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 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 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.
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, 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.
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 (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.