Short Story review: "The Temple" by H. P. Lovecraft
This tale is the contents of a (fictional) manuscript found off the coast of the Yucatan Peninsula. As the story goes, the manuscript was placed in the bottle by Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein, Lieutenant-Commander in the Imperial German Navy in charge of the submarine U-29 , which, as the lieutenant writes, lay disabled at the ocean bottom. He is unsure of its location, but estimates it N. Latitude 20°, W. Longitude 35°, which would, according to Google Maps, put him smack dab in the middle of the Atlantic, closer to Cape Verde and Mauritania than to the British Virgin Islands and Monserrat.
Regardless, he’s doomed and he knows it, but he puts off mentioning that because of his steely German—precisely Prussian—will. Unlike the soft Rhinelander, his fellow officer Lt. Klenze (who eventually lost his mind and willfully went into the ocean through the double lock without a diving suit, crying, “He is calling! We must go!”), Karl Heinrich is going to stick it out until the very end. He knows his mind is going and only regrets that his interesting psychology cannot be observed scientifically by a competent German authority.
Earlier in the journey, the U-29 sank the British freighter Victory , allowing the crew to escape in lifeboats. The crew of the U-29 filmed the sinking of the Victory . Karl Heinrich regrets that Berlin will never see such a fine reel of film. After that, they attacked the lifeboats with their guns and submerged.
When they surfaced again, they found the body of a dead seaman on their deck, his hands gripping the railing—one more victim of the “unjust war of aggression which the English pig-dogs are waging on the Fatherland.” The crew searched him for souvenirs and found a piece of ivory carved in the shape of a youth’s head with a laurel wreath around it. Lt. Klenze, believing it old and valuable, took it for himself. As the body of the dead man was thrown overboard, some of the men said they saw him smile. Others said they saw it swim away…
This is mixed bag for me. The sense of dread is palpable through the whole story. The doomed sub, the men who know the end is coming trying to make their commanding officers see it and then getting picked off for disobedience or some such, all just lends to an air of inescapable dread. What caused the engine to explode? (All Lovecraft says about it is that it was “a surprise” that robbed the crew of its ability to navigate.) Undermining this sense of dread and doom is chuckling at Lovecraft’s jingoism. He reflects World War I attitudes of course, but I don’t know that I’ve seen it laid on this thick outside of anti-Nazi propaganda films.
Yet, when Lovecraft describes the temple complex that Karl Heinrich discovers at the bottom of the ocean and his dreams/visions—are they real? Is the old boy losing it? Or, does it make much difference?—the reader is entranced. This is familiar Lovecraft territory.
Yet I believe there are technical problems with the portrayal of the sub. As I understand it, it would have to surface to recharge its batteries every day or so and it probably have been crushed at the depth that Lovecraft has it settling.
While I didn’t dislike this story, it’s too much of a mixed bag for me to recommend it.
Title: “The Temple” written in 1920, first published in Weird Tales Sept. 1925
Author: H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937)
Yesterday's review: "The Man of Science" by Jerome K. Jerome
Last Lovecraft review: " From Beyond "
© 2015 Denise Longrie
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