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H. P. Lovecraft’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth

LovecraftPrize1crop [1]

H. P. Lovecraft by Charles Krafft

2,330 words

Spanish translation here [2]

Author’s Note:

The following text is based on a talk delivered in honor of H. P. Lovecraft’s birthday (August 20, 1890) at a Counter-Currents gathering in New York City on August 16, 2015.

H. P. Lovecraft’s novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth, written in 1931 and published in 1936, is set in an isolated Massachusetts seaport called Innsmouth and tells the story of the creation of a community of racial hybrids: human beings who have become interbred with the “Deep Ones,” an immeasurably ancient and long-lived amphibious race with fishlike and froglike features.

The novel also tells of the discovery and exposure of the community by an unnamed traveler whose love of architecture and skeptical-minded materialism are based on Lovecraft himself. The novel ends with the narrator’s subsequent discovery of the same biological taint in his own lineage.

The Shadow over Innsmouth is one of Lovecraft’s most suspenseful and atmospheric tales. It is also unusually action-oriented. The style is relatively straightforward, although there are touches of Lovecraft’s delightful over-writing. Shadow is also one of Lovecraft’s most explicitly racialist and xenophobic tales, which has not escaped the attention of readers and critics. But I also wish to argue that it can be read as an allegory about specifically Jewish forms of subversion and how Lovecraft thought they might be remedied.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is divided into five chapters and has a complex narrative structure. There are three nested stories. The first story is the outermost narrative framework, told at the beginning of chapter 1 and in chapter 5, which is set in the narrator’s present sometime in the early 1930s. The second story is set on July 15–16, 1927 and takes up chapters 2 and 4. It tells of the narrator’s visit to Innsmouth, where he discovers a monstrous secret and is forced to flee for his life. The third story, which takes up most of chapter 3, is told by Innsmouth resident Zadok Allen, a “half-crazed liquorish nonagenarian,”[1] who reveals how the town was infiltrated and taken over by the Deep Ones.

Our narrator hails from Ohio. He was celebrating his coming of age with a tour of New England, during which he was pursuing genealogical and antiquarian researches. He planned to set out on July 15th from Newburyport to Arkham, from which his mother’s family hailed. To save money on a train ticket, he decided to take a bus through the hitherto unknown town of Innsmouth.

Innsmouth, he quickly discovered, had an evil reputation in the neighboring towns. Innsmouth was founded in 1643 and grew into a large and prosperous seaport, but it was almost deserted at present. In the early 19th century, the economy fell on hard times, and half the population had been killed by an epidemic in 1846. The remaining Innsmouth folk numbered between 300 and 400.

They had reputation for some sort of racial miscegenation or biological degeneration, which gave rise to a distinctive “Innsmouth look” that evoked revulsion in men and beasts alike. The railroad station agent in Newburyport frankly referred to this revulsion as “race prejudice,”[2] but made no apology for it and indeed admitted that he shared it himself. The Innsmouth residents, moreover, had a reputation for being “lawless and sly, and full of secret doings.”[3] Strangers were unwelcome, and more than a few prying outsiders had gone missing over the years.

His curiosity piqued, the narrator spent the afternoon and evening of the 14th doing research on Innsmouth. He decided to take the morning bus to Innsmouth, spend the afternoon exploring the town, and then take the evening bus to Arkham.

Our narrator found Innsmouth to be largely deserted and in a state of advanced decay. Most buildings were empty and boarded up, with peeling paint and sagging roofs. Even the inhabited ones were in disrepair, except for the mansions of the remaining wealthy families. There were few businesses and little industry except for fishing and the Marsh gold refinery. There were no domestic animals in the town—cats, dogs, or horses—because they instinctively disliked the Innsmouth folk. The whole town was pervaded by a sickening fishy stench.

According to Zadok Allen, Innsmouth’s decay was ultimately due to the subversion and replacement of the original population by an alien group. It began in the 1820s and 1830s, when Captain Obed Marsh ran three ships out of Innsmouth that traded in the East Indies. There Marsh discovered an Island of “Kanakys”—a term for the Australoid peoples of Melanesia—who enjoyed bountiful catches and an abundance of gold due to traffic with a mysterious and ancient race of amphibious creatures, the Deep Ones, whom the Kanakys worshiped as gods.

