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Literature / The Moon Pool

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The Moon Pool is a fantasy novel by American writer Abraham Merritt. It originally appeared as two short stories in All-Story Weekly: "The Moon Pool" (1918) and its sequel, "Conquest of the Moon Pool" (1919). These were then reworked into a novel released in 1919. The protagonist, Dr. Goodwin, would later appear in Merritt's second novel The Metal Monster (1920).

One of the earliest examples of the Lost World genre, it tells the tale of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin's adventure in the South Pacific, after he runs into noted anthropologist Dr. Throckmartin aboard a ship. Throckmartin claims his wife and entire expedition were abducted by a mysterious entity while they were investigating ancient ruins of Nan-Matal, in nearby Ponape. After witnessing the entity come to claim Throckmartin as well, and armed with the knowledge he gained from him, Dr. Goodwin prepares an expedition to search for him and find the truth about the “Dweller in the Moon Pool”. Along the way he is joined by a Norse sea captain, Olaf Huldricksson, who has lost his wife and child to the entity; a downed Irish fighter pilot, Larry O'Keefe and, when they reach the site, a villainous Russian scientist, Marakinoff.

Together they penetrate the secret entrance to the Moon Pool and are led to a secret network of caverns deep beneath the earth, where they find an entire world full of wonders and terrors, ancient civilizations and technologies beyond their comprehension, and become embroiled in the affairs of its inhabitants, even as the fate of the entire world hangs in the balance if the power of the Dweller is unleashed upon the unsuspecting surface world.

The Moon Pool contains examples of the following tropes:

