“Temple, The“

“Temple, The“
   Short story (5,430 words); written sometime after “The Cats of Ulthar” (June 15, 1920) but before “Celephais” (early November). First published in WT(September 1925); rpt. WT(February 1936); first collected in O;corrected text in D; annotated version in TD.
   A German submarine commanded by a Prussian nobleman, Karl Heinrich, Graf von AltbergEhrenstein, sinks a British freighter; later a dead seaman from the freighter is found clinging to the railing of the submarine, and in his pocket is found a “very odd bit of ivory carved to represent a youth’s head crowned with laurel.” The German crew sleep poorly, have bad dreams, and some think that dead bodies are drifting past the portholes. Some crewmen actually go mad, claiming that a curse has fallen upon them; Altberg-Ehrenstein executes them to restore discipline. Some days later an explosion in the engine room cripples the submarine, and still later a general mutiny breaks out, with some sailors further damaging the ship; the commander again executes the culprits. Finally only Altberg-Ehrenstein and Lieutenant Klenze are left alive. The ship sinks lower and lower toward the bottom of the ocean. Klenze then goes mad, shouting: “ Heis calling! Heis calling! I hear him! We must go!” He voluntarily leaves the ship and plunges into the ocean. As the ship finally reaches the ocean floor, the commander sees a remarkable sight: an entire city at the bottom of the ocean, with various buildings, temples, and villas, mostly built of marble. “Confronted at last with the Atlantis I had formerly deemed largely a myth,” Altberg-Ehrenstein notices one especially large temple carved from the solid rock; later he sees that a head sculpted on it is exactly like the figurine taken from the dead British sailor. The commander, finishing his written account of his adventure on August 20, 1917, prepares to explore the temple after he sees an anomalous phosphorescence emerging from far within the temple. “So I will carefully don my diving suit and walk boldly up the steps into that primal shrine; that silent secret of unfathomed waters and uncounted years.”
   This is the first of HPL’s stories not to have been first published in an amateur journal; possibly its length was a factor, as most amateur journals could not accommodate so long a tale. Like “Dagon,” it uses World War I as a vivid backdrop, although HPL mars the story by crude satire on the protagonist’s militarist and chauvinist sentiments. There also seems to be an excess of supernaturalism, with many bizarre occurrences that do not seem to unify into a coherent whole. But the story is significant in postulating (like “Dagon”) an entire civilization antedating humanity and possibly responsible for many of the intellectual and aesthetic achievements of humanity. In a letter HPL remarks that “the flame that the Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein beheld was a witch-fire lit by spirits many millennia old” ( SL1.287), but no reader could ever make this deduction based solely on the textual evidence. In a late letter ( SL5.267–69) he discusses the ancient sources for the myth of Atlantis (in which, of course, he did not believe).

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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