The Face in the Abyss Critical Essays

A. Merritt


(Critical Survey of Science Fiction and Fantasy)

A summary cannot do justice to the various features of interest in this novel. These can best be understood under the headings of form, genre, and content. In its form, the novel is mature fiction written near the end of Merritts career, when he was in complete control of the bifurcated form; that is, of two stories unified and treated as one. His first long fiction, The Moon Pool (1919), was also the result of publishing as a novel two earlier shorter works, but the two are not nearly as successfully integrated as in this case. In The Face in the Abyss, Merritt controls theme, mood, characterization, and action in such a way as to make the “join” between the two original stories unnoticeable. The form, then, is as nearly perfect as one can expect to find in novels, which tend toward looseness of structure.

In terms of genre, the story is also quite interesting because it represents the successful amalgamation of several popular forms of storytelling. It is one of the best of the lost civilization novels popularized by such well-known writers as H. Rider Haggard, in King Solomons Mines (1886) and She (1887), and Merritts contemporary, Edgar Rice Burroughs. This type of story regained popularity with the Indiana Jones films beginning in the early 1980s. The novel is also, however, an example of what at one time was called science romance, providing some fascinating evolutionary speculation concerning the origins of...

(The entire section is 401 words.)