“Challenge from Beyond, The“

“Challenge from Beyond, The“
   Round-robin short story (6,100 words; HPL’s part, 2,640 words); HPL’s part written in late August 1935. First published in Fantasy Magazine(September 1935); first collected in BWS;corrected text (HPL’s part only) in MW.
   [C.L.Moore:] George Campbell, camping in the Canadian woods, hears a shrieking in the sky and finds that a strange missile, in the form of crystal cubes, has descended from space. Some shape seems embedded in the center of the cube—a disk with characters incised upon it. [A.Merritt:] Campbell ponders the cube, seeing its interior alternately glow and fade. He hears music, then feels himself being sucked into the cube. [HPL:] Campbell seems to be hurtling through space at an incredible speed. At length he feels himself lying upon a hard, flat surface. He remembers reading in the Eltdown Shards about a mighty race of wormlike creatures on a distant planet who sent out crystal cubes that would exercise fascination upon any intelligent entity who encountered them. The mind of that individual would be sucked into the cube and made to inhabit the wormlike body of the alien race, while the mind of the alien race inhabited the other’s body and learned all it could about the civilization in question. After a time a reversal would be effected. The cone-shaped beings who had inhabited Australia millions of years ago had learned of the nature of these cubes and sought to destroy them, thereby earning the wrath of the wormlike creatures. As Campbell ponders this bizarre tale, he realizes that he is now in the body of the wormlike creature. [Robert E.Howard:] Awaking from his faint, Campbell snatches a sharp-pointed metal shard and approaches the god of the creatures, intent on killing it. [Frank Belknap Long:] On the alien planet, George Campbell, in the body of a wormlike creature, kills the god and becomes a god of the worm people himself, while on earth the creature occupying the body of Campbell dies a raving madman.
   The story was the brainchild of Julius Schwartz, who wanted two round-robin stories of the same title, one weird and one science fiction, for the third anniversary issue of Fantasy Magazine. He signed Moore, Long, Merritt, HPL, and a fifth undecided writer for the weird version, and Stanley G.Weinbaum, Donald Wandrei, E.E. “Doc” Smith, Harl Vincent, and Murray Leinster for the science fiction version. It was something of a feat to have harnessed all these writers—especially the resolutely professional A.Merritt—for such a venture, in which each author would write a section building upon what his or her predecessor had done; but the weird tale did not go quite according to plan.
   Moore initiated the story with a rather lackluster account of George Campbell. Long then wrote what HPL calls “a rather clever development” ( SL5.500); but this left Merritt in the position of actually developing the story. Merritt balked, saying that Long had somehow deviated from the subject matter suggested by the title, and refused to participate unless Long’s section was dropped and Merritt allowed to write one of his own. Schwartz, not wanting to lose such a big name, weakly went along with the plan. Merritt’s own version fails to move the story along in any meaningful way. HPL realized that he would have to take the story in hand and actually make it go somewhere. Notes to HPL’s segment survive (published in LSNo. 9 [Fall 1984]: 72–73) and contain drawings of the alien entities he introduces into the tale (giant worm- or centipede-like creatures). His segment is clearly an adaptation of the central conception of “The Shadow out of Time”—mind-exchange. Accordingly, the idea got into print months before its much better utilization in the latter story. HPL’s segment is three to four times as long as that of any other writer’s, or nearly half the story.
   Robert E.Howard was persuaded to take the fourth installment, while Long—whom HPL talked into returning to the project after he had abandoned it when Schwartz dropped his initial installment— concludes the story.
   The complete weird and science fiction versions appear in The Challenge from Beyond (Necronomicon Press, 1990).

An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. .

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