- “Shadow out of Time, The“
- Novelette (25,600 words); written November 10, 1934 to February 22, 1935. First published in Astounding Stories(June 1936); first collected in O;reprinted in DH;corrected and annotated text (based on recently discovered AMS): Hippocampus Press, 2001.Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, a professor of political economy at Miskatonic University, experiences a sudden nervous breakdown on May 14, 1908, while teaching a class. Awaking in the hospital after a collapse, he appears to have suffered amnesia so severe that it has affected even his vocal and motor faculties. Gradually he relearns the use of his body and, indeed, develops tremendous mental capacity, seemingly far beyond that of a normal human being. His wife, sensing that something is gravely wrong, refuses to have anything to do with him and later obtains a divorce; only one of his three children, Wingate, continues to associate with him. Peaslee spends the next five years conducting prodigious research at various libraries around the world and also undertakes expeditions to various mysterious realms. Finally, on September 27, 1913, he suddenly snaps back into his old life: when he awakes after a spell of unconsciousness, he believes he is still teaching the economics course in 1908.Peaslee is now plagued with dreams of increasing strangeness. He dreams that his mind has been placed in the body of an entity shaped like a ten-foot-high rugose cone, while that entity’s mind occupies his own body. These creatures are called the Great Race “because [they] alone had conquered the secret of time”: they have perfected a technique of mind-exchange with almost any other life-form throughout the universe and at any point in time—past, present, or future. The Great Race had established a colony on this planet in Australia 150,000,000 years ago. Their minds had previously occupied the bodies of another race but had left them because of some impending cataclysm; later they would migrate to other bodies after the cone-shaped beings were destroyed. They had compiled a voluminous library consisting of the accounts of all the other captive minds throughout the universe. Peaslee writes an account of his time for the Great Race’s archives.Peaslee believes that his dreams of the Great Race are merely the product of his esoteric study during his amnesia; but then an Australian explorer, having read some of Peaslee’s articles on his dreams in a psychological journal, writes to him to let him know that some archeological remains very similar to the ones he has described as the city of the Great Race have been recently discovered. Peaslee accompanies the explorer, Robert B.F.Mackenzie, on an expedition to the Great Sandy Desert and is stunned to find that his dreams may have a real source. One night he leaves the camp to conduct a solitary exploration. He winds through the now underground corridors of the Great Race’s city, increasingly unnerved at the familiarity of the sites he is traversing. He knows that the only way to discern whether his dreams are only dreams or some monstrous reality is to find the account he dreamed he had written for the archives of the Great Race. After a laborious descent he comes to the place and does indeed find his own record. Reflecting afterward, he writes: “No eye had seen, no hand had touched that book since the advent of man to this planet. And yet, when I flashed my torch upon it in that frightful megalithic abyss, I saw that the queerly pigmented letters on the brittle, aeon-browned cellulose pages were not indeed any nameless hieroglyphs of earth’s youth. They were, instead, the letters of our familiar alphabet, spelling out the words of the English language in my own handwriting.”The basic mind-exchange scenario of the tale derives from at least three sources. First is H.B.Drake’s The Shadowy Thing(1928; first published in England in 1925 as The Remedy), which also influenced “The Thing on the Doorstep.” Second, there is Henri Beraud’s obscure novel Lazarus(1925), which HPL owned and which he read in 1928 (HPL to August Derleth, [February 1928]; ms., SHSW). The novel presents a man, Jean Mourin, who remains in a hospital for sixteen years (for the period 1906– 22) while suffering a long amnesia. During this time he develops a personality (named Gervais by the hospital staff) very different from that of his usual self. Every now and then this alternate personality returns; once Mourin thinks he sees Gervais when he looks in the mirror, and later he thinks Gervais is stalking him. Mourin even undertakes a study of split personalities, as Peaslee does, in an attempt to come to grips with the situation.The third dominant influence is the film Berkeley Square(1933), which enraptured HPL by its portrayal of a man whose mind somehow drifts back into the body of his ancestor in the eighteenth century. This source in particular may have been critical, for it seems to have supplied HPL with suggestions on how he might embody his long-held belief (expressed in “Notes on Writing Weird Fiction”) that “ Conflict with timeseems to me the most potent and fruitful theme in all human expression.” HPL first saw Berkeley Squarein November 1933. Initially he was much taken with the fidelity with which the eighteenth-century atmosphere was captured; but on seeing the film again, he began to detect some flaws in conception. Berkeley Squareis based on a play of that title by John L.Balderston (1929). It tells the story of Peter Standish, a man in the early twentieth century who is so fascinated with the eighteenth century—and in particular his own ancestor and namesake—that he somehow transports himself literally into the past and into the body of his ancestor. HPL detected two problems with the execution of the idea: (1) Where was the mind or personality of the eighteenth-century Peter Standish when the twentieth-century Peter was occupying his body? (2) How could the eighteenth-century Peter’s diary, written in part while the twentieth-century Peter was occupying his body, not take cognizance of the fact ( SL4.362–64)? In his story HPL seems to have striven to obviate these difficulties.Other, smaller features in “The Shadow out of Time” may also have literary sources. Peaslee’s alienation from his family may echo Walter de la Mare’s novel The Return(1910), in which again an eighteenth-century personality seems to fasten itself upon the body of a twentieth-century individual, causing his wife to cease all relations with him. Leonard Cline’s The Dark Chamber(1927), in which a man attempts to recapture his entire past, is perhaps