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"Polaris" is a short story by H. P. Lovecraft, written in 1918 and first published in the December 1920 issue of the amateur journal The Philosopher. It is noteworthy as the story that introduces Lovecraft's fictional Pnakotic Manuscripts, the first of his arcane tomes. (EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia)

InspirationEdit

Critic William Fulwiler writes that "'Polaris' is one of Lovecraft's most autobiographical stories, reflecting his feelings of guilt, frustration, and uselessness during World War I. Like the narrator, HPL was 'denied a warrior's part', for he 'was feeble and given to strange faintings when subjected to stress and hardships'".[1]

Like many Lovecraft stories, "Polaris" was in part inspired by a dream, which he described in a letter: "Several nights ago I had a strange dream of a strange city--a city of many palaces and gilded domes, lying in a hollow betwixt ranges of grey, horrible hills.... I was, as I said, aware of this city visually. I was in it and around it. But certainly I had no corporeal existence." (HPL: Selected Letters 1.034)

Lovecraft remarked on the peculiar similarity of the story's style to that of Lord Dunsany, whose work he would not read for another year.

It has been suggested that Lovecraft and Dunsany were both influenced by the prose poems of Edgar Allan Poe. (EXP: An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia)

Plot summaryEdit

The story begins with the narrator describing the night sky as observed over long sleepless nights from his window, in particular that of the Pole Star, [Polaris], which he describes as "winking hideously like an insane watching eye which strives to convey some strange message, yet recalls nothing save that it once had a message to convey".

He then describes the night of the aurora over his house in the swamp, the night he first dreams of a marble city lying on a plateau between two peaks, with Polaris ever watching in the night sky. The narrator describes the progress of Aldebaran while observing motion within the houses. As robed men begin to populate the streets and converse to each other in a language that he had never heard before but still, strangely, understood. However, before he can learn any more about the city, he awakes.

Time and time again he dreams of the city and the men who dwell within. After a while, the narrator tires of merely existing as an incorporeal observer and begins to desire a place within the city, simultaneously beginning to question his conceptualization of what constituted reality and thus whether this was just a dream or whether it was real.

Then, one night, while listening to discourses of those who populate the city, the narrator obtains a physical form: not as a stranger, but as an inhabitant of the city, which he now knew as Olathoë, which was besieged by the forces of the Inutos.

While the other men within the city prepare for combat with the Inutos, the narrator is sent by Alos to a watchtower to signal if the Inutos gain access to the city itself. Within the tower, he notices Polaris in the sky and senses it as a malign presence, hearing a rhyme which appears to be spoken by the star:

Slumber, watcher, till the spheres,
Six and twenty thousand years
Have revolv'd, and I return
To the spot where now I burn.
Other stars anon shall rise
To the axis of the skies;
Stars that soothe and stars that bless
With a sweet forgetfulness:
Only when my round is o'er
Shall the past disturb thy door.



Uncertain of its meaning, he drifts off to sleep, thus failing in his duty to guard Olathoë. Upon awakening, the narrator finds himself back in the house by the swamp, but the narrator now is convinced that this life is not real but a dream from which he cannot awaken.

CharactersEdit

  • The Narrator - A dreaming resident of Olathoë. He mentions having read the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the wisdom of the Zobnarian Fathers.
  • Alos - The commander of the last remaining forces in Lomar and a friend of the Narrator.

LocationsEdit

  • Lomar - A nation in the Dreamlands, besieged by the armies of the Inutos and an encroaching northern ice sheet.

PublicationEdit

"Polaris" was first published in the December 1920 edition of The Philosopher, an amateur journal. It was later reprinted the May 1926 edition of the National Amateur, the February 1934 issue of Fantasy Fan, and the December 1937 issue of Weird Tales.[2]

See alsoEdit

  • Zhuangzi, "After he woke up, he wondered how he could determine whether he was Zhuangzi who had just finished dreaming he was a butterfly, or a butterfly who had just started dreaming he was Zhuangzi."

NotesEdit

  1. William Fulwiler, "Mail-Call of Cthulhu", Black Forbidden Things, p. 171; citing H. P. Lovecraft, "Polaris", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 21.
  2. Joshi, S.T. eds. (2005) In Joshi, S.T. eds., The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories Penguin Books.


ReferencesEdit

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