𝓦𝐓 "The Mound" is a horror and sci-fi novella H. P. Lovecraft wrote as a ghostwriter from December 1929 to January 1930 after he was hired by Zealia Bishop to create a story based on the following plot synopsis:
"There is an Indian mound near here, which is haunted by a headless ghost. Sometimes it is a woman."
Lovecraft did not like this premise of what seemed to be a conventional ghost story. The outline was so brief it allowed for a great deal of license, so he made it into a 29,560 word story about a mound that conceals a gateway to a subterranean civilization, the realm of K'n-yan, which one of the main characters enters and lives in for a while. The story is one of only three by Lovecraft where a non-human culture is described in rich details, the other two being At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow Out of Time. It is not as well known as the later two, as it was ghostwritten for another author, but is considered to possess the same high level of quality and imagination.
The mound in the story is located in Binger in Caddo County, which unlike the fictional towns and locations in the majority or his works is a real town about 60 miles (100 km) southwest of Oklahoma City. He places the mound about a third of a mile west of Binger, an area where there are no mounds, which seems to make this geographic detail the only fictional part of its location.
There are several mounds in the area, but not as described in the story. One of them is called the Ghost Mound and according to a local legend is haunted by ghosts. It is located closer to Hydro, rather than Binger. It does not look like how Lovecraft described it, and is a natural formation. This is most likely the mound that inspired Zealia Bishop to present her story idea to Lovecraft. It is possible a second nearby mound, known as Dead Woman Mound, may also have inspired her. Unlike the first, there is no ghost story connected with it, though it gained its name when the buried body of a dead woman was found there.
The story was not published during Lovecraft's lifetime. After his death, August Derleth abridged the story radically, and it was published in the November 1940 issue of Weird Tales. This abbreviated version was reprinted by Arkham House over the years until the original text was finally published in 1989 in The Horror in the Museum and Other Revisions, although some Lovecraft anthologies such as The Loved Dead by Wordsworth Editions continue to use the abridged Derleth version.
The story is narrated by an ethnologist who visits the town of Binger, Oklahoma in 1928 to investigate certain stories related to a certain nearby mound, which is said to be haunted by a strange Indian man by day and a headless woman by night. The local people avoid the place, and there are strange stories of those who dared to venture there either disappearing, or returning insane and inexplicably altered. Being initially quite skeptical, the narrator brings some archaeological tools and visits the mound, noticing that the man pacing it appears closest to the native Indians, but cannot be identified with any known Indian tribe. Through a talisman made of a strange metal given to him by a local chieftain, he unearths a strange cylinder made of the same unidentifiable metal full of hideous engravings and strange hieroglyphics.
Upon discovering a scroll written in Spanish in the cylinder, the narrator returns to his host and begins to translate it. The contents of the scroll, covering a large part of the narrative, describe the travels of one Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez, an asturian explorer, almost 400 years prior. Zamacona recounts how he was a part of an expedition from Mexico to North America, and how, through the help of a native Indian, he discovered a vast underground world filled with grotesque temples, and populated by strange beasts and a highly advanced telepathic civilization who worshipped Cthulhu, Yig, Shub-Niggurath -and, until a certain incident, Tsathoggua. The members of the underground race -who lived in what they called the kingdom of K’nyan- welcomed him, but the more Zamacona learned about them, the more fearful he became.
The K'nyanians had attained immortality and subjugated other races before them, had the technology to biologically modify vanquished races and other life-forms and reanimate the dead for use as slaves, and could dematerialize and rematerialize at will. The underground people also engaged in sadism, depraved practices, ritualistic orgies and unspeakable horrors such as random body modifications and mutilations of other slave species as entertainment, in order to gratify their time-dulled senses. The natives kept Zamacona alive only because they wished to learn more about the outside world from him, under the condition that he would never return to the surface. As Zamacona observed their decaying social condition and their reactions to his telling them of the surface people, he feared that they would one day decide to invade the outside world, where, given their advanced powers, they would be unstoppable.
Eventually, Zamacona attempted to escape with T'la-yub, a female K'nyanian native who knew of an unguarded entrance to the surface world, carrying with him a cylinder containing a scroll that recorded his story, which he hoped would warn the surface world of the underground threat. However, he was betrayed by one of his biologically modified slave creatures and was captured. T'la-yub was sentenced to unspeakable tortures and mutilations at the amphitheater and ended up a decapitated y'm-bhi guarding the entrance (the headless woman in Ms.Bishop's brief synopsis), while Zamacona was spared because they wished to extract more of his knowledge. Later on, he attempted another escape, which apparently resulted in the cylinder containing the scroll being deposited on the mound. His narrative ends quite hurriedly and abruptly.
The narrator is shocked by this scroll but remains skeptical, so the next day he goes to the mound again for further investigation, repeatedly telling himself that this is an elaborate hoax. Upon digging in a depression on the mound, he discovers a staircase leading deep underground, where he encounters dematerialized beings patrolling the tunnel (they are prevented from making the narrator one more victim, by the talisman of unidentifiable metal), and eventually a fully material entity at the sight of which his nerves completely break down, sending him fleeing wildly back to the surface. That entity is revealed to be the completely mutilated and reanimated corpse of Zamacona with a message inscribed onto his chest in broken Spanish by the underground race.
- An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, S.T.Joshi & D.E.Schultz, Hippocampus Press, NY, 2001 p.174