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Wednesday, July 24, 2013

"The Mound" turned out to not be fashioned of dirt, if you know what I mean

I was excited at the prospect of reading this story after having read another of Lovecraft's collaborations with Zealia Bishop, "The Curse of Yig," back near the beginning of my literary odyssey. Alas, while "The Mound" began with a lot of promise, in the end it completely failed to deliver the thrills as "Yig" did. A very disappointing climax indeed, especially given the really incredible bump-and-set that kicks off the first half of the story.

"The Mound" is ostensibly about an ethnologist who studies American Indian tribes--surely the same character who seeks out the story in "The Curse of Yig." So anyway, he comes to an Oklahoma town called Binger in order to research supernatural stories about a large mound or small hill a few miles outside town. Apparently, it's haunted--or possibly patrolled--by two ghosts.

In the daylight hours, an Indian man paces atop the mound, only to vanish if approached. In the night, the patrol is taken over by a headless Indian squaw. And so it has gone for the past century or so. Many of the daring explorers brave enough to investigate have either disappeared NEVER TO BE SEEN AGAIN or have returned after a brief period of absence to find themselves apparently mad and babbling typical Lovecraftian cosmic nonsense.

Pretty cool setup. I'll give them that.

So our hero goes up alone (he could find nobody in town stupid enough to join him) to dig and find out what's up. That's where he finds, after a decent afternoon of digging, a strange metallic tube containing ancient documents. As dark approaches, he decides to hoof it back to town and give the mysterious documents a thorough once-over.

The pages are the notes of famed 16th-Century explorer Francisco de Coronado...'s hired man, Panfilo de Zamacona. *sigh*

The bulk of the story is the ethnologist's reading of Zamacona's journal about his extended visit to an underworld inhabited by strange men with strange powers. I really don't want to get into the details, but it takes up a good 5 of the 7 chapters. Suffice it to say he found a primeval, subterranean society of telepathic, teleporting man-things and came to be more or less accepted by them, trading their knowledge, living quarters, food and all for his knowledge of the outside world.

This land, called K'n-yan by the natives, turns out to not be the only inner-earth world thriving with its own form of life. For beyond the shimmering blue iridescent light of K'n-yan, one can find sub-subterranean passages to a red-lit world even deeper in the planet. The natives of the blue world, of course, do not get along with those of the red, and nor do the red folk get along with the viscous black blob-like shapeshifters that can be found in the coal-dark sub-sub-subterranean world to be found even deeper beyond their own. *yawn* OK, I'm sufficiently bored.

Back to the blue world beneath the green (that's ours). The interesting bits are that they are a Cthuluhu- and Yig-worshipping, technologically advanced super-society that now has a genetically engineered slave class to do all the heavy lifting so they can just concentrate on educational, philosophical, artistic and sexual gratification. Also used as slaves are the people who would not conform--criminals, rogues, etc. First they are thrown in a gladiatorial coliseum and maimed in whatever horrible ways imaginable, to the delight of the crowds. This maiming includes but is not limited to: cutting, scraping, bruising, dismemberment, disemboweling, and death. This underground "civilization" also has the power to reanimate the dead, giving them a sole purpose--to please the living.

Anyway, Zamacona spends decades with them before he realizes he's run out of things to say and is pretty sure he's bound for the coliseum, so he tries to escape with the help of his lady-thing friend. He is able to get his missive to the surface, but that's all we know other than they got caught in their escape attempt. She faces a stiff punishment, but he is given another chance.

I am really cutting a ton of shit out of this shit-filled story; you have no idea. You're welcome.

So our hero decides he's gonna rediscover this society that Zamacona wrote about, and he sets off in the morning to continue digging.

SPOILERS BELOW! SPOILERS BELOW! Of course if you haven't already read it, you probably shouldn't. Maybe just finish this review and call it quits for this story.

When he gets to the top of the mound, his shovel and pickaxe are missing. He figures it's a prank by some wise-ass villager watching through binoculars, so he just mans up and digs with his bowie knife instead, eventually being swallowed up by a sinkhole or something and ending up in a subterranean cave described by Zamacona.

He follows the passage, finding along the way his shovel and pickaxe, and an undead, highly maimed sentry. Oh shit. It's Zamacona.

The end.

Seriously. Yep. It ends that poorly. Very disappointing. I think HPL must have just been sick of writing it even though it was only a two-month project. In any event, it was considered a collaboration and wasn't printed until after his death anyway. At least he never had to see it published.

As I said, it started out so cool and promising. That's what made the ending even worse. This had the potential to be a sci-fi masterpiece. Too bad nobody has picked that idea up and written more tales in this setting. I'm sure the blue inner-world folk have many interesting and thrilling stories to offer the green earth, but this wasn't one of them.