Literature: Dagon

"Dagon" is a short story written in 1917 by HP Lovecraft and published in 1919.

It is presented as a Suicide Note written by an unnamed man who describes an incident that he experienced during World War I, when he was a sailor aboard a cargo ship. He and his crew were captured by a German sea-raider but treated with respect despite being prisoners of war. In fact, so good was their treatment, that the narrator was able to easily escape in the middle of the night in a lifeboat with enough supplies to last until he was either rescued by a passing ship or reached land.

However, much to the narrator's shock, his boat turns up on the shore of an island, which he discovers to be a piece of the ocean floor brought to the surface by volcanic upheaval. Once the ground is sufficiently dry, he begins to explore this land, and on the other side discovers a strange obelisk which arouses his curiosity. However, that curiosity soon turns into outright horror when he glimpses a gigantic sea monster.

The story is known for being among the earliest to explore some of the ideas Lovecraft would become known for - mankind's inevitable doom in an uncaring cosmos.

Do not confuse this with the film named Dagon (which is actually an adaptation of a different Lovecraft story, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth").

This story contains examples of:

  • Apocalyptic Log: The story ends with the narrator frantically scribbling his last words, apparently as some unknown horror is entering the room.
    The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!
  • Ambiguous Situation: It's hard to tell just what happens at the end.
  • Characterization Marches On: The creature seen in this story would later become known by other writers as "Dagon", a being in the Cthulhu Mythos often assumed to have some sort of connection with the Deep Ones or even believed to simply be a particularly large Deep One himself. However it is likely that this was not intended by Lovecraft himself, seeing as the creature is never actually identified by name, and seems to be itself praying to the obelisk.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: Possibly Lovecraft's first.
  • Driven to Suicide: The protagonist.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The narrator describes the creature as one, though it's debatable whether it actually is an example.
  • Fish People: Seemingly depicted on the obelisk.
    "I think that these things were supposed to depict men — at least, a certain sort of men; though the creatures were shown disporting like fishes in the waters of some marine grotto, or paying homage at some monolithic shrine which appeared to be under the waves as well. Of their faces and forms I dare not speak in detail, for the mere remembrance makes me grow faint. Grotesque beyond the imagination of a Poe or a Bulwer, they were damnably human in general outline despite webbed hands and feet, shockingly wide and flabby lips, glassy, bulging eyes, and other features less pleasant to recall."
  • Giant Swimmer
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The protagonist holds out alright up until the point where he observes the creature.
  • Kraken and Leviathan
  • No Name Given: We find out almost nothing about the narrator. Technically it's not even explicitly said if it's a man or woman.
  • Quick Sand Sucks: Alluded to. When he first arrives the ground is too muddy to walk in, and he has to wait three days for it to dry and harden.
  • Science Marches On: A "volcanic upheaval" could not bring part of the ocean floor to the surface as is described here- this was written before the theories of continental drift and later plate tectonics were fully accepted by scientists. On the other hand, while we have yet to find anything quite like in the story, Lovecraft was correct in assuming that the ocean would be a real-life Eldritch Location full of bizarre creatures.
    • Of course, the narrator himself is not quite sure it happened, and no one can find any signs of the island. It is vaguely suggested that, as Lovecraft was wont, it is a mixture of dream and reality. "Volcanic upheaval" is, perhaps not unreasonable for the time, just the only explanation that the narrator can come up with.
  • Ultimate Evil: The narrator is convinced that something lurks at the bottom of the ocean. He may be half-right.