The Shadow over Innsmouth

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The Shadow over Innsmouth
Shadow Over Innsmouth (dust jacket - first edition).jpg
Dust jacket from the first edition
Author H. P. Lovecraft
Illustrator Frank Utpatel
Cover artist Frank Utpatel
Country United States
Language English
Genre Horror novella
Publisher Visionary Publishing Company
Publication date
April 1936
OCLC 3920225
Text The Shadow over Innsmouth at Wikisource

The Shadow over Innsmouth is a horror novella by H. P. Lovecraft, written in November–December 1931. It forms part of the Cthulhu Mythos, using its motif of a malign undersea civilization. It references several shared elements of the Mythos, including place-names, mythical creatures and invocations.

The narrator is a student on an antiquarian tour of New England. He sees a piece of exotic jewelry in a museum, and learns that its source is the nearby decrepit seaport of Innsmouth. He travels to Innsmouth and observes disturbing events and people.

It is the only Lovecraft story which was published in book form during his lifetime.

According to L Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft distrusted his ability to narrate action, and the story is unusual in that Lovecraft includes in chapter IV a sustained and effective[1] piece of action writing.


The story is divided into five chapters. In the first chapter, the narrator begins by recounting to the reader of a secret investigation, which was undertaken by the government at the ruined town of Innsmouth, Massachusetts, and that the story told to them by the narrator himself is the reason for this investigation. He proceeds to describe in detail the events surrounding his initial interest in the town (antiquarian and architectural), which lies along the route of his tour across New England, taken when he was twenty-one. While he waits for the bus that will take him to Innsmouth, he busies himself in the neighboring town of Newburyport by gathering information from local townsfolk; all of it with superstitious overtones.

The second chapter details his ride into Innsmouth, described in great detail as a crumbling, mostly deserted town full of dilapidated structures, and people who look just a bit odd and who tend to walk with a distinct shambling gait. All of this is unsettling to the narrator, who describes the citizens as having the "Innsmouth look", "queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes". Only one person in town appears normal, a young clerk at the local First National Grocery Store, who is a citizen from neighboring Arkham. The narrator gathers much information from the clerk, including a map of the town, and the name of a local who might be a good source of information: an ancient man named Zadok Allen, known to open up information about the town's history when plied with drink.

The majority of the third chapter is composed of the conversation between Zadok and the narrator. Zadok, who is very old, has seen much in the town and goes on at length, telling a tale of fish-like humanoids known as Deep Ones, who live beneath the sea. It seems they bring prosperity in the form of fish as well as fantastically wrought gold jewelry to those who offer them human sacrifices. These fish-frog men are amphibious, and have the ability to reproduce with humans. The hybrid offspring have the appearance of normal humans in early life but, in adulthood, slowly transform into Deep Ones. The completed transformation brings them eternal-life, which allows the individuals to live within ancient cities under the sea. These fish-frog men were first discovered in the West Indies, by a native island tribe, which was itself found by an Innsmouth merchant named Obed Marsh. When hard times befell Innsmouth, Obed and some followers did what they could to call up the fish-frog men in their New England town, causing an increase in the town's wealth. However, Obed and his minions were apprehended by the authorities and the remaining Innsmouth residents balked at the idea of sacrificing humans to the Deep Ones. Outraged, the Deep Ones attacked the entire town one night, and slaughtered more than half of its population; the survivors were left with no choice but to offer human sacrifices to the Deep Ones, and also women to mate with them. The countless deaths were soon blamed on an unknown plague. Zadok is at first angry that the narrator appears not to believe him. After seeing strange waves approaching the dock, he becomes frightened, and tells the narrator to leave town immediately, because they have been seen. Once the narrator leaves, Zadok mysteriously disappears, and is never seen again. When the story is over, the narrator is unnerved but thinks it a product of a fertile imagination.

Chapter four tells of the night that the narrator was forced to spend in town, after being told that the bus in which he came to town on is experiencing engine trouble. The narrator has no choice but to spend the night in a musty hotel. While attempting to sleep, he hears noises at his door like someone is trying to enter. Wasting no time, he attempts to escape out a window and through the streets, at times imitating the peculiar walk of the Innsmouth locals. Eventually, he makes his way towards some railroad tracks where he hears a great many creatures passing in the road before him. He soon hides, and resolves to close his eyes, having at this point come to accept the idea that Zadok's story is true. He cannot keep them closed, however, and upon seeing the fish-frog creatures in full light for the first time, faints while in his hiding spot.

