Fish People and Ancient Ones: A Messy Look at Lovecraft’s “Dagon.”
Updated: Sep 22, 2020
That title is not a lie; this post is all over the place. Sorry not sorry. But you don’t really come here for hard hitting journalism, or well written intellectual pieces. Nay, nay. You come here for some quality entertainment.
That’s what I bring you today; some quality content. Let's just jump right in then.
If H.P. Lovecraft was around today, he would definitely be one of those people who believe in lizard people and aliens. I mean, he totally believed in aliens when he was alive, there’s no debating that. But, upon reading some Lovecraft stories again, a question popped into my mind: would Lovecraft believe in fish people?
See, I told you this was going to be a messy one. This isn’t Reading Has Ruined My Life if the post wasn’t a hot mess. Today you get a mix of that “did Lovecraft believe in fish people” question, a mess, and what I like about this short story. Back to fish people now.
Now, I’m not talking about mermaids. I’m not talking about the Cthulhu cult. I’m talking about bonafide, covered in scales, have gills to breath under water but can still walk on land, fish people. Think along the lines of the creatures from Creature from the Black Lagoon and The Shape of Water. This is where the little short story called “Dagon” comes in.
Before continuing with this odd review/look at/different reading of/whatever I should call this post, a trigger and content warning is in order. “Dagon” begins with mentions of suicide and drug abuse. As this is a Lovecraft story, racists undertones are also rampant in this short story.
“Dagon” focuses on an un-named, unreliable narrator, AKA my favorite type of narrator, who has seen something terrible. Something awful. Something beyond this world. Something unspeakably evil. This narrator, whilst lost at sea after escaping from an enemy warship in WWI, comes across an island that is currently uninhabited; or so he thinks. Upon searching the island, he comes across stone statues of what he can only assume are some form of ancient deities of a long forgotten religion, you know. You know, the ancient ones, like Cthulhu. Here we come to the answer to our question.
Lovecraft likely would have likely believed in fish people. The statues found on this island feature human like creatures with webbed feet and scales. Now, I know what you’re thinking: “just because an author writes about some weird stuff, doesn’t mean they believe in it.” Listen, Lovecraft was scared of everything. He was scared of immigrants, air conditions, deep water and the ocean, aliens, and probably the idea of fish and/or lizard people. Anyone and anything slightly different from a rich, white man who had anything that wasn’t considered normal in his home or life was considered scary and detestable by Lovecraft. I have no actual proof of Lovecraft believing in fish people outside of writing about fish gods, but this is the hill I chose to die on.
This post is just like the time I tried to prove Shakespeare had an Oedipus Complex back in my college days. That was a wild ride and the only “proof” I had to that was that Shakespeare wrote Hamlet the same year his father died. A good idea in theory for a final thesis paper, but quite a half-baked idea when it came to actually writing the paper. I get the feeling my professor laughed for a solid ten minutes once he read that thesis.
Back to this discussion on “Dagon” that’s all over the place, the ending is honestly my favorite part of the story. You've also made it over half way through this post. If you're wondering when this insanity will stop, it is soon.
Our unnamed narrator manages to make it to America thanks to a boat passing by where he was stranded, but before that happens some massive creature shows itself. What must be the major deity the island’s former inhabitants worshiped shows itself to the narrator and is automatically out for blood. This is Dagon!
The narrator is able to return home, only to become addicted to morphine. In his drug induced state, he runs all around the country as he’s still attempting to flee from this monstrous creature; who has apparently followed him from the mysterious island all the way to America. All hope is lost as there is no escaping this creature. Our story ends with the monster appearing at the narrator’s window where it presumably proceeds to kill the narrator.
I love the question this story leaves readers with. Was there truly a monster or was this all in the narrator’s head? If the monster was solely in the narrator’s head, then was it because of loneliness, heat, or maybe he just saw an exotic animal he wasn’t familiar with and then the drugs he took made it into a monster in his head; there are so many possibilities of what this could be. But the thing with Lovecraft is all the monsters end up being real.
Dagon was a real God in Mesopotamian culture, he was the God of agriculture fertility. He has since been forgotten to the western world. The Dagon in Lovecraft’s story doesn’t match up much with the history of the God, but his take is interesting to say the least. Images of Dagon do paint him as a mermaid, so Lovecraft got one thing slightly right with his description of webbed feet and hands. But maybe in the Lovecraft universe the narrator wasn’t suffering from heat stroke. Maybe there was a real fish person God who was out for blood.
Perhaps the island inhabitants of the Lovecraft story performed human sacrifices for their version of Dagon. Perhaps this Dagon was real, and this God ate everyone on the island who worshipped him. A hungry God isn’t going to be picky about his food once the main source has been eradicated. The backstory of this ancient one is just truly interesting to think about; especially since the backstory is so open to interpretation.
If you made it this far, then congratulations, you’ve made it through this mess of a post!
It’s done, it’s over. You never have to look at this mess again unless you’re looking for a horrible writing example to show in an English class.
I guess all I have to end with is: do you think Lovecraft believed in fish people? Let me know on Twitter @RHRMLBlog.