Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Tonight, we will explore a lesser known Cthulhu critter, the Horror at Martin’s Beach AKA The Invisible Monster. Unlike the entities in the other posts in this series, this beastie was not created by HP Lovecraft, though he decently had some input in its creation. The story that this monster comes form is often credited to HPL, but was in fact written by his wife, Sonia Greene.
It was originally published as The Invisible Monster, in the November 1923 issue of Weird Tales. Since then it has been published in many anthologies under the title The Horror at Martin’s Beach. It probably got renamed because the monster isn’t all that invisible. Some book containing this title state that it is a Lovecraft work, other give Sonia credit but reference Lovecraft as the stories revisionist.
Throughout his live Lovecraft never had a salaried job. He lived off a meager inheritance form his grandfather, the income that came in from his wife’s business, the few manuscripts he sold during his lifetime and his freelance revision gigs. These jobs would very between basic editing to actually ghost writing the writers idea and letting them put their name on it.
I have not seen anything that says how much of this story was Howard’s and how much was Sonia’s If he did ever put that in writing, those letters are lost since, Lovecraft burnt all his letters to her, after they separated. Reading this tale, you can definitely pick up HPL’s style, and peculiar use of vocabulary (The word cyclopean, anyone?) But there is no way of knowing if Lovecraft edited his choice of vocabulary into the story or if Sonia had picked up on her husband’s distinctive use of words.
The story behind how Sonia got to write this story is actually quite sweet. She and Howard were walking in a park one night by a lake. When they heard a snap like someone or something stepped on a twig, behind them. They both jump and searched the darkness to find nothing. Sonia suggested he write a story based on what just happened to them. Howard said he thought she should write it. In appreciation Sonia gave him his first romantic kiss.
I love that story. It shows the Lovecrafts as a couple falling in love. So different from the Brooklyn days we normally associate with their relationship.
Like many of the beings in the Cthulhu mythos it only appears in one story. This should not be taken as a sign that it was more Sonia’s work than Howard because many of his creatures such as the Yithians or Mi-go only are featured in one tale. This particular beastie is so obscure the only other reference in any other mythos fiction I am aware of is in Chaosium’s CoC RPG guide book on Kingsport.
In the story published both as the invisible Monster and The Horror at Martin’s Beach, the skipper of the fishing smack Alma, James P. Orne had a colossal struggle to bring to shore a strange monster like creature. It was 50’s long and had one eye in the center of its head, and instead of fins it had legs and deformed arms with six toes. When scientist examined it, they determined it was a juvenile of the species.
Captain Orne being the crafty New Englander that he was. Had the beast taxidermized and then in a special boat traveled up and down the Atlantic cost, displaying the monster for a price. This came to an abrupt end when a freak storm swept the boat and a night watchman on board out to sea.
When Orne was finishing up his business in Martin’s Beach, he saw a group of lifeguards trying to rescue a drowning person. They were struggling to do so, so he jumped in the ocean to help them. Still they failed to save the pour soul. In the end 40 people where in the ocean trying to get a red line to the doomed swimmer. Then all of a sudden, they all froze unable to move a muscle, they all drowned as the tide slowly rose up above their mouths.
In the distance people thought they saw a larger version of the monster Orne had caught and a scientist theorized the victims had all been mesmerized by some animal like a cobra.
In the pulps there was two ways to make a monster invisible, the first was make them a color the human eye could not see. The other was to give them a psychic power that made it harder to detect them. The first is the classic pulp trope. We can see this in Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror or even before that in Ambrose Bierce’s The Damned Thing. The titular creature invisibility comes presumably from being a color man cannot see, either a infra-red or ultra-violet.
The Horror of Martin’s Beach, uses its mind to control people and make them unaware of its presence. This is made famous in the Pulps by The Shadow. On the radio and in print the character started out as wearing a scarf to cover his face, then became a master of deception and disguises, and eventually gained the power “To cloud men’s mind.” By hypnotism.
The shadow made his first appearance in 1930and got his invisibility powers in 1937. So, it is possible that the writers came up with this idea from THaMB. Pulp writers (even for the fancy shmancy radio shows) often barrow and recycled ideas and inspirations. However, I was never able to find proof of the connection.
One thing I can’t help but think might have inspired the creature in this story is the New jersey shark attack of 1916. We know these attacks inspired at least one other nautical horror story, Jaws. These attacks over a 14 day period were originally thought to have been from a great white shark, but since some of the attacks where in brackish water which they avoid, was probably perpetrated by bull sharks.
This story was splashed across Atlantic states newspapers in 1916 and it would be difficult to believe that Howard and Sonia didn’t see it. Still after a great white was caught the media deliberately avoid that story to prevent panic. So, they were very unlikely to have seen recent articles bout the attacks. I know of nothing the Lovecraft’s wrote that said they took inspiration here, but when I read the story I see some similarities.
The Horror at Martin’s Beach is this awesome pulp monster, when I first read it, I felt true dread when I though about the hopeless humans frozen just waiting to be drowned. I would highly suggest anyone who has not read it to check it out 9it is in public domain and freed on line) It is a shame that it is often outshined by some other of Lovecraft’s beasties.