Tag Archives: Joe Slater

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 5 – Traveling through Space

Comic book version of Beyond the Wall of Sleep (mycomicshop.com)

In this last article on H.P. Lovecraft’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” the astronomical references in the story are explored.  As S.T. Joshi notes in H.P. Lovecraft: The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories (Penguin Classics 2001), HPL came across two articles that stimulated his imagination to write Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  The first was  an article in the New York Tribune, which mentions some inhabitants of the Catskill Mountains and refers to a family named the Slaters or Slahters.  The second is an article written by Garrett Putnam Serviss (1851 – 1929) who wrote articles about astronomy, science in general and early science fiction stories.

Garrett P. Serviss, journalist, astronomer, author of early works of science fiction (from Wikipedia.org)

As Joshi cites (2001) HPL was a fan of Serviss’s work and in his book Astronomy with the Naked Eye (1908) Serviss mentions that Dr. Anderson of Edinburgh found a new star fairly close to Algol (the Daemon-Star) in February 1901.  Within 24-hours this new star became fairly bright but within a week or two it had visibly faded and in  a few months it was hardly visible with the naked eye.  The star was actually a nova and was given the name Nova Persei.  This was actually the second nova discovered by Dr. Anderson, the first one being identified in 1891 and named Nova Aurigae.

The flash and then disappearance of Nova Persei near a star called the Daemon-Star obviously had a significant impact on HPL as he wrote Beyond the Wall of Sleep.  In the story the luminescent entity who talks through Joe Slater mentions that its enemy – the oppressor – is the “blinking” star known on Earth as Algol, the Daemon-Star.  As the entity prepares to leave the dying body of Joe Slater, he tells the intern to watch the sky close to Algol.  Again, Joshi provides some valuable information about Algol.  The reason why it is called the Daemon-Star is that it is actually a double star, or binary, system in the constellation of Perseus.  Thus, as the stars orbit one another, the visible magnitude of the “star” substantially changes.  These large changes in visibility have resulted in naming the star Algol, which is an Arabic phrase meaning “demon” or “mischief-maker.” (Joshi, 2001).  Thus, the luminescent entity was off to do battle with its enemy Algol, the Daemon-Star.

Algol, the brightest “star” in the constellation of Perseus is actually a binary star system (EarthSky.org)

Was it Algol that imprisoned the luminescent entity  within the physical body of Joe Slater for more than four decades?  Was this why the luminescent entity was seeking revenge against Algol?  While we may never know the motive behind the hatred for Algol, HPL documented the outcome of the battle through the article on Dr. Anderson’s discovery of Nova Persei.  That is, the entity must have confronted and battled with Algol only to be defeated.  The luminescent entity flared up, only to be snuffed out of existence by Algol.  Thus, the nova appeared, shined brightly but was gone in a matter of weeks; this must represent the entity’s defeat, for the binary star Algol still shines in the heavens.

To conclude this discussion, I want to briefly mention some of the locations the  luminescent entity cites where it could meet the intern sometime in the future.  One is the “shining mists of Orion’s Sword.”  This is a reference to the Orion Nebula, which looks like fuzzy spot or area in Orion’s Sword (the constellation).  The pink glowing color is actually hydrogen gas (asterisk.apod.com).

The Orion Nebula or, as described by HPL, the shining mists of Orion’s Sword (asterisk.apod.com).

Other times or places where they may meet include “a bleak plateau in prehistoric Asia.”  Is this possibly the first reference to Leng by HPL?  Others include unremembered dreams (is this a reference to the Dreamlands?) or in the far distance future when the solar system will be swept away.  This would be approximately 5 billion years in the future when the Sun will cool and expand.

Appearnetly the luminescent entity can easily travel through time as well as space, since before it left to do battle with Algol, it said that next year it may be dwelling in ancient Egypt or in the Tsan Chan empire 3,000 years in the future.  The entity and the intern apparently “drifted to the worlds that reel about the red Arcturus, and dwelt in the bodies of the insect-philosophers that crawl proudly over the fourth moon of Jupiter.”  As we discussed in a previous article on the moons of Jupiter, this was more than likely in reference to the moon Callisto.


