The Plot

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Last Updated on May 7, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 432

The Face in the Abyss was published as a novel toward the end of A. Merritts career. A story with the same title appeared as a thirty-five-thousand-word story in 1923. After several years, Merritt wrote a sequel, “The Snake Mother.” The two stories were combined to form the novel, which...

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The Face in the Abyss was published as a novel toward the end of A. Merritts career. A story with the same title appeared as a thirty-five-thousand-word story in 1923. After several years, Merritt wrote a sequel, “The Snake Mother.” The two stories were combined to form the novel, which develops two seamlessly integrated plots united by the archetypal theme of the curse of gold (greed), by the motif of the treasure hunt, and by the figure of the protagonist, the young American adventurer Nicholas Graydon, whose explorations of the jungles of Central America serve as the motivation for the storys many physical adventures.

The first adventure involves Graydon and a band of three ruthless American cutthroats—Starrett, Soames, and Dancret—and develops both the treasure-hunt motif and the theme of the curse of gold. Graydon has naïvely teamed with them, to his later regret. Their rapaciousness brings them into contact with the lost civilization of Yu-Atlanchi in the Andes Mountains. They abduct and mistreat the kingdoms princess, Suarra. Graydons three companions meet colorful deaths in their encounter with the evil and powerful “Face in the Abyss.”

The story smoothly evolves into its second and much longer plot, which details Graydons adventures in the kingdom of Yu-Atlanchi. Like all such quasi-utopian fantasy visions, it is based on Platos myth of the lost Atlantis. While in Yu-Atlanchi, Graydon encounters some of fantasy fictions most imaginative creations. These include the Snake Woman, Adana, timeless and all-powerful matriarch of the kingdom; Tyddo, the Lord of Folly, an ancient wizard and Adanas trusted adviser; Nimir, the masculine personification of evil in the story; Kon, the Spider Man; and various types of fantasy creatures, such as the Urd (lizard-men) and the degenerate and evil Dream Makers.

The story develops as a conflict between the good Adana and her followers—with whom Graydon quickly allies himself—and the evil Nimir and his followers, devotees of sadism and aesthetic escapism. It culminates in one of the finest Armageddon conflicts to be found in fantasy literature. The final bloody battle results in Adanas victory over Nimir, her retirement for a lengthy recuperation, and the wedding of the divine pair, Graydon and Suarra. This is the beginning of what is promised to be their long and benevolent reign over Yu-Atlanchi, now cleansed of evil.

Nimir, however, is merely the personification of the evil in Yu-Atlanchi. In reality, the evil is a primordial spirit (sometimes called the Shadow) that cannot be utterly destroyed but only imprisoned and that promises to free itself in the distant future to initiate the entire adventure again.

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