In the final chapter, we hear of how the narrator wakes up unharmed and quickly walks to the next town (Rowley). Over the years that pass, he begins doing research into his family tree, discovering some disturbing information along the way. Eventually it becomes clear that he is a descendant of Obed Marsh himself, and nightmares soon accompany the narrator's realization that he is changing into one of the creatures. As the story ends, the narrator, by then a student at Oberlin College, tells us that his horror at the idea is now changing into an acceptance, and that he will be quite happy living forever in the city of Y'ha-nthlei, deep beneath the sea. He also has a cousin, even further transformed than he, being held in a mental hospital whom he plans to break free and take with him. The narrator believes that Y'ha-nthlei has survived its apparent destruction by the authorities, but it is unclear whether this is the case or merely a by-product of his descent into madness.


Both of Lovecraft's parents died in a mental hospital, and some critics believe that a concern with having inherited a propensity for physical and mental degeneration—a common pre-occupation among eugenecists of the time—is reflected in the plot of The Shadow over Innsmouth. It also shares some themes with his earlier story, "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family".[2] Cthulhu, an entity from previous Lovecraft stories, is the overlord of the sea creatures. The mind of the narrator deteriorates when he is afforded a glimpse of what exists outside his perceived reality. This is a central tenet of Cosmicism, which Lovecraft emphasizes in the opening sentence of "The Call of Cthulhu": "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."[3]

Possible influences

Lovecraft based the town of Innsmouth on his impressions of Newburyport, Massachusetts, which he had visited in 1923 and fall 1931.[4] The real Newburyport features as a neighbouring town in the narrative.

A likely influence on the plot is Lovecraft's horror of miscegenation, which is documented by de Camp [1] and others.

Robert M. Price cites two works as literary sources for The Shadow over Innsmouth: Robert W. Chambers' "The Harbor-Master" and Irvin S. Cobb's "Fishhead". Chambers' story concerns the discovery of "the remnants of the last race of amphibious human beings," living in a five-mile deep chasm just off the Atlantic coast. The creature of the title is described as "a man with round, fixed, fishy eyes, and soft, slaty skin. But the horror of the thing were the two gills that swelled and relaxed spasmodically."[5] Lovecraft was evidently impressed by this tale, writing in a letter to Frank Belknap Long: "God! The Harbour-Master!!!"[6] "Fishhead" is the story of a "human monstrosity" with an uncanny resemblance to a fish:His skull sloped back so abruptly that he could hardly be said to have a forehead at all; his chin slanted off right into nothing. His eyes were small and round with shallow, glazed, pink-yellow pupils, and they were set wide apart on his head, and they were unwinking and staring, like a fish's eyes.[7] Lovecraft, in "Supernatural Horror in Literature," called Cobb's story "banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake".[8]

Price notes that Fishhead, as the "son of a Negro father and a half-breed Indian mother," "embodies unambiguously the basic premise of The Shadow Over Innsmouth.... This, of course, is really what Lovecraft found revolting in the idea of interracial marriage...the subtextual hook of different ethnic races mating and 'polluting' the gene pool."[9] Price points out the resemblance in names between the Deep One city of Y'ha-nthlei and Yoharneth-Lahai, a fictional deity in Lord Dunsany's The Gods of Pegana, who "sendeth little dreams out of Pegana to please the people of Earth"—a precursor to Lovecraft's fictional deity Cthulhu, who sends less pleasant dreams from R'lyeh.[10]

The description of the Deep Ones has similarities to the sea creature described in H.G. Wells' short story, "In the Abyss" (1896);[11]

"Two large and protruding eyes projected from sockets in chameleon fashion, and it had a broad reptilian mouth with horny lips beneath its little nostrils. In the position of the ears were two huge gill-covers, and out of these floated a branching tree of coralline filaments, almost like the tree-like gills that very young rays and sharks possess. But the humanity of the face was not the most extraordinary thing about the creature. It was a biped; its almost globular body was poised on a tripod of two frog-like legs and a long, thick tail, and its fore limbs, which grotesquely caricatured the human hand, much as a frog’s do, carried a long shaft of bone, tipped with copper. The colour of the creature was variegated; its head, hands, and legs were purple; but its skin, which hung loosely upon it, even as clothes might do, was a phosphorescent grey."


Robert Olmstead

The narrator of the story, he discovers Innsmouth on a tour of New England seeking genealogical information, and finds more than he bargains for. The character, unnamed in "The Shadow over Innsmouth", is called "Robert Olmstead" in Lovecraft's notes for the story, published in Arkham House's Something About Cats and Other Pieces (1949).[12]

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia points out that Olmstead's travel habits parallel Lovecraft's own—Lovecraft too would "seek the cheapest route", and Olmstead's dinner of "vegetable soup with crackers" is typical of Lovecraft's low-budget diet.[13]

Obed Marsh

A wealthy sea captain, patriarch of the elite Marsh family, and the founder of the Esoteric Order of Dagon. He was referred to by Zadok Allen as being the man who first summoned the Deep Ones to Innsmouth. In 1846, he was jailed after the towns bordering Innsmouth became suspicious of his crew. He died in 1878.

According to Lovecraft's story notes, Marsh's daughter, Alice, is Robert Olmstead's great-grandmother.[14]

Barnabas Marsh

Barnabas Marsh, known as Old Man Marsh, is the grandson of Obed Marsh and the owner of the Marsh refinery at the time of The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Barnabas' father was Onesiphorus Marsh, Obed's son by his fully human wife; though Barnabas' mother, who was never seen in public, was apparently an actual Deep One. Zadok Allen says of him: "Right naow Barnabas is abaout changed. Can't shet his eyes no more, an' is all aout o' shape. They say he still wears clothes, but he'll take to the water soon."

Zadok Allen

One of the few completely human residents of Innsmouth, and an alcoholic. His drunken ramblings allow Lovecraft to convey much of the town's secret backstory to the story's protagonist. Born in 1831, Allen disappears, and dies in 1927, after being kidnapped and sacrificed by the Esoteric Order of Dagon.

An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia notes that Allen resembles—and shares his years of birth and death with—Jonathan E. Hoag, an amateur poet of Lovecraft's acquaintance. A possible literary inspiration is the character of Dr. Humphrey Lathrop in Herbert Gorman's The Place Called Dagon (1927), who, like Allen, is a drinker who knows the secret history of his town.[15]

Grocery Store Clerk

An unnamed youth of about seventeen who is a native resident of Arkham, and therefore completely human. His superiors transferred him to Innsmouth, and both he and his family loathe the idea of him working there, but he cannot afford to quit his job. He is only too happy to encounter the narrator, and describes the sinister goings-on within Innsmouth, but the boy is unaware of what is really happening in the town. He tells the narrator of the bizarre deformities afflicting the native townspeople, and how the older generation are almost never seen outdoors due to their monstrous appearance. He also briefly informs the narrator of the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and what he knows of the town's society, and directs him to the drunkard, Zadok Allen for more information.

Cthulhu Mythos

  • Towards the end, Cthulhu and R'lyeh are mentioned.
  • The creature known as Dagon is first introduced in Lovecraft's 1917 tale of the same name.
  • As related in "The Thing on the Doorstep" (1937), Asenath Waite, the possessed victim of her father Ephraim Waite, is by implication one of the human/deep one hybrids, and was a resident of Innsmouth before attending Miskatonic University. The servants she brings into her marriage to Edward Derby are likewise Innsmouth natives. This occurs after The Shadow over Innsmouth and Asenath's father and she escaped the government raid mentioned in the original story.[original research?]
  • The Waites, Gilmans, Eliots and Marshes are the "gently bred" families of Innsmouth. Despite his name, the protagonist of "The Dreams in the Witch House", Walter Gilman, is not established as having any links to Innsmouth or the deep ones.
  • August Derleth also used the deep ones in the short story "Innsmouth Clay", which he completed from Lovecraft's notes. "The Shuttered Room" is another short story started by Lovecraft, and finished by Derleth, which involves the deep ones. It mentions a connection between the Marsh family of Innsmouth, and the Whateley family of Dunwich from "The Dunwich Horror".


Although rejected by the magazine during Lovecraft's lifetime, "The Shadow over Innsmouth" was reprinted in Weird Tales in 1942

Lovecraft was quite critical of The Shadow over Innsmouth, writing to August Derleth that the story "has all the defects I deplore—especially in point of style, where hackneyed phrases & rhythms have crept in despite all precautions.... No—I don't intend to offer 'The Shadow Over Innsmouth' for publication, for it would stand no chance of acceptance."[16]

The story was rejected by Weird Tales editor Farnsworth Wright when Derleth surreptitiously submitted it for publication in 1933. "I have read Lovecraft's story...and must confess that it fascinates me," he wrote to Derleth. "But I don't know just what I can do with it. It is hard to break a story of this kind into two parts, and it is too long to run complete in one part."[17]

In late 1935,William L. Crawford's Visionary Publishing Company began the process of issuing The Shadow Over Innsmouth as a book. The project came to fruition in November 1936 (although the copyright page declares the date of publication as April 1936), but the book had so many typographical errors that Lovecraft insisted on an errata sheet (which was also faulty). It had a bound run of 200 copies — the only book of Lovecraft's fiction distributed during his lifetime.[18][19] Crawford had printed 400 copies but bound only 200; the others were destroyed later. Of this edition Robert Weinberg has written: "Only a few hundred copies of the book were printed, and even less than that were sold, even though it was available at the bargain price of $1 per copy. It featured good paper, black linen binding and four illustrations by Frank Utpatel. The book was the only bound hardcover to appear during Lovecraft's lifetime and became one of the true rarities in the collecting field. Its failure, and the poor sales of third non-fantasy book convinced William Crawford of the futility of his efforts." [20]

After Lovecraft's death (and Wright's), the story appeared in an unauthorized abridged version in the January 1942 issue of Weird Tales.[21]


August Derleth called The Shadow over Innsmouth "a dark, brooding story, typical of Lovecraft at his best."[22] Robert Weinberg praised it as "a well-written story".[23]

Shadows over Innsmouth

The Shadow over Innsmouth was republished in an anthology with stories by other authors based on Innsmouth and the Old Ones in Shadows over Innsmouth. The collection was edited by Stephen Jones, and included contributions by Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, David Sutton[disambiguation needed], Kim Newman (both as himself and Jack Yeovil), and other authors.



Alberto Breccia adapted the story in 1973.

Ron Marz adapted the story for Dynamite Entertainment in 2014.

Film and television

Colombian writer Andres Caicedo adapted The Shadow over Innsmouth into a screenplay in 1973. He travelled to Hollywood in 1975 to sell it to Roger Corman, alongside his adaptation of Clark Ashton Smith's The Nameless Offspring, but failed in his purpose. Neither of the screenplays were shot and remain as part of the Andres Caicedo Collection in the Luis Angel Arango Library in Bogota.[citation needed]

Chiaki J. Konaka adapted The Shadow over Innsmouth for Japanese television as Insmus wo Oou Kage in 1992.

The Shadow over Innsmouth forms the principal storyline in Stuart Gordon's 2001 film Dagon. Full Moon Entertainment was going to release Gordon's original adaptation (under the original novella's title) in 1991, using Bernie Wrightson's character designs, but the project was unrealized. Dagon uses some of Wrightson's designs from that project.[24]

The 2007 film Cthulhu is loosely based on The Shadow over Innsmouth.[citation needed]

Video games

"Shadow of the Comet" - Infogrames

Innsmouth no Yakata (インスマウスの館, lit. "The Mansion of Innsmouth") was a 1995 3D first-person shooter video game for the Virtual Boy, released in Japan based on Chiaki J. Konaka's 1992 television series Insmus wo Oou Kage. It featured a branching level structure and four possible endings.

In the 2005 first-person action-adventure video game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth the town of Innsmouth is the backdrop, the opening plot of which follows the second, third and fourth chapters of the novella with a great degree of accuracy (with a different protagonist). Dark Corners of the Earth was supposed to be followed by a sequel set in the 2000s, titled Call of Cthulhu: Destiny's End, now cancelled.

Indie game Chronicle of Innsmouth (production started in 2015[25]) is directly based on the plot of Shadow over Innsmouth.

Radio play

The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society produced Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow over Innsmouth, a Dark Adventure Radio Theatre adaptation of the story. In January 2012, the Cape Cod based Provincetown Theater announced a reading of a full-length play of the story, entitled HP Lovecraft's The Shadow over Innsmouth, adapted for the stage by Bragan Thomas.[26]


The short story "Shoggoth's Old Peculiar" (Smoke and Mirrors, 1998) by Neil Gaiman contains many similarities to "The Shadow over Innsmouth":[citation needed] a student visits the coastal town of Innsmouth (in England rather than New England), he gets to talking to two drunks (parodies of Peter Cook and Dudley Moore), he sees horrors in the water, and he passes out.[citation needed]

See also



  1. 1.0 1.1 de Camp, L Sprague. Lovecraft: A Biography.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Ronan, Margaret, Foreword to The Shadow over Innsmouth and Other Stories of Horror, Scholastic Book Services, 1971
  3. HP Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928).
  4. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Dark Tales, Barnes and Noble, 2009, p. 344
  5. Robert W. Chambers, "The Harbor-Master," The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 22.
  6. H. P. Lovecraft, letter to Frank Belknap Long, October 17, 1930; cited in Robert M. Price, The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 3.
  7. Irvin S. Cobb, "Fishhead," The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 27.
  8. H. P. Lovecraft, "Supernatural Horror in Literature," Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 411.
  9. Robert M. Price, The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 24. The creature in "The Harbor-Master" is mistaken for a "demented darky". Chambers, "The Harbor-Master," p. 20.
  10. Lord Dunsany, "Of Yoharneth-Lahai," The Innsmouth Cycle, p. 2.
  11. "In the Abyss"
  12. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "Olmstead, Robert", An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 194.
  13. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "The Shadow Over Innsmouth", An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp. 239–240.
  14. Joshi and Schultz, "Olmstead, Robert", p. 194.
  15. S. T. Joshi and David E. Schultz, "Allen, Zadok", An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, pp. 3, 239.
  16. H. P. Lovecraft, letter to August Derleth, December 10, 1931; cited in Joshi and Schultz, p. 238.
  17. Farnsworth Wright, letter to August Derleth, January 17, 1933; cited in Joshi and Schultz, pp. 238–239.
  18. Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, p. 83.
  19. August Derleth, "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider," p. 18, Crypt of Cthulhu #93.
  20. Robert Weinberg, "Science Fiction Specialty Publishers" in Hall, Hal W. (ed). Science Fiction Collections: Fantasy, Supernatural and Weird Tales. Haworth Press, 1983, p. 119
  21. Price, p. 34.
  22. Carter, p. 83.
  23. Robert Weinberg, The Weird Tales Story. FAX Colle ctor’s Editions.ISBN 0913960160 (p. 45)
  24. Mullins, Craig (2009-03-22). " Pickman's Models: Shadow Over Innsmouth". Retrieved 2012-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  25. "Adventure Game Studio | Forums | Chronicle of Innsmouth - On Steam greenlight - Demo avaiable [Updated 10-05-2015]". Retrieved 2015-10-22.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  26. Sowers, Pru (2012-01-30). "Winter play series kicks off at Provincetown Theater - - Wicked Local Wellfleet". Retrieved 2012-05-27.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Chalker, Jack L.; Mark Owings (1998). The Science-Fantasy Publishers: A Bibliographic History, 1923-1998. Westminster, MD and Baltimore: Mirage Press, Ltd. p. 705.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Derleth, August (Lammas 1996) [1937]. "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". Crypt of Cthulhu #93: A Pulp Thriller and Theological Journal. 15 (3). Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Robert M. Price (ed.), West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. Original publication: "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". River. 1 (3). June 1937.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. [1936] (1984). "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Dunwich Horror and Others (9th corrected printing ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-037-8. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Definitive version.

External links

1994 cover to a Hardcover Collection Edited by Stephen Jones (author) that contains The Shadow Over Innsmouth and a selection of stories it has inspired. Contributors include Neil Gaiman, Ramsey Campbell, David Sutton[disambiguation needed] and Jack Yeovil.