An insect-philosopher from the fourth moon of Jupiter (from the talented artist Michael Bukowski; yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

To conclude, in spite of all of its powers and near-omnipidence, the luminescent entity could not defeat its sworn enemy, the binary star system of Algol.  Next time we will talk about HPL’s materialism philosophy and how it influenced his attitudes toward science and the latest scientific discoveries of the day.  Later we will delve into more of his stories, interpreting them within a scientific context, including “The Music of Erich Zann,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.”  Thank you – Fred

Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 4 – The Cosmic Radio

William Sanderson portraying Joe Slaader in the 2006 film Beyond the Wall of Sleep

In HPL’s story “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” an intern at a New England mental institution discovers that an alien entity inhabits Joe Slater’s mind.  His discovery was made through the use of a “cosmic radio,” a machine the intern constructed in his college days.  The actual description of the device is somewhat ambiguous, being a “…suitable apparatus, and I had in my college days prepared a set of transmitting and receiving instruments somewhat similar to the cumbrous devices employed in wireless telegraphy at the crude, pre-radio period.”

The intern’s theory behind the device is that human thought consists of atomic or molecular motion (energy) that can be converted into ether waves or radiant energy like heat, light and electricity.  So what does this mean?  Essentially, it is converting one form of energy into another.  A great analogy to this is where radio emissions generated from the planets and their moons / rings are collected and then translated into sound waves by our space probes (Voyager I and II and Cassini).  In this case natural radio waves generated in the vacuum of space are converted into a format that it then perceived through one of the five human senses; in this case sound.  The results are astonishing.  If you are interested in these sounds, then please either check out the NASA website below or type “sounds of the planets” into YouTube.


A shot of Saturn from the Cassini space probe, showing the rings, some of its moons as well as Venus, Earth and our moon (nasa.gov).  All of these celestial bodies emit radio waves that can then be converted into sound waves.  Is this what the intern’s cosmic radio did in Beyond the Walls of Sleep?

The intern had a hypothesis in college that human thought consists of atomic or molecular motion that is similar to other forms of energy (that is, the potential energy associated with molecular vibrations can be released and converted into kinetic energy).  While he was unsuccessful in using the device on humans (at least in his college days), the device did appear to work on Joe Slater.  However, Joe’s body was inhabited by the “luminous entity” who actually spoke to the intern through the device.  Thus, maybe the intern’s device was too crude to work on human thoughts or maybe human thoughts are not easily translated into sound waves.  In contrast. since the luminous entity gives off light, maybe it also naturally emits other forms of radiation, some of which can be converted into radio waves.

Based on the evidence at hand, the cosmic radio can not be used to convert pure human thought into a form of energy that can be processed and presented into a format that is perceivable through one of the five human senses.  However, an entity that generates radiation may be able to be perceived through the cosmic radio not visually but through an auditory measure.  With the entity occupying Joe Slater for his whole life, it would make sense that its thought waves could easily be converted into English.  It was simply blind luck that the intern with his “useless” cosmic radio happened to meet Joe Slater and his luminescent co-inhabitant.

However, it does beg the question, did HPL predict the ability of the space probes of the late 20th and early 21st century to collect radio emissions and convert them into sound waves?  The next article will be the final on “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and will cover the astronomy behind the story.  Thank you – Fred.

Artist’s rendition of the Cassini spacecraft approaching Saturn (from cloudfront.net)








Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 3 – The Co-Habitation of Joe Slater

In the pervious article we discussed the possibility that Joe Slater had schizophrenia, which would explain his violent mood swings and hallucinations.  However, in HPL’s “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” the intern at the unnamed New England institute discovers that Joe is actually “possessed” by another entity.  Thus, it is possible that the symptoms of schizophrenia have manifested in Joe as a result of his mind trying to copy with his body housing two consciousnesses?  Is it possible that all or most people suffering from schizophrenia are trying to cope with a similar situation?  Are Joe’s auditory and visual hallucinations actually the thoughts or experiences of the entity nested and dwelling within his body?  And what of this parasitic entity?  What is it and where does it come from?