the source for the vast archives of the Great Race. Cline’s protagonist, Richard Pride, keeps an immense warehouse full of documents about his own life, and toward the end of the novel the narrator frantically traverses this warehouse before finding Pride killed by his own dog.Two other “influences” can be noted if only to be dismissed. It has frequently been assumed that “The Shadow out of Time” is simply an extrapolation upon Wells’s The Time Machine. HPL read the novel in 1925, but there is little in it that has a direct bearing on his story. Olaf Stapledon’s Last and First Men(1930) has been suggested as an influence on the enormous stretches of time reflected in the story, but HPL did not read this work until August 1935, months after the tale’s completion (see HPL to August Derleth, August 7, 1935; ms., SHSW).Perhaps a significant literary influence can be found in HPL’s own works. The story could be thought of as an exhaustive expansion of the notion of “possession” by an extraterrestrial being as found in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” (1919). Minor allusions to other older stories appear, since many were being published only for the first time at the time HPL was writing “The Shadow out of Time.” The story’s amnesia motif makes for a provocative autobiographical connection. Peaslee’s amnesia dates from 1908 to 1913, the exact time when HPL himself, having had to withdraw from high school, descended into hermitry. The inability of the alien inhabiting Peaslee’s body to control its facial muscles may correlate to the facial tics that HPL suffered at that time.HPL experienced considerable difficulty in writing the story. The core of the plot had been conceived as early as 1930, emerging from a discussion between HPL and Clark Ashton Smith regarding the plausibility of stories involving time travel. HPL noted: “The weakness of most tales with this theme is that they do not provide for the recording, in history, of those inexplicable events in the past which were caused by the backward time-voyagings of persons of the present & future” ( SL3.217). At that time he already envisioned the cataclysmic ending: “One baffling thing that could be introduced is to have a modern man discover, among documents exhumed from some prehistoric buried city, a mouldering papyrus or parchment written in English, & in his own handwriting.”By March 1932 HPL had devised the basic idea of mind-exchange over time, as outlined in another letter to Smith:I have a sort of time idea of very simple nature floating around in the back of my head, but don’t know when I shall ever get around to using it. The notion is that of a race in primal Lomar perhaps even before the founding of Olathoe & in the heyday of Hyperborean Commoriom—who gained a knowledge of all arts & sciences by sending thoughtstreams ahead to drain the minds of men in future ages—angling in time, as it were. Now & then they get hold of a really competent man of learning, & annex all his thoughts. Usually they only keep their victims tranced for a short time, but once in a while, when they need some special piece of continuous information, one of their number sacrifices himself for the race & actually changes bodies with the first thoroughly satisfactory victim he finds. The victim’s brain then goes back to 100,000 B.C.—into the hypnotist’s body to live in Lomar for the rest of his life, while the hypnotist from dead aeons animates the modern clay of his victims. ( SL4.25–26) This passage is quoted at length to show both that HPL made significant alterations in the finished story—the mind of the Great Race rarely remains in a captive body for the rest of its life but only for a period of years, after which a return switch is effected—and that the conception of mind-exchange over time had been devised beforeHPL saw Berkeley Square,the only other work that may conceivably have influenced this point.HPL began writing of the story in late 1934. He announces in November: “I developed that story mistily and allusivelyin 16 pages, but it was no go. Thin and unconvincing, with the climactic revelation wholly unjustified by the hash of visions preceding it” ( SL5.71). It is difficult to imagine what this sixteen-page version could have been like. The disquisition about the Great Race must have been radically compressed, and this is what clearly dissatisfied HPL about this version. He came to realize that this passage, far from being an irrelevant digression, was actually the heart of the story. What then occurred is a little unclear: Is the second draft the version we now have? In late December he speaks of a “second version” that “fails to satisfy me” ( SL5.86) and is uncertain whether to finish it as it is or to destroy it and start afresh. He may have done the latter, for long after finishing the story he declares that the final version was “itself the 3d complete version of the same story” ( SL5.346).HPL was highly dissatisfied with the story and was disinclined to type it. In a highly unusual maneuver (HPL never circulated his drafts) he sent the manuscript to August Derleth and then expressed irritation that Derleth apparently made no attempt to read the crabbed text. Then, while visiting R.H.Barlow in Florida in the summer of 1935, HPL asked Derleth to send him the manuscript, as Barlow wished to read it. In fact, Barlow surreptitiously typed the story. When HPL sent the typescript for circulation among his correspondents, the first recipient, Donald Wandrei, instead took the story to F.Orlin Tremaine of Astoundingafter he learned of Julius Schwartz’s sale of At the Mountains of Madnessto the magazine. Tremaine accepted it forthwith, apparently without reading it.The manuscript of the story—formerly in the possession of Barlow, to whom HPL had given it— surfaced in 1994. Consultation of the text reveals that, in spite of HPL’s assertions to the contrary, the story was significantly adulterated in its appearance in Astounding Stories,specifically in paragraphing. Other errors appear to be the result of Barlow’s inability to read HPL’s handwriting.See Robert M.Price, “The Mischief out of Time,” Crypt No. 4 (Eastertide 1982): 27, 30; Darrell Schweitzer, “Lovecraft’s Favorite Movie,” LS Nos. 19/20 (Fall 1989): 23–25, 27; Will Murray, “Buddai,” Crypt No. 75 (Michaelmas 1990): 29–33; S.T.Joshi, “The Genesis of ‘The Shadow out of Time,’” LS No, 33 (Fall 1995): 24–29; Paul Montelone, “The Vanity of Existence in ‘The Shadow out of Time,’” LS No. 34 (Spring 1996): 27–35.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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