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"Nine Drowned Churches"  
Thatisnotdead
Author Harry Turtledove
First Appearance That is Not Dead
Editor Darrell Schweitzer
Illustrator Jason van Hollander
Publication date February, 2015

"Nine Drowned Churches" is a short story by Harry Turtledove, published in That is Not Dead, edited by Darrell Schweitzer, February, 2015. That is Not Dead is a collection of short stories by various authors which are inspired by H.P. Lovecraft's classic short story, "The Call of Cthulhu, depicting the activities of the Cthulhu cult throughout human history. Turtledove's contribution, "Nine Drowned Churches", is set in the 21st century and ties in to Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror'"

"Nine Drowned Churches" focuses on a thinly disguised Al Stewart, the Scottish-born singer-songwriter, who, in the guise of "Alistair", travels to Dunwich, England after researching the incidents related to "The Dunwich Horror", and discovering ties between the Massachusetts town and its English namesake. He learns of the legend that three magical crowns were buried along the coast of East Anglia to keep away invaders. One of these crowns, buried at Dunwich, may also have been the crown St. Felix of Burgundy placed upon the head of Sigebert of East Anglia. He also learns that much of the town has slipped into the sea throughout the centuries, including all nine of the town's Christian churches. Alistair becomes convinced that the churches didn't fall because of erosion and storms, but that Cthulhu himself was responsible for dragging them down.

Alistair travels to Dunwich. He takes a tour of a local museum, and notices several artifacts with octopus tentacles as a common motif. The curator informs Alistair that these tentacles are believed to be connected to St. Felix who "came from the sea". Alistair also meets people from the English Dunwich who share surnames with the Massachusetts town, including at least one Whateley.

After lunch in a local restaurant, Alistair hires a fisherman to take him out into the sea so he can see the sunken buildings for himself. At 3 pm, just as the boat is passing over a cathedral, the cathedral bell rings underwater. The fisherman promptly falls into a deep sleep. Alistair stays awake, and, after failing to wake up his guide, turns his attention back to the underwater cathedral. He sees an impossibly, unimaginably gigantic octopus residing in a church building. The two stare at each other for a time before the octopus retreats back out of sight. Before it vanishes, Alistair thinks that he sees a crown on the octopus's head. His fisherman wakes up and takes him back to shore without knowing anything has happened.

The story ends with Alistair realizing he cannot tell anyone about what he's seen. He occasionally tries to reference things in his songs, but no one picks up on them. Here the narrative structure also shifts rather abruptly. The story is told in a present tense limited third person narrative. However, in the last lines of the story, after the revelation that Alistair can't tell his story to anyone, the narrative voice shifts from third person to first person, with the narrator opining as to who knows enough aside from Alistair to tell the story. The narrator concludes by saying that "when seen from the water, things of the air seem even stranger than they truly are, which is saying a great deal indeed. Past that, I say no more."

Literary commentEdit

The octopus Alistair sees is probably not Cthulhu himself. In ""The Call of Cthulhu", H.P. Lovecraft says Cthulhu "cannot be described", but does supply some description anyway, including a squid-like head, certain anthropoid features, and immense size. While Alistair describes the octopus as large, with eyes that suggest a "sardonic wisdom", he doesn't seem to have any problem comprehending the creature as an actual octopus. Moreover, Lovecraft established that Cthulhu was imprisoned in the Pacific Ocean, not the North Sea, and it is understood that if Cthulhu does arise, he will bring about the end of the world.[1] While the mysterious octopus is probably responsible for pulling Dunwich's churches into the sea, it doesn't seem determined to bring about the end of the world.

As Turtledove ties his story to "The Dunwich Horror", in which the Outer God Yog-Sothoth fathers offspring with a human woman,[2] it seems to be the case that the octopus is the offspring of another Outer God or Great Old One, presumably Cthulhu. As Turtledove explicitly connects the tentacle motif on various artifacts with the fact that St. Felix of Burgundy "came from the sea", Turtledove also seems to imply that St. Felix was also the offspring of one of Lovecraft's deities. That the octopus is wearing a crown, possibly the same crown St. Felix placed on the head of Sigebert of East Anglia, further bolsters this inference.

The shift of narrative style from third person to first person, the emphasis on Alistair's inability to tell his story, and the narrator's remark that things from the air look stranger when seen from the water seems to suggest that the narrator has been the octopus all along.

See AlsoEdit

  • "Interlibrary Loan", another story set in Lovecraft's canon. This story, set in 2017, focuses on potential impact the Cthulhu Mythos might have on the strife in the Middle East, but does not use a thinly disguised musician.

ReferencesEdit

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