“Polaris“


“Polaris“
   Short story (1,530 words); probably written in late spring or summer 1918. First published in the Philosopher (December 1920), an amateur paper edited by Alfred Galpin; rpt. National Amateur (May 1926), Fantasy Fan(February 1934), and WT(December 1937); first collected in O;corrected text in D
   The narrator appears to have a dream in which he is initially a disembodied spirit contemplating some seemingly mythical realm, the land of Lomar, whose principal city Olathoe is threatened with attack from the Inutos, “squat, hellish, yellow fiends.” In a subsequent “dream” the narrator learns that he has a body, and is one of the Lomarians. He is “feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected to stress and hardships,” so is denied a place in the actual army of defenders; but he is given the important task of manning the watch-tower of Thapnen, since “my eyes were the keenest of the city.” Unfortunately, at the critical moment Polaris, the Pole Star, winks down at him and casts a spell so that he falls asleep; he strives to wake up and finds that when he does so he is in a room through whose window he sees “the horrible swaying trees of a dream-swamp” (i.e., his “waking” life). He convinces himself that “I am still dreaming,” and vainly tries to wake up, but is unable to do so.
   The story is not a dream-fantasy but rather—like “The Tomb”—a case of psychic possession by a distant ancestor, as indicated by the poem inserted in the tale, which the narrator fancies the Pole Star speaks to him: “Slumber, watcher, till the spheres/Six and twenty thousand years/Have revolv’d, and I return/ To the spot where now I burn.” This alludes to the fact that Polaris’s position is not fixed above the North Pole, and that, as the earth wobbles on its axis, it takes twenty-six thousand years for Polaris to return to its position above the Pole. (When the Pyramids of Egypt were built, Alpha Draconis was the Pole Star; in thirteen thousand years, Vega will be.) In other words, the man’s spirit has gone back twenty-six thousand years and identified with the spirit of his ancestor. “Polaris” was in part the result of a controversy over religion between HPL and Maurice W.Moe. In a long letter to Moe (May 15, 1918; SL1.62) HPL notes that “Several nights ago I had a strange dream of a strange city—a city of many palaces and gilded domes, lying in a hollow betwixt ranges of grey, horrible hills…. I was, as I said, aware of this city visually. I was in it and around it. But certainly I had no corporeal existence.” (HPL cites the dream in the course of discussing the importance of distinguishing between dream and reality.) The story was presumably written shortly after this date. HPL himself frequently remarked on the story’s apparent stylistic similarity to the work of Lord Dunsany, which HPL would read only a year or so later; but possibly the style of the tale was derived from Poe’s prose poems, which themselves partly influenced Dunsany’s style.
   See S.T.Joshi, “On ‘Polaris,’” Crypt No. 15 (Lammas 1983): 22–25; Ralph E.Vaughan, “The Horror of ‘Polaris,’” CryptNo. 15 (Lammas 1983): 26–27.

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