Derleth Country #3 – The Shadow Out of SpaceLeave a comment
March 18, 2016 by Bret Kramer (aka WinstonP)
This story first appeared in The Survivor and Others (1957). While there is no obvious source from Lovecraft’s Commonplace Book, the imprint of “The Shadow Out of Time” is so substantial as make this work seem little more than a retread of Lovecraft’s story. If the title was not an obvious give-away, the story itself make sure you know exactly which once of Lovecraft’s tales you’re getting Derleth’s remake of.
The core reveal of “The Shadow Out of Time” is tediously summarized by the world’s most dull psychoanalyst.
Do I need to elaborate?
All right… by dull I mean both as a story-teller and as an intellectual… i.e. his story was tedious and he struck me as not particularly smart.
Wait, you want more? Fine. Our narrator is Dr. Nathaniel Corey, a psychoanalyst living in semi-retirement in Arkham, Massachusetts. Corey, who has very improbably “been in the practice of psychoanalysis for more than fifty years”, is introduced to a new and most unusual patient in 1933. He is Amos Piper, formerly on the faculty of Miskatonic University’s department of anthropology who, several years previous, suffered an inexplicable mental break-down, after which he engaged in a multi-year long, inexplicable tour of Mythos hot-spot name-checking – Polynesia, Mongolia, the Empty Quarter of Arabia, etc. Likewise he consulted many of the world’s finest public and private libraries to review a rather familiar list of dreadful occult tomes (see Comments below).
A month or so ago, Piper had suddenly returned to his senses and was himself again, but this recovery was short lived as he had become immediately fixated upon his actions in the years away, so to speak, and began to suffer from nightmares so severe he had not slept in three weeks (or about twice the current world record). Eventually Dr. Corey persuades Piper reveal to him not only the course of his “illness” but to reveal the contents of his nightmarish dreams, which are, no surprise, all about his time mind-swapped with a Yithian.
If you have not yet read “The Shadow Out of Time”, do so now, because Lovecraft’s rendition is clearly superior to Derleth’s retread. The only significant difference here is that Derleth places the Great Race into his Elder God versus Ancient One cosmic conflict (on the side of the Elder Gods, unsurprisingly) and that the Yithian involved here were not from the same era as those in Lovecraft’s story but from a planet orbiting “a dark star in Taurus”. There purpose on Earth was also to keep tabs on the various Ancient Ones long ago imprisoned here in advance of some final cataclysmic war between Good and Evil… err… Elder Gods and Ancient Ones. The Yithians were to soon embark on another mass-migration from the dying star to some safer space-time locale, until the day when they join the celestial white hats and lightning gun Cthulhu, Hastur, and the gang, to ashes.
After we learn all this Amos Piper has another brief relapse, from which he rapidly recovers and indeed, seems to be perfectly psychologically healthy. Our idiot narrator, despite having just received a letter from Piper warning him that he feared the Yithains would soon steal way his mind again (and had explained in detail earlier in the story this as their method for dealing with anyone who retains memories of the swap), visits with Piper and is “pleased with his recovery”. Sigh.
Dr. Corey, after his office is burgled and his papers related to Piper are stolen, finally begins to suspect that Piper’s crazy story might actually be true. They were, after all, of no interest to anyone save those wanting to remove any trace of Piper’s story from the historical record… When he begins to investigate his patient’s story and discovers the vast collection of Mythos works at Miskatonic University (which he consults without issue contra “The Dunwich Horror”) corroborate Piper’s claims. Piper, meanwhile, has hied off to the Arabian desert where he (and a Beneton ad’s worth of former Yithian abductees) have vanished.
The story end with Dr. Corey, having written this account of his experiences, reporting that the Yithians are now stalking him, a warning of their approach cut off mid sentence. A post-script, in the de rigueur italics, notes that this account was found among Dr. Corey’s papers after he and an unknown man, both apparently insane, were discovered in his office attempting to very clumsily burn (see “Come On, Augie!” for the quote) all of his files.
