This is the first of Lovecraft’s stories that can really be called a mythos story. Our hero opens by informing us that he plans to commit suicide as soon as he’s done writing, because the horror is too great. He begins his tale of horror by explaining how he was captured at sea by the Germans in the opening stages of the Great War:
The great war was then at its very beginning, and the ocean forces of the Hun had not completely sunk to their later degradation; so that our vessel was made a legitimate prize, whilst we of her crew were treated with all the fairness and consideration due us as naval prisoners. So liberal, indeed, was the discipline of our captors, that five days after we were taken I managed to escape alone in a small boat with water and provisions for a good length of time.
See, buddy, this kind of thing is why the Germans wound up being jerks about the whole “sea warfare” thing by the end of the war. Anyway, he’s adrift at sea in a boat.
The change happened whilst I slept. Its details I shall never know; for my slumber, though troubled and dream-infested, was continuous. When at last I awaked, it was to discover myself half sucked into a slimy expanse of hellish black mire which extended about me in monotonous undulations as far as I could see, and in which my boat lay grounded some distance away.
Really, I’m not sure why anyone in the Mythos comes within five miles of the ocean.
As I crawled into the stranded boat I realised that only one theory could explain my position. Through some unprecedented volcanic upheaval, a portion of the ocean floor must have been thrown to the surface, exposing regions which for innumerable millions of years had lain hidden under unfathomable watery depths. So great was the extent of the new land which had risen beneath me, that I could not detect the faintest noise of the surging ocean, strain my ears as I might. Nor were there any sea-fowl to prey upon the dead things.
I’m not a volcanologist, but I’m pretty sure sleeping through being caught up in the heart of an underwater volcanic eruption, to the point where there is no visible ocean as far as the eye can see, is a sign of some pretty serious sleep disorder. Also, wouldn’t a volcanic eruption forming new land cause it to form as a cone? So the intervening water and fish and such would be pushed aside down the underwater slope, not trapped on a plateau suddenly pushed from the ocean floor to the surface.
Hoping to find the edge of the new landmass (though what he plans to do at that point I’m not sure), our hero summits a small hill in the new landscape to survey his surroundings.
I have said that the unbroken monotony of the rolling plain was a source of vague horror to me; but I think my horror was greater when I gained the summit of the mound and looked down the other side into an immeasurable pit or canyon, whose black recesses the moon had not yet soared high enough to illumine.
Hang on, even if this whole landmass was a section of ocean floor suddenly ejected to the surface rather than a bunch of lava spewing forth and cooling into land, there should still be ocean water left in this trench, shouldn’t there? Unless the bottom of the trench leads to a cliff above the surface of the ocean, allowing the trench to empty out. But that would mean our hero was swept up hundreds of feet into the air by the emergence of this landmass without noticing.
The moon, now near the zenith, shone weirdly and vividly above the towering steeps that hemmed in the chasm, and revealed the fact that a far-flung body of water flowed at the bottom, winding out of sight in both directions, and almost lapping my feet as I stood on the slope.
Okay, so the trench is filled with ocean water, but our hero apparently didn’t realize this until he took a closer look at his surroundings. I realize it’s night, but the moon is supposed to be bright enough that he can make out his surroundings.
Looking at a Cyclopean temple in the waves of the trench, our hero marvels at the fishy hieroglyphs and the massive pictograms depicting a giant fish-person fighting a whale. “Ha, what strange gods the creator of this temple must have had,” he thinks to himself, “and how old it must be for it to have sunk into the ocean and then risen again.” Then that giant fish-person surfaces and hugs the temple, because, y’know, obviously this thing was made by kuo-toa.
Then suddenly I saw it. With only a slight churning to mark its rise to the surface, the thing slid into view above the dark waters. Vast, Polyphemus-like, and loathsome, it darted like a stupendous monster of nightmares to the monolith, about which it flung its gigantic scaly arms, the while it bowed its hideous head and gave vent to certain measured sounds. I think I went mad then.
Of my frantic ascent of the slope and cliff, and of my delirious journey back to the stranded boat, I remember little. I believe I sang a great deal, and laughed oddly when I was unable to sing. I have indistinct recollections of a great storm some time after I reached the boat; at any rate, I know that I heard peals of thunder and other tones which Nature utters only in her wildest moods.
When I came out of the shadows I was in a San Francisco hospital; brought thither by the captain of the American ship which had picked up my boat in mid-ocean.
So, this sounds very exactly like this was actually a particularly vivid but utterly hallucinatory fever dream, with absolutely no connection to reality whatsoever. Where did the landmass go? Given how safe and reliable surface shipping has been, what reasonable cause is there for this terror at the sea just ’cause it turns out there’s a kaiju down there, not bothering anyone? Even if we accept that the sea is super scary, why does this guy feel the need to become a morphine addict and subsequently kill himself even when he, presumably, does not live especially close to the coast?
The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!
I find it funny how well this ending conforms to “doomed audio log” tropes, where this kind of panicked sign off makes more sense. Like, upon hearing the noise, why did he write a sentence informing us of it? Why did he then transcribe his panic attack? In an audio log, this final moment would also serve as our “it was real all along!” moment, despite the seeming insanity of the narrator when it comes out that there was no sign of the landmass when he was rescued upon the ocean. In written form, it just seems like a final mental breakdown. Although, I’m pretty sure it was intended to be a final mental breakdown.
Dagon is where we get the first real glimpse of the themes that Lovecraft will become famous for: Fish are scary, cosmic horror will haunt you the rest of your life, alien landscapes require at least three paragraphs of description before getting to the goddamn point.