Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool was originally published as two stories in All-Story Weekly (“The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool”) and combined into a novel in 1919. Its copyright has expired, so you can find it at Project Gutenberg or as a free Kindle e-book at Amazon.
The Moon Pool is supposedly a layperson’s account (transcribed by Abraham Merritt) of Dr. Walter T. Goodwin’s exploration of the ancient ruins of Nan Madol in the South Pacific. Dr. Goodwin, a famous botanist, had run into his friend David Throckmartin, a colleague who claimed that his research partners (one of whom was his wife) were kidnapped by a sentient moonbeam while exploring the ancient ruins of Nan Madol. After Throckmartin tells him the strange story, Goodwin sees Throckmartin being borne away by a moonbeam that seems to encompass an evil being who Goodwin begins thinking of as The Dweller. On his way to investigate the ruins, Goodwin discovers that others have had similar experiences. This Dweller is stealing humans and, oddly, when they are taken away, they simultaneously have expressions of both horror and rapture on their faces. By the time that Goodwin arrives at the scene of the crimes, he’s accompanied by a few others who want to know what’s going on in the Nan Madol ruins: Larry O’Keefe, a roguish Irishman who’s a lieutenant in the British Navy’s Royal Flying Corps, Olaf Huldricksson, a Norseman whose wife and daughter have been kidnapped by The Dweller, and a Russian named Marakinoff.
The Moon Pool is a traditional SFF predator/lost world adventure story with an Indiana Jones feel. The story is exciting from the beginning as Dr. Goodwin, a scientist and a skeptic, can’t believe the preposterous tale he hears until he sees the evidence with his own eyes. He attempts to classify every strange thing he meets into its proper phylum and to develop plausible theories (according to the science of 1919) to explain away the weird occurrences. Meanwhile, Larry O’Keefe prefers to blame everything on mythological creatures from ancient Irish legends. When Goodwin mocks him, O’Keefe gives this delightful little speech:
You scientific people build up whole philosophies on the basis of things you never saw, and you scoff at people who believe in other things that you think they never saw and that don’t come under what you label scientific. You talk about paradoxes — why, your scientist, who thinks he is the most skeptical, the most materialistic aggregation of atoms ever gathered at the exact mathematical centre of Missouri, has more blind faith than a dervish, and more credulity, more superstition, than a cross-eyed smoke beating it past a country graveyard in the dark of the moon!
The union of legend and old scientific theories is stimulating and thought-provoking. Also, the addition of the attractive and gregarious Larry O’Keefe, who is really a secondary character, serves to liven things up. As much as I enjoyed Dr. Goodwin’s ideas, introspections, and footnotes explaining new technologies (some of which were “deleted” by the Executive Council of the International Association of Science so that they couldn’t be read by Russian enemies), he can’t really be considered an exciting hero.
There are a couple of minor issues with The Moon Pool. One is the frequent extensive visual descriptions of the lost world the explorers encounter and the concomitant overuse of words such as luminous, phosphorescent, prismatic, lacquered, iridescent, translucent, glowing, gleaming, rubrous, radiant, lambent, and shining and phrases such as “I gazed down into depth upon vertiginous depth” and “flickering points of vermilion” and “…the shimmering, curdled, misty fires of opalescence!” and “coruscating mist of the opalescence,” etc. It’s sensory overload.
Another issue is that the resolution of the story’s climax hinges on our belief in a love that feels like more of an unrealistic romantic attraction. This was disappointing because the lost world was so carefully constructed — and so believable — up to that point. I blame this deficit on early 20th century ideas about women’s roles. I think Merritt would have written this better today — nearly 100 years later!
Other than the shallow romance, The Moon Pool doesn’t feel like such an old book — it’s completely accessible to modern readers — and it’s free! I look forward to reading more by Abraham Merritt. He has written another novel featuring Dr. Goodwin (The Metal Monster) which I downloaded to my Kindle for 99¢.