Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Irving S. Cobb

Lovecraft writes in Supernatural Horror this brief discussion, "Still further carrying on our spectral tradition is the gifted and versatile humourist Irvin S. Cobb, whose work both early and recent contains some finely weird specimens. Fishhead, an early achievement, is banefully effective in its portrayal of unnatural affinities between a hybrid idiot and the strange fish of an isolated lake, which at the last avenge their biped kinsman's murder. "

It belies the influence that the text had on Lovecraft and the evolution of The Call of Cthulhu.

Many have never read Cobb's story. Chrispy was delighted that it was set in his home state of Kentucky, albeit near Rellfoot Lake. I discovered my copy, of all places, in an Alfred Hitchcock anthology! [1] Here is a bit of it.

FISHHEAD by Irvin S. Cobb

"It goes past the powers of my pen to try to describe Reelfoot Lake for you so that you, reading this, will get the picture of it in your mind as I have it in mine. For Reelfoot Lake is like no other lake that I know anything about. It is an afterthought of Creation.

"The rest of this continent was made and had dried in the sun for thousands of years-for millions of years for all I know-before Reelfoot came to be. It's the newest big thing in nature on this hemisphere probably, for it was formed by the great earthquake of 1811, just a little more than a hundred years ago. That earthquake of 1811 surely altered the face of the earth on the then far frontier of this country. It changed the course of rivers, it converted hills into what are now the sunk lands of three states, and it turned the solid ground to jelly and made it roll in waves like the sea. And in the midst of the retching of the land and the vomiting of the waters it depressed to varying depths a section of the earth crust sixty miles long, taking it down-trees, hills, hollows and all; and a crack broke through the Mississippi River so that for three days the river ran up stream, filling the hole.

"The result was the largest lake south of the Ohio, lying mostly in Tennessee, but extending up across what is now the Kentucky line, and taking its name from a fancied resemblance in its outline to the splay, reeled foot of a cornfield Negro. Niggerwool Swamp, not so far away, may have got its name from the same man who christened Reelfoot; at least so it sounds. Reelfoot is, and has always been, a lake of mystery. In places it is bottomless. Other places the skeletons of the cypress trees that went down when the earth sank still stand upright, so that if the sun shines from the right quarter and the water is less muddy than common, a man peering face downward into its depths sees, or thinks he sees, down below him the bare top-limbs upstretching like drowned men's fingers, all coated with the mud of years and bandaged with pennons of the green lake slime."

It's clearly right up HPL's alley. Weird, ancient, apocalyptic sounding, filled with rustic scenes, and sets an immediate eerie mood. The explicit and implied racism is typical of the pulpish period.

[1] Alfred Hitchcock Presents: Scream Along with Me, 1967, (1977 paperback), Dell.
[2] Fishhead used from The Escape of Mr. Trimm.


Michelle said...

The full text is online here, if anyone is interested in pondering the depths of this piece:

Chris Perridas said...

Great find, Michelle. I had to hand copy the text, now everyone can read the entire story.

Michelle said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Michelle said...

Let's try this again. :)

Heck, never mind the Cthulhu swamps, how about adding Innsmouth to the list? *shiver*

This really ties in with the cryptozoology stuff I've been delving into with great delight, including tales of similar giant catfish and giant salamanders to boot (see Loren Coleman's Mysterious America for a hearty read). Here's a giant catfish caught near Italy a few years ago!

Here, couldn't help doing a quick sketch of Mr. Fishhead. Obviously just a scribble that wants some fleshing out, but as a first impression just for fun...


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