Lecture 4: Hybrid Life
8 August 2013
“Life is a hideous thing, and from the background behind what we
know of it peer daemoniacal hints of truth which make it sometimes a
thousandfold more hideous. Science, already oppressive with its
shocking revelations, will perhaps be the ultimate exterminator of our
human species–if separate species we be–for its reserve of
unguessed horrors could never be borne by mortal brains if loosed
upon the world."
— H.P. Lovecraft, “Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and
Epistemology, horror, and the
search for knowledge
Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937)
● Best known for his stories of
“cosmic horror,” particularly
those associated with the
fictional deity Cthulhu.
● Work – primarily short
stories – was primarily
published in pulp
magazines, especially Weird
● Has been greatly influential
on later 20th-century horror,
science-fiction, and fantasy
writers. Lovecraft in 1915.
“Cosmic horror” or “cosmicism”
● Lovecraft’s work often takes the position that
humanity is insignificant to the universe as a
whole (and the universe may in fact contain
powerful entities that are hostile to humans).
● Common themes in his work that are implications
of this position:
● Knowledge and understanding lead to madness.
– Truth (the universe, its structure, its scale) is, in the final
analysis, incomprehensible to humans.
● Humanity is influenced by non-human forces.
● Guilt and other effects of one’s decisions are heritable.
Community and homogeneity
● Communities in “The Shadow over Innsmouth”
define themselves as racially and culturally
homogeneous and by differentiating themselves
from other racial and cultural communities.
“His [Old Man Marsh’s] mother seems to have been
some kind of foreigner—they say a South Sea
islander—so everybody raised Cain when he married
an Ipswich girl fifty years ago. They always do that
about Innsmouth people, and folks here and
hereabouts always try to cover up any Innsmouth
blood they have in ’em.” (88)
“horrible croaking voices exchanging low cries in what
was certainly not English.” (117)
How do we read “Innsmouth”?
“After all, the strangest and maddest of myths
are often merely symbols or allegories based
upon truth.” (101)
“The insane yarn I was hearing [from Zadok
Allen] interested me profoundly, for I fancied
there was contained within it a sort of crude
allegory based upon the strangeness of
Innsmouth and elaborated by an imagination at
once creative and full of scraps of exotic
“No trials, or even definite charges, were
reported; nor were any of the captives [from
Innsmouth] seen thereafter in the regular gaols
of the nation. There were vague statements
about disease and concentration camps, and
later about dispersal in various naval and
military prisons, but nothing positive ever
Sources of horror in “Innsmouth”
● Remember our thesis that horror arises from
the transgression of implicit cognitive
● Racial horror.
– This is figured both in terms of cross-race and cross-
● The horror of non-Christian religion.
● The horror of degeneration.
● The horror of self-discovery.
● Note that, quite often, more than one of these
factors is in play at the same time.
The horror of paganism
“the rumours of devil-worship were partly
justified by a peculiar secret cult which had
gained force there and engulfed all the
orthodox churches.” (92)
“Nothing I could have imagined—nothing, even,
that I could have gathered had I credited old
Zadok’s crazy tale in the most literal way—
would be in any way comparable to the
demoniac, blasphemous reality that I saw—or
believe I saw.” (123)
“Gawd knows they [‘the Innsmouth folk’]’ve gotten to
be about as bad as South Sea cannibals and
Guinea savages.” (90)
“the clerk […] discouraged my going to such a
dismal, decadent place. […] Innsmouth was merely
an exaggerated case of civic degeneration.” (90)
“Undoubtedly, the alien strain in the Innsmouth folk
was stronger here [near the Manuxet river] than
farther inland—unless, indeed, the ‘Innsmouth look’
were a disease rather than a blood stain, in which
case this district might be held to harbor the most
advanced cases.” (100)
The horror of self-discovery
“Among these reliefs [on the tiara] were fabulous
monsters of abhorrent grotesqueness and malignity—half
ichthyic and half batrachian in suggestion—which one
could not dissociate from a certain haunting and
uncomfortable sense of pseudo-memory, as if they called
up some image from deep cells and tissues whose
retentive functions are wholly primal and awesomely
“Then the other shapes began to appear, filling me with
nameless horror the moment I awoke. But during the
dreams they did not horrify me at all—I was one with
them, wearing their unhuman trappings, treading their
aqueous ways, and praying monstrously at their evil sea-
bottom temples.” (126-27)
The photo of H.P. Lovecraft (slide 2) is in the
public domain because it was first published
before 1923. Source: