This post is by John A. DeLaughter, a Lovecraft eZine contributor.
Every great author has spun a nautical yarn or two.
Peter Benchley had Jaws, Samuel Taylor Coleridge had Rime of the Ancient Mariner, Ernest Hemingway had The Old Man and the Sea, Rudyard Kipling had Captain Courageous, Jack London had The Sea Wolf, Herman Melville had Moby Dick, John Steinbeck had Lifeboat, Robert Louis Stevenson had Treasure Island, and Jules Verne had 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, to name a few.
Even H.P. Lovecraft tested the literary waters of sea tales. Aquagrapho-phobia – fear of writing about water – was not part of his A-Z list of purported fears.
While some authors are best known for their sea stories, Lovecraft is sometime least known from his. For, among Lovecraft’s Leviathans – of Father Dagon and Mother Hydra, and their submerged sepulchers – of R’lyeh and Y’ha-nthlei – some children of his lesser sea gods deserve honorable mention.
And one of those is The Temple.
Here, we will examine Lovecraft’s watery tale of World War I as a product of gothic prose and through the prism of a criminal profiler.
Why look at The Temple?
Why would someone want to examine one of H.P. Lovecraft’s minor tales?
As an introduction, I can think of five reasons.
The Gothic Gotcha:
One, I find it amazing that, when you look at The Temple, not only is it an interesting tale. The amount of thought Lovecraft put into the structure of the story is remarkable.
For instance, the reason I found so many Gothic elements in The Temple; Lovecraft intentionally put them there. Lovecraft wrote an entire article, outside his Mythos canon, entitled, “Supernatural Horror in Literature” (1927). That essay showed the depth of the man’s awareness of what he and others wrote.
As you read The Temple, sense how it breathes Gothic:
“The Gothic creates horror by portraying human individuals in confrontation with the overwhelming, mysterious, terrifying forces found in the cosmos and within themselves” (1)
I will briefly describe five Gothic elements portrayed in Lovecraft’s tale, later in our discussion.
Suffice it to say; Lovecraft did not sit down and willy-nilly pen his tales. Lovecraft’s writing appears to be the product of a thorough and thoughtful process. To use a medical term, Lovecraft’s tales went through much gestation before he birthed them.
Where did a Landlubber get his Nautical Sense?
Second, notice the enormous amount of nautical research Lovecraft did, to add realism to this tale of a World War I U-Boat and its demise.
Unlike many writers, who pen tales out of personal experience, Lovecraft does not have a military background. The Temple appears to be the distillation of several submarine stories into one, satisfying brew.
Patiently, Lovecraft paints an atmosphere, where you taste the salt in the sea spray and hear squawking sea birds as they traverse the southerly horizon.
A related thought is, on some level, you get into the thought processes of a German military mind – one in which you can see the formative thinking that led to the Nazi atrocities in World War 2. This story would be a good introduction of Lovecraft’s works, for enthusiasts who watch The Military Channel.
Serial Killers Arouse the Public’s Morbid Interests:
Three, a concurrent theme arises. Something about the pathological workings of a mind like the German U-boat Commander, Karl Heinrich, piques the psychologist in me. And it is the same curiosity for the morbid that draws the public’s attention to headlines about killers like Charles Manson and Ted Bundy.
If you think about what the narrator did, you realize, Heinrich is a mass-murderer. Not just the generic killing that happens on both sides of a military conflict; this fellow kills his own compatriots, just like a serial killer in the news. If I found that written journal, and read it, I would not walk away with the feeling Heinrich thinks most people would:
“For myself I was proud, knowing how the Fatherland would revere my memory and how my sons would be taught to be men like me” (All cites, unless sourced, come from The Temple, 1925).
I would be aghast at such a waste of human life, and the man’s brutality. We will examine what makes the Heinrich tick, through the prism of a criminal profiler.
Is The Temple like an Unacknowledged Appalachian Relative?
Four, among the familiar family of Lovecraft Tales, The Temple is largely virgin territory. Type Lovecraft and The Temple into Google, and you will find very few essays or articles on this tale. You feel like an explorer, journeying into relatively unknown territory – with a strong emphasis on the “terror”. In small measure, I feel like Leif Ericson, standing in the plow of his Viking Drakar, as he first spied the untouched coast of modern day Newfoundland.
Is The Temple overlooked because of its literary quality? Is it discounted due to discomfort over the issues it raises?
Or, is there another reason why The Temple goes unread?
Studying Lovecraft helps to appreciate his Genius:
Five, as I study the structure of a Lovecraft story, I feel like I get into the mind of the writer. In some way, you feel closer to the man who penned the myths. You partake in a bit of a mystical experience, with a man who denied the existence of all-things mystical. It is like when a student examines a verse in the Greek New Testament, explores the context and meanings in the original language, and feels that much closer to the author’s fundamental thought.
How many of us, in the midst of reading Lovecraft, haven’t had to either guess at what one of his strange words mean, hurriedly pick through a dictionary, or hastily type out the word in a Google search?
So, with those five preliminary factors in mind, let us examine some Gothic elements in The Temple.
A Salty Synopsis:
If it has been awhile since you have read this short story, let us begin with a short retelling of Lovecraft’s sea yarn.
In The Temple, a journal in a bottle is found off the Yucatan coast, discarded from a lost World War 1 U-boat, captained by Lieutenant-Commander (or LCDR) Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein. After they sink an English freighter, the crew later surfaces to find an undecayed corpse that clings to the hull and clutches an ivory amulet. Once Lt. Kleinze, the second-in-command, brings the statue aboard, the seafarers suffer disorienting dreams, which lead to states of delusion and ends in madness.
