“Night Ocean, The“


“Night Ocean, The“
   Short story (9,840 words); written in collaboration with R.H.Barlow, summer 1936. First published in the Californian (Winter 1936); first collected in HM
   The narrator, a painter, comes to a sea resort named Ellston Beach to rest from the grueling task of completing a painting for a competition. He rents a bungalow far from the town, facing directly onto the beach and the ocean. Initially, as he wanders the beach and swims in the ocean, he appears to derive benefit from the tranquil atmosphere; but gradually he begins to feel uneasy. He hears that a few tourists had drowned inexplicably. Then he comes upon an object on the beach that looks like a rotted hand that may have been gnawed upon by some sea creature. At length, as his loneliness and unease continue, he seems to see—in the course of a furious rainstorm—a strange figure (“a dog, a human being, or something more strange”) emerging from the water, carrying something across its shoulder. For a moment the narrator thinks this creature is approaching his bungalow, but it veers away at the last minute. The narrator is left pondering the mysteries of the night ocean. The manuscript of this story has recently been discovered (it had been micro-filmed by Barlow’s literary executor, George T.Smisor), and it shows that all the plotting and most of the prose is Barlow’s, with HPL revising the language throughout but contributing perhaps less than 10% to the overall story. HPL himself told Hyman Bradofsky (editor of the Californian) that he “ripped the text to pieces in spots” (HPL to Hyman Bradofsky, November 4, 1936; ms., JHL); but in letters to others he commends the story highly, something he is not likely to have done if he had had a great deal to do with it.
   The story is a finely atmospheric weird tale. It comes very close—closer, perhaps, than any of HPL’s own works with the exception of ‘The Colour out of Space”—to capturing the essential spirit of the weird, as HPL wrote of some of Blackwood’s works in “Supernatural Horror in Literature”: “Here art and restraint in narrative reach their very highest development, and an impression of lasting poignancy is produced without a single strained passage or a single false note…. Plot is everywhere negligible, and atmosphere reigns untrammelled.”
   See Brian Humphreys, “‘The Night Ocean’ and the Subtleties of Cosmicism,” LSNo. 30 (Spring 1994): 14–21.

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