The electric lights came back on. I left the mine. I gave one last long look at the desert. At the world. Then I lifted my arms and sailed silently into space.
(The Doom That Came to Devil’s Reef
For Ray Bradbury
Among Lovecraft’s papers at Brown University was a large manila envelope containing a school exercise notebook and a newspaper clipping. The notebook’s owner, Miss Julia Phillips, had been mistakenly identified as a cousin of American horror writer Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937). Over four-fifths of the pen and pencil entries are rather commonplace, detailing Miss Phillips’s life as a seamstress in the Providence of the 1920s, her growing depression, and her commitment to Butler Hospital. As both of Lovecraft’s parents had ended their years in the selfsame institution, Julia had been perceived as another branch of a less than mentally healthy tree. It wasn’t until Lovecraft’s biographer S. T. Joshi read the volume that it was seen as anything other than a rather dreary memento. It is in the last few pages of the book wherein Julia’s dreams or waking fancies take an amazingly cosmic tone that the book became of interest to Lovecraftian scholars. The relationship of Julia and Howard is unknown. Lovecraft had little interest in psychiatry, aside from his occasional denunciation of Freud in his letters. No one has been able to discover how Lovecraft came into possession of the book.
What is clear is that Julia’s fantasies became Lovecraft’s inspiration for his 1931 novella “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Lovecraft’s notes in the volume are slight, but he occasionally erased Julia’s words altogether and wrote in his fictional equivalents. For example, Julia records that she is writing about the real-world Massachusetts town of Newburyport where she had spent her childhood. Lovecraft erased all but one instance of “Newburyport” and wrote in “Innsmouth.” Likewise, certain demons or gods of Julia’s delusions have been replaced with Cthulhu, Dagon, and Mother Hydra. It is tempting to speculate that Lovecraft had considered the diary as a sort of
or ready-made to continue the mythic patterns that he begun in earlier work, especially “The Call of Cthulhu” (1926). Perhaps Julia’s rather simple style, reflecting her fifth-grade education, was too limiting for Lovecraft, or perhaps the whole notion struck him as artistically dishonest. Given Lovecraft’s penchant for recording even the smallest details of his moods and life in his letters it seems remarkable that Julia’s diary was never mentioned.
Inevitably that class of literalist thinker that assumes that all Lovecraft’s stories are some sort of mystic channelings have claimed that the diary of Julia Phillips is the work of a kindred soul—likewise expressing the “mysteries of the Aeon.” Perhaps Lovecraft himself, who had played with the artistic notion of art and dream coming from some sort of Otherness, was attracted to and then repulsed by the contents of this diary for that seeming. Again, unless further documentation comes to light we shall never know.
Here is what we do know about Julia Phillips. She was the third of six children to be born to Rodger Allen and Susan Williams Phillips. Born in 1891, she was a year younger than Lovecraft. Her father was a greengrocer and her mother supplemented the family’s income with sewing, a skill young Julia excelled at. Her sickly youth kept her a homebody while her two brothers joined the merchant marine and her three better-adjusted (and apparently better-looking) sisters found husbands. When her parents died she went to live with her eldest sister, Velma, and alternated between manic periods of religiosity and depressed periods of terrible lethargy. At first she was the merely eccentric aunt, whose finical contribution was greatly valued. As time wore on, she became worrisome to her sister and brother-in-law. In 1924 Julia tried to kill herself with rat poison after months of the darkest depression. The family had her committed to Butler. She remained in Butler until 1927. For the majority of her stay she was a model patient. She repaired the garments of other patients, took part in the sing-alongs, and greeted her family in a sane and cheery tone during their infrequent visits. The entries prior to her commitment were made in pen; the hospital only allowed a No. 1 pencil during Julia’s stay.