  • Advanced Ancient Acropolis: The city where the Murians live is a glorious paradise of advanced technology, as is the citadel of the Silent Ones.
  • Advanced Ancient Humans: Under the influence of the Shining One and the renegade Taithu who followed it, the human Murian civilization reached technological heights millennia ago that modern humans can’t hope to match.
  • Anti-Gravity: The Murians possess technology to produce a partial negation of gravity. Their main use is in vehicles called coria (sing. corial), but they also have weapons that employ it.
  • Arbitrary Skepticism: When it comes to Larry O'Keefe the emphasis is on arbitrary, since he wholeheartedly and unabashedly believes in banshees, leprechauns and every piece and parcel of Ireland’s supernatural landscape which he claims to have seen with his own eyes… but doesn’t believe in anything supernatural about anywhere else. As far as he is concerned, the supernatural exists in Ireland, but only in Ireland. All the rest is just silly superstition, and any supernatural phenomena that he personally encounters has to be some misplaced Irish fairy of some sort.
  • Awesome, but Impractical: The Keth is a devastating weapon, but as Larry demonstrates, an automatic pistol can kill someone just as dead and a lot faster.
  • Beneath the Earth: The bulk of the novel is set in a network of caverns large enough to contain entire seas within them, and it is implied that there are even deeper regions closer to the Earth’s core.
  • Bizarre Sexual Dimorphism: The Murian men are immensely muscular 5-foot-tall dwarfs that can get almost as broad as they are tall, while the women are tall, beautiful and more conventionally proportioned.
  • Crystal Spires and Togas: One of the earliest obvious examples, perhaps predating H. G. Wells' Things to Come as the Trope Codifier. The reason for its obscurity in this rubric seems to be rooted in the overshadowing success of preceding works in the Lost World genre, which had garnered a significant deal more success and attention (e.g. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Edgar Rice Burroughs). As mentioned above, the Murians and the Silent Ones alike live in an Advanced Ancient Acropolis, using technology that even surface humankind cannot compete with. Lavish and neverending descriptions of crystalline substances in the narrator's environment are omnipresent; everything is "brilliant" or "opalescent" or "coruscant" etc. The female Murians (at least those of the ruling class) wear robes and togas of gauzy material, evocative of Ancient Grome. For bonus points, the society itself is heavily influenced by Precursors, for better AND for worse.
  • Direct Line to the Author: The foreword presents the novel as something that the fictional International Association of Science commissioned Merritt to write in order to put to rest the rumors about what happened to Throckmartin and his party:
    For these reasons the Executive Council commissioned Mr. A. Merritt to transcribe into form to be readily understood by the layman the stenographic notes of Dr. Goodwin's own report to the Council, supplemented by further oral reminiscences and comments by Dr. Goodwin; this transcription, edited and censored by the Executive Council of the Association, forms the contents of this book.
  • Dirty Communists: Marakinoff the Russian scientist who immediately turns against the other surface people and is very open about the fact that his motivation is his faith in the Communist Revolution:
    Marakinoff: I do not apologize and I do not explain, but I will tell you, da! Here is my country sweating blood in an experiment to liberate the world. And here are the other nations ringing us like wolves and waiting to spring at our throats at the least sign of weakness. And here are you, Lieutenant O'Keefe of the English wolves, and you Dr. Goodwin of the Yankee pack—and here in this place may be that will enable my country to win its war for the worker. What are the lives of you two and this sailor to that? Less than the flies I crush with my hand, less than midges in the sunbeam!
  • Disintegrator Ray: The Keth, a green energy shot out of a silvery cone that envelops the target with a gleaming, pale film, and after a few minutes completely disintegrates it.
  • Eldritch Abomination: The Dweller initially appears as a floating, androgynous, angelic humanoid consisting of polychromatic light/mist, which it can shape into tentacles and tendrils at wish. Ultimately, The Shining One is revealed to be a supercomputer AI that is able to access unlimited knowledge and convey that data to its makers. In the climax, it appears as a spherical device wired with (and likely powered by) seven variously coloured orbs. The bizarre nature of this already highly Lovecraftian entity is amped up to eleven with its additional ability to erase consciousness and turn people into mindless puppets which it can potentially unleash in a Zombie Apocalypse.
  • The Fair Folk: Olaf and Larry both compare the peoples and entities they encounter in their adventures to the Norse and Irish versions of this trope.
  • Fantastic Caste System: Murian civilization is divided into an ancient, luxurious, close-bred oligarchy clustered about the worship of the Shining One; a soldier class that supported them; and underneath all the toiling, oppressed hordes, called the mayia ladala.
  • Fantastic Racism: Larry has a hard time acknowledging the Akka as people, something that Lakla angrily calls him out on.
  • Flying Car: The Murians have flying vehicles called coria (sing. corial), which levitate a fraction of an inch above the ground and are power by atomic energy.
  • Footnote Fever: To further add to the verisimilitude of the story, the book is full of footnotes referring the reader to reference books about the subjects being discussed, most of them fictional themselves.
  • Frog Men: The Akka, a race of frog-like beings whose semi-sentient ancestors where uplifted by the Taithu millennia ago. They are some of the nicest people Goodwin and company encounter during their adventure, as well as badass warriors and steadfast allies.
  • Lost World: Although mostly forgotten today, it was a very influential example of the genre. During their adventures, Goodwin and company encounter whole advanced civilizations, vast unique ecosystems, and massive landscapes.
  • Note from Ed.: In a couple places in the novel there are notes indicating that Dr. Goodwin's detailed and concise explanations about how the advanced technology in the novel works, have been edited out so as to not give the scientists of the Central European Powers any ideas. This also saves Merritt the trouble of having to come up with some reasonable sounding technobabble.
  • Oireland: Larry O'Keefe is a peculiar example in that he is as stereotypical an Irishman as you are ever likely to meet, but not all the time, and not in every situation.
  • Omnidisciplinary Scientist:
    • Dr. Goodwin is a renowned botanist, and yet he has no trouble jury-rigging a device to use moonlight to open the Moon Door or figuring out and later reporting the workings of an atomic powered engine.
    • While we never find out what kind of doctorate Marakinoff has, he also displays profound knowledge of botany, biology, engineering and physics.
  • People of Hair Color: Murian civilization is divided between a fair-haired, close-bred oligarchy that rules the civilization and the soldiers and workers who all have dark hair.
  • Ultraterrestrials: The Taithu are a non-human species that evolved Beneath the Earth near the planet’s core eons ago and possess technology so advanced and inscrutable that for all intends an purposes it is magic.
  • Turned Against Their Masters: The Shining One, aka the Dweller, was created by the Silent Ones to access deeper knowledge of the universe, but as it grew even more self-aware, it rebelled against them and went its own way, luring portion of their people and eventually interfering with the Murian civilization.