Relative to the actual entity within Joe, HPL gives very little information.  A similar story by another author could have easily shifted into pure supernatural, where Joe is being possessed by a demon and an exorcism is required.  Such ideas were not of interest to HPL and his philosophy of materialism.  However, Beyond the Wall of Sleep is one of HPL’s earliest literary expressions of cosmic horror, something he will master later in life.  In addition, as S.T. Joshi has cited Beyond the Wall of Sleep is one of HPL’s first “quasi-science-fiction” tales, a term Joshi uses since “science-fiction” itself would not be properly defined until a little later in the 20th century (I Am Providence: The Life and Times of H.P. Lovecraft by S.T. Joshi; 2013).

Again, little is known about this entity but the fact that its consciousness has been trapped in Joe Slater’s mind his whole life indicates it must have been with Joe either before or immediately after his birth.  HPL discussed similar mind transfers in “The Shadow Out of Time” and there situations were discussed where the mind of a member of the Great Race would switch with the mind of the species they are studying.  Without the strange crystalline machines that aid in transferring the minds through space-time, a member of the Great Race could be marooned in a species, in a particular time and place.  So, is the entity in Joe Slater a member of the Great Race?

The Great Race (from the Lovecraft Tarot by David Wynn and D.L. Hutchinson, Illustrator)

I think this is very unlikely for fourth reasons.  First, the Grate Race typically switch minds with an individual; they do not cohabitate the same body.  Second, while I suppose a member of the Great Race could enter the mind of a new born child I think this extremely unlikely since the members of the Great Race back on ancient Earth would then have to deal with a large Cone-Shaped Being with an infant’s mind!  Third, I can’t imagine a member of the Great Race actually communicating with the intern.  The Great Race made every effort to avoid being exposed to other species.  Fourth, the behavior of the entity did not have the scientific perspective of the Great Race.  To be blunt, the entity was kind of a jerk and was obsessed with getting revenge on Algol, the daemon-star.  More on that in a future article.  Thus, based on the evidence we have it is highly unlikely that the entity is a member of the Great Race.  However, the entity may have used similar technology or principles that the Great Race uses but for some reason ended up stuck in Joe Slater.

The entity itself does not have a distinct corporal form and is described as a luminous thing.  In addition, the enemy that the entity is so obsessed with appears to a member of the same luminescent non-corporeal species.  The strange, luminescent appearance of the entity apparently gives it the ability to fly through space and “burn” (pass through?) matter.

An illustration for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” from Weird Tales, Volume 31, March 1938 – the luminescent non-corporeal entities.

When the intern makes “cosmic radio” contact with the entity, he becomes a , luminescent non-corporeal thing as well. He calls the entity his “brother of light” and after a period of time traveling through space and exchanging thoughts the intern ends up back in his human shell. At that point Joe Slater is dead, which frees the alien entity. However, before the entity leaves for the cosmos he mentions that Joe’s body “could not undergo the needed adjustments between ethereal life and planet life.” The entity also tells the intern that he is his brother of light and that floating with him in the efflulgent valleys, they are now fellow wanderers in space and time. This obviously is HPL’s blatant “classism” coming into play.

According to HPL, while a rural resident of upstate New York would not be able to mentally cope with the cosmic sights and sounds the entity provided, an educated, upper class, city-dweller such as the intern surely can. I feel that the idea of one’s status in society dictating how one would mentally process the mental invasion of an alien entity is simply incorrect as a functioning mechanism. While some minor genetic differences between Joe and the intern may account for this difference, such a mechanism is based on biology and not social status (evolution through natural selection vs. social Darwinism).

More importantly, the intern had a brief encounter with the luminescent entity, while Joe has had to deal with it occupying his brain his whole life, providing sights and sounds he could not comprehend; sights and sounds that no one else was exposed to in Joe’s life. The intern was looking for answers while Joe had no choice in the matter.  Thus, isn’t it possible that Joe was not equipped to deal with the ethereal life as a result of an entire lifetime of mental erosion from sharing his mind with the entity?  Who knows how the intern would begin to react to entity if it constantly occupied his mind?

