Under the Sea

Unlike many, I have always had a lack of curiosity about my family tree. I have no illustrious forebears, and what little I’ve gleaned regarding my ancestry has been disappointing at best, and scandalous at worst. However, I had an interesting conversation with my father just this week, wherein he related the somewhat infamous story of the progenitor of our particular line of Crowders – another family secret revealed. (Don’t fret, I have been assured that we are not of Innsmouth stock. Our secrets are more mundane than that.)

Innsmouth is no stranger to secrets, or infamous family lines – as the narrator of today’s tale discovers. It’s difficult to have any amount of horror without secrets – think of ancient dwelling places hidden beneath reefs, or Rochester’s attic-hidden wife, or even Norman Bates’s mother. Without furtive whispers and things unseen, we would have very little to discuss here, so your assignment today is to discuss some aspect of secrecy in horror, using “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” as a starting point.

Please note: there will be no official assignment tomorrow due to the length of today’s reading.

Reading: The Shadow Over Innsmouth
Task: 300 words or less on the nature of secrecy in horror

About Headmistress

Sarah L. Crowder, current headmistress of Vacation Necronomicon School, was once a pupil at the prestigious Miskatonic Academy for Girls -- though she did not graduate, as the school closed under mysterious circumstances shortly before her studies were completed. She spent many years contemplating both the arcane arts and hidden dimensions of commonplace life, and now lends her talents to our little online haven for workaday scholars.
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10 Responses to Under the Sea

  1. Pingback: Vacation Necronomicon School: assignment four « TENTACLII :: H.P. Lovecraft blog

  2. Resa says:

    Thinking about secrets as a literary device in horror got me thinking about how layered the secrets are in “Shadow Over Innsmouth”. It’s lovely how Lovecraft saved the worst for last– in more ways than one.


  3. Headmistress says:

    @Borrowind – What a wonderful rumination. “But I can’t help think that the secrets of writers, like secretions, sometimes leak out onto the printed page and leave stains.” What more can be said, really?

    @Resa – Those are excellent rules for secrets in storytelling. I can think of only one exception offhand (and it wasn’t horror) where a weak secret was revealed quickly in a way that didn’t hinder the story, and that was in the film “Moon.”

    Thank you!

  4. nina says:

    My contribution is a bit of original scholarship. I was once reading a book by Thomas Perry (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Thomas_Perry_%28author%29) called “Death Benefits”, which has a plot much too complicated for me to relate (or even remember). Perry is a thriller stylist, writing the kind of thriller where a hunted person has to worry about pursuers who are so diabolically clever that they arrive at your hideout before you even get there, or before you even decide where your hideout is going to be. That diabolical. Anyway, I was reading the climactic last chapters of this book, where the protagonist is in a small New Hampshire town, and all the townspeople seem to be hiding something, and he’s being chased… and I began to have this nagging suspicion that I had read something like this before. I won’t tell you what the townspeople’s secret was, but that’s mostly because it’s really stupid. What I wonder is whether Perry knew he was stealing from Lovecraft- that this was a respectful homage- or whether the scene was just hanging around in his sub-conscience from a long-ago reading of “Shadow over Innsmouth”. I’ve just done a Google search to see if anyone besides me has noticed this, but all I’ve found is a disappointed book reviewer who says : “Perhaps the one drawback of Death Benefits is the last 75-100 pages. The plot up until then is tight building logically on clues obtained by relentless attention to detail, but it takes a sudden crazy turn.” That’s for sure. But no fishmen, alas.

    The idea of a town with a secret is so good that almost everyone, even F. Night Shyamalan (in “The Village”) has used it. In “Shadow over Innsmouth” Lovecraft takes things (as usual) one step farther than anyone else would dare. In his case, fishmen. There’s no point in even saying any more, so I will end with that sublime word: fishmen.

  5. Headmistress says:

    @Nina – Ah, the (possibly) subconscious homage! I believe all writers have all done it at one time or another. (I know I have.) Fishmen, indeed!


  6. Pingback: Once Upon a Time in the West of London | Scrivenings and scribblings by writer and artist Paul Anderson

  7. Paul says:

    You know how every class has that one guy in it? He always hands in everything late. He’s not really disruptive, just infuriating?

    Yeah… turns out I’m that guy.


    Late again. But better late than… late, if you get me…

  8. Kit says:

    As a genre, horror is concerned primarily with the matter of secrets. It would seem to share in this preoccupation with the mystery genre, but though both genres concern themselves with the search for the truth, the finding of that truth serves very different purposes in the narrative.

    In a mystery, the search for the truth is vital for the restoration of order. The murderer must be caught, the stolen property must be returned to its rightful owner, the the abductee must be safely returned home. Above all, justice must be done.

    Finding the truth may also be of vital concern in the Horror genre, but justice frequently takes a second place to the more immediate demands of survival. In many cases, there is no possibility of justice in a horror narrative; the antagonist is non-human or superhuman.

    Solving the mystery is also less central to the resolution of the horror narrative. A mystery story that does not end with the solution to the problem, the exercise of justice, and the restoration of order would (rightly) be considered unsatisfactory.

    In contrast, the horror narrative may not end with the solution of the mystery. It may come earlier in the narrative, propelling the protagonists to the final action of the story, or as a final twist in the tale. Some questions may even be left unanswered, lingering even after the protagonists have survived or met their doom.

    Unlike the mystery genre, which is concerned primarily with the restoration of order, horror is about chaos. Even when the protagonists seem to come out the other side intact, the shadows frequently linger over their lives.

  9. Headmistress says:

    @Kit – Very true. I had not thought to classify mystery and horror in such opposite ways, but you’re right – both genres treat secrets very differently.


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