Rediscovered: “A Hand from the Deep”

poole-issue

To get our surfing safari in the Hallowe’en mood, Guest Blogger Brian Leno popped in a post on an early yarn in Weird Tales from an obscure scribe — but it may have had some trace influence on another obscure scribe of the day who isn’t so obscure any more.

Hit it, Brian:

 

The ownership of a fairly large library brings not only joy, but also great responsibility. The shelves should be dusted quite often. Books need to be arranged in proper order. Either alphabetically, by genre, or by however the caretaker of the library damn well pleases.

I was engaged in this time-consuming task a while back. Being a procrastinator by nature, I decided to take a break and ramble through the contents of one of the books that was awaiting shelf-space — or, to be precise, I needed to get off the floor.

The book was Not at Night, “selected and arranged” by Christine Campbell Thomson, and is a reprinting in hardcover of stories taken from Weird Tales in the early years of the magazine.

Idly scanning the contents I was taken by the title “A Hand from the Deep,” written by Romeo Poole. I had never heard of either the author or the story, but the title reminded me of H. P. Lovecraft’s The Deep Ones and his masterpiece “The Shadow over Innsmouth.”

Needing a break from my hard work, I sat in my chair and read.

The story begins with an explosion and fire in the second floor of a sanatorium operated by Dr. Whitby, a man who is considered somewhat of a crackpot in the area. Sole survivor of this destruction is Simon Glaze, a patient whose arm was amputated just above the elbow by Whitby.

The doc qualifies as a mad scientist of sorts — realizing that lobsters or crabs can regenerate a limb that has either been broken or bitten off, Whitby had been injecting Simon with “glandular extracts” from lobsters, hoping this might spur Glaze’s arm to grow back.

While this horrible lapse of medical ethics is not yet known to the doctors now taking care of Simon, they do notice strange behavior occurring in their patient.

Glaze insists that his stump be kept soaking wet, and he pleads to be able to take a bath, in cold water, two or three times a day.

Under stress, he doubles up into a ball, “rolling on the floor… like a wooden thing.” Once, when startled by the sudden entrance of a doctor into his room “he gathered his legs and his good arm under him like a flash and sprang backward, clear on to the next bed.”

The doomed Glaze also loses the power of speech, and is “frequently found…doubled into the familiar ball, sleeping with his eyes half open.” Marsh, an intern at the sanatorium who narrates the story, feels that Glaze’s head is “losing its prominent crown and sinking into a more brutish line.”

By the time the doctors really understand what Whitby was attempting to do, it’s too late for Glaze, whose stump is developing into an almost perfect lobster-like claw and his right hand has also begun to morph into a pincher-like member.

Glaze, becoming a sort of science-induced lobster-man, is now diving for long periods beneath the water in his bath tub (must be one huge tub), coming up “half-strangled, yet seeming to enjoy it all.”

And this is where the doctors find him, at the end of the story, in a “tubful of cold water…doubled and curled up, face far down under the water — dead.” Lancey, another of the interns, diagnoses that because of Glaze’s now lobster-like brain he would have undoubtedly felt safer under the water, but since his lungs had never developed along the same lines as his brain, he was a goner.

Where this tale takes place is never mentioned, but I couldn’t help but think of Innsmouth and H. P. Lovecraft while I was reading it. And of course when I saw that the narrator’s name was Marsh it obviously brought to mind HPL’s mad Obed Marsh, who helped turn Innsmouth into a town of horror.

And when Marsh notices the changing of Simon Glaze’s skull I remembered Lovecraft’s description of the “Innsmouth look” in “The Shadow over Innsmouth:”

Only a very rare affliction, of course, could bring about such vast and radical anatomical changes in a single individual after maturity—changes involving osseous factors as basic as the shape of the skull…

Even the explosion on the second floor of the sanatorium sparked my recollection of the Whateleys and what lived on the upper floor of their home, for a time, in Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” And the name Whitby does bear a close resemblance to Whateley.

Romeo Poole, the author of this Lovecraft-like tale, had three stories published in Weird Tales. His “A Hand from the Deep” appeared in the December 1924 issue, years before “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” saw print anywhere.

In this same issue were Lovecraft buddies Frank Belknap Long with his “Death-Waters” and C. M. Eddy Jr. with his cave-man story, “Weapons of Stone.”

Obviously it’s an issue Lovecraft would have been familiar with, and it’s very conceivable that he read Poole’s sea-food extravaganza.

Of course the stories differ in their approach of how these lobster/fish creatures come about. Poole has his aberration come alive pseudo-scientifically, almost Frankenstein-like, while Lovecraft dwells upon the mating of humans with creatures that should never have made their way onto land.

I’m certainly not saying that Lovecraft plagiarized Romeo, but I did find the coincidences between the two stories interesting, worthy perhaps of further study. You never know, there could have been something fishy going on.

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