Category Archives: The Lurking Fear

Lurking Fear from Necronomicon Press!

Hey everyone – Necronomicon Press just released Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear” from its original print run as a four part serial in the magazine Home Brew (1923).  In addition, it has an introduction by S. T. Joshi and illustrations by Robert H. Knox, which were inspired by the original illustrations done by Clark Ashton Smith.  I highly recommend this one!

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The Genetic Origins of “The Lurking Fear”

the_lurking_fear_inks_by_derfanboy-d4fmwaf

The Lurking Fear by Der Fanboy (www.deviantart.com)

As cited by JB Lee in his book Sex and the Lovecraft Mythos (Hippocampus Press, 2015), “The Lurking Fear” is H.P. Lovecraft’s integration of how breeding “out-of-class” and subsequent conditions of incest led to a “degeneration” or “devolution” of Homo sapiens. However, in earlier articles I made the point that since evolution is simply and essentially “change over time” devolution does not occur. The exception would be instances of going back in time as documented by Clark Ashton Smith in “Ubbo-Sathla.” From a purely biological perspective, species do not “degenerate;” their populations are consistently adapting to environmental conditions through a series of fine tuning; those individuals that survive and produce the most offspring are the “most fit.” Thus, just because a species becomes smaller in size over time (like sloths) or loses its ability to see (as is the case in many cave-dwelling species), this does not mean they have devolved or are more primitive – they merely have adapted as a population to their immediate environment. This means that the morphological features of the Tempest Mountain demons are in response to an adaption to their isolated environment and not “mammalian degeneration” as suggested by H.P. Lovecraft. However, from a technological or civilization-based perspective, the term degeneration could be applied to the isolated mountain community.

the_lurking_fear_by_jazon19 The Lurking Fear by Jazon 19.

Of course today we have the advantage of understanding that heritable traits are passed from parents to offspring by genes and that genes are composted of deoxyribonucleic acid (DNA), which carries the majority of the genetic code for an organism. In turn, all of the genes are found on a set of chromosomes and each species as a specific set of chromosomes. The discovery that chromosomes carry genes was not made until 1911 by Thomas Hunt Morgan and his students. In turn, the discovery that genes are made of DNA, and not simply composed of proteins as was originally thought, was not made until 1952 by Alfred Hershey and Martha Chase and the double helix structure of DNA was not described by Crick and Watson until 1953. (www.genome.gov).

Thus, in Lovecraft’s day how genetic traits are transferred from parents to offspring was not understood by the general public. Even the re-discovery of Gregory Mendel’s work on the laws of inheritance did not occur until the early 20th century and more than likely was not known by Lovecraft. Given how we understand how genetics and the laws of inheritance operate in eukaryotic organisms, it not simply the mating with other “classes” and incest that led to the eventual creation of the Tempest Mountain Demons. Such modes of natural selection would take too long to be manifested. More than like some other processes were involved.

the_lurking_fear_by_neadysamurai                     The Martense mansion from The Lurking Fear by Neady Samurai (www.deviantart.com)

I hypothesize that similar to the Deep Ones, the Tempest Mountain Demons are not a distinct or separate species from humans. However, unlike the Deep Ones, I do not believe the Demons are part of a larger life cycles as may be the case with Deep Ones / humans relationship. In the case of the Deep Ones, if the fully matured hybrids are able to produce viable offspring, then humans may simply be a form of neoteny (sexual mature yet still in a larval state) relative to the Deep Ones. In sharp contrast, I think the Tempest Mountain Demons are an extreme case of genetic drift in Homo sapiens.

Along with natural selection, mutations and migration, genetic drift is another mechanism of evolution (www.evolution.berkeley.edu). Genetic drift is random changes in gene frequencies in small, isolated communities. Think of a jar of 1,000 jelly beans with a mix of 500 red and 500 blue. If you only pick two jelly beans randomly out of the jar, there is a chance that you may pick two reds or two blues. In contrast, if you randomly pick 100 jelly beans the ratio of red to blue jellybeans will be close to 50:50 (The Tangled Bank: An Introduction to Evolution by Carl Zimmer, 2010). This is essentially genetic drift; a small, isolated population can exhibit substantial changes in allele frequencies (an allele is more than one type of gene occupying the same position on a chromosome; for example, two types of “allele” for peas may be smooth-skinned and wrinkled) that are wholly random and have little to do with natural selection.

Random_genetic_drift_chart                  Demonstration of genetic drift; essentially the smaller the population the higher the chance of specific allele frequencies being substantially different than the original frequency, in this case of 50:50 (www.wikipedia.org).

In theory, genetic drift should promote an accelerated rates of speciation in these small isolated communities. While genetic drift can easily be studied in the lab on fruit flies, actual evidence for its manifestation of faster rates of speciation is rare. However, some evidence for such rapid speciation has been possibly provided through studies on Japanese land snails (Evolution: The First Four Billion Years, edited by Michael Ruse and Joseph Travis, 2009).

