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The Shadow out of Time: The Corrected Text…

The Shadow out of Time: The Corrected Text (original 2001; edition 2001)

by H. P. Lovecraft

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Title:The Shadow out of Time: The Corrected Text
Authors:H. P. Lovecraft
Info:Hippocampus Press (2001), Paperback, 136 pages
Collections:Your library

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The shadow out of time by H. P. Lovecraft (2001)



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This wee book was the first publication of this remarkable and excellent story since the discovery of Lovecraft's original handwritten manuscript. Leading Lovecraft scholars S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz have provided an exhaustive introduction and commentary on this rich evocative story. S. T. Joshi is mistaken when he writes, in his biography of Lovecraft, "...his life as a fiction writer ends, and ends fittingly, with 'The Shadow out of Time'" -- such a statement seems to dismiss Lovecraft's final solo effort, "The Haunter of the Dark," which is a Gothic masterpiece. But "The Shadow out of Time" is certainly magnificent in every way, conjuring as it does, brilliantly, an incredible past and those "alien" races with whom the insect Man shares history. Lovecraft's imagination was original in every way, and although his creations are fantastic (his aliens are authentically so), he writes of them with conviction and verve.

"Had I come upon a whole buried world of unholy archaism? Could I still find the house of the writing-master, and the tower where S'gg'ha, a captive mind from the star-headed vegetable carnivores of Antarctica, had chiseled certain pictures on the blank spaces of walls? Would the passage at the second level down, to the hall of alien minds, be still unchoked and traversable? In that hall the captive mind of an incredible entity -- a half-plastic denizen of the hollow interior of an unknown trans-Plutonian planet eitheen million years in the future -- had kept a certain thing which it had modelled from clay."

In that excellent passage we find much of what is superb in Lovecraft. One of the amazing gifts that makes him still relevant is his ingenious combining of supernatural horror motifs with what was then the new and budding genre of science-fiction. I leave to others the discussion of the social commentary implications of THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME and how such relates to a shift in Lovecraft's politics. For me, the grandeur of THE SHADOW OUT OF TIME comes from the staggering implications of the worlds that it conveys, and the perfect prose in which the story is written. The story shews Lovecraft as an absolute master of his narrative style.

One of the story's finest representations is as a radio drama available on audio cd from the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. This stunning recording is close to perfection, and that part of the story wherein its accursed hero feels the lurking menace of the creatures that were intensely feared by the Great Race itself is one of the most effective moments of pure horror that I have ever experience.

"I dreaded having to re-pass through that black basalt crypt that was older than the city itself, where cold draughts welled up from unguarded depths. I thought of that which the Great Race had feared, and of what might still be lurking -- be it ever so weak and dying -- down there. I thought of those possible five-circle prints and of what my dreams had told me of such prints -- of strange winds and whistling noises associated with them."

The horror described in that effective passage is brought to eldritch life in the radio drama. Again, this small booklet is the definitive publication of Lovecraft's masterpiece, published here, for the first time, exactly as Lovecraft wrote it, sans editorial "corrections" and modifications. This corrected text may also be found in the Penguin Classics edition, THE DREAMS IN THE WITCH HOUSE AND OTHER WEIRD STORIES. It is appropriate that the story shou'd be included in editions publish'd by Penguin and The Library of America, and soon to be publish'd in a new folio edition, THE NEW ANNOTATED H. P. LOVECRAFT, from W. W. Morton -- for H. P. Lovecraft is Literature, excellent in every way. ( )
2 vote wilum | Jan 13, 2014 |
I'd read virtually no Lovecraft before taking on this short novel, and as I soon discovered there's a very good reason why this should be so. It's hard to take seriously as literature a text that includes sentences like this one:

Could I still find the house of the writing-master, and the tower where S'gg'ha, a captive mind from the star-headed vegetable carnivores of Antarctica, had chiselled certain pictures on the blank spaces of the walls?

Obviously, lots of people find Lovecraft true triff -- The Master of Eldritch Wotzit! -- and even more of them write in imitation of him; it's as if he were the sort of Rocky Horror Picture Show of the printed word. But, me, I had a hard time keeping my eyes open; I kept counting my blessings that I had to read just this one section out of the gorblimey 807 pages of the very elegant Library of America edition of his work (with annotations by Peter Straub).

