“In the Walls of Eryx“
- Short story (12,000 words); written in collaboration with Kenneth J.Sterling, January 1936. First published in WT(October 1939); first collected in BWS;corrected text in D.Kenton J.Stanfield, of the Venus Crystal Company, is exploring for the valuable crystals—used for power both on Venus and back on earth—near the company’s post of Terra Nova when he sees an immense crystal sitting in a field on the plateau (the “Erycinian Highland”) of Eryx. (In Greek mythology, Eryx is the son of Aphrodite [Venus].) Approaching the object at a run, Stanfield is startled to encounter an invisible obstruction. He gradually realizes that the object is an invisible maze, made of some glasslike substance that is preternaturally hard. He finds an entrance and begins to approach the crystal, which appears to be in the very center of the maze. He continually seems to make progress but is always halted by an unexpected barrier. Stanfield begins to crack under the strain and is half convinced there is something supernatural about the maze. Then the “manlizards” native to Venus surround the maze and seem to mock Stanfield by waving their feelers at him. Days pass; Stanfield’s supply of oxygen and food dwindle; every attempt to find the right passageway to the crystal fails, nor can Stanfield find his way out of the maze. Finally he collapses and dies. His body, and the diary he had kept, is found by another operative of the Venus Crystal Company, who realizes that Stanfield could easily have emerged from the maze by proceeding through the opening behindhim.Sterling has stated that the idea of the invisible maze was his and that this core idea was adapted from Edmond Hamilton’s story (which HPL liked), “The Monster-God of Mamurth” ( WT,August 1926), which concerns an invisible building in the Sahara Desert. Sterling wrote a draft of 6,000 to 8,000 words; HPL rewrote the story (“in very short order,” Sterling declares) on a small pad of lined paper, making it considerably longer in the process (see Sterling, “Caverns Measureless to Man” ; in LR,pp. 375–78). Sterling’s account suggests that the version as we have it is entirely HPL’s prose, and indeed it reads as such; but one suspects (Sterling’s original draft is not extant) that, as with the collaborated tales with Price and Lumley, HPL tried to preserve as much of Sterling’s own prose, and certainly his ideas, as possible.The authors have made the tale amusing with in-jokes on certain mutual colleagues: Kenton J.Stanfield’s initials are those of Sterling; sificlighs=Science Fiction League, to which Sterling belonged; farnoth-flies=editor Farnsworth Wright of WT;ugrats=Hugo the Rat, HPL’s name for editor Hugo Gernsback of Wonder Stories;effjay weeds and wriggling akmans=Forrest J.Ackerman; tuckahs=Bob Tucker; darohs=Jack Darrow, these latter three being wellknown fans. Some jokes are probably HPL’s, since they resemble the punning names he devised for “The Battle That Ended the Century.”The hackneyed use of Venus as a setting for the tale is perhaps its one significant drawback. The notion of a human being walking without difficulty (albeit with an oxygen mask and protective suit) on the surface of Venus was not preposterous in its day. There was much speculation as to the surface conditions of the planet, some astronomers believing it to be steamy and swampy like our own Palaeozoic age, others that it is a barren desert blown by dust storms; still others thought the planet covered with huge oceans of carbonated water or even with hot oil. It was only in 1956 that radio waves showed the surface temperature to be a minimum of 570° F, while in 1968 radar and radio observations at last confirmed the temperature to be 900° F and the surface atmospheric pressure to be at least ninety times that of the earth. HPL’s handwritten draft was presumably typed by Sterling, since the existing typescript is in an unrecognizable typewriter face. The byline reads (surely at HPL’s insistence) “By Kenneth Sterling and H.P.Lovecraft.” Sterling reports that the story was submitted to WTshortly after it was written but was rejected. It apparently was then submitted to Astounding Stories, Blue Book, Argosy, Wonder Stories,and perhaps Amazing Stories(all these names, except the last, are crossed out on a sheet prefacing the typescript). Finally it was resubmitted to WTand accepted. Sterling received $120, half of which he gave to HPL’s surviving aunt, Annie E.P.Gamwell.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.
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