The Shadow Over Innsmouth

The Shadow Over Innsmouth
The Shadow Over Innsmouth  
Shadow over innsmouth.jpg
Dust-jacket from the first edition
Author(s) H. P. Lovecraft
Illustrator Frank Utpatel
Cover artist Frank Utpatel
Country United States
Language English
Genre(s) Horror novella
Publisher Visionary Publishing Company
Publication date April, 1936
Media type Print (Hardback)
Pages 158 pp
OCLC Number 3920225

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a novella by H. P. Lovecraft. Written in November-December 1931, the story was first published in April 1936; this was the only fiction of Lovecraft's published during his lifetime that did not appear in a periodical.[1]

The story describes a young man's discovery of a strange hybrid race, half-human and half an unknown creature that resembles a cross between a fish and a frog, that dwell in Innsmouth - a coastal town that had seen better days, and the waters offshore. The townspeople worship Dagon, a Philistine deity incorporated into the Cthulhu Mythos.



Robert M. Price cites two works as literary sources for The Shadow Over Innsmouth: Robert W. Chambers' "The Harbor-Master" and Irvin S. Cobb's "Fishhead". Chambers' story concerns the discovery of "the remnants of the last race of amphibious human beings", living in a five-mile deep chasm just off the Atlantic coast. The creature of the title is described as "a man with round, fixed, fishy eyes, and soft, slaty skin. But the horror of the thing were the two gills that swelled and relaxed spasmodically."[2]

Lovecraft was evidently impressed by this tale, writing in a letter to Frank Belknap Long: "God! The Harbour-Master!!!"[3]

"Fishhead" is the story of a "human monstrosity" with an uncanny resemblance to a fish:

His skull sloped back so abruptly that he could hardly be said to have a forehead at all; his chin slanted off right into nothing. His eyes were small and round with shallow, glazed, pink-yellow pupils, and they were set wide apart on his head, and they were unwinking and staring, like a fish's eyes.[4]

Lovecraft, in "Supernatural Horror in Literature", called Cobb's story "banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake".[5]

Price notes that Fishhead, as the "son of a Negro father and a half-breed Indian mother", "embodies unambiguously the basic premise of 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth'.... This, of course, is really what Lovecraft found revolting in the idea of interracial marriage...the subtextual hook of different ethnic races mating and 'polluting' the gene pool."[6]

Price points out the resemblance in names between the Deep One city of Y'ha-nthlei and Yoharneth-Lahai, a fictional deity in Lord Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana who "sendeth little dreams out of Pegana to please the people of Earth"--a precursor to Lovecraft's fictional deity Cthulhu, who sends less pleasant dreams from R'lyeh.[7]

The description of the Deep Ones also has some similarities with the sea creature mentioned in H.G. Wells' short story In the Abyss (1896)[8]; "Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils. In the position of the ears were two huge gill-covers, and out of these floated a branching tree of coralline filaments, almost like the tree-like gills that very young rays and sharks possess. But the humanity of the face was not the most extraordinary thing about the creature. It was a biped; its almost globular body was poised on a tripod of two frog-like legs and a long, thick tail, and its fore limbs, which grotesquely caricatured the human hand, much as a frog’s do, carried a long shaft of bone, tipped with copper. The colour of the creature was variegated; its head, hands, and legs were purple; but its skin, which hung loosely upon it, even as clothes might do, was a phosphorescent grey."

Plot summary

The story is divided into five chapters. In the first chapter, the narrator begins by recounting to the reader of a secret investigation that was undertaken by the government at the ruined town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and that the story told to them by the narrator himself is the reason for this investigation. He proceeds to describe in detail the events surrounding his initial interest in the town (antiquarian and architectural) which lies on the route of his tour -taken when 21 - across New England. While he waits for the bus that will take him to Innsmouth, he busies himself in the neighboring town of Newburyport by gathering information from local townsfolk; all of it with superstitious overtones.

The second chapter details his ride into Innsmouth, described in great detail as a crumbling, mostly deserted town full of dilapidated structures and people who look just a bit odd and who tend to walk with a distinct shambling gait. All of this is offputting to the narrator, who describes the people as having the "Innsmouth look", "queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes". Only one person in town appears normal, a young clerk at the local First National grocery store who comes from neighbouring Arkham. The narrator gathers much information from the clerk, including a map of the town and the name of a local who might be a good source of information: a an ancient man named Zadok Allen, known to open up about the town when plied with drink.

The majority of the third chapter is composed of the conversation between Zadok and the narrator. Zadok, who is very old, has seen much in the town and goes on at length, telling a tale of fish-frog men known as Deep Ones who live beneath the sea. It seems they bring prosperity in the form of fish as well as fantastically wrought gold jewelry to those who offer them human sacrifice. These fish-frog men are amphibious and willing to come to land to mate with humans, creating deformed offspring who can live forever. These fish-frog men were first discovered in the Indies by a native island tribe, which was itself found by an Innsmouth merchant named Obed Marsh. When hard times befell Innsmouth, Obed and some followers did what they could to call up the fish-frog men in their New England town. When the story is over, the narrator is unnerved but thinks it a product of a fertile imagination.