Nathaniel Peaslee, a prof at Miskatonic University, falls into a strange psychological state for some years: although physically himself, he has suffered an appalling character shift, almost as if his body had been possessed by something . . . other. He can read as fast as he can turn the pages, no matter the language of the book in front of him -- and read he does! devouring all the arcane ans squamous texts he can lay his hands on, to the ill concealed revulsion of the librarians who must supply him with these accursed tomes. Then, late one night, neighbours notice him being visited by a tall, alien-seeming fellow on a bicycle; in the morning, Peaslee is his old self again, albeit himself with no memories at all of the events of the past five years. Oh, and there's a strange-looking machine nearby.

Eventually restored to health, Peaslee remains tormented by strange and vivid lucid dreams. Soon he realizes that these aren't random: if pieced together jigsaw-fashion they form a coherent whole, they form a story. Could they be trying to tell him something? He goes into a frenzy of research, involving not just visits to the libraries where those self-same accursed tomes are to be had (complete with incomprehensible marginal annotations made by his possessed self) but also interviews with the leaders of unspecified occult sects, whose traditions he mines in search of further clues as to what's happened to him.

And at last he's able to put everything together. About 150 million years ago (those occult traditions go back a long way!), the earth's dominant species was the Great Race, a people who took the shape of tall leathery cones with four long tentacles branching out from near the apex and who walked in the same manner a slug does:

This [. . .:] was the greatest race of all; because it alone had conquered the secret of time. It had learned all things that ever were known or ever would be known on the earth, through the power of its keener minds to project themselves into the past and future, even through gulfs of millions of years, and study the lore of every age. From the accomplishments of this race arose all legends of prophets, including those in human mythology.

Since the Great Race died out fifty million years before humankind came onto the scene, I'm uncertain how those legends made the jump, as it were. Still and all, even the Great Race folk aren't quite what they seem; although physically born from this earth, they were long ago possessed by the minds of alien creatures fleeing from their doomed world and seeking a fleshly home elsewhere in the tormented cosmos.

Peaslee slowly works out what happened to him ("Such was the background of intertwined legend and hallucination"). The people of the Great Race, eager to learn every scrap of information about their own future, use time machines to send minds to possess individuals in every age; the minds of the possessed individuals, meanwhile, are snapped back in time to occupy the conical bodies of their mental usurpers. They're treated with every kindness while in the remote past, but brainwiped at the end of their stay so as to make them remember nothing of it; it's because his brainwiping was imperfect that Peaslee has been having the strange dreams. During their forays into the future, the time-travelling Great Racers, in their human guise (or their giant-beetle guise, if sojourning among the next dominant species after our own), do as much research as possible into the past and present of the relevant era; meanwhile, the abducted mentalities, back in the 150-million-years-ago world, are encouraged to write down as full a history as they can of their own times. The results of both prongs of the research are made into books and stored in a library designed to withstand even the mightiest geological upheavals the future might throw at it (cue muted drum roll: you're getting ahead of the story, aren't you?).

The way the books are made is really, really arcane and alien: they open from the top, rather than the side, and their bindings are metal, not board. Golly. When I came to this example of the writer's imagination not so much vaulting as tripping over its own shoelaces it occurred to me why Lovecraft's work has always had so very little appeal to me. His imagining seems somehow very restricted, and also very clumsy. He hasn't really thought through the Great Race, whose appearance is like something an adolescent would dream up and whose social customs and psychology seem little different from their human equivalents. While 150 million years seems an impressively vast period of time, it's actually too vast for Lovecraft's plot, because oral traditions simply cannot last that long; anyone who tries to tell you historical details that are 150 million years old is either a madman or a Scientologist. And so on.

Back to the story, the rest of which is soon told. Peaslee publishes the results of his research in a scholarly journal, and decides to get on with his life. However, a while later, he gets a letter from an Australian mining engineer who says that he has recognized some of the Great Race hieroglyphs Peaslee sketched for his journal illustrations as identical to those he'd discovered on some ancient, artificial-seeming boulders in the midst of the Australian desert. Off goes Peaslee with an archaeological team to Australia to see what they can find. Out for a stroll one night without his companions, Peaslee stumbles across an opening in the sands exposed by the desert winds and explores down it to find the remains of the ancient library and, you've guessed it, the book he himself wrote while in a Great Race body!!!!!!!!

