The Shadow over Usenet
"The Shadow out of Time"
Sources: _The Dunwich Horror and Others_, Arkham; _The Best of H. P.
Synopsis: Professor Nathaniel Peaslee falls unconscious while teaching
class at Miskatonic. Afterward, he goes through a complete personality
change, making antiquarian journeys to all parts of the world. Five
years later, he wakes up with no memory of what has occurred. He is
troubled by his experience, and discovers a number of other psychological
cases such as his own. He uncovers legends of a Great Race from the
past which exchanged minds with those in the present to learn about their
times, and were destroyed by a species of wind-causing subterranean
creatures. Peaslee discovers that an expedition is going to the ruins
of the Race's city in Australia, and joins it. One night, he finds a
tunnel leading down to an ancient library, and inside finds a book in
his own handwriting...
Comments: The cosmic scope of this piece is simply amazing. I had
forgotten how rich Lovecraft's description of the past time was, and
it was a genuine pleasure to read it again.
This tale had evidently been germinating for some time; Lovecraft
mentions the climax of his tale in a letter to C. A. Smith on November
11, 1930. In his original conception, the tale was one of men of his
pre-glacial land of Lomar changing minds with people from the future,
but he decided to make the beings responsible less human.
Lovecraft mentioned in 1934 that he had gotten about 16 pages into
his first draft, then tore it up and started over again. He evidently
destroyed another version:
like the season of 1934-5, when I wrote half a dozen things and
destroyed all save The Shadow out of Time...which was itself the 3d
complete version of the same story)... (SL V: 346)
When the tale was completed, Lovecraft felt as if it really wasn't
much good. He sent it on to Derleth, who kept it for some time without
giving a response. He later had it sent on to Barlow, and became
irritated that neither seemed to be reading it - but then was pleasantly
surprised when Barlow supplied him with a typescript of the tale. Later,
Donald Wandrei sent it on to Astounding magazine, where it appeared in
the June 1936 issue. The manuscript itself came into the possession of
Barlow, who apparently lost, gave away, or misplaced it. Only recently
was it re-discovered (it was on display at the John Hay Library during
the last NecronomiCon), and no version - not even the corrected Arkham
House one - has been checked using it. If you wanted to know why all
of the paragraphs in the story are so short, it's a remnant of the
It's late, and I'm sure you don't need my help to talk about
a story this famous. To bed. Chat time at 4:00 PM on DALnet channel
#cthulhu this Saturday and Sunday (correct me if I'm wrong, Steven).
Next week is the Barlow collaboration "Till A' the Seas."
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The story's accelerating pace of events carries the reader along
with little attention to spare for criticism. On reflection, however,
questions do arise. As I posted in a recent exchange about AtMoM, I find
it remarkable that a species capable of mass mind transfer into desired
bodies would choose ones resembling giant limpets, condemned to crawl
about on viscous bases. Surely something swift and agile would have been
preferable. And the terminal-sentence climax, in which Peaslee confirms
that he has written a book in his own handwriting while imprisoned in a
Great Race body, makes me wonder: "Now wait a minute...aren't the nuances
of handwriting intimately tied to the neuromuscular coordination of
individual human bodies? How on earth could he maintain his handwriting
style using Great Race tentacles?" Extrapolating this line of thought
further, I begin to ask whether the whole idea of interspecies mental
transfer isn't an absurdity: if minds are the product of brain structure
(and why, if not, should brains have evolved at all?), maintaining one's
mental integrity in an alien body seems a logical impossibility.
But even the flaws in this story lead to interesting lines of
thought and questioning. I am indebted to Lovecraft for this.
I believe the reason ATMOM is valued by many over SOOT is because Lovecraft
never drops any of the Sacred Names in SOOT. He is about to write them out
completely, it seems, and move on. He does mention the crinoids from ATMOM,
calling them the Old Ones, and he plays the usual game with some minor
character references, like a " Cimmerian chieftain ", etc.
A couple of the books are referenced, having been relegated to myth, i.e.
distorted versions of The Truth.
I always had the idea that the creatures of the black windowless buildings
were all that was left in Lovecraft's conception of those things he had written
of in the past. It seems only fitting that he should write of their eventual
death in this story, while the Great Race that has taken their place,
symbolizing his own change from horror to cosmic SF, will go on forever.
But of course HPL himself did not go on long enough to do any more in that
direction. I believe he would have given Stapledon and Clarke a run for the
"It is said that Music is a universal language, crossing the barriers of
culture, age, and language. Perhaps, eventually, we will learn that it also
spans those of time... and space."