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How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime: Part 2, The Whisperer in Darkness

o-HUBBLE-UV-1000A view through the Hubble telescope of thousands of galaxies in one small patch of space

As previously discussed, while H.P. Lovecraft was writing his astronomical articles in the early 20th century, primarily between 1906 to 1918 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005), the Galaxy was essentially thought of as our Universe.  However, on 30 December 1924 when Edwin Hubble publicly announced the discovery of other galaxies, the perception of our Universe substantially increased in size.  Searching through Lovecraft’s fiction, his collection of essays associated with Science (Joshi, 2005) and Joshi’s biography on Lovecraft, I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft (Joshi, 2013), I could find no specific reference to Hubble.  However, I have not reviewed all of his letters so Lovecraft may have mentioned Hubble there.  This significant change in our view of the Universe from an Island Galaxy in a starless void to an expanding Universe filled with billions of galaxies, does seem to creep into Lovecraft’s later fiction. Part of this is due to when Hubble made his announcement in late 1924 and part of this due to changes in Lovecraft’s style in writing and his subject matter.

In Lovecraft’s early tales, from 1917 to 1920-21, there is almost no mention of the word galaxy. The exception was a passing reference in “From Beyond,” written in 1920, where once the Tillinghast machine is turned on the protagonist was describing what he observed which included “I seemed for an instant to behold a patch of strange night sky filled with shining revolving spheres, and as it receded I saw that the glowing suns formed a constellation or galaxy of settled shape; this shape being the distorted fact of Crawford Tillinghast.” Even here the word “galaxy” is being used as a descriptive term or metaphysical point of view rather than as a purely scientific term.

It would not be until “The Whisperer in Darkness,” written in 1930, that Lovecraft would use the word galaxy from a scientific perspective. Indeed, this tale may be a pivotal point for Lovecraft in his view of both the Cosmos and cosmic horror and the word “galaxy” may be an indicator of this.

lvcrft_by_terrordelacomarca-d96cprzThe Whisperer in Darkness, artwork by Terrordelacomarca (

The first time the word galaxy is used in “The Whisperer in Darkness” is in a letter Henry Wentworth Akeley writes to Albert N. Wilmarth, professor of literature and folklore at Miskatonic University. In it Akeley is documenting his encounters with the Mi-Go in his remote farmhouse in upstate Vermont. In the letter Akeley states that they Mi-Go may be talking to him, although he also questions whether this is a dream or if he is going mad. At one point Akeley states, “They don’t mean to let me get to California now – they want to take me off alive, or what theoretically and mentally amounts to alive – not only to Yuggoth but beyond that – away outside the galaxy and possibly beyond the last curved rim of space.” This description sounds like the old “one galaxy – one universe” hypothesis proposed by Sir William Herschel and discussed by Lovecraft in some of his astronomical articles (Joshi, 2005).

In sharp contrast to the first time the word galaxy is used, later when “pseudo-Akeley” is speaking with Wilmarth at the farmhouse he states, “There is nothing they [the Mi-Go] can’t do with the mind and body of living organisms. I expect to visit other planets and even other stars and galaxies.” Here Lovecraft is obviously conveying the multiple galaxies in one Universe view, which was firmly established in the scientific community by 1925. So, was this simply a minor grammatical slip up? Or in the tale did the Mi-Go reveal to Akeley and later to Wilmarth, that the Universe was composed of billions of galaxies? Remember according to Akeley the Mi-Go wanted humanity to discover Yuggoth, known to humans as Pluto, on 18th February 1930. Perhaps they were also revealing or at least confirming what Hubble found five years earlier, that the Universe is not simply the Milky Way Galaxy.

the_dreamer_by_brett_neufeld-dbhg32hThe Dreamer by Brett Neufeld

Later, pseudo-Akeley talks about some of the entities in the Mi-Go cylinders, stating that three are human, six are fungoid beings who can’t navigate space corporeally and two are from Neptune. He then states that the rest are “…from the central caverns of an especially interesting dark star beyond the galaxy.” Based on this statement this dark star is out of the Milky Way but not necessarily found in another galaxy.

