Monday, February 2, 2009

Pulp Fantasy Library: The Moon Pool

Abraham Merritt is one of those authors who's more talked about than read nowadays, assuming one even knows his name at all, which isn't likely. That's unfortunate, because, in his day, Merritt was incredibly influential, with H.P. Lovecraft -- and Gary Gygax -- among those who took inspiration from his writings. Indeed, Lovecraft notes on several occasions that he had specifically saved the June 1918 issue of The Argosy magazine that contained a fantasy novel by Merritt entitled The Moon Pool.

If you've had the chance to read The Moon Pool, you'll quickly see why HPL was so fond of it. The novel tells the story of a scientist (Dr. Throckmartin) who encounters an old friend (Dr. Goodwin) on a ship while they are both sailing back to New York. Throckmartin tells Goodwin of his recent, disastrous expedition to ruins on the island of Ponape -- a name familiar to Lovecraft fans -- in which all of his companions, including his wife, were abducted by a mysterious being of light he has dubbed the Dweller. Throckmartin claims that this being continues to pursue him and, sure enough, when moonlight falls upon him, he is whisked bodily away, right before Goodwin's eyes, who vows to rescue his old friend from whatever peril has overtaken him. Goodwin assembles a multi-national team of scientist and adventurers to accompany him on his quest and soon finds himself exploring a lost subterranean city that is home to not one but two strange races with equally strange religious practices. Needless to say, Goodwin and his companions discover that not only the fates of Throckmartin and his expedition hang in the balance but that of the entire world.

The Moon Pool is, on the face of it, just another "lost world" fantasy, a theme to which Merritt regularly returns in his writings. Being Merritt's first novel, it's also a lot less polished than his later works. Yet, it somehow manages to overcome its structural and stylistic weaknesses and command my attention. Part of it might be the way that the story takes lost world tropes a step further by introducing a level of "cosmic horror" that you don't find in say, Arthur Conan Doyle. This is clearly what Lovecraft saw in the story. There's also the fact that The Moon Pool includes if not the first, then one of the earliest examples of the classic pulp adventuring team made up of a rogues gallery of guys with different backgrounds and skills united in a common cause to save the world. One could even stretch this a bit and see the origins of the D&D adventuring party.

In any case, The Moon Pool is a good introduction to Merritt if you've never encountered his work before. It's not my favorite of his books, but it's still excellent. It's also one of only three Merritt books which Gygax cites by title in the Dungeon Masters Guide, so it's certainly worth the time of anyone interested in the literary origins of the game.


  1. This makes me think of D&D module X5, the Temple of Death, which in an isolated mountain cavern features a "Well of the Moon", which on nights of the full moon is connected by a magic ladder to the Kingdom of the Moon (to be detailed by the DM). There's also a nearby hazard which features a creeping light that potentially covers the PCs and saps their Str and Int to the point of vegetation and death.

    And maybe even more to the point, I recall that there's a similar radiant pool mentioned in EGG's Greyhawk boxed set, in an deep-earth setting, where a degenerate underground race throws in victims to be sacrificed.

  2. Thank you! Each time you post a review like this, my first step is to see if it's available - I've found myself looking forward to getting a day or week's reading from your pulp posts.

    The Moon Pool can be found at

  3. Chgowiz, thanks for posting that link, I found all kinds of neat stuff there!

  4. This comment has been removed by the author.

  5. According to John Clute's Encyclopedia of Fantasy: "Unfortunately, the novelette lost most of its force in the version rewritten to form a prelude to the rather pedestrian 'The Conquest of the Moon Pool' in The Moon Pool (1919)".

    I found a link to the original novelette here, if anyone is interested:

  6. Delta,

    That's very useful information. Thanks!