Next time we will talk about the technology the intern invented and used to communicate with the entity from beyond the wall of sleep.  Thank you – Fred.

Beyond the Wall of Sleep by Soldeus Trenton Shuck


Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Part 2 – Schizophrenia or Contact with Extraterrestial Entities?

A portrait of Joe Slater (btwos.visual-test.fr).

Joe Slater was locked up in a state psychopathic institution in the winter of 1900.  After experiencing some auditory and visual hallucinations Joe ended up killing another man, which resulted in alienists evaluating his sanity.  It was his strange ravings and continued hallucinations that resulted in him being committed to the institution.  It is very interesting how Joe’s auditory and visual hallucinations, as documented by HPL in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” are very similar to the symptoms of schizophrenia.

While the occurrence of schizophrenia has been documented as far back as 2,000 B.C., it was not formally recognized as a specific mental disease until 1887 by Dr. Emile Kraepelin.  Kraepelin was a German psychiatrist whose theories actually reviled Freud’s in the early part of the 20th century.  However, the word schizophrenia was coined by Eugen Bleuler in 1911, which was used to describe the separation or division of mental functions among personality, thinking, memory and perceptions of reality.  Thus, while the mental disease of schizophrenia was recognized in HPL’s time, very little was known about its formal diagnosis and treatment.  However, with that being said, it is interesting how Joe Slater does appear to be experiencing the symptoms of schizophrenia.

Emil Kraepelin (from Wikipedia.org)

In Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Joe Slater experienced a number of hallucinations or conditions (depending on your point of view).  A sample of some statements or experiences of Joe’s are provided below:

“a big, big cabin with brightness in the roof and walls and floor and the loud queer music far away.”

Joe was screaming his desire and need to find and kill a certain “thing that shines and shakes and laughs.”

“jump high in the air and burn his way through anything that stopped him.”

“green edifices of light, oceans of space, strange music and shadowy mountains and valleys.”

“some mysterious blazing entity that shook and laughed and mocked him.  This vast, vague personality seemed to have done him a terrible wrong, and to kill it in a triumphant revenge was his paramount desire.”

Finally, Joe had the feeling of “soar[ing] through abysses of emptiness, burning every obstacle that stood in his way.”

Joe Slater experiencing some of his hallucinations in the backwoods of New England

While we will come back to this entity that did Joe a “terrible wrong” in an upcoming article, these comments made by Joe are very indicative of symptoms of schizophrenia.  For example, Joe heard “loud queer music ” or “strange music” as well as heard the entity laughing at him.  Hallucinations involving sound, particularly voices is one of the most common symptoms of schizophrenia.  The strange visions described above may also be indicative of schizophrenia.

In addition, Joe  exhibits strong paranoid delusions, which are also symptoms of schizophrenia.  Such delusions are frequently associated with the belief that others mean to do the person suffering from schizophrenia  harm in some manner.  Based on Joe’s testimony to the alienists, some unknown entity did Joe some type of great harm; so great is this harm that Joe admits he wants to kill this entity that laughs and mocks him.

While not a lot is known about the detailed biochemical, genetic and other mechanisms that can trigger schizophrenia, more is certainly know now relative to HPL’s time.  With that said, based on the data collected by the alienists in Beyond the Walls of Sleep, Joe Slater does exhibit signs of schizophrenia.  However, is this the only explanation to Joe’s behavior?  Is it indeed possible that Joe’s mind was in contact with an entity from beyond Earth or even beyond our dimensions?  Maybe it wasn’t the entity itself producing schizophrenia in Joe.  Is it possible that Joe’s mind could not handle the extraterrestrial communication through his mind and the symptoms of schizophrenia manifested as a means of Joe trying to cope with these circumstances?  Next time we will review the information and evidence that indeed Joe was the recipient of mental communications from beyond Earth.  Thank you – Fred

Illustration of Joe Slater – An Unfit Vessel? (stoicdecay.blogspot.com)