It is interested that Lovecraft identifies a dark star. Based on Newtonian physics a dark star is a theoretical body of such large mass that any light it emits is trapped by its own gravity resulting in a “dark” star. Eventually, this term dark star was replaced by “black hole” (The Hidden Reality: Parallel Universes and the Deep Laws of the Cosmos by Brain Greene, 2011). However, a dark star is also categorized as a proto-star that may have existed in the early Universe before conventional stars were able to form. This type of dark star would be composed largely of normal matter but would also have a relatively high amount of neutralino dark matter. Such dark stars would be composed of clouds of hydrogen and helium with a diameter substantially larger in size than conventional stars. Such dark stars would have a diameter of 4 to 2,000 astronomical units (AUs). Remember, 1 AU is the distance from the Earth to the Sun. In addition, such dark stars would have a surface temperature low enough that the emitted radiation would be invisible to the naked eye. Would such temperatures be conducive for the development and evolution of life?

MikeDubischwww.themikedubischsketchbook.blogspot.com_lovecraft-cthulhu-hp-lovecraft                                        Old Ones from a Dark Star by Mike Dubisch (

Back to “The Whisperer in Darkness” in speaking to Akeley, the human in the Mi-Go cylinder states, “Do you realise what it means when I say I have been on thirty-seven different celestial bodies – planets, dark stars, and less definable objects – including eight outside our galaxy and two outside the curved cosmos of space time?” This statement – outside our galaxy and outside the curved space-time – mirrors Akeley’s earlier statement in his letter to Wilmarth. While it may appear that Lovecraft is flip-flopping in the idea of the Universe being composed on the Milky Way or of billions of galaxies, I hypothesize that this was intentional. When a human speaks about the Universe, whether it is Akeley or the human mind in the cylinder, the older concept of the Milky Way essentially being the Universe is cited. However, when pseudo-Akeley speaks about the Universe, it is clear the Mi-Go know the Universe is substantially larger and filled with billions of galaxies. I think this conveys the fact that the Mi-Go have a better understanding of the cosmos than humans.

whisperer                              The Whisperer in Darkness (Nyarlathotep) – the pseudo-Akeley by Michael Bukowski (

Next time we will continue to discuss how Lovecraft uses the word galaxy in his later tales. Thank you – Fred.

How the Universe Expanded in H.P. Lovecraft’s Lifetime, Part 1

In the year 964, the Persian astronomer al-Sufi (Azophi) described a “little cloud” in the constellation of Andromeda. This is one of the first documented observations in human history of another galaxy (To Explain the World: The Discovery of Modern Science by Steven Weinberg, 2016).  However, it would not be until the early 20th century when this little cloud would be recognized as the Galaxy Andromeda, also known as Messier 31, M31 or NGC 224.

07_Abd_al-Rahman_al-Sufi Abd al Rahman al Sufi, Persian astronomer, illustrated by Felix Leon.

In the early 20th century the Universe was a lot smaller.  In 1915 the Universe was thought to consist of a single and static galaxy – the Milky Way (Einstein’s Cosmos: How Albert Einstein’s Vision Transformed Our Understanding of Space and Time by Michio Kaku, 2004).  However, through Einstein’s Theory of Relativity and the observations of the red shift by Edward Hubble, the Universe was found to be expanding at an accelerated speed. In addition, advances in telescope technology revealed that many of the celestial bodies identified as nebula or clusters, were actually galaxies. It was Hubble’s work in the 1920’s that finally squashed the theory of a one-galaxy universe. Within the span of a one year of Hubble’s research and observations, the Universe went from a single galaxy full of approximately hundred billion stars to billions of galaxies, each containing billions of stars (Kaku, 2004).

This monumental shift and expansion of the Universe – from one galaxy surrounded by nebula and clusters to one containing of billions of galaxies – occurred during Lovecraft’s lifetime and it interesting to note that there are some interesting references to this expansion in his fiction. However, when Lovecraft’s writings were chiefly astronomical in nature, from 1906 to 1918 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005), the Galaxy was essentially thought of as our Universe is a starless, ether-filled void.


In H.P. Lovecraft’s early astronomical writings he frequently used to word galaxy to describe the Universe. This idea that the Universe was essentially the Milky Way was proposed by Sir William Herschel (1738-1822), composer and astronomer best known for discovering the planet Uranus.

