This article concludes the discussion on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Other Gods” with an assessment of the role of the eclipse in this tale. While the story is fairly short, an eclipse is mentioned four times in the text. The first time it is mentioned is when villagers tell how Barzai the Wise “…went up a mountain on the night of the strange eclipse.” The fact that the eclipse is mentioned to occur at night indicates that it must be a lunar eclipse and not a solar eclipse. As previously described, a lunar eclipse is where the sun, Earth and moon are aligned with Earth in the middle. During a total lunar eclipse, direct sunlight is completely blocked by the Earth’s shadow so the only light observed is that refracted through Earth’s shadow. Lunar eclipses give the moon a reddish color and so are sometimes called a blood moon. This is due to the scattering of more blue light and more red light being received by our eyes.
A Lunar Eclipse
Later in the tale it is said, “The moon is dark, and the gods dance in the night; there is terror in the sky, for upon the moon hath sunk an eclipse foretold in no books of men or of earth’s gods…” This statement is particularly strange for two reasons. First, it states that the moon was dark. Lunar eclipses can only occur when the moon is full; in contrast, solar eclipses occur only during the day when the moon is new and thus would be dark. We know that the events in “The Other Gods” occurs at night and we know the moon is visible so I hypothesis that the moon was still full and thus visible (if it was not visible why would it be mentioned). However, the term “dark” may refer to the moon not being as bright as it typically is during a full moon.
The second odd point in the statement above was that the eclipse was not predicted or foretold in any books. Once you understand that relationship between the sun, Earth and moon and know that an eclipse can only occur when the sun is close to a node in the moon’s orbit, such events can be predicted. In ancient times on Earth the appearance of an eclipse was an indication of apocalyptic events since they were not understood and could not be predicted (similar to comets; celestial events that appear to be initially chaotic compared to the movement of the sun, moon, stars and planets). Even if the arrangement of the Dreamlands sun, Earth and moon is slightly different in the Dreamlands multiverse compared to ours, the fact that it states that this eclipse was not foretold indicates that this was a unique event and that eclipses are typically predicted by astronomers in the Dreamlands.
A map of the Dreamlands by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)
Barzai and Atal travel to the peaks of Hatheg-Kla to observe the Earth Gods dance. Barzai must have had some very secretive information to be able to know when to go to Hatheg-Kla to see the Earth Gods since the eclipse was not predicted. Toward the end of the story when Barzai bears witness to the Other Gods this appears to occur during the eclipse. It is during the eclipse that Barzai falls up into the sky, probably being abducted by the Other Gods.
After the Other Gods take Barzai, the moon comes out of the eclipse and Atal is found on the lower snows of the mountain. Clouds are associated with the strange eclipse in this passage so it may have been caused by the cloud ships of the Earth Gods who visit the mountaintop to dance and observe the Other Gods themselves. However, I hypothesize that the eclipse was actually caused by the Other Gods themselves coming into our universe through an inter-dimensional portal. In fact, the strange, dark, unpredicted eclipse may have been how the Other Gods entered the Dreamlands Universe. While the Earth Gods stayed back and secure in their cloud ships, foolish Barzai the “Wise” actually made himself known to the Other Gods and paid the price.
The Other Gods by Jason B. Thompson (www.mockman.com)
At the end of the story it is said that “…to this day the people of Ulthar and Nir and Hatheg fear eclipses, and pray by night when pale vapors hide the mountain-top on Hatheg-Kla…”, I think the fear is of unpredictable eclipses, not of all eclipses. Additionally, if an unpredictable eclipse does open a portal from one universe to another, it would be wise for the residents of the Dreamlands to stay away from the peaks of Hatheg-Kla.
The Other Gods by Jb Lee
Next time we will discuss Lovecraft’s understanding and misuse of the theory of evolution in his tale “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family.” Much of this information will be based on a presentation I gave on Lovecraft and evolution at the NecronomiCon in August 2017. Thank you – Fred.