- “White Ship, The“
- Short story (2,550 words); probably written in October 1919. First published in the United Amateur (November 1919); rpt. WT(March 1927); first collected in BWS;corrected text in D; annotated version in TD.Basil Elton, “keeper of the North Point light,” one day “walk[s] out over the waters…on a bridge of moonbeams” to a White Ship that has come from the South, captained by an aged bearded man. They sail to various fantastic realms: the Land of Zar, “where dwell all the dreams and thoughts of beauty that come to men once and then are forgotten”; the Land of Thalarion, “the City of a Thousand Wonders, wherein reside all those mysteries that man has striven in vain to fathom”; Xura, “the Land of Pleasures Unattained”; and finally Sona-Nyl, in which “there is neither time nor space, neither suffering nor death.” Although Elton spends “many aeons” there in evident contentment, he gradually finds himself yearning for the realm of Cathuria, the Land of Hope, beyond the basalt pillars of the West, which he believes to be an even more wondrous realm than Sona-Nyl. The captain warns him against pursuing Cathuria, but Elton is adamant and compels the captain to launch his ship once more. But they discover that beyond the basalt pillars of the West is only a “monstrous cataract, wherein the oceans of the world drop down to abysmal nothingness.” As their ship is destroyed, Elton finds himself on the platform of his lighthouse. The White Ship comes to him no more.The plot of the story clearly derives from Dunsany’s “Idle Days on the Yann” (in A Dreamer’s Tales, 1910), but there the resemblance ends, for Dunsany’s tale tells only of a dream-voyage by a man who boards a ship, the Bird of the River,and encounters one magical land after another; there is no significant philosophical content in these realms, and their principal function is merely an evocation of fantastic beauty. HPL’s tale is meant to be interpreted allegorically or symbolically and as such enunciates several central tenets of his philosophical thought, principally the folly of abandoning the Epicurean goal of ataraxia,tranquillity (interpreted as the absence of pain), embodied in the land of Sona-Nyl. By forsaking it Basil Elton brings upon his head a justified doom—not death, but sadness and discontent.After the story’s first publication, Alfred Galpin, chairman of the Department of Public Criticism of the UAPA, gave it a warm reception (see “Department of Public Criticism,” United Amateur,March 1920).See also Dirk W.Mosig, “‘The White Ship’: A Psychic Odyssey,” Whispers (November 1974) (rpt. FDOC); Paul Montelone, “‘The White Ship’: A Schopenhauerian Odyssey,” LS No. 36 (Spring 1997): 2–14.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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