Lovecraft actually discussed Herschel’s observations that led to his Milky Way Universe hypothesis in his article “August Skies” in Providence Evening News, 1917 (Collected Essays Volume 3: Science H.P. Lovecraft, edited by S.T. Joshi, 2005). Based on Herschel’s observations most of the stars were found in a great circle or broad circular, roughly corresponding to the Galactic Plane.  Stars outside of this belt were said to be few and scattered (Joshi, 2005).  This let to Herschel to the hypothesis that “…the visible stellar universe to consist of an immense cluster of stars, the components disposed with moderate uniformity and the whole so shaped that it forms a thin flat disc of incredible magnitude, near whose centre lies our own solar system.” While his description of our home galaxy is fairly accurate, Hershel was incorrect in thinking our solar system in in the center.  In fact, as Carl Sagan has stated we are in the suburbs or countryside of the galaxy.  We are not in any important place in the Milky Way. Our position in the Milky Way Galaxy (

While the general thought in the early 20th century was that the Milky Way was essentially the Universe, Lovecraft did state in the same article cited above, “That most nebulae belong to our universe seems probable, thought it was once believed that they, as well as clusters, are other universe, or external Galaxies, as it were.” This paragraph in the 1917 article concludes with the following:

“Whether or not such things as other universes do exist, is a question of the highest interest, involving conceptions of the most awful grandeur. It is very likely that these colossal universes of suns are widely scattered through boundless space, though separated by such terrifying and abysmal distances that their light, sent on its way at the time of their creation, has not yet reached from one to the other. It were unless here to speak of the ultimate confines of space itself. If the monstrous distances dealt with in the ordinary study of astronomy be stupefying in their immensity, what may be said of infinity itself? The idea of a boundary to all space is even more repellent than the terrible conception of the illimitable.” A view of the Milky Way in New England (

Obviously as the quote above suggests, some of Lovecraft’s concepts on cosmic horror stem from his astronomical observations and investigations. In another article “Clusters and Nebulae” in the Ashville [N.C.] Gazette-New, 1915 (Joshi, 2005), Lovecraft states that about 1,000 nebulae have been recorded and a few are actually visible to the naked eye. One of these nebulae he mentions is Andromeda. Again, at the time Andromeda was identified as a nebula; however, we now know it’s a galaxy composed of approximately 1 trillion stars. Based on the latest observations made with the Hubble telescope there are approximately 100 billion galaxies in the universe, however, this number is more than likely to at least double with improvements in telescope technology.

m31_comolli_2193 The Andromeda Galaxy, also known as M31

In conclusion, when Lovecraft was writing his articles on astronomy, the Milky Way was considered to be an “island universe” surrounded by nebulae and clusters. However, on 30 December 1924 Edwin Hubble publicly announced the discovery of other galaxies, making our universe a much bigger place. This announcement must have had an incredible impact on Lovecraft; however, by the 1920’s he focused his writing on fiction instead of articles on astronomy. Next time we will discuss how Hubble’s radical change of our view of the universe permeated into Lovecraft’s later fiction. Thank you – Fred.          Edwin Hubble (

H.P. Lovecraft and Atlantis, Part 2

tdbgzhoafpyztufm4nv3 Sunken Atlantis by Paul Alexander

I would like to start this article with a correction to the first article on H.P. Lovecraft’s thoughts on the legend of Atlantis. In the first article, I stated that Lovecraft cited both Ignatius Donnelly’s account of Atlantis (Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, 1882) as well as W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria (1925) in “The Temple.” This is incorrect. Lovecraft mentioned Donnelly’s book in “The Descendent” and Scott-Elliot’s book was mentioned in “The Call of Cthulhu.” While neither book was cited in “The Temple,” Joshi refers to both of them in his explanatory notes for “The Temple” in the Penguin Classics edition of The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (2001). I apologize for the error.

In “The Call of Cthulhu” Professor George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages from Brown University was compiling information on the Cthulhu Cult and among the manuscript papers were some citations from W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria. As mentioned in Leslie S. Klinger’s The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft (2014) Lovecraft had a 1925 combined edition of these books. The Story of Atlantis was first published in 1896, while The Lost Lemuria was first published in 1904.


It is interesting to note that Atlantis was supposed to represent a high point of human (or related species) civilization. While the destruction of Atlantis is frequently associated with the Atlanteans meddling with science and / or the power the gods, there are a variety of hypotheses attempting to link some real-life catastrophe to the legend of Atlantis. For example, the land of Thera, now known as the Greek island of Santorini, was partly destroyed by a volcanic eruption about 3,600 years ago. The destruction of Thera is thought to be basis for the idea of Atlantis ( However, is the extremely unlikely the Atlantis will actually be directly linked to a real location on Earth.