He flees, because a couple of the Old Ones who preceded the Great Race, and whom the Great Race loathed and feared, have escaped from their "subterrene" prisons and are on the prowl. The next day the sands have shifted yet again, and there's no trace left of the opening to the underground library. Even so, Peaslee flees Australia and leaves this hastily handwritten memoir for those who might come after . . .

That's quite a long discussion of what's only a long novella/short novel, but I feel I'm owed it. The text has, if I recall aright, not a single line of dialogue. It was Lovecraft's conceit -- again an adolescent one, it seems to me -- that it was Fine Writing never to use one short, simple word where several long, obscure ones would do, with the result that I constantly felt as if I were having to hammer my forehead against the page in order to extract meaning from the narrative. Added to this was the effort of trying to take seriously concepts and imaginings that seem to me to be bordering on the puerile. I kept wanting to shout out, Scenes and events and ideas are not world-moving or horrific or portentous simply because you say they are! In fact, if you have to keep saying they are, they almost certainly aren't.

But I didn't shout that, because Lovecraft wasn't there to listen and anyway he's been dead a long time. ( )
2 vote JohnGrant1 | Aug 11, 2013 |
Fantastic and original concept! Super-eerie! ( )
  RussellKaine | Aug 19, 2012 |
While this story wouldn't be the entry I'd recommend to Lovecraft, it is definitely one of his major works. And this edition is worth reading for the beginning and hardcore fan.

The editors' introduction details how long Lovecraft had been considering this story, his inspirations, and how he, as before in his great creative year of 1927, undertook a reading program to sharpen his style and improve his writing before starting it, his most science-fictional, tale. They also offer some intriguing observations about the specific dates in protagonist Peaslee's life and their significance to Lovecraft's.

As to the annotations, it's not the largely unnecessary vocabulary lessons that Joshi and Schultz offer that are valueable, but how they point out similarities in motifs and language to other Lovecraft works, specific factual sources Lovecraft used, and the many links between this and other Cthulhu Mythos stories of Lovecraft and his friends. Even fans who have read this story more than once will probably learn something new in these notes.

I can't say as I noticed any difference between the corrected text and earlier versions of the story, but then I didn't look at the appendix showing all the textual variations. But it's there for the really hardcore Lovecraft fan and scholar. ( )
1 vote RandyStafford | Dec 23, 2011 |
A Shadow Out of Time is a brief novella, but its span is great: through vast reaches of time and space, all guided by H P Lovecraft’s inimitable, portentous prose.

The premise here is quite complex: an American university prof has experienced an inexplicable period of amnesia, throughout which his body continued to function, but seemingly under alien control.

In retrospect, having recovered his faculties, our protagonist is haunted by bizarre memories of strange creatures living in dark, unnerving cities that he somehow recognizes were part of Earth’s deep past. And then a discovery is made in the Australian outback . . . .

If you like scifi/horror combos (a la some of Stephen King’s books such as The Tommyknockers), then going back to the ur-texts from one of the early masters such as Lovecraft is good fun.

Recommended. ( )
1 vote mrtall | Oct 5, 2010 |
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The 2001 edition by Hippocampus Press features commentary and a corrected text that isn't often found in other editions.
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0967321530, Paperback)

“The Shadow out of Time” is H. P. Lovecraft’s last major story, written in a four-month period from November 1934 to February 1935. It was first published in Astounding Stories for June 1936. And yet, this text has never been published as Lovecraft wrote it -- until now.

The recent discovery of Lovecraft’s handwritten manuscript allows readers to appreciate this magnificently cosmic story exactly as originally written. All previous editions of the story contain hundreds of serious errors, including errors in paragraphing, omissions and mistranscriptions of many words and passages, and erroneous punctuation. But now, the breathtaking scope of this novella -- the story of the Great Race’s conquest of time and space by means of mind-projection, and the hapless fate of Professor Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee as a victim of the Great Race’s quest for all the secrets of the universe -- can, for the first time, be fully understood.

Leading Lovecraft scholars S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz have provided an exhaustive introduction and commentary on the story, elucidating names, places and other elements in this richly evocative story.

A must for all devotees of Lovecraft and weird fiction!

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:19:36 -0400)

An extraterrestrial species travel through space and time by switching bodies with hosts from the intended spatial or temporal destination.

(summary from another edition)

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