Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 401
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...
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- Critical Essays
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 fantastic life-forms the protagonist encounters during the course of the story. The evolutionary theories employed by Merritt—a mixture of Darwinian and Jungian thought—were well known and widely accepted in Merritts day and provide him with a basis for demonstrating a sensitive empathy, not to be found in his earlier works, for even the sadistic creatures in the novel. Because all creatures are held to have evolved from the same urschleim as humans, they are all, the story emphasizes, integrally related.
Finally, the storys content is of two related kinds. As a pure adventure story, it is as good as any science romance ever published. Its Bildungsroman elements are equally good. Graydon’s education into the secret knowledge of his true inner identity takes him on a quest as exciting as any of the physical contests he engages in along the way. All told, the novel is one of the finest renderings of the romance of lost civilizations and races.