There have been attempts to link Cthulhu’s sunken City of R’lyeh to Atlantis but as Jason Colavito has stated:

“The imagined “fall” of Cthulhu, however, bears only a superficial resemblance to Atlantis, and even that was intentional. Lovecraft tried to create a (fictional) analogue to Plato’s Atlantis narrative as an answer to the Theosophists and their silly claims about Venusians running occult schools on Lemuria. Plato’s Atlantis sinks because of the Atlanteans’ sins… Cthulhu and R’lyeh sink beneath the waves—just because. Geology happens. There is no moral good or evil implied. It just happened.” – from  While in “The Strange High House in the Mist” Lovecraft mentions “…how the kings of Atlantis fought with the slippery blasphemies that wriggled out of rift’s in ocean’s floor…” there is no evidence to indicate that these blasphemies were the spawn of Cthulhu.


R’lyeh Rising by Welsh Pixie (

Coavito’s statement agrees with Joshi’s statement that Lovecraft saw Atlantis as a myth and liked to incorporate it into his tales.  Additionally, and more to the point, Atlantis was supposed to sink somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean, while R’lyeh is located somewhere deep in the Pacific Ocean. Thus, even if there was some sort of correlation between R’lyeh and some mythic sunken land it would have a slightly better chance of it being Lemuria.


In a few of Lovecraft’s revision tales such as “The Last Test” co-written with Adolphe de Castro and “Medusa’s Coil” co-written with Zealia Bishop there are several references to individuals being descended from the primal race of lost Atlantis and how the Atlantean civilization delved into evil and forbidden knowledge. For example, in “The Last Test” Atlantis was apparently a “hotbed” of evil cult activity and it is hoped that “…no one will ever drag up that horror from the deep.” This may be a possible reference to the Atlantean’s attempting to contact the Old Ones from outside of our Universe. There is a reference to this in “Medusa’s Coil” where “…the frightful secret that has come down from the days of Cthulhu and the Elder Ones – the secret that was nearly wiped out when Atlantis sank…”

medusa_s_coil_by_mrsfish-da4hgua Medusa’s Coil by Mrs. Fish (

In the tale “The Mound” written by Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop, the underground civilization discovered by the Spaniard Zamacona was said to occasionally receive visitors from the upper world. According to the individuals who Zamacona met, the last time they encountered someone from the outer world was when “…refugees straggled back from Atlantis and Lemuria aeons before.” If these refugees straggled back from these sunken kingdoms, is it possible that the Atlanteans and Lemurians were of the same decent as those who live under the mound? If this is the case, the various technologies that the mound civilization possess (e.g. dematerialization and dream-projection) may has also been possessed by Atlanteans.

In Lovecraft’s novel At the Mountains of Madness the Elder Thing’s Antarctic Palaeogaean megalopolis was compared to both Atlantis and Lemuria, as well as other ancient civilizations. Additionally, in Out of the Aeons, co-written with Hazel Heald, Lovecraft mentions that cults of the Old One Ghatanothoa were established in Atlantis. Finally, as previously mentioned, the Shining Trapezohedron sunk with Atlantis, only later to be found by a Minoan fisherman in his nets.

64-ghatanothoa                               Ghatanothoa by Michael Bukowski (

In conclusion, it is extremely unlikely the Cthulhu’s R’lyeh and Atlantis were the same place, simply based on the fact that one is located in the Pacific Ocean and the other in the Atlantic Ocean.  Additionally, there is no evidence to support that R’lyeh was Lemuria. However, the people of Atlantis may have been related to the people who live under the Earth as documented in “The Mound.” Also, the Atlanteans may have been attempting to contact the Old Ones or harness their powers in the manipulation of matter, energy, time and space. These attempts of communication (e.g. the Shining Trapezohedron) may have failed miserably and resulted in the downfall of the civilization and the destruction of their Island paradise.


Next time we will discuss how the concept of what a galaxy is changed over the course of Lovecraft’s lifetime. Thank you – Fred.

H.P. Lovecraft and Atlantis, Part 1

In our examination of H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple,” a few references were made of Atlantis.  That is, Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein was convinced that the temple he discovered in his watery tomb at the bottom of the Atlantic Ocean was the mysterious land of Atlantis. While references to Atlantis are peppered throughout Lovecraft’s tales, he certainly did not believe that the legend of Atlantis, a continent that sank into the Atlantic Ocean sometime around 9,000 B.C., was based on fact.

