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.
This story contains examples of:
- Apocalyptic Log: At the beginning of the story, the narrator says he'll jump out of the window right after finishing his account. It ends with him 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 two different points of the story. The first one is when the monster surfaces and goes over the obelisk; we don't know if it is praying to it, hugging it for some reason or performing something weirder. The second one is the very ending. It seems that the narrator, possibly already Driven to Madness, somehow sees the monster's hand reaching for him in his own house and jumps off the window to escape from it.
- Better to Die than Be Killed: How the text ends, with the author making a mad dash for the window to throw himself to his death rather than suffer whatever the Deep One would inflict upon him.
- 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.
- This is most likely due to confusion in regards to the "Dagon" referred to in Lovecraft's later story "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". Many readers assumed that the Esoteric Order of Dagon worshipped the creature from this story, though at least one critic has argued that they're actually worshiping Cthulhu. Whichever is correct is for the writer to decide.note
- Cosmic Horror Story: Possibly Lovecraft's first.
- Driven to Suicide: The protagonist. His experience turned him into a morphine addict, and when he runs out of money and can no longer afford the drug, he decides to kill himself.
- 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."
- Go Mad from the Revelation: The protagonist holds out alright up until the point where he observes the creature.
- Kaiju: The protagonist believes a mural of one of the fish people being roughly the size of a whale and skewering it with a trident to be an artistic exaggeration on the part of its illustrator. It isn't.
- 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, though context makes it very clearly a man.
- 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.
- Sea Monster: The monster and its fish people.
- Ultimate Evil: The narrator is convinced that something lurks at the bottom of the ocean. He may be half-right.