Friday, April 22, 2011

THE MOON POOL by Abraham Merritt

The Moon Pool is a 1919 “lost world” fantasy novel by Abraham Merritt based on two of his short stories. Here, a scientist leads a small band beneath the surface of the Earth in pursuit of others abducted by an evil entity called “the Shining One,” whereupon they discover a lost civilization on the brink of war.  

Merritt’s writing is wonderfully imaginative and extraordinarily detailed. His ideas, his places, his devices, and his underground world are enthralling. The Moon Pool does have a certain charm. And yet the writing has a lot of problems.

Pacing is the most egregious issue. The book crawls in many places, and for long stretches. This shouldn’t be; there’s plenty happening in the story, but Merritt’s writing ranges between verbose and extremely verbose. The storytelling is further hampered by a cast of flattish characters spouting corny dialogue, a great deal of which neither develops the characters in meaningful ways nor moves the story along.

Merritt devotes paragraph upon paragraph to his vivid descriptions of subterranean wonders, and yet the reader’s sense of place is often poor, as Merritt can scarcely ever be bothered to tell the reader where, specifically, his characters are, or where that might be in relation to the other places he’s depicted.

There are other issues. It’s painfully convenient how quickly all the characters learn the subterranean language. Much of the mystery of the underground world isn’t resolved until much too late in the book, and then by way of a massive expository dump. The book’s climax, an epic clash between warring factions, should be exciting, but the resolutions are clich├ęd and predictable.

The Moon Pool has been cited as an influence on Lovecraft’s “Call of Cthulhu.” As far as horrific creatures emerging from lost cities beneath the sea to ravage humanity go, that seems reasonable. Beyond some basic thematic similarities, however, there’s really no comparison.

Merritt isn’t read a great deal these days, and now you know why. On the whole, The Moon Pool feels like a missed opportunity, and it’s too bad. As it is, there are no doubt plenty of better books in the genre. And yet…The Moon Pool would probably make a pretty good film.