the individual was dead. This raises the question; did the embalming solution and accompanying neutralizing agent have similar but limiting reanimating properties?


The end of the chapter Part IV: Scream of the Dead

Once all movement of the corpse ceased, West then injected it with the reanimating serum. The individual began to show signs of life – body and eye movement as well as breathe fogging a mirror. This experiment was the closest to success for West and Cain. When Cain asked the reanimated salesman “Where have you been?” he observed the salesman’s lips silently reply, “only now.” This may be a reference to Lovecraft’s own mechanistic materialism – that is, nothing was seen beyond. The words “only now “may have been a reference to the salesman being cognizant and aware only at the point in time he was reanimated.

As Cain describes, the fact that the reanimated salesman responded to his question was a triumph; bringing rational and articulate thought back to the reanimated. Unfortunately the salesman re-died in a “final dissolution from which there could be no return…” However, before re-dying it was revealed to Cain that Herbert West murdered him to get a fresh corpse. Getting back to the experiment, while a temporary triumph in reanimation, it ultimately ended in a failure with the “dissolution” of the individual. No additional information is given as to if the embalming solution and neutralizing agent were responsible for the failure or if it is due to a reformulation of the reanimation serum.


Reanimation serum (

The third phase of the reanimation serum is documented in Part V: The Horror from the Shadows. Here the modification of the serum is substantial; at this point West is talking about “…wild and original ideas on the independent vital properties of organic cells and nerve-tissue separated from natural physiological systems; and achieved some hideous preliminary results in the form of never-dying, artificially nourished tissue obtained from the nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile.” Associated with this there were two hypotheses West wanted to test:  First, determine if any organs or tissues can produce rational action independent of direct association with the brain, spinal cord and nervous system. Second, determine if there is any “ethereal, intangible relation” between separated tissues and organs including the brain.

West’s latest experiment where he injected the decapitated body of Major Sir Eric Moreland Clapham-Lee with the serum appeared to support both of these hypotheses. The separated head and body both appeared to operate independently as well as actually communicate with one another in some manner. It should be noted that West stored the head in a vat with the pulpy reptile-tissue for preservation while the body was injected with the reanimation serum.


What is the source of artificially nourished tissue of the indescribable tropical reptile? (art by Steve Maschuck)

As previously described, I hypothesize that the reanimation serum is a type of Stem Cell Therapy, which involves injecting living cells into an individual as a sort of immunotherapy. However, the reanimation therapy probably involves foreign stem cells, mixed with the cells of the species being treated with the serum. The successful reanimation of a dead organism would essentially be a pathway to immortality and there is an immortal species that is very closely related to humans on both an immuno- and genetic level and that is the Deep Ones.

The Deep One hybrids are well known to be immortal once they complete their metamorphosis from human to Deep Ones. In fact, depending on if “full” Deep Ones exist, it is possible that humans and Deep Ones are essentially the same species. Even if Deep Ones and humans are separate species they are still very closely related, which means West may be using stem cells from Deep Ones to develop his reanimation serum.


Are Deep One stem cells a key component of Herbert West’s reanimation serum? (illustration by Carrick)

The “nearly hatched eggs of an indescribable tropical reptile” may be an added component to the reanimation serum’s formula, which allows separated body parts to operate on their own volition. Reptiles and amphibians have remarkable regenerative properties as well as utilize pheromones through glandular secretions. The pheromones are used primarily for attracting and selecting mates; however, such chemical communication over distances may be how the separate body parts, say for example a head and its body, can work with one another while separated. So what is this indescribable tropical reptile? While I have no data to support this, it may be possible that this “reptile” is the long-lost race of reptilian beings that inhabit “The Nameless City.” Perhaps a previous Miskatonic University expedition to the nameless city collected and brought back biological samples that were then used to culture the pulpy reptile-tissues that West then used for his experiments.


Reptilian Inhabitant of the Nameless City (by King Ovrats;

There is obviously a considerable amount of additional research required into the West reanimation serum to identify the exact composition of the serum itself, test the hypotheses cited above, and answer additional questions that have not yet been raised, such as how do the separated yet functioning body parts survive and live without a constant supply of oxygen for respiration and nutrients for cellular operation. I’m sure the staff of the Miskatonic University Medical School is hard at work on the West serum. Next time we will discuss the science behind Stuart Gordon’s film Herbert West – Reanimator. Thank you – Fred.


4 thoughts on “The Science of Reanimation, Part 3

  1. Actually, the story suggested that West never had a special “embalming fluid” at all and that the salesmen was forcibly put in a chemically induced coma.

    As per some other topics brought up in this article, I highly recommend You check out the episode of “Dark Adventure Radio Theatre” adapting this tale. In the case of the reptiles They suggest it’s the tuatara, interestingly enough, while the “ethereal connection” between separated parts is suggested to be some kind of extension of the morphogenetic field.

    1. You may be correct about the chemically induced coma although it’s not very explicit. Typically such chemically induced comas are associated with brain injuries and swelling, which was not the case with the salesman. He may have had a weak heart and was obviously killed by West. Additionally, the fact that it was called an embalming fluid to me means it is more deigned for preservation against decomposition. However, the fact that he started to move once the neutralizing agent was injected may support your hypothesis.

      Interesting about the tuatara – I just finished a story in “Legacy of the Reanimator” called “The Horror on the Freighter” by Richard Lee Byers and there the reptilian tissue was that of an ancient reptile called a Dimetrodon!

      Not quite sure about the morphogentic field hypothesis since that is primarily associated with the specialization of cells in developing embryos – I think pheromonal chemical cues may be a more viable hypothesis. I’m sure the doctors at Miskatonic are hard at work on this! Thank you for the comments! Fred

      1. You have a good point on the swelling, although that may be due to Lovecraft being unaware of such things. The “embalming fluid” bit, though, was a lie West told His compatriot. He was trying to cover up the fact that He abducted the Fellow with the intent to murder Him (if I recall, after He administered the serum to “relax the body” He smothered Him with a pillow under the pretense that the facial twitching was unsettling to Him; although that might have been an addition of the Radio Play) and reanimate Him. That was, if You’ll recall, the experiment where West’s partner found out how amoral West really was.

      2. You are correct. For some reason I was thinking West killed him, the neutralizing agent was impacting his nervous system and West smothered him to make sure his body was completely dead before using his serum. However, you are correct! He put him into a coma, brought him out, killed him then used the serum. It is interesting how the salesman was one of the most cognizant of the reanimated individuals. Fred

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