Atlantis_Paul_Alexander An interpretation of Atlantis by Paul Alexander

According to S. T. Joshi, Lovecraft thought of Atlantis simply as a myth and if there were any remains of a sunken continent it would most likely be somewhere in the Pacific Ocean (The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, 2001). Lovecraft also hypothesized that the idea of a continent to the west of Europe, whether sunken or still existing, may have been a reference to the Americas (Selected Letters V. (1934-1937) H.P. Lovecraft, edited by August Derleth and James Turner, 1976). In fact, this passage from a letter to Frederic Jay Pabody, dated 19 June 1936, summarizes Lovecraft’s views on Atlantis:

“Thus I feel sure that the Platonic Atlantis is a sheer myth (based on America perhaps) – unless, as recent scholars have suggested, it is a case of confused identify…with some region in North Africa…”

While Plato is frequently associated with the creation of the legend of Atlantic, he actually reported hearing about it from his uncle Critias, who was a Greek politician with a very questionable reputation. Critias heard it from his grandfather, who heard it from another politician who, in turn, heard about it from some unknown Egyptian priest ( Is it possible that this unknown Egyptian priest was a disciple or direct ancestor of none other than the Pharaoh Nephren-Ka? In Lovecraft’s “The Haunter of the Dark,” it is mentioned that the Shining Trapezohedron sunk with Atlantis, only later to be found by a Minoan fisherman in his nets. Thus, the legend of Atlantis is a very old one.

the_scroll_of_the_black_pharaoh_by_jasonmckittrick-d4utqd7 Scroll of the Black Black Pharaoh by Jason McKittrick

As previously mentioned, the first time Lovecraft mentions Atlantis is in his short story “The Temple.” In that tale, he references Ignatius Donnelly’s account of Atlantis (Atlantis: The Antediluvian World, 1882) as well as W. Scott-Elliot’s Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria (1925). Donnelly’s book claimed that Plato’s account of Atlantis was based on fact and that all of ancient civilization (at least those known to us) originate from the people of Atlantis. In Donnelly’s account, many of the world’s religions and mythology are based on Atlantis and the people of Atlantis were the first to use iron, before the island continent sunk into the ocean.


In W. Scott-Elliot’s book, Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria, he expanded on the theosophical writings of Helena Blavatsky’s regarding the history of man and others on Earth. Theosophy is the study of mystical and occult philosophies, regarding the mysteries of life and the cosmos. As has been frequently cited a number of times, while Lovecraft found these writing amusing, even inspirational for some of his tales of ancient civilizations unknown to modern humans, he did not believe in any of the claims made by these authors. To Lovecraft Atlantis and other mysterious continents such as Lemuria and Mu were mere myth.


Next time we will identify and discuss more references of Atlantis in the tales of H.P. Lovecraft. Thank you – Fred.

A Few Last Notes on H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple.”

There are a few more additional scientific points I would like to make relative to H.P. Lovecraft’s tale “The Temple.” The first is relative to his possible reference to the Theory of Continental Drift. In “The Temple” when the Lieutenant-Commander, trapped in Submarine U-29, observed the ancient city in the bottom of the Atlantic and states that “…I should not have been amazed, for geology and tradition alike tell us of great transpositions in oceanic and continental areas.” This may be a tip of the hat by Lovecraft to the Theory of Continental Drift.

7th-grade-ch-1-sec-3-drifting-continents-14-728 Fossil Evidence for the Theory of Continental Drift

While the reference to the Theory of Continental Drift in “The Temple” may be indirect, the theory is more directly cited in “At the Mountains of Madness,” where maps of the Elder Things “…display the land mass as cracking and drifting, and sending certain detached parts northward, uphold in a striking way the theories of continental drift lately advanced by Taylor, Wegener, and Jody.” These three men independently developed the Theory of Continental Drift, which was well developed and presented by Wegener in his 1912 paper. However, many scientists rejected this theory due to a lack of direct empirical evidence. It was not until the 1950’s and 1960’s when data were collected that documented seafloor spreading that Plate Tectonics provided the empirical evidence for the Theory of Continental Drift.  Thus, in Lovecraft’s day many scientists were quite skeptical of the Theory of Continental Drift.

