- “Beyond the Wall of Sleep“
- Short story (4,360 words); written Spring 1919. First published in Pine Cones(October 1919), an amateur journal edited by John Clinton Pryor; rpt. Fantasy Fan(October 1934) and WT(March 1938); first collected in BWS;corrected text in D; annotated version in TD.Joe Slater (or Slaader), a denizen of the Catskill Mountains, is interned in a mental institution in 1900 because of the horrible murder of another man. Slater seems clearly mad, filled with strange cosmic visions that he, in his “debased patois,” is unable to articulate coherently. The narrator, an intern at the asylum, takes a special interest in Slater because he feels that there is something beyond his comprehension in Slater’s wild dreams and fancies. He contrives a “cosmic ‘radio’” with which he hopes to establish mental communication with Slater. After many fruitless attempts, communication finally occurs, preceded by weird music and visions of spectacular beauty: Slater’s body has in fact been occupied all his life by an extraterrestrial entity that for some reason has a burning desire for revenge against the star Algol (the Daemon-Star). With the impending death of Slater, the entity will be free to exact the vengeance it has always desired. Then reports come on February 22, 1901, of a nova near Algol.HPL notes that the story was inspired by a passing mention of Catskill Mountain denizens in an article on the New York State Constabulary in the New York Tribune—“How Our State Police Have Spurred Their Way to Fame,” by F.F.Van de Water (April 27, 1919). The story presumably was written shortly thereafter. The article actually mentions a family named the Slaters or Slahters as representative of the decadent squalor of the mountaineers. HPL concludes the story with an account of the nova taken verbatim from his copy of Garrett P. Serviss’s Astronomy with the Naked Eye (1908). Some have claimed that the story was influenced by Ambrose Bierce’s “Beyond the Wall” (in the revised edition of Can Such Things Be?). HPL had first read Bierce in 1919, but there is no similarity between the two stories except in their titles, as Bierce’s tale is a conventional ghost story that bears no resemblance to HPL’s. There may be an influence from Jack London’s Before Adam (1906), although there is no evidence that HPL read it. The novel is an account of hereditary memory, in which a man from the modern age has dreams of the life of his remote ancestor in primitive times. At the very outset of the novel London’s character remarks: “Nor…did any of my human kind ever break through the wall of my sleep.” Other passages seem to be echoed in HPL’s story. In effect, HPL presents a mirror-image of Before Adam:whereas London’s narrator is a modern (civilized) man who has visions of a primitive past, Joe Slater is a primitive human being whose visions, as HPL declares, are such as “only a superior or even exceptional brain could conceive.”
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.