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Literature: The Shadow Over Innsmouth
"It's beginning to look a lot like Fishmen
Everywhere I go.
From the minute I got to town
And started to look around
I thought these ill-bred people's gill-slits showed."
Dagon Tabernacle Choir [1][2]

Innsmouth is a small, run-down village on the northern coast of Massachusetts, near Ipswich, Gloucester, and Arkham. Locals don't like it much. There are whispered rumors about dark dealings with the supernatural, the taint of foreign blood, and some sort of hereditary deformity. While touring New England, a young man learns of the town's sinister reputation and decides it's worth a visit. Curiouser and curiouser, he bribes the local drunk, said to be the only normal human left, with his favorite poison. The tale he tells sounds crazy, yet the narrator cannot ignore the sinister atmosphere and the evidence before his own eyes.

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" is one of HP Lovecraft's longest and most famous stories. Among the various beasties of the Cthulhu Mythos, the Deep Ones and their half-human spawn are among the most popular and enduring, inspiring numerous other authors (including Neil Gaiman), as well as the 2001 film Dagon, the 2007 film Cthulhu, and the video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.

Innsmouth has also been adapted twice as an audio drama by the Atlanta Radio Theater Company and the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. It has also been adapted for stage in Spain.

The complete story can be read online here.


Tropes in this work include:

  • Adaptational Badass: Lovecraft depicted the Deep Ones as a pathetic degenerate subhuman race. Most writers since have turned them into aquatic supermen who would even give Aquaman a run for his money. This may have to do with changing understandings of why the Deep Ones would be able to obliterate humanity if they felt the need to. To someone like Lovecraft, the only way sub-humans (e.g. Deep Ones) would be able to do it would be through the text-implied superior numbers (look at the surge from Devil Reef alone!), along with a little help from their exported shoggoths. If you're not steeped in the 1920s racism that Lovecraft held, though...
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The Deep Ones are depicted this way, and nearly all writers since have followed suit.
  • Animals Hate Them: Animals hate the Innsmouth folk, and the town is naturally devoid of them.
  • Author Avatar: The narrator shares his antiquarian interests and frugal travel habits with Lovecraft.
  • Black Speech: The Deep One/hybrids' voices (which may not be speaking English) are described as full of slopping, croaking, and bleating, and being generally blasphemous to the human ear.
  • Chekhov's Gun: The narrator is in Massachusetts on a genealogical tour.
  • Cosmic Horror Story: By association, since it's part of the Cthulhu Mythos.
  • Driven to Suicide: The narrator's uncle, after learning of his heritage. And the narrator himself, almost.
  • Dying Town: Innsmouth. Everyone is poorer, even the Marsh family; half the buildings are abandoned and crumbling, and population is going down. But if you think of it as a breeding ground for Deep Ones...
  • Eldritch Abomination: Indirectly: the Esoteric Order of Dagon worships Cthulhu and there are references to the shoggoths.
  • Escalating Chase: Rather unusual for Lovecraft's tales, this one has a rather long, exciting, action-packed chase scene.
  • Evil Smells Bad: Innsmouth and its inhabitants emanate a nauseating fish odor.
  • The Film of the Book / Lovecraft on Film: Dagon and Cthulhu.
  • Fish People: The Deep Ones.
  • Funetik Aksent: Zadok Allen. The fact that he's a decrepit alcoholic doesn't help.
  • Infodump: The ticket agent and Zadok Allen, though arguably done right.
    • Musn't forget the grocery clerk, who actually draws our protagonist a map of the town. Good thing he had that map....seemed extraneous at the time.
  • Interspecies Romance: Marriage, anyway, if not quite the romance part.
  • Lovecraft Country: By default.
  • Mars Needs Women: Both genders, actually. (In fact, the only pairings we hear about are female Deep Ones and human men.)
  • Mayfly-December Romance: One Deep One spouse was 80,000 years older than her human husband.
  • Meaningful Name:
    • Obed Marsh was the first to unite the land-dwelling people of Innsmouth with the water-going Deep Ones, and his family is allegedly full of hybrids. Another family that married the Deep Ones were the Gilmans.
    • The narrator-protagonist is named Robert Olmstead. An olm is an amphibian that spends its entire life in water, like a fish. The Deep Ones are described as fish-like amphibians.
  • No Name Given: The protagonist of the story is never named. His name, however, is revealed to be Robert Olmstead in Lovecraft's notes.
  • Only Sane Man: The destitute drunkard Zadok Allen is the only remaining inhabitant of Innsmouth who is not part of the Esoteric Order of Dagon and not in the process of mutating into a fishman.
  • Purple Prose: Trademark Lovecraft.
    And yet I saw them in a limitless stream - flopping, hopping, croaking, bleating - urging inhumanly through the spectral moonlight in a grotesque, malignant saraband of fantastic nightmare.
  • Religion of Evil: The Esoteric Order of Dagon.
  • Scenery Gorn: Lovecraft loves describing Innsmouth's decay.
  • Schmuck Bait: Innsmouth's bad reputation is precisely one of the reasons the narrator decided to go.
    A town able to inspire such dislike in it its neighbors, I thought, must be at least rather unusual, and worthy of a tourist's attention.
  • Sinister Minister: Zadok Allen recalls how the Esoteric Order of Dagon took over the town and Captain Marsh's crewmen were promoted as priests of the new religion. Creepy tiara-wearing priests still lurk in dark corners, and several are seen among the narrator's pursuers toward the end.
  • Spiritual Successor: Several Innsmouth/Deep Ones stories by later authors make reference to or were inspired by Creature from the Black Lagoon. "Understudy" by Gary Myers is a great example; also "Cabinet 34, Drawer 6" by Caitlin Kiernan and "The Deep End" by Gregory Luce.
  • Take Our Word for It: Typical of Lovecraft, the worst is only hinted at.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: The narrator is a Deep One hybrid himself, descended from Obed Marsh and one Pth'thya-l'yi.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Probably the Trope Maker or Codifier.
  • Uncanny Valley: Invoked via the "Innsmouth Look."
    "There certainly is a strange kind of streak in the Innsmouth folks today - I don't know how to explain it but it sort of makes you crawl. You'll notice a little in Sargent if you take his bus. Some of 'em have queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, starry eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain't quite right. Rough and scabby, and the sides of the necks are all shriveled or creased up. Get bald, too, very young."
  • Underwater City: Y'ha-nthlei.
  • Was Once a Man: The hybrids are born human but slowly transform.

The Dunwich HorrorLovecraft on FilmRe-Animator
The ShadowLiterature of the 1930sThe Shape of Things to Come
At the Mountains of MadnessDiesel PunkKing Kong
Jamaica InnThe Great DepressionDeath on the Nile
From BeyondHorror LiteratureCujo

alternative title(s): The Shadow Over Innsmouth
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