In addition to a reference to Continental Drift, the Lieutenant-Commander states that he would put on a deep-sea diving suit with portable light and air generator to explore the temple.  Two English inventors developed the first pressure-proof diving suits in the early 18th century. From the late 19th century through the early 20th century, there were some pretty remarkable diving suit designs and some of them did have portable air supplies. For more photographs of early diving suit technology please check out

divingsuit_Marseille_France_1878_            A Diving Suit from France, dated 1878

Finally, a brief note on what the Lieutenant-Commander observed in the temple before his demise. Toward the end of the story while he is documenting the strange phosphorescent glow coming from the temple and the associated demoniac laughter, he is frequently questioning his own state of mind. A number of times he is wondering if he is hallucinating the things he is seeing and hearing; such issues were considered in the previous article. However, it may also be possible that the Temple is one of the points in our Space-Time, similar to the Nameless City or under the town of Kingsport, where there is a connection between this Universe and others (e.g. the Dreamlands). However, there is no documented evidence that the Lieutenant-Commander entered the Dreamlands or any other Universe. More than likely he was suffering from PTSD and/or the same unknown chemical / biological agent that claimed the entire crew of German submarine U-29.


In “The Temple” there were several references to Atlantis and next time we will discuss what Lovecraft thought of this oceanic myth. Thank you – Fred.

What Occurred on Submarine U-29 in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple”


“The Temple” artwork by David Saavedra

Once the crew of Submarine U-29 are in possession of the piece of ivory carved into the image of a youth’s head with a laurel crown in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple,” strange things start to happen. These strange events include increased nervousness, weakness, forgetfulness and laziness among the crew.


The crew also experienced bad dreams and some appeared to become physically ill. Several of the crew started to have hallucinations, observing bloating bodies out of the undersea portholes. According to the affected crew, many of these bodies were victims who died in the ships that the German submarine sunk in past battles.

Days later, several of the crew who were ill became violently insane; others were not violent but were constantly raving about the young man who was watching them. Men started to disappear and it was thought they committed suicide. Since no bodies were found, it was assumed that they jumped “overboard” but no details regarding this are provided. After these suicides, many of the crew continued to be ill but there were no further disturbances. However, after the explosion of the engine room, the insanity and associated violence among the crew increased resulting in the Lieutenant-Commander killing some of them. Remaining crew members killed themselves, eventually leaving the Lieutenant-Commander by himself. So, what was the cause of the mass hysteria and illness that eventually led to the death of the crew of Submarine U-29?


Tight conditions in a submarine

A crew of men and women in a confined space such as a submarine would be very susceptible to communicable diseases, particularly those air borne in nature. Indeed, respiratory illnesses can be particularly problematic for submarine crews. It is interesting to note that based on data collected by the US Navy, in general overall incidences of medical problems / injuries tend to be higher on surface vessels than submarines (from a US Navy study from 1989; However, some of the more common afflictions associated with long submarine runs include post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and during situations of war such disorders can develop into life-threatening or disturbing conditions (

In the situation of the Submarine U-29 several or many of the crew may have been on the verge of suffering from PTSD even before they found the idol. We do not know how long the crew was on the sea when they found the little ivory idol of the youth crowned with laurels. However, finding this strange idol coupled with the seemingly supernatural event of the body of the dead sailor swimming away, may have triggered PTSD, eroding the “iron will” of the crew in spite of what the Lieutenant-Commander stated. Thus, the idol itself may not to be blame for the situations on the submarine but may well have triggered them. With each murder or suicide, the symptoms of PTSD among the crew would have only increased and spread. Thus, the first hypothesis to explain the incidences on U-29 is PTSD, which was triggered by finding the strange little idol by a crew already exhausted from being on the ocean during war for an extended period of time. However, an alternative hypothesis is that the idol itself may have had a pathogenic organism on it that could infect humans.


The abundance and diversity of viruses in the ocean is incredibly high – each milliliter of ocean water contains several million virus particles. Many ocean viruses cause diseases in marine mammals. Phocid distemper virus is a morbillivirus of Arctic phocid seals that has killed thousands of harbor seals in Europe. Similar viruses kill dolphins and other cetaceans. Many other viruses infect marine mammals and even cause disease in humans, including adenoviruses, herpesviruses, parvoviruses, and caliciviruses ( For example, in 2013 over 1,000 migrating bottlenose dolphins died from a measles-like virus along the East Coast of the U.S. ( Indeed, the strange behavior of the dolphins, following the submarine deep into the ocean through the course of the tale, may have been symptoms of the virus affecting the dolphins’ brain.  Thus, it is possible that some type of unknown virus was brought on-board U-29 with the biological agent either being on the small ivory idol or on the dead sailor that was clinging to the submarine?

