“The Mound” (1930)
Read in 2018.
The people of K’n-yan all dwelt in the great, tall city of Tsath beyond the mountains. Formerly several races of them had inhabited the entire underground world, which stretched down to unfathomable abysses and which included besides the blue-litten region a red-litten region called Yoth, where relics of a still older and non-human race were found by archaeologists.
Developed by Lovecraft from a trivial story seed of a ghost sighting, this is the most important and influential of Lovecraft’s collaborations. Among his few detailed descriptions of alien societies, it is the closest to a possible human society, the least negative, and the most intertextually connected to other Mythos stories by the author. Though certainly racist, it contains the interesting twist that its hero in the story-within-the-story, a conquistador “Spaniard”, is himself enslaved by a people more closely related to his native American subjects than to himself, and these are not stereotypical savages, noble or otherwise.
Among the creatures of Lovecraft’s imagination, the people of Tsath are especially appealing in that they are uniquely likely to have stayed hidden into my own lifetime: they are well motivated and equipped to do so, without simply being epistemologically ephemeral (that’s cheating) or omniscient. They’re actually quite ignorant of surface life.
All of this makes the story interesting to me, and there are numerous amazing ideas tucked away in it, including premonitions of the early 21st century: “monotony-warfare” in a “half-spectral state of electronic dispersal” is my everyday life. Lovecraft was extrapolating beautifully from the urban culture of his own time into mine. However, it doesn’t tie together very well, the middle section is dry, and the ending is rather flat: A bit of pulp archaeology reminiscent of the contemporary models for Indiana Jones, suddenly shifting to an unconvincing rendition of the typical Lovecraft ending.