Heinrich’s reaction is despotic. First, he imprisons, next whips, and ultimately executes the men to preserve order. Then an explosion rocks the engine room, kills two crewmen and disables the ship. Adrift, the crew requests that they surrender to a nearby American battleship, a move Heinrich denies. Afterwards, unable to surface, the crew mutinies, as they face the prospect of a slow death. To stop the uprising, Heinrich shoots the seamen in quick succession, and jettisons them from the sub.
Commander Heinrich and Lieutenant Kleinze linger on. Alone with his cruel commandant, Kleinze also goes insane. He attempts to open the hatch because, the face on the figurine is calling him. Heinrich allows his comrade to leave the U-boat and perish. Heinrich then conducts an undersea search with the sub’s spotlights and finds marvelous ruins he identifies as “Atlantis” at the bottom of the ocean. The U-boat lands very close to the skeletal city, as the battery dies, and an unnatural luminescence fills the sub’s portals. Teetering on madness, and unable to resist the splendor of the phosphorescent temple, Heinrich jettisons the journal, dons a diving suit, and departs the sub.
The Temple as a Product of Gothic Prose:
Now, I would like briefly to touch on five Gothic conventions I found in The Temple. These include:
1) Gothic Counterfeit: Many Gothic novels use the “Gothic Counterfeit” theme, in which a story is told by claiming that it is a found text, a diary entry or a series of letters. The Gothic Counterfeit gives an illusion of authenticity, heightening the drama and horror of the events recounted by the author. (2)
In The Temple, the first line reads: “Manuscript Found On The Coast Of Yucatan”, to set up the story as being the last record of the fictional U-29.
2) Decay: An individual in a tale has peaked and then begins a slow process of decline. This appears both in the landscape (crumbling buildings) and in the characters themselves. (3)
The Commander of the submarine, LCDR Karl Heinrich begins the story as the cream of the Prussian Aristocracy. His U-boat is the epitome of state of the art German engineering. Then, Heinrich’s mental processes, despite his arguing against it, turn from extreme rationalism to utter madness. And in the process, his submarine loses its ability to steer, to propel itself, and finally, it no longer can surface. The demise of both man and his machine mirror each other.
3) Physical Isolation: The setting of the Gothic story is at some point within impenetrable walls (physical or psychological) to heighten the victim’s sense of hopeless isolation–the central Gothic image is the cathedral, haunted mansion, or dungeon within which the victim is imprisoned. (4)
The submarine suggests the idea that modern people live within a confined world of man-made notions. The U-boat becomes a steel coffin that entombs Heinrich. And the sea depths, like dirt tossed onto a casket, become impassable walls that further isolate him. He has nowhere to go, but mad.
4) Light and Shadows: In Gothic works, there is a play of light and shadows, a beam of moonlight in the blackness, a flickering candle, or the only source of light failing. Light can represents sanity, while darkness denotes madness. As a character finds his or herself in utter darkness, the light of reason may also go out. (5)
Light is important in The Temple. As the submarine submerges, it loses natural light and becomes dependent on artificial light. That narrow and restricted beam could suggest the limitations of human awareness, especially modern human awareness. It is going out. The submarine produces a shaft of light that permits Heinrich to learn many details of the outside of the sunken Temple, but refused to show him anything within the gaping its door.
But we have the light that emanates from the submerged temple. Only natural light, from within the Temple can expose its mysteries.
Does this suggest a capacity for knowledge that is still deep in the human psyche but denied by modernity? Was Blaise Pascal, the French mathematician and philosopher correct when he said: “The heart has its reasons, of which reason knows nothing.”
Lovecraft would probably reel off a hearty, “Bah!” in reply to such a notion.
However, in deference to the old Shuffler’s value system, I feel it is a question suggested by this the Gothic element in the story. There was a backlash in Europe, against the cold, lifeless universe envisaged by German Rationalism; a sentiment that found expression in Pascal’s quote. To that movement, the human heart feels things the eyes cannot see, and knows what the mind cannot understand.
5) There are hints or suggestions of the supernatural: In many Gothic works, it is clear that the spiritual world interacts with and utilizes the natural world. (6)
Some fault Lovecraft for the nebulous supernatural elements in The Temple. But vagueness and undefined is all that the supernatural has to be in Gothic works.
The ill-defined nature of Gothic supernatural creates tension and angst in the rational mind that seeks to categorize and explain everything.
Let us also remember the so-called Cthulhu Mythos, as Lovecraft left it, was anything but systematic in nature. People who have attempted to categorize Lovecraft’s pantheon have arrived at largely unsatisfying results. To look for a refined spirituality in a short story – especially given Lovecraft’s materialistic viewpoint – and where Gothic conventions do not call for it, is an exercise in futility.
In Heinrich’s Prussian world, the death of others make no difference. Yet, despite Heinrich’s value system, they do mean something to whatever stands behind the ocean-mythic phenomenon.
To summarize this section, while I did not list all the Gothic themes found in The Temple, I think you catch a flavor for their appearance in the structure of Lovecraft’s U-boat tale.
Now, we will turn to a discussion of LCDR Heinrich’s psychopathology.
A Brief Background of World War 1 U-boats:
Was Lovecraft’s U-Boat Commander in The Temple that out of the ordinary?
“At the outset of WW I, U-boat crews obeyed the code of the sea and the so-called ‘Prize Rules. This required the submarine to surface, hail the suspect