Chapter four tells of the night that the narrator was forced to spend in town, after being told that the bus in which he came to town is experiencing engine trouble. The narrator has no choice but to spend the night in a musty hotel. While attempting to sleep, he hears noises at his door like someone trying to enter. Wasting no time, he attempts to escape out a window and through the streets, at times imitating the peculiar walk of the Innsmouth locals. Eventually he makes his way to some train tracks where he hears a great many creatures passing in the road before him. He hides and resolves to close his eyes, having at this point come to accept the idea that Zadok's story is true. He cannot keep them closed, however, and upon seeing the fish-frog creatures in full light for the first time, faints in his hiding spot.

In the final chapter, we hear of how the narrator wakes up unharmed and quickly walks to the next town (Rowley). Over the years that pass, he begins doing research into his family tree, discovering some disturbing information along the way. Eventually it becomes clear that he is a descendant of Obed Marsh himself and nightmares accompany the narrator's realization that he is changing into one of the creatures. As the story ends, the narrator, by then a student at Oberlin College, tells us that his horror at the idea is changing into acceptance, and that he will be quite happy living forever in the city Y'ha-nthlei, deep beneath the sea. He also has a cousin who is even further transformed than he is being held in a mental hospital whom he plans to break free and take with him.


Robert Olmstead

The narrator of the story, he discovers Innsmouth on a tour of New England seeking genealogical information, and finds more than he bargains for. The character, unnamed in "A Shadow Over Innsmouth", is called "Robert Olmstead" in Lovecraft's notes for the story, published in Arkham House's Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949).[9]

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia points out that Olmstead's travel habits parallel Lovecraft's own—Lovecraft too would "seek the cheapest route", and Olmstead's dinner of "vegetable soup with crackers" is typical of Lovecraft's low-budget diet.[10]

Obed Marsh

A sea captain and the founder of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. He was referred to by Zadok Allen as being the man who first summoned the Deep Ones to Innsmouth. In 1846, he was jailed after the towns bordering Innsmouth became suspicious of his crew. He died in 1878.

According to Lovecraft's story notes, Marsh's daughter Alice is Robert Olmstead's great-grandmother.[11]

Barnabas Marsh

Barnabas Marsh, known as Old Man Marsh, is the grandson of Obed Marsh and the owner of the Marsh refinery at the time of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. His father, Onesiphorus Marsh, was Obed's son by his first, fully human wife, while his mother, never seen in public, was apparently a deep one. Zadok Allen says of him: "Right naow Barnabas is abaout changed. Can't shet his eyes no more, an' is all aout o' shape. They say he still wears clothes, but he'll take to the water soon."

Zadok Allen

One of the few completely human residents of Innsmouth. An alcoholic, his drunken ramblings allow Lovecraft to convey much of the town's secret backstory to the story's protagonist. Born in 1831, Allen disappears and dies in 1927 after being taken and sacrificed by the Esoteric Order of Dagon.

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia notes that Allen resembles—and shares his years of birth and death with—Jonathan E. Hoag, an amateur poet of Lovecraft's acquaintance. A possible literary inspiration is the character of Dr. Humphrey Lathrop in Herbert Gorman's The Place Called Dagon (1927), who, like Allen, is a drinker who knows the secret history of his town.[12]

Cthulhu Mythos

  • The creature known as Dagon is first introduced in Lovecraft's 1917 tale of the same name.
  • As related in "The Thing on the Doorstep" (1937), Asenath Waite, the possessed victim of her father Ephraim Waite, is by implication one of the human/deep one hybrids, and was a resident of Innsmouth before attending Miskatonic University. The servants she brings into her marriage to Edward Derby are likewise Innsmouth natives. This occurs after The Shadow Over Innsmouth and Asenath's father and she escaped the government raid mentioned in the original story.
  • The Waites, Gilmans, Eliots and Marshes are the "gently bred" families of Innsmouth. Despite his name, the protagonist of "The Dreams in the Witch House", Walter Gilman, is not established as having any links to Innsmouth or the deep ones.
  • August Derleth also used the deep ones in the short story "Innsmouth Clay", which he completed from Lovecraft's notes. "The Shuttered Room" is another short story started by Lovecraft and finished by Derleth that involves the deep ones. It mentions a connection between the Marsh family of Innsmouth and the Whateley family of Dunwich from "The Dunwich Horror".


