And walkest on the foaming deep,
And calm amid the storm didst sleep;
O hear us when we cry to thee
For those in peril on the Sea…..
Ahab and all his boat’s crew seemed asleep but the Parsee; who crouching in the bow, sat watching the sharks, that spectrally played round the whale, and tapped the light cedar planks with their tails. A sound like the moaning in squadrons over Asphaltites of unforgiven ghosts of Gomorrah, ran shuddering through the air.
Started from his slumbers, Ahab, face to face, saw the Parsee; and hooped round by the gloom of the night they seemed the last men in a flooded world. “I have dreamed it again,” said he.
“Of the hearses? Have I not said, old man, that neither hearse nor coffin can be thine?”
“And who are hearsed that die on the sea?”
“But I said, old man, that ere thou couldst die on this voyage, two hearses must verily be seen by thee on the sea; the first not made by mortal hands; and the visible wood of the last one must be grown in America.”
“Aye, aye! a strange sight that, Parsee!- a hearse and its plumes floating over the ocean with the waves for the pall-bearers. Ha! Such a sight we shall not soon see.”
“Believe it or not, thou canst not die till it be seen, old man.”
“And what was that saying about thyself?”
“Though it come to the last, I shall still go before thee thy pilot.”
~ Herman Melville, Moby Dick
It was a simple, rambling thing – a naive sailor’s effort at a post-facto diary – and strove to recall day by day that last awful voyage. I cannot attempt to transcribe it verbatim in all its cloudiness and redundance, but I will tell its gist enough to shew why the sound the water against the vessel’s sides became so unendurable to me that I stopped my ears with cotton.
Johansen, thank God, did not know quite all, even though he saw the city and the Thing, but I shall never sleep calmly again when I think of the horrors that lurk ceaselessly behind life in time and in space, and of those unhallowed blasphemies from elder stars which dream beneath the sea, known and favoured by a nightmare cult ready and eager to loose them upon the world whenever another earthquake shall heave their monstrous stone city again to the sun and air.
~ H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
Strange as the glimmer of the ghastly light. That shines from some vast crest of wave at night.
~William Hope Hodgson, The Ghost Pirates
I really don’t know why there isn’t more sea-based horror. Really. From Melville’s Moby Dick to Hodgson’s The Ghost Pirates to Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulu, the sea offers myriad opportunities for scaring the living daylights out of us. In some aspects, it is that monsters lurk in the deep. In other aspects, it’s that we, ourselves, are the monsters that ply upon the waters. Wolf Larsen, the dark and brooding captain of The Ghost in Jack London’s The Sea Wolf, tortures his crew after a failed mutiny attempt. While London’s story is not specifically “horror,” the horror elements within it are inarguable. The same holds true for Moby Dick. Fedallah’s interpretation of Ahab’s dream of the hearses, the heart-wrenching sadness of Rachel lurching toward every shadow that might be the captain’s lost son, the madness of The Pequod’s captain that condemns his crew to death… all of those may only be “horrific elements,” but I find myself arguing that Moby Dick is, truly, a horror novel.
But, post-World War II, there hasn’t been the sea horror there was in previous decades. I believe this is because we’ve become, fundamentally, separated from the sea. In earlier times, people would never have breathed a sigh of relief that a storm was “safely out at sea.” So tied were people to the sea that such a statement would have been anathema. Not so anymore, yet, there remains in us a fascination with “the Big Blue Wet Thing” (Muppet Treasure Island) and the mysteries that “lurk ceaselessly” within its depths. As Lovecraft intimated in The Call of Cthulhu, it is a primeval coupling that draws us to the watery depths. He says it much better than I say it, but I enjoy the old ways of writing about gelatinous ooze and many-tentacled beasts.
Contest! (For I have been remiss about contests the last two days) I have TWO prizes today from the good folks at The Littlest Lovecraft. First prize is a hardbound version of their upcoming children’s book The Call of Cthulhu! Second prize is an eBook version of the book. What to do, what to do … I have a question that needs answering: In all your reading experience, what is the ONE BOOK you think of that is not traditionally classified as “horror,” but works “horrifically” for you?
#CoffinHop Continues! There are so many great posts and contests and interviews out there this year! Keep Coffin Hopping!