The last dated entry in Julia’s diary was August 7, the day the “Peace Bridge” was opened between Fort Erie, Ontario, and Buffalo, New York: “Perhaps mankind has learned to live in Peace—God bless Prince Edward and Prince Albert and Governor Smith.” In late August 1927 Julia began obsessing on a hurricane that hit the Atlantic shore of Canada. She complained that authorities were unaware of the danger the sea stood for. She warned (somewhat prophetically) of an upcoming Pacific earthquake. In early September most of her freedom of movement in the hospital grounds was curtailed when she either shaved off or otherwise removed most of her hair. It was at this time that Julia involved herself in what limited art therapy Butler offered. She painted five canvases of “disturbing maritime scenes.” These seem to have been sold at the annual art show; sadly little is known of them save that she used the (at that time) radical technique of grattage, which had been introduced to the art world by Max Ernst. Exactly how an undereducated American woman would invent the same art technique that a German surrealist had created for his series of paintings of “enchantment and terror” is more than a bit of a mystery. Perhaps the art instructor had kept abreast of the European art scene. It is likely that during this time, the “channeled” portion of the diary was written.
On September 14, an underwater earthquake in Japan killed 108 people. The next day a “Mr. Kenneth S. Gilman” paid a visit to Miss Julia. All Miss Julia’s visitors had been the family members of former sewing clients, and it was assumed that he belonged in this category. He paid three visits and, winning the confidence of the staff, took Julia on a carriage ride. They never returned. The newspapers treated it as a major crisis—for two days. A legal notice of her being declared dead appeared seven years later; three years after that Lovecraft died of intestinal cancer. Mr. Joshi suggests that Lovecraft, having taken an interest in the case because of two articles in the
Brown Daily Herald,
had contacted the director of the institution. Perhaps a lack of interest or sense of shame on the part of Julia’s family had made them uninterested in the notebook. Perhaps the notebook had merely been lent to Lovecraft and he failed to return it.
In addition to the change of narrative voice in the last section of the diary, the handwriting becomes bolder. Some of the margins are decorated with little glyphs of stylized fish reminiscent of the Rongorongo glyphs of Easter Island. The theology and cosmology of the piece seem to be a mixture of native Australian religion and a good deal of Lovecraftian musings. Since Julia’s background would seem to suggest no clear method of knowing the former, and
was an unlikely reading material for Butler Hospital, the passages are striking.
Here are the final words of Julia Phillips. Where Lovecraft has erased her words and written in his own we will indicate with
In the changeable world of land something dire is happening. The humans are learning to kill themselves, which is good I think, and learning to kill the seas, which would mean death to the world. The seas taste of their oil and trash. The beautiful mother-of-pearl walls of our new home
is stained black. I hate this place, the waters are much too cold, and the fishing is poor. Our new home has no name, the Great
has not dreamed of it yet. We had great hopes as He reached out to us and our weakened descendants the humans two orbits ago. He tries to bring Thought to all life here, that is why He came to this watery globe from the green star in my great-great-grandmother’s time. He is such a suffering god. The humans have recast Him as one of their own. They think He brings salvation instead of Thought. All will think here, even the plants and the fungi, if the humans do not hurt the water too much. He rose briefly two orbits ago. He will stir in a few days, but not rise. We have learned how he tosses and turns. I am not hopeful for the humans; they are too degenerate from us. Even those we have crossbred with can live only a few hundred orbits. No wonder they kill this world; they do not stay here long enough to love it. It seems wrong to me to bring self-awareness to such a species.
The hope of Ra-natha-alene to save the human race by intermarrying with them is not held by many of us. It did not work in my youth and it does not work now. The humans are greedy for gold, so it was easy to make a deal with
but they do not profit by our Teaching. In the spiral towers of their cells we help them find the way back, we make them more beautiful, but it is not enough. On the land they hide away when their Beauty starts to show. They wear our crowns, but they do not Think, or if they Think it is as something minor—an artist or a magician. No architects. No mathematicians. No biologists.
There was a storm recently; much cold water was disturbed to the north of our new home. We had not controlled it by Dreaming. It is not in the Dreamtime, and the hateful aurora wind from space keeps Deep Thoughts from hatching in our brains. The storm affected me badly, scattering some of my mind into human bodies. I will have to gather myself together. I hate their world with its right angles that turn thinking into sleeping. There were deaths in Canada, a cold white land. Not enough deaths I think.
