Category Archives: The Temple

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 (https://omni.media/atlantis-theories). 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.

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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.

Artist-representation-Atlantis

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 http://io9.gizmodo.com/the-strange-and-wonderful-history-of-diving-suits-from-1262529336.

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.

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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”

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“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.

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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?

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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; http://www.dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a211258.pdf). 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 (www.beinghealthy.tv).

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.

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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 (http://www.virology.ws/2009/03/20/the-abundant-and-diverse-viruses-of-the-seas/). For example, in 2013 over 1,000 migrating bottlenose dolphins died from a measles-like virus along the East Coast of the U.S. (https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/virus-kills-over-1000-bottlenose-dolphins/). 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-1200px_www.arkhamangst.com The Temple (www.arkhamangst.com)

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.

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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?

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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.

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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.