1994 cover of Shadows Over Innsmouth anthology

Lovecraft was quite critical of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, writing to August Derleth that the story "has all the defects I deplore--especially in point of style, where hackneyed phrases & rhythms have crept in despite all precautions.... No--I don't intend to offer 'The Shadow over Innsmouth' for publication, for it would stand no chance of acceptance."[13]

Indeed, the story was rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright when Derleth surreptitiously submitted it for publication in 1933. "I have read Lovecraft's story...and must confess that it fascinates me," he wrote to Derleth. "But I don't know just what I can do with it. It is hard to break a story of this kind into two parts, and it is too long to run complete in one part."[14]

It was eventually published as a slim book published by William L. Crawford's Visionary Publishing Company with a run of 200 copies—the only book of Lovecraft's fiction distributed during his lifetime.[15] After Lovecraft's death (and Wright's), it appeared in an unauthorized abridged version in the January 1942 issue of Weird Tales.[16]

August Derleth called The Shadow Over Innsmouth "a dark, brooding story, typical of Lovecraft at his best."[17]

Shadow over Innsmouth was republished as an anthology with stories by other authors based on Innsmouth and the Old Ones in Shadows Over Innsmouth. The collection was edited by Stephen Jones (author) and included contributions by Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, David Sutton, Kim Newman (both as himself and "Jack Yeovil") and other authors.


Other appearances

  • The lyrics of Metallica's song "The Thing That Should Not Be" from their 1986 album Master of Puppets are based on The Shadow Over Innsmouth.[20]
  • The Shadow of the Comet Adventure PC game references many facts of the novel.
  • The Shadow Over Innsmouth is the inspiration of the dark electronic band God Module's song "Foreseen" from the 2005 CD titled "Viscera."
  • Lovecraft-inspired Canadian punk band Darkest of the Hillside Thickets humorously references this story in the song "The Innsmouth Look".
  • The story inspired the song "Endsmouth" by Agents of Oblivion. There is also a Dominican black metal band named Innsmouth.
  • In the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, the raid on Innsmouth by government agents eventually leads to the creation of Delta Green and its mission to combat the Old Ones whenever possible.
  • In The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, the quest "A Shadow over Hackdirt" entails rescuing a girl captive from the cultist village of Hackdirt, in tribute to The Shadow Over Innsmouth. The MMORPG RuneScape also has a quest inspired by this story, featuring a character named Lovecraft.
  • The two short story collections Shadows Over Innsmouth followed by Weird Shadows Over Innsmouth edited by Stephen Jones are collections of sequels to the story by other hands, including Ramsey Campbell and Neil Gaiman.
  • Colombian writer Andres Caicedo adapted The Shadow Over Innsmouth into a screenplay in 1973. He travelled to Hollywood in 1975 to sell it to Roger Corman, alongside his adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith's The Nameless Offspring, but failed in his purpose. Both of the screenplays were never shot and remain as part of the Andres Caicedo Collection in the Luis Angel Arango Library in Bogota.
  • TimeSplitters pays homage to The Shadow Over Innsmouth by featuring a level set in a fishing village inhabitated by mutants and hybrids.
  • The Syrian Funeral Doom Metal band "Innzmouth" has taken it's name from this story and the band is heavily inspired by the works of Lovecraft .

See also


  1. ^ August Derleth, "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider", p. 18, Crypt of Cthulhu #93.
  2. ^ Robert W. Chambers, "The Harbor-Master", The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 22.
  3. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to Frank Belknap Long, October 17, 1930; cited in Robert M. Price, The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 3.
  4. ^ Irvin S. Cobb, "Fishhead", The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 27.
  5. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 411.
  6. ^ Robert M. Price, The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 24. The creature in "The Harbor-Master" as well is mistaken for a "demented darky". Chambers, "The Harbor-Master", p. 20.
  7. ^ Lord Dunsany, "Of Yoharneth-Lahai", The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 2.
  8. ^ In the Abyss
  9. ^ S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "Olmstead, Robert", An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 194.
  10. ^ S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp. 239-240.
  11. ^ Joshi and Schultz, "Olmstead, Robert", p. 194.
  12. ^ S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "Allen, Zadok", An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp. 3, 239.
  13. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, December 10, 1931; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 238.
  14. ^ Farnsworth Wright, letter to August Derleth, January 17, 1933; cited in Joshi and Schultz, pp. 238-239.
  15. ^ Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, p. 83.
  16. ^ Price, p. 34.
  17. ^ Carter, p. 83.
  18. ^
  19. ^ German Gamebooks Directory: Uwe Anton, City of Demons (ISBN 3-548-21080-5) (in German)
  20. ^ METALLICA - Encyclopedia Metallica - Song Info - The Thing That Should Not Be
  • Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd.. p. 705. 
  • Derleth, August (Lammas 1996). "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". Crypt of Cthulhu #93: A Pulp Thriller and Theological Journal 15 (3).  Robert M. Price (ed.), West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. Original publication: "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". River 1 (3). June 1937. 
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. [1936] (1984). "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8.  Definitive version.

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