Sunday, October 13, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - The Horror at Martin's Beach

The Horror at Martin’s Beach
In July of 1921, less than 2 months after the death of his mother, HP Lovecraft met Sonia Haft Greene at a convention for the National Amateur Press Association. The two hit it off well enough and began a relationship that would culminate in their marriage three years later. The summer after their meeting they collaborated on a story. More likely it was a story that Greene had written, then given to Lovecraft to add to and edit. That is the story we are looking at this time on Lovecraft 101.

Written in 1922, but first published in Weird Tales in '23 under a different title, The Horror at Martin's Beach is the first and only collaboration we have between Lovecraft and his wife. Which is really too bad, as Greene presents a very strong story that balances out a lot of Lovecraft's writing eccentricities. Though it is hard to say which elements were Greene's and which were Lovecraft's later revisions, there are some interesting strong structural elements that Lovecraft was not known to use, such as firm dates of events. This grounds the story and lends it a bit more sense of realism despite its unreal horrific events.
Though this is ultimately Greene's story and concept, it is still rather Lovecraftian. A town faces the unseen menace of sea-borne horror, helplessly fighting against it. HPL can most definitely be felt in the closing paragraphs of the story with its haunting and atmospheric conclusion.

In the tale, a ship of men have discovered a monstrous fish-like creature that they have fought for nearly two days to bring up from the depths. The shrewd businessman captain, puts the massive beast into a ship to show it off to the world. As scientists and experts scratch their heads in attempt to understand the magnificent 50-foot monstrosity, they do manage to learn one thing. It is only a baby.
This setup was probably greatly original in its time, but has become a cornerstone for ecological horror fiction. Stories like Gorgo, Jaws (or Peter Benchley's lesser known Beast) and even the cheesy film Orca, are about this same sort of thing. Man has found and destroyed the young of some creature, only to become the target of its vengeance seeking parent. An often played up concept, but still a great one.
Enjoyably enough, HPL and Greene add a unique spin to this tale with the hinting at the power of the mind. In the opening paragraphs of the story, an article is mentioned about the power of hypnosis and that it might be silly to assume that mind control could only be under the control of humans. This will become a more common running theme in Lovecraft's essential mythos stories as he writes about the horrific power of other beings over men's minds.
The blending of HPL and Greene's writing here is done to excellent effect and it really is too bad we don't get more of it. Their relationship and subsequent marriage were not long lived, generally speaking, but it is a wonder there wasn't more created between them. In my opinion it is one of the most successful of Lovecraft's collaborations or revisions.
If you want to check out the full tale of seaside terror, you can read it here: HPL's The Horror at Martin's Beach

Next time: The Hound

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