Evidence for the results of genetic drift can be found in human populations. For example, the inherited, genetic disorder Ellis-Van Creveld Syndrome tends to be more common in small, isolated communities, such as the Amish. This genetic disorder impacts bone growth and manifests as dwarfism, shorter forearms, lower legs and a narrower chest with shorter ribs. It is also characterized by polydactyly, which is the presence of extra fingers and/or toes. It can also result in malformed fingernails and toenails, dental abnormalities and life-threatening heart defects (www.ghr.nim.nih.gov).

Polydactyly_wikipedia                                                                                      Polydactyly, which is the presents of extra fingers or toes is the manifestation of genetic drift and tends to be more common in small, isolated communities (www.wikipedia.org)

Given the isolation of the Martense family and associated staff, and the small genetic pool available for successive breeding, the Tempest Mountain Demons may be the result of an extreme case of genetic drift. However, unlike most cases, the offspring were healthy enough to live to adulthood and reproduce to generate viable offspring. Successive generations allowed some particular alleles to remain in the population while other went extinct. This, coupled with a degeneration of their “micro-civilization” and social skills, as well as the population exceeding their carrying capacity, resulted in the Demons alternating their feeding / hunting habitats.

martensefamilymember_MarkFoster_hplovecraftart.blogspot.com The Martense Family by Mark Foster (www.hplovecraftart.blogspot.com)

The conditions described above resulted in the Tempest Mountain Demons coming out during thunder storms to prey on the local surrounding communities. In conclusion, while Lovecraft did not understand genetics, the true “lurking fear” was the creation of the Tempest Mountain Demons through extreme variations in human genetics (via genetic drift) and forced changes in behavior (via exceedance in the populations carry capacity; lack of food in the immediate area).

the_lurking_fear_by_amaakir-d4bnyp9                                                        The Lurking Fear by Amaakir (www.deviantart.com)

Next time we will begin an investigation into the “The Hounds of Tindalos” by one of Lovecraft’s associates Frank Belknap Long. Also, if you are interested in more, please check out “The Journal of Lovecraftian Science, Volume 1” which is now available for Kindle (https://www.amazon.com/dp/B01I134YSQ/ref=nav_timeline_asin?_encoding=UTF8&psc=1). Thank you – Fred.

The Eyes of Martense

the_lurking_fear_by_grafgunther-d3smwm2 The Lurking Fear by Graf Gunther (www.deviantart.com)

Martense descendants all shared the phenotypic trait of having one eye blue and the other brown. This uncommon genetic trait was also documented in the creatures that were found on Tempest Mountain at the end of Lovecraft’s “The Lurking Fear.” Obviously, this shared trait indicates that Martense family and the carnivorous, burrowing creatures of Tempest Mountain are somehow genetically related and this will be discussed in a future article. For now, we are reviewing this specific trait of having two distinctly colored eyes, which is called heterochromia iridis or more specifically complete heterochromia iridis.

Essentially, heterochromia is the due to an excess or lack of the pigment melanin in the iris and can be inherited, cause by other associated genetic processes, the result of a disease or even be the result of an injury. In the case of the great David Bowie, his distinctly different colored eyes were due to a condition called anisocoria, while is due to an unequal size in a person’s pupils. In David Bowie’s condition, his left pupil was permanently dilated (www.independent.co.uk). This conditions gives the appearance of the eyes being different colors when in fact it is because his left pupil does not respond to changes in light while his right pupil does. Essentially his left pupil is permanently dilated, giving it its darker appearance. Anecdotally, the cause of his anisocoria was due to fight he had with a friend back in 1962 (www.independent.co.uk). Thus, it is extremely unlikely that David Bowie was somehow related to the Martense family.

david_bowie_rex The great David Bowie – in spite of having two distinctly different colored eyes is not related to the Martense family (www.independent.co.uk)

As previously mentioned complete heterochromia can be inherited and is typically associated with inbreeding. Specially, this is due to a mutation in the genes that determine the amount of melanin each eye should receive. We had an English bulldog named Dax who had complete heterochromia (one eye was black and the other was blue) and she came from a family of show dogs that had a high degree of inbreeding. Associated with that she had a lot of health problems. Our current English bulldog (Zoey) is actually an Old English Bulldog and does not come from a high inbreed family – consequently she does not have different colored eyes and does not have the health problems of our first bulldog. Thus, complete heterochromia is a phenotypic trait that is known to occur in a number of mammals, including humans, and is indicative of inbreeding.

IMG00021-20110810-1342 Unlike our first bulldog, Zoey (pictured above) did not exhibit complete heterochromia iridis, although she does have a “cherry eye.”

In the case of the Martense family, their seclusion and self-induced isolation on Tempest Mountain in the Catskills of New York as a small colony separated from the rest of society, resulted in the development of close relationships among closely related individuals, producing offspring where traits associated with inbreeding were manifested. In general, the overall fitness (can be thought of as the “health” of the individual but there is more to it than that such as ability to produce viable, healthy offspring), is lower in inbreed individual. However, this depressed fitness can also be manifested in small, isolated communities and is not necessarily limited to breeding among members of the same family.