At first, Marsh only dealt with the Deep Ones through the Kanakys, bringing home rich cargoes of golden ornaments which he melted down, reviving Innsmouth’s flagging economy. But in 1838, Marsh discovered that the Kanakys had been massacred by neighboring islanders. However, their chief had told Captain Marsh how he could contact the Deep Ones who dwelled beneath Devil Reef outside of Innsmouth harbor, so he entered into direct commerce with a local community of Deep Ones.

Despite their wide geographical separation, the communities of Deep Ones subverted and controlled both the Kanakys and people of Innsmouth using the same techniques.

First, the Deep Ones offered concrete worldly benefits—good fishing and golden trinkets—in exchange for worship and human sacrifices. This appealed to Captain Marsh, who as a hard-headed Yankee pragmatist, saw no value in Christianity, which promised only otherworldly rewards in exchange for enduring rather than changing this world.

This parallels the Jewish strategy of using commerce, especially money-lending, to gain influence over gentile societies. It also parallels the this-worldly orientation of the Jewish religion. There is a somewhat fainter analogy to the influence Jews exercise over Christianity as their “elder brothers in faith,” which leads some Christian sects to virtually worship Jews as gods on Earth.

Second, the Deep Ones invited themselves ashore to mingle with humans, particularly on their two great festivals, Walpurgisnacht (April 30th) and Halloween (October 31st). The Kanakys and Innsmouthites had become too dependent on their commerce with the Deep Ones to say no. In Innsmouth, the Deep Ones founded a secret initiatic society, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, to instruct the natives in their new religion. The Order spread rapidly, replacing Freemasonry entirely and hollowing out and taking over the Christian churches. Those who opposed the Order mysteriously disappeared.

This parallels the Jewish strategy of seeking to control the opinion-shaping institutions of gentile societies—churches and fraternal orders, the educational system, the mass media, etc.—to secure and promote Jewish interests.

Third, the Deep Ones then offered their daughters in marriage to prominent men in the human communities, promising that the offspring of such unions, who carried the Deep Ones’ blood, would start their lives as humans, thus giving the Deep Ones a foothold and cover on dry land. But, as they aged, they would change slowly into Deep Ones, eventually taking to the seas, where they would enjoy bodily immortality, for barring accident or violence, the Deep Ones never die.

This parallels the widespread Jewish practice of marrying (or whoring) out their women to prominent gentiles, which extends Jewish influence, as illustrated by the myth of Queen Esther. The dogma of the matrilineal descent of Jewish identity leads the offspring of such matches to think of themselves as Jews and promote the interests of the Jewish community. Lovecraft himself married a Jewish woman, Sonia Greene, in 1924, but they separated soon after and the marriage was without issue. The physical immortality of the Deep Ones also parallels the Jewish and Christian idea of physical immortality in a resurrected body rather than the Indo-European idea of the spiritual immortality of a separated soul.

Finally, in 1846, after eight years of subversion, an organized opposition grew up in Innsmouth. Captain Marsh and his collaborators were arrested, but before they could be prosecuted, the Deep Ones rose up in number, massacred half the town, and subjugated the rest with terror, oaths, bribes, and brides. The outside world was told that an epidemic had struck, which explained away the murders and scared away the neighbors. Having gained complete control of Innsmouth, the Deep Ones allowed it to decay, simply because it was not their civilization, they did not care about it, and they no longer needed even to pretend to care.

This parallels the long history of Jewish anti-gentile massacres, celebrated in such festivals as Passover, Purim, and Hannukah. It also parallels the decay of gentile civilizations once Jews gain sufficient control to replace the natives with alien populations.

When the Innsmouthites discovered the narrator speaking to Zadok Allen, they decided he could not be allowed to leave. When the narrator showed up to catch the evening bus, he was told that it had broken down. (An obvious lie, since he saw it drive up.) He was told to check into the local hotel, the Gilman House (gill-man), and take the bus the next morning, after it had been repaired. Naturally, he was suspicious, so he locked, bolted, and barricaded the door and remained wide awake and fully clothed, ready for flight.

