The August 1931 issue of Weird Tales gave us one of H.P. Lovecraft's best stories. It also tells us what the actual purpose the planet Pluto serves. (And yes, I know Pluto isn't considered a planet anymore. Tough toenails--on my blog, Pluto still gets to be a planet!)
"The Whisperer in Darkness" was written right after Pluto was discovered. That plus Lovecraft's admiration of Arthur Machen's 1895 book The Novel of the Black Seal, from which Lovecraft drew plot ideas and themes, resulted in a truly creepy tale.
The narrator is Albert Wilmarth, a professor at Miskatonic University--the school where you are as likely to die horribly or be driven insane as get a graduate degree. Wilmarth is interested in certain aspects of New England folklore. He begins a correspondence with Henry Akeley, who lives in a secluded area of Vermont and believes he has found proof that alien beings have set up a small mining colony nearby and have been visiting Earth for centuries.
Like most aliens who inhabit Lovecraft's perpetually horrific universe, these creatures do not share any human concept of right and wrong with us. As Wilmarth, who eventually comes to believe Akeley, describes them:
|I got this image from the Lovecraft wiki--|
I couldn't find an artist's credit.
I really admire Lovecraft's story construction here. The first part of the story consists of Wilmarth and Akeley exchanging letters without ever actually meeting. At first,they calmly trade ideas and information. But Akeley gradually becomes more and more concerned that the Mi-Go (as the aliens are called) are stalking him with help of human agents. Eventually, Akeley is essentially besieged in his home, exchanging rifle fire with those human agents. His dogs manage to hold off the Mi-Go themselves.
Lovecraft employs his usual skill with sentence construction and perfect word choices to gradually build up the tension. Akeley is reluctant to leave his family home, but his situation is becoming untenable. Then Wilmarth gets a long letter (typewritten rather than handwritten) in which Akeley says he's been misinterpreting the Mi-Go's intentions and has actually made friends with them. Why doesn't Wilmarth come to Vermont and meet them?
It's actually fair to consider this a weak point in the story. That Wilmarth is being drawn into a trap is mind-numbingly obvious, but Wilmarth goes to great lengths to explain his absurd reasons for thinking its not really a trap. Gee whiz, Wilmarth. You were doing so well up to now and suddenly you are too dumb to live.
The story ends with a wonderfully horrific twist, but not before Wilmarth has time to wonder about the discovery of Pluto, which he knows must be Yuggoth. What reason do the Mi-Go have for allowing us to discover the planet they've always kept hidden from us? One horrible day, we'll probably find out.
I suspect the Mi-Go will be mad at us for reducing Pluto from planet to dwarf planet. And who can blame them?
Lovecraft mentioned the Mi-Go in one future story--In the Mountains of Madness--in which we learn they once fought a war with yet another race of ancient aliens. Cthulhu is also mentioned, so this is a part of what would become one of the first shared universes in literature. Other writers would contribute stories to this mythos, while Lovecraft would often mention elements from their stories in his own prose.
For instance, "The Whisperer in Darkness" mentions a being from Clark Ashton Smith's story "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros," which hadn't itself been published yet, but which Smith had allowed Lovecraft to read. There's also a shout-out to "The Hounds of Tindalos" a 1929 story by Frank Belknap Long. Looking up those references also led me to read those two stories, so I think we'll examine both of them in another post sometime soon.
You can read "The Whisperer in Darkness" HERE.