The humans of
have learned a little about Dreaming in their Swirl, they spill blood and sexual fluids to
Father Dagon and Mother Hydra,
but they think in animal terms, they are too much of the life of this world
They have taken the animal needs and called them Sex and Money. Even when they become Beautiful, these two abstractions rule them. I am worried that they will subvert our goals. Some among them believe that warm-blooded animals are evolved—more progressive than we. The humans worship themselves through a demon called Darwin. If their line of faith were right I would be greater than my grandmother, my grandmother would be greater than hers, and she would be greater than
Yet a few of the humans have discovered entropy. A few know the cosmos is decaying.
Bad news has come from the
Esoteric Order of Dagon:
the humans of North America have spread the bloodlines beyond Ra-natha-alene’s plan. They know that when the Change comes upon humans they will seek us out. Therefore they reason that humans changing will move back to Newburyport and bring wealth and connections from their lives with them. They seek to intermarry with traveling salesmen in a ridiculous scheme to make their town more of a center of commerce. They don’t care how this can spread out tendrils of our souls. Their belief that each being has a unique soul leads to the simple numerical argument of more of “Us” equals more power. In orbits of bad sunspot activity (such as this year) the changing humans will Dream of us, or will have parts of the Dreamtime of Great
become parts of their foundational consciousness. They don’t understand what a strain their Change places upon us. Each new hybrid pulls at our peace, especially in places not established by the Dreamtime. Soon such humans will come to
and we will literally be pulled to the land to greet them, our nurturing instincts taking the place of our common sense. Worse still, humans, who have not heard the Dream cantrips when they eat their mother’s slime, will know great fear. They will see their Change in terms of death, not rebirth. And as they are not conscious entities they cannot think directly of death. Death to a being that cannot remember anything before its hatching is a terrible consciousness. In the myths of the humans they dimly know what they were, they were deathless. But they see this as some sort of garden. One of the hybrid offspring in Florida is trying to re-create the Dreamtime there just as the people of Nan Madol did a few hundred orbits ago. Ra-natha-alene thinks these stirrings of true Architecture might trigger some ancestral memories on the humans’ part, but I am dubious. Some of us are having glimpses of human minds during the daytime. I have seen myself trapped in a body with disgustingly scaleless skin and hair. I fear that I will Dream myself there pushed by the aurora.
I will dance at the Council and try to persuade the mothers to leave this place and swim back to our second home. We must regroup where the architecture is strong, and Dreams are caught and farmed and milked in the old way. We must prepare against the human onslaught. Once our race was mighty. Were we not the race that called the dolphins and whales back to the sea? Were we not the race that broke up the single large landmass, or kept the ages of ice at bay? If only we had not experimented with the hairy ones adding to their spirals. What arrogance seeking to bring self-awareness to this dying world. The humans inherited our arrogance but not our wisdom. They see us as their dry-land ancestors living in lands that have sunken—Atlantis, Lemuria,
As they degenerate their myths will say we lost our footing due to black magic. They can’t even guess that our life cycle is hampered by their yellow sun’s deadly radiation. If we last until that star is normal and the great bands of radiation leave this world, we will flourish again. Let us wait, I shall dance to the mothers, let us wait until the stars are right. Then we can Gift the creatures of this world with Dreamtime. Ra-natha-alene and her sisters mock me. They say that humans cannot grow to be a threat. They ignore the vast expansion of human numbers in the time since Nan Madol. They argue that as Great
makes human artists and mystics Dream, humans will give up their fixation with death. No race can kill a planet, they say. I warn them, there is no race as vile as humans.
Worse news has come. The hybrids came to
to swim and Dance at the new moon. One of the wandering rogue offspring has come to
He does not know that he is of us. His instincts provoke him to actions and accidents that he sees as chance. He is at the hotel. The mothers grew excited, their gill slits flaring purple. They will rise and seek him out. I see that this will lead to disaster. They will seek to nurture and protect him. What will happen if he merely flees them? They cannot kill one of their children even if his blood is nauseatingly warm and his skin covered in hair. It could take only one revealing our presence to harm us here. There is no Dreamtime in the walls of our new home. Humans have grown deadly, yet the mothers do not believe what the Spiral has told us of their war in Europe.