The bottom line is the more closely related you or the limited size of your community, higher the probability for mutations and/or homozygous traits to appear, which can lower the fitness of the offspring. Thus, even though the Martense “colony” may have included some servants that may have eventually formed relationships and had offspring with members of the family, the limited size of the available genetic pool of that isolated community meant traits associated with inbreeding, such as complete heterochromia, appeared in the population. More than likely other genetic diseases, as well as a decline in overall fitness and reproductive viability, began to appear in the Martense colony, which may have eventually lead to the Tempest Mountain Demons and that is the topic for the next article. Thank you – Fred.

hp_lovecraft_the_lurking_fear_by_mtlyddon-d5vtqko H.P. Lovecraft’s The Lurking Fear by Mike Lyddon (www.deviantart.com)

Population Fluctuations in the Tempest Mountain Demons

tumblr_nyocp7vRka1ub65p2o1_1280Muzski_www.tumbnation.com                     The Lurking Fear (by Muzski; http://www.thumbnation.com)

In “The Lurking Fear” H.P. Lovecraft documents the gradual isolation and eventual disappearance of the Martense family, whose ancestral mansion was located on Tempest Mountain. With the disappearance of the family came tales of demons or ghouls that attacked lone travelers after dark. Based on the available evidence these attacks were predaceous in nature; that is, the goal of such attacks was not robbery, establishing a territory or evil mischievous actions but instead was a means of obtaining a source of food. Additionally, these attacks appeared to increase in frequency during thunder storms.

While these attacks of the Tempest Mountain “demons” continued to be strongly correlated to thunder storms, the magnitude of these incidences increased with the culmination of an attack on a squatter’s village resulting in 75 people either dead or missing after a particularly severe storm. All of the identified corpses were mangled, chewed and clawed as if they were feed on by a group of large animals.

These Tempest Mountain demons may represent an existing population exceeding its carrying capacity, in particular reference to is supply of food. In ecology the carrying capacity is defined as the maximum number of organisms that can be supported in a given area or habitat with its limited amount of resources (A Dictionary of Ecology, Evolution and Systematics by R.J. Lincoln, G.A. Boxshall and P.F. Clark, 1982). The carrying capacity for a species or community is typically represented as the letter “K.” The figure below demonstrates the population growth of a species and identifies its carrying capacity or K.

logistic curve                                                                                       A logistical growth curve for a population, demonstrating the limit in growth as its carrying capacity (K)

In any environment there are only so many resources available for exponential growth for a population until they begin to slow down due to the scarcity of that resource (and/or other resources). For example, when there are more than enough nutrients to stimulate high rates of algal growth an algal bloom will be result, particularly during the summer when water temperatures are high. However, once all of the available nutrients are assimilated by the algae, the bloom will “crash” due to nutrient limitation and possibly other limitations, such as light, which is a result of the bloom itself reducing water clarity. The point at which the population attains its maximum density is its carrying capacity. However, as shown below a population does not simply remain at its carrying capacity. It can oscillate or varying in a number of ways depending the availability of the limiting resource as well as a number of other factors (seasonal variations associated with changes in temperature and light, availability of other resources, disease, competition with other organisms, predation, etc.). In addition, as well be proposed in the case of the Tempest Mountain Demon, the actual carrying capacity of these creatures may have been exceeded, which resulted in the documented incidents reported in “The Lurking Fear.” Essentially, the population of “demons” exceeded their carrying capacity and they were attempting to adjust to these conditions.

fluctuations           Variations in how a population responses to its carrying capacity over time (www.study.com)

It should be noted that the carrying capacity (from now on we will use the term K) is not a fixed number. It can increase or decrease depending on environmental conditions and changes within a population as a whole. For example, the K for a given community or species maybe much lower during drought conditions relative to normal amounts of precipitation. In contrast, a community or species itself can increase its own K through mutation or adaptation to changing environmental conditions, expansion of their range of habitat, or through specific behavioral changes. For example, humans have been able to expand their global K through advances in technology (see below). One component I would add to this as well as industrialization is the development of medicines, specifically antibiotics and vaccines, to combat diseases, which historically has been known to have devastating impacts on global populations (e.g. the Plague of the Middle Ages; the Spanish Flu of 1918). Whether human technology will continue to raise our global K or if we will overshoot this value and subsequently result in a dramatic decrease or decline in the global population due to a disease or political instability has yet to be seen. However, the K of any species cannot continue to be raised forever.

www.slideplayer.com.slide_8 How advances in technology have resulted in humans raising their global carrying capacity (www.slideplayer.com)

In the case of the Tempest Mountain demons, their subterranean population more than likely exceeded the available food resources found in the immediate area. The birds, beasts and fish that provided sustenance for the demons on the Mountain were eventually depleted. This, in conjunction with an increase in the size of the population under the mountain, resulted in the demons expanding their hunting ranges and changing their behavior; that is, they became far more aggressive in their predaceous habitats. Thus, the horrible situations and local moralities documented in “The Lurking Fear” were more than likely the result of population fluctuations and a limitation of local resources.  Next time, we will discuss in more detail the biology of the Tempest Mountain Demons.

Lurking Fear_featurecreatureart.blogspot.com The Lurking Fear from http://www.featurecreatureart.blogspot.com