6c8669088-130819-dolphin-deaths-230p_nbcnews-ux-2880-1000 Dolphin deaths along the East Coast of the US due to a virus

Morbillivirus_294-Measles The structure of the morbillivirus, a measles-like virus responsible for the death of dolphins

In conclusion, while finding the strange little idol seems to have produced supernatural occurrences in “The Temple,” it is absolutely possible that the situation was the result of PTSD and/or an unknown biological agent that could exist in the deep ocean. Also, I you want to get a feel for what it would be like on a submarine during war, I strongly suggest the excellent movie “Das Boot.” Next time we will conclude our discussion of H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple” by reviewing what the Lieutenant-Commander encountered when he actually entered the Temple. Thank you – Fred.

DasBootcast                                                             Submarine crew from the film “Das Boot”


Submarine Technology in “The Temple” The Temple (

The United States entered WWI one-hundred years ago this year and it was during this war when submarines were for the first time a major military threat.  German U-boats sunk approximately 5,000 Allied merchant ships during WWI. On the eve of this war submarine warfare was in its infancy, only about a dozen years old. In 1914 no nation on the Earth had the means of combating, or even detecting, submarines so they were a formable and particularly frightening type of navel technology.

Lovecraft used submarines in a number of this tales, including a juvenile story “The Mysterious Ship” (written in 1902) as well as in “The Shadow of Innsmouth” (1931). There is also a brief mention of non-human alien submarine technology in The Shadow out of Time (1935) where the Great Race were known to use gigantic submarine vessels with searchlights to view the ruins of sunken cities and the strange aquatic life. However, the majority of the tale “The Temple” (1920) occurs in a human manufactured submarine.


In “The Temple” the crew of a German submarine (U-29) destroys a British freighter and finds a seemingly dead member of that ship’s crew, holding onto a piece of ivory carved into the image of a youth’s head with a laurel crown. They take the small idol and place his body back into the ocean where several of the men are stunned to see dead seamen’s eyes open and swim away. This event has a profound impact on the crew and they experience a series of strange situations through the rest of the tale. However, this article will focus on the submarine itself.

Again, while the use of submarines in naval warfare was in its infancy during WWI, Germany built 360 U-boats, which sunk over 5,000 Allied ships over the course of the war. However, of the 360 U-boat submarines, 178 were lost over the course of the war.  Is it possible that the one cited in H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple” was one of those missing U-boats?


Lovecraft had a fairly good understanding of the design and operation of a submarine as described in “The Temple” with one large exception. A number of times Lovecraft mentions members of the crew looking out of undersea potholes, when in fact none of the U-boats at the time had potholes. The only way of peering out of the submarine would be going into the conning tower, which is the raised platform portion of the submarine that contains the periscope.


As part of the series of strange and unfortunate events, there was an explosion in the engine room that was never explained in the story. However, Lovecraft makes a point to state that while as a result of the explosion the U-boat could no longer be propelled or guided, the chemical air generators and the means of raising / lowering the submarine were still intact. On submarines oxygen is typically generated with the use of pure water (typically produced from sea water through desalinization), a mix of potassium hydroxide and electricity in electrolytic cells in an electrolytic oxygen generator cabinet. The excess oxygen can then be stored and used by the crew for respiration.NAVY_AEOG_Treadwell_lg An electrolytic oxygen generator cabinet (US NAVY)

In addition to producing oxygen, a submarine must have a means of removing our respiration byproduct – carbon dioxide.  On submarines carbon dioxide is typically removed with the use of mono-ethanol amine (MEA) in “scrubbers.” The MEA absorbs the carbon dioxide from the air and is then heated to drive out the gas in a compressed form and then ejected overboard.

H.P. Lovecraft’s “The Temple” may have been the first weird tale to take place on a submarine and he had a surprisingly accurate understanding of how these vessels operate. Next time, we will present a set of hypotheses on what may have been responsible for the demise of the crew of the Submarine U-29. Thank you – Fred.