Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 484
The publication of “The Moon Pool” in the June 22, 1918, issue of All-Story Weekly aroused such interest that the entire letters column in the August 17, 1918, issue was devoted to reactions to the story, with the headline proclaiming “ The Moon Pool’ Sensation.” The result was that the...
(The entire section contains 484 words.)
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- Critical Essays
The publication of “The Moon Pool” in the June 22, 1918, issue of All-Story Weekly aroused such interest that the entire letters column in the August 17, 1918, issue was devoted to reactions to the story, with the headline proclaiming “ The Moon Pool’ Sensation.” The result was that the cover of the February 15, 1919, issue of that magazine was an illustration for the first installment of “The Conquest of the Moon Pool.” The book edition, in which the two stories were combined into a single narrative, was published later that year and was greeted by a reviewer for The New York Times as the work of “a writer possessed of a very unusual, perhaps one might call it extraordinary, richness of imagination.”
A. Merritt’s reputation with the critics, like that of his influential contemporary Edgar Rice Burroughs, has never equaled his popularity with readers. His highly ornate, decorative style, rich in adjectives, is now considered to be dated, and his reputation, according to Brian Aldiss in his Trillion Year Spree (1986), “lies about him like a shattered cut-glass totem pole.”
The Moon Pool and Merritt’s subsequent works, cast in the same decorative mold, undoubtedly benefited from the enormous popularity of H. Rider Haggard and the lost race novel. Where Haggard’s fiction is grounded in a precise, detailed landscape, an Africa that at the time was exotic and unfamiliar to the readers who devoured the adventures of Haggard’s heroic Allan Quatermain, Merritt’s novels are set in other dimensions or inner-world kingdoms. Their barbaric, fantastic flora and fauna are the stuff of dreams and nightmares, nourished by fantasies of fabled Atlantis and Lemuria.
It might be argued that “The Moon Pool,” with its supernatural overtones, was diluted when its mysteries were given a quasi-scientific basis in the sequel. This is, to some extent, the weakness of all lost race fiction. Lost civilizations seldom equal in imaginative power the fantasies of the adventurers who set off in search of their legendary treasures. Merritt is certainly at his most effective in describing the apparently deserted ruins of the isolated Caroline island and the first appearance of the Dweller. The depiction of the Silent Ones, the godlike entities who created the Dweller, has an awesome grandeur that distinguishes the later pages of the novel and is pulp writing at its most evocative.
It has long been a critical commonplace that Merritt’s strength is not in the creation of highly individualized characters. His adventurers and pagan princesses are attractive dream personae whose function is to allow the reader to negotiate the improbable roads that lead from real to imaginary worlds. Merritt once described himself as a poet, one who opens a “new” world. This has always been the experience of those readers who have been most appreciative of his work. The Moon Pool resonates with some of the glamour and seductiveness of the age of the great pulp writers/explorers.