At 2:00 a.m., his electricity was cut off and someone tried to enter his room but found the door locked. The narrator climbed out a window and found the town on high alert. Vast numbers of Deep Ones were swimming in from Devil Reef, the roads out of town were blocked, and search parties roamed the streets. The narrator managed to slip out of town on the abandoned railroad tracks, but before his escape, he caught a glimpse of the Deep Ones in full repellent form.

The search parties were led by the robed and mitred priests of the Esoteric Order of Dagon and by the richest man in town, “Old Man” Barnabas Marsh, who was descended from Captain Obed Marsh on his father’s side and the Deep Ones on his mother’s. This parallels the leadership of diaspora Jewry by rabbis and businessmen. There is no Jewish warrior caste in the diaspora, because Jews are masters of manipulating others to fight and die for them.

In Innsmouth, the Deep Ones employed beings known as shoggoths to do their fighting. The shoggoths were a far more ancient race than the Deep Ones. According to Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness, they were created by the Old Ones, alien beings who settled the Earth in remotest prehistory and built a fantastic civilization. Although created as servants, the shoggoths ultimately rose up and destroyed their masters. The Deep Ones, however, seem to have tamed the shoggoths, and according to Zadok Allen, they had brought up large numbers of them and were housing them in boarded up buildings by the waterfront.[4]

Later, when the narrator is about to flee his hotel room, he hears, in addition to the furtive pattering of the Innsmouth folk, “the boards of the corridor . . . groan with a ponderous load.”[5] I believe that the Innsmouthites had brought in a shoggoth for reinforcement. After fleeing the hotel, he sees “a small rowboat pulling in toward the abandoned wharves and laden with some bulky, tarpaulin-covered object.”[6] Another shoggoth, I suggest.

That Innsmouth Look [3]

That Innsmouth Look

Lovecraft does not, however, merely tell of techniques of subversion. He also suggests means of liberation. Having escaped Innsmouth, the narrator traveled to Arkham and then on to Boston, where he told government officials what he had witnessed. Eventually, the Federal government was informed. In the winter of 1927–’28 they investigated the narrator’s claims and, satisfied of their truth, launched a “vast series of raids and arrests”[7] followed by the burning and dynamiting of a large number of buildings along the waterfront (the lairs of the shoggoths).

The press was fed the story that this was part of the war on liquor, but many were puzzled by the unusually large force of men making the raids, the secrecy in which they were conducted, the large numbers of arrests, and the facts that nobody was ever charged or tried, and none of the arrestees found their way to the nation’s jails. There were rumors of “disease and concentration camps” and later of “dispersal in various naval and military prisons.”[8]

When liberal groups protested, their leaders were invited to visit certain camps and prisons, after which they fell silent. Nobody knew what to make of the rumor that a submarine had discharged torpedoes into the marine abyss at the foot of Devil Reef. Eventually, the raids were forgotten, and Innsmouth began to show signs of revived human habitation, bringing us to the narrator’s present.

In short, Lovecraft believed it was both necessary and possible to secretly exterminate the Deep Ones through police and military action, destroying their habitations and confining the survivors in concentration camps and prisons. Today, of course, mention of concentration camps brings to mind Nazi Germany, but when Lovecraft wrote in 1931, Hitler had not yet come to power. However, the concentration camp had already been invented by the British during the Second Anglo-Boer War of 1899–1902. Furthermore, concentration camps had been employed as tools of genocide in 1915 by the Turks against the Armenians, Assyrians, and Pontic Greeks. And by 1931, a vast network of labor camps had been established in Soviet Russia. Lovecraft was well-aware of these facts.

Zadok Allen also speaks of magical means of warding off the Deep Ones, who would occasionally boast that they had the power to wipe out all of humanity, except those who were protected by certain magical signs associated with the Old Ones.[9] When the Kanakys who mixed with the Deep Ones were exterminated by their neighbors, Captain Marsh found charms left behind by the invaders to ward off the Deep Ones. They were inscribed with the sign of the swastika.[10]


1. H. P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, in Tales, ed. Peter Straub (New York: The Library of America, 2005), pp. 610–11.

2. Ibid., p. 591.

3. Ibid., p. 593.

4. Ibid., p. 624.

5. Ibid., p. 632.

6. Ibid., p. 640.

7. Ibid., p. 587.

8. Ibid., p. 587.

9. Ibid., p. 615.

10. Ibid., p. 617.