An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia

By S. T. Joshi; David E. Schultz | Go to book overview
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“Nameless City, The.” Short story (5,070 words); probably written in mid- to late January 1921. First published in the Wolverine (November 1921); rpt Fanciful Tales (Fall 1936) and WT (November 1938); first collected in O; corrected text in D.

An archaeologist seeks to explore the nameless city, which lies “remote in the desert of Araby.” It was of this place that Abdul Alhazred “the mad poet” dreamed the night before he wrote his “unexplainable couplet”:

That is not dead which can eternal lie,

And with strange aeons even death may die.

The narrator burrows into the sand-choked apertures that lead into some of the larger structures of the city. He is disturbed by the odd proportions of a temple into which he crawls, for the ceiling is very low to the ground and he can scarcely kneel upright in it. He descends an immense staircase that leads down into the bowels of the earth, where he finds a large but still very low-built hall with odd cases lining the walls and frescoes covering the walls and ceiling. The creatures in the cases are very peculiar—apparently reptilian, but in size approximating a small man. Even though it is these anomalous entities who are portrayed in the frescoes, the narrator convinces himself that they are mere totem-animals for the human beings who must have built the city and that the historical tableaux depicted in the frescoes are metaphors for the actual (human) history of the place. But this delusion is shattered when the narrator perceives a gust of cold wind emerging from the end of the hallway, where a great bronze gate lies open and from which a strange phosphorescence emerges. He then sees in the luminous abyss the entities themselves rushing in a stream before him. Somehow he manages to escape and tell his story.

HPL admits (SL 1.122) that it was largely inspired by a dream, which in turn was triggered by a suggestive phrase in Dunsany’s Book of Wonder, “The un-

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