A Case for a Literal Reading of “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is one of H.P. Lovecraft’s better known works. It is also quite controversial. Anyone doing cursory research into Lovecraft will probably come across the opinion that the story is anything from “dated” to “offensively racist”.

This comes from a common reading of the story as an allegory for interracial relationships. If you haven’t read it, I heartily recommend it. There is a repository of Lovecraft’s works in other places on the net, as well as a superb audiobook version available on Spotify of all places. Hopefully you will read or listen to it now, because there are spoilers ahead.

The gist of the story is that a sailor from a New England town discovered a tribe near Haiti that dealt with and also interbred with a race of fish-frogs. Interbreeding with the fish-frogs granted eternal life to the descendants. The sailor brought this technique back to his town of Innsmouth. For approximately 100 years this went on, until the narrator arrives. The narrator discovers this, escapes, and calls the authorities, who destroy the town.

The common reading is that the interbreeding between the fish-frogs and humans is an allegory for interracial relationships. This is not an invalid reading, nor is it probably that far off from Lovecraft’s intent. However, in at least two of Lovecraft’s works, the protagonist believes that the monsters are mere allegory for some ill or another. They are not, and are indeed shockingly literal. One of these two works is The Shadow Over Innsmouth itself. The reading that the fish-people are not mixed race people seems valid to me.

Sometimes, a fish-person is just a fish person.

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