I’m not sure what it is about The Moon Pool. I’ve been picking at it for weeks. I read a few pages before bed most nights, and it feels like I’ve been doing so forever. A. Merritt is an author of the old school, with every connotation the phrase brings. His prose renders me alternatingly sleepy and spellbound. I imagine this is how some people feel about Jack Vance.
The truth is, this is how I felt about Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings back in my high school years, and how Dunsany strikes me now – wonderful craftsmen of unadulterated fantasy…who take some effort to read. Once you get there, though – the payoff!
Problem is, there’s a time for this kind of reading, and it’s not when you’re sleep-starved and lagging. I suffered through bouts of this with my forays into gothic fiction. Man, Frankenstein is a good story, but it’s a hell of a slog if you’re lacking the energy to process the pre-Victorian English.
As for The Moon Pool, it takes a while to get to the interesting parts. Once you’re there, though, there’s some gold. I personally found Larry (aka “The O’Keefe”)’s “there is no supernatural stuff except in Ireland” schtick initially amusing and then quickly tiresome, but regardless – the scene with the lephrechaun is simply charming.
I also have to credit Merritt for teaching me the word “brogue” and providing a bounty of example usage.
Another interesting note – I don’t know how much Merritt and Lovecraft (who were contemporaries) corresponded or if they were friends, but I can see a lot of similar flavor here. Lovecraft is known primarily for his cosmic horror; so much so that his name has been adopted to describe an entire ethos. But there’s more than a little “hard scifi” in his stories – paragraphs about geological samples and cartographic features. It can be a little dry, which I dunno, maybe makes for a nice contrast when things sink into fantastic madness.
In The Moon Pool, Merritt’s got plenty of this hard scifi material, too. Those weird red orbs used for communication? Nothing mystical about them at all! Here’re the specs!
…which does pair well with the sudden appearances of lephrechauns and frogmen and horrible fungus aliens. But honestly sometimes my eyes glaze a little when my SFF gets real “sciency.”
The bottom line is that Merritt was a wonderful writer and there’s some real treasure to be found here. But you may have to sweat a little digging to get to it, if this story is any indication. Maybe I’m just spoiled from the lean as hell prose of Howard and Vance.