The sun was blazing down from a sky which seemed to me almost black in its cloudless cruelty; as though reflecting the inky marsh beneath my feet. As I crawled into the stranded boat I realised that only one theory could explain my position. Through some unprecedented volcanic upheaval, a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface, exposing regions which for innumerable millions of years had lain hidden under unfathomable watery depths. So great was the extent of the new land which had risen beneath me, that I could not detect the faintest noise of the surging ocean, strain my ears as I might. Nor were there any sea-fowl to prey upon the dead things.
For several hours I sat thinking or brooding in the boat, which lay upon its side and afforded a slight shade as the sun moved across the heavens. As the day progressed, the ground lost some of its stickiness, and seemed likely to dry sufficiently for travelling purposes in a short time. That night I slept but little, and the next day I made for myself a pack containing food and water, preparatory to an overland journey in search of the vanished sea and possible rescue.
On the third morning I found the soil dry enough to walk upon with ease. The odour of the fish was maddening; but I was too much concerned with graver things to mind so slight an evil, and set out boldly for an unknown goal. All day I forged steadily westward, guided by a far-away hummock which rose higher than any other elevation on the rolling desert. That night I encamped, and on the following day still travelled toward the hummock, though that object seemed scarcely nearer than when I had first espied it. By the fourth evening I attained the base of the mound, which turned out to be much higher than it had appeared from a distance; an intervening valley setting it out in sharper relief from the general surface. Too weary to ascend, I slept in the shadow of the hill.
CRAWLED INTO THE STRANDED BOAT: The dream which inspired “Dagon” consisted, in part, of this crawl through the “black slime.” When an amateur journalist wondered how the narrator, who was sucked into the mire, could crawl to his boat, Lovecraft responded in his essay “In Defence of Dagon,” which he submitted to the Transatlantic Circulator, a group of amateur writers who exchanged stories, essays, and poems:
The hero-victim is sucked half into the mire, yet he does crawl! He pulls himself along in the detestable ooze, tenaciously though it clings to him. I know, for I dreamed that whole hideous crawl, and can yet feel the ooze sucking me down!
VOLCANIC UPHEAVAL: Geology, like the other hard sciences, fascinated Lovecraft, and references to it appear through his fiction. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness (1931), which is narrated by a geologist, is replete with technical descriptions of his expedition’s progress:
We were some 8500 feet above sea-level, and when experimental drillings revealed solid ground only twelve feet down through the snow and ice at certain points, we made considerable use of the small melting apparatus and sunk bores and performed dynamiting at many places where no previous explorer had ever thought of securing mineral specimens. The pre-Cambrian granites and beacon sandstones thus obtained confirmed our belief that this plateau was homogeneous with the great bulk of the continent to the west, but somewhat different from the parts lying eastward below South America—which we then thought to form a separate and smaller continent divided from the larger one by a frozen junction of Ross and Weddell Seas, though Byrd has since disproved the hypothesis.
In “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926), an earthquake lifts a submerged island to the surface in much the same way that “volcanic upheaval” throws up a “portion of the ocean floor” in “Dagon.” Like in “Dagon,” the recently submerged island contains evidence of otherworldly horrors.
MILLIONS OF YEARS: As in so many Lovecraft stories, the sheer age of the universe is a source of terror. Compared to the short lives of human beings, the age of the cosmos