The Shadow Out of Time – H. P. Lovecraft

ShadowOutOfTime

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I had to go through some heavy academic reading for my thesis, but I knew that if I went from the brilliance of Wandering Stars to that I’d get awesomeness withdrawal. I’d been meaning to reread this story for a while, and this seemed like a good time for it.

As the title suggests, The Shadow Out Of Time is a story about sinister time travel. Admittedly, the Great Race of Yith, the time travelers in question, are fairly altruistic by the Lovecraft’s standards. They’re these weirdo aliens who settled the primordial Earth in the days long before abiogenesis, and disappeared sometime before the dinosaurs went extinct. A scholarly species, the Yith developed a means of time travel that relied upon possessing the bodies of creatures from any period in history. This technique was used mainly for scholarly purposes, although it makes for a quick evacuation plan whenever the local situation became untenable.

The protagonist of the tale is Professor Peasley, who is either a victim or a beneficiary of the Yith’s time shenanigans. When his body is stolen by a Yith scholar, his consciousness is summoned to an extremely prehistoric Earth There he encounters many wonders and anachronistic minds. (All in all, a pretty sweet deal.) Of course, as soon as he returns to his own time he returns as an amnesiac. Peasley takes up an interest in the psychological and the paranormal, attempting to figure out what exactly happened.

The nice thing about this story is that the Yith ruins end up in Australia. I’m not too keen on how Australian Aboriginals are depicted as stock superstitious savages.

This story presents a few interesting opportunities for derivative pastiches. The time period and focus on psychology suggest a drama about a war veteran’s Yith episode being mistaken for shell shock, something like Pat Barker’s Regeneration. (I’d love to see what a psychoanalyst would make of Peasley’s library dreams.) The Yith’s tendency to use time travel for historical research recalls the Last Men from Olaf Stapledon’s Last And First Men. Maybe the two can fight with possessed victims in the Middle Ages. What would happen if an Australian mining billionaire uncovered the ruins of the Yith? Sure, there’s probably some interesting tech there they could show to CSIRO, but I think it’s far more plausible that they’ll be possessed by some Yith guard. Would that be an improvement?

The next book on my list is Clive Barker’s Imajica. It’s a brick, about eight-hundred pages lot. So far it looks like a clear predecessor to Abarat. I have big expectations.

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