Lovecraft Country Content
There is almost nothing in this story that enriches what we know about Arkham or Lovecraft Country – most of the story is Dr. Corey summarizing his experiences treating Piper. We spend more time in orbit of a dying star near Taurus than in anywhere in Arkham beyond Corey’s office.
I was mildly surprised to discover that elements of this story were incorporated by Keith Herber into Arkham Unveiled. The Larkin Institute, described in the story’s post-script as a “well-known private asylum for the insane” to which the unfortunate Nathaniel Corey is consigned, appears as location 902 in Arkham (at 766 E. Pickman Street for the curious). Dr. Corey is listed as one of the patients there, his case of particular interest to Dr. Parker Larkin, the Institute’s director, who has begun to wonder if there might be some truth to the madman’s ravings. Obviously the events of the story were moved back a few years, since Derleth placed it in 1933; the official “date” for all of the Lovecraft Country books is October of 1928), but this is not unusual for the series. As Herber notes in the Introduction of Arkham Unveiled, “Liberties have been taken with some dates given in Lovecraft’s stories”. This is no less true for Derleth’s contributions to the setting.
I did not notice any mention of Drs. Piper or Corey in Sam Johnson’s Miskatonic University sourcebook.
We are three-for-three when it comes to disappointing stories… this one might be my least favorite so far actually. There is nothing here that was not already revealed in “The Shadow Out of Time”, save for what Derleth apparently ignores or misunderstood from Lovecraft’s story.
For example, why were there rugose cone Yithians at the unnamed planet orbiting the dying Taurean star? The cones were Earth natives! Why are the Yithians now allied with the Elder Gods? How are they “about to embark” on another mass-migration? Did he not read the history of the Great Race Lovecraft provided? What about the insect bodies of the future? The vegetables on Mercury? This is time-travel fiction at its worst – the author cannot work out a logical chronology or recall that this race can go wherever and whenever they want. They should never be in a rush!
(I should warn you that this is not Derleth’s worst Yithian tale – that tragedy would be “The Dark Brotherhood”. Bleh!!!)
Derleth includes, yet again, a litany of Mythos works – in this case the books that Amos Piper consulted while possessed by a Yithian. They are, save for the omission of the Book of Dzyan, the exact same books held by Wilbur Akeley in “The Gable Window”! (I should note that the Book of Eibon is called the Liber Ivoris [sic?] here, but otherwise precisely the same names are used.) I cannot come up with a plausible justification for a Yithian mind needing to consult these tomes – they are masters of time and space, they don’t need impossibly flawed human explanations of the cosmos. If the purpose is to keep track of the various allies of the Ancient Ones on earth, how do hundreds-(or thousands) of-year-old books help? This is simply slapping a sticker saying “Cthulhu” on a story and thinking that makes it Lovecraftian.
As far as I know Wilum Pugmire is the only other person who has gone through Derleth’s stories in a similar, albeit very idiosyncratic, manner, though his interests are purely literary. Here are his comments (clipping off some personal asides about his birthday party and his mother’s antics). He liked it far more than I did.
“Oh come on, Augie!”
…but also members of the race of men who were to live on post-atomic earth, horribly altered by mutations caused by the fall-out from the hydrogen and cobalt bombs of the atomic wars.
Sigh. “The idea of [a hydrogen bomb] was first proposed casually by the Italian physicist Enrico Fermi… in the fall of 1941″ & “The concept of a cobalt bomb was originally described in a radio program by physicist Leó Szilárd on February 26, 1950.” Derleth didn’t try very hard to make these stories sound plausibly written by Lovecraft, did he?
The two men seemed unable to grasp the pages, but were nudging them forward with strange, crab-like motions.
This is in the postscript at the end of the story – we get it Augie, they’re being controlled by Yithians. It has been spelled out unambiguously already. What is the point?
Coming next… “The Shuttered Room”!