“Mound, The“

   Novelette (29,560 words); ghostwritten for Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, December 1929–January 1930. First published (abridged) in WT(November 1940); first collected in BWS;corrected text in HM
   A member of Coronado’s expedition of 1541, Panfilo de Zamacona y Nunez, leaves the main group and conducts a solitary expedition to the mound region of what is now Oklahoma. There he hears tales of an underground realm of fabulous antiquity and (more to his interest) great wealth and finds an Indian who will lead him to one of the few remaining entrances to this realm, although the Indian refuses to accompany him on the actual journey. Zamacona comes upon the civilization of Xinaian (which he pronounces “K’n-yan”), established by quasi-human creatures who came from outer space. These inhabitants have developed remarkable mental abilities, including telepathy and the power of dematerialization—the process of dissolving themselves and selected objects around them into their component atoms and recombining them at some other location. Zamacona initially expresses wonder at this civilization but gradually finds that it has declined both intellectually and morally from a much higher level and has now become corrupt and decadent. He attempts to escape but suffers a horrible fate. His written record of his adventures is unearthed in modern times by an archeologist, who paraphrases his incredible tale.
   Bishop’s original plot-germ for the story (as recorded by R.H.Barlow on the surviving typescript) was of the most skeletal sort: “There is an Indian mound near here, which is haunted by a headless ghost. Sometimes it is a woman.” HPL found this idea “insufferably tame & flat” ( SL3.97) and fabricated a lengthy novelette of underground horror, incorporating many conceptions of his evolving myth-cycle, including Cthulhu (under the variant form Tulu).
   The story is the first of HPL’s tales to utilize an alien civilization as a transparent metaphor for certain phases of human (and, more specifically, Western) civilization. Initially, K’n-yan seems a Lovecraftian Utopia: the people have conquered old age, have no poverty because of their relatively few numbers and their thorough mastery of technology, use religion only as an aesthetic ornament, practice selective breeding to ensure the vigor of the “ruling type,” and pass the day largely in aesthetic and intellectual activity. But as Zamacona continues to observe the people, he begins to notice disturbing signs of decadence. Science is “falling into decay”; history is “more and more neglected”; and gradually religion is becoming less an aesthetic ritual and more a degraded superstition. The narrator concludes: “It is evident that K’n-yan was far along in its decadence—reacting with mixed apathy and hysteria against the standardised and time-tabled life of stultifying regularity which machinery had brought it during its middle period.” This comment mirrors HPL’s ruminations regarding the current state of Western civilization (see, e.g., SL2.309).
   The story was far longer a work than HPL needed to write for this purpose, and its length bode ill for prospects of publication. WTwas on increasingly shaky ground, and Farnsworth Wright had to be careful what he accepted; accordingly, he rejected the story in early 1930 because it was too long and not capable of convenient division as a serial. HPL had, apparently, already been paid by Bishop for his work, but he no doubt would have liked to see the story in print.
   The belief that Frank Belknap Long had some hand in the writing of the story—derived from Zealia Bishop’s declaration that “Long…advised and worked with me on that short novel” (“H.P.Lovecraft: A Pupil’s View” [1953]; in LR)—is countered by Long’s own declaration that “I had nothing whatever to do with the writing of The Mound. That brooding, somber, and magnificently atmospheric story is Lovecraftian from the first page to the last” ( Howard Phillips Lovecraft: Dreamer on the Nightside [Arkham House, 1975], pp. xiii–xiv). Long was at this time acting as Bishop’s agent. He had apparently typed HPL’s manuscript of the tale, for the typescript seems to come from Long’s typewriter. After WTrejected the story, Bishop evidently felt that the text should be abridged in order to make it more salable. Long did this by reducing the initial typescript’s eighty-two pages to sixty-nine—not by retyping, but by merely omitting some sheets and scratching out parts of others with a pen. The carbon was kept intact. Long apparently attempted to market the shortened version, but without success. After HPL’s death, August Derleth prepared a radically adulterated and abridged text for publication in WT,which was reprinted in Arkham House editions until the unadulterated text was published in 1989.
   See W.E.Beardson, “The Mound of Yig?” Etchings and Odysseys No. 1 (1973): 10–13; S.T.Joshi, “Who Wrote ‘The Mound’?” Nyctalops No. 14 (March 1978): 41–42 (revised in CryptNo. 11 [Candlemas 1983]: 27–29, 38); Peter H.Cannon, “The Mound’: An Appreciation,” CryptNo. 11 (Candlemas 1983): 30–32, 51; Michael DiGregorio, “‘Yig,’ ‘The Mound’ and American Indian Lore,” Crypt No. 11 (Candlemas 1983): 25–26, 38; S.T.Joshi, “Lovecraft’s Alien Civilisations: A Political Interpretation,” in Selected Papers on Lovecraft (Necronomicon Press, 1989).

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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