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Whence the Deep Ones?

jamemurp writes:

Remember that the primary theme of SOI is degeneration. It is fairly unusual for an HPL story in that it contains continuing action scenes. A full on military offensive seems inappropriate to the style of HPL's works. (Any direct confrontations would result in annihilation- even a small isolated group of Deep Ones took a concentrated covert military push to relocate. The theme is generally that the only option is flight.) Rather, the threats are generally much more veiled and insidious. The narrator in SOI, for example, ends up being sympathetic and conspiring to free the captured Marsh, presumably so that they can continue the infiltration.

While I think it is common for wargamers to look at the the scenario as one for direct conflict and use the Deep Ones as targets (when all you have is a hammer and all that), HPL's Deep Ones are much more about questions of identity. Going back to Dagon, we have a soldier who is horrified at little more than seeing an alien creature observing religious rites. SOI continues a vein of HPL hinting at degeneration via the dilution of human purity by monstrous outsiders with strange customs (not to mention the ticket agent who speaks, disgusted, of sailors breeding with Chinese and Fiji women, and the horror of people who *don't speak English*). But from the Deep Ones point of view, what they are doing is completely reasonable. And what if they are right- who is the monster after all is said and done? Indeed, it is interesting that, in contrast to the Horror at Red Hook, happiness comes to the character who embraces his otherness and rejects his human heritage. He not only lives, but seems to flourish (see also The Outsider). So perhaps, that could be another source of conflict. Humanity displacing/attempting to eradicate an ancient species who is far more knowledgeable in cosmic truth and much better prepared for the eventual coming catastrophe. Perhaps humans in their blind expansion are the true danger. What does something that expands without limit, consuming all before it and possessing terrible powers of annihilation that it employs blindly sound like? Whereas the Deep Ones have spent untold aeons planning around cosmic events, man stumbles blindly into them, fleeing only from that which it cannot destroy.

Which put the protagonists in an awkward position. Do they fight for doomed humanity (and maybe thereby accelerate its demise)? Do they flip and aid inhuman forces and pay terrible costs knowing it stops, or at least delays, an even worse threat? Do they try to persuade, or force, their leaders to try a new path? (And what if their leaders are already infiltrated by other forces with their own agenda? Perhaps that's exactly why they wanted to eradicate those who conspired against the Old Ones….). Or maybe everybody will just go mad and become gibbering lunatics (perhaps we are all just little bits of crawling chaos after all…)?


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31 October 2017page first published

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Personal logo Editor in Chief Bill The Editor of TMP Fezian writes:

When I recently reviewed a Lovecraft-inspired anthology – Shadows Over Innsmouth – I was particularly critical of the cavalier manner in which the writers disregarded (in my opinion) the clear facts of Lovecraft's original Innsmouth tale.

Shadows Over Innsmouth

(Apparently, I may be wrong! I understand the anthology has two sequels, so somebody likes it more than I do…)

For the benefit of my own sanity, I thought it would be useful to set out the facts which Lovecraft established in his original novella. If you have not read that novella, please read no further, as I will discuss things which might ruin the suspense of that story.

The Threat in 1927-1928

The original Deep Ones are from the Pacific, and were defeated by an attack by Pacific islanders aided by the Old Ones. (The 'forgotten' Old Ones have the ancient magic and know how to fight the Deep Ones, but not the power to destroy them.)

Captain Obed Marsh brought back to Innsmouth, Massachusetts, the cult of the Deep Ones from the Pacific Islands in a previus era, possibly including Deep Ones from the Pacific, and then makes contact with a conveniently located Deep One city in the depths beyond the Innsmouth reefs: Y'ha-nthlei. We're given to understand that the Deep Ones cannot easily be stopped in New England, as there are no Old Ones in New England with the proper knowledge. They have infested Innsmouth (apparently through both conversions and breeding with humans), carry on some limited forms of commerce, and openly practice worship of Dagon.

The protagonist of the story tips the authorities to what is going on at Innsmouth, and in the winter of 1927-28, the Federal government raids the city under the cover of a crackdown on bootleg liquor. This seems to involve police agencies as well as the Army and Navy, and suggests that the United States government has secret knowledge about the Deep Ones.

Note, however, that the U.S. defeats the Innsmouth threat through brute force rather than arcane knowledge: the dynamiting of the harbor buildings and tunnels in the city, and the firing of torpedoes into the depths of the ocean. However, Y'ha-nthlei is hurt, not destroyed.

Whence the Deep Ones?

The Deep Ones are some combination of fish and frog, and are worshipers of the Great Cthulhu and the fish-god Dagon. Their ultimate motive is to receive the ancient tribute owed to Cthulhu: human sacrifice.

While we know that there are other Deep One cities, we're given nothing to believe they have any political structure above city level.

Some Deep Ones are motivated to live among men, and even to procreate with mankind – it's never clear why. We're told that an 80,000-year-old Deep One is forced upon Obed Marsh as a wife, and with some difficulties conceives a hybrid daughter. Some of the hybrid descendants acquire the 'Innsmouth look' (particularly staring, fishy eyes) as they age, and eventually mutate to an inhuman state before being compelled to join the Deep Ones in the ocean depths. The typical hybrid is low energy and low intelligence; only their leaders show drive and personality.

Despite being followers of Cthulhu, the Deep Ones seem to have some good qualities: they live an eternal, dream-like existence in their underwater palaces and gardens. Though they have an evil purpose, they are often content to let the years pass by as they 'rest'. Their activities among mankind are often directed by their hybrid children.

The Deep Ones plan to 'rise again' to a city greater than Innsmouth next time, and have 'brought up' from some greater depths suitable resources (including the dread Shuggoths). They plan to spread among mankind, but it is not clear if they will use covert or overt means this time.

Continuing Beyond Innsmouth

If I were to plan a post-Innsmouth campaign, I would move the action to a major city: Boston, Hartford, or New York City would make great targets.

I would have to decide what course the Deep Ones have chosen: are they once again infiltrating among mankind, and have they found more subtle means? Or are they moving their forces into position to make full-out war?

I think I would also have to make some decisions about how leadership works among the Deep Ones, and what motivates their desire to mate with humans. And on the other hand, just how much does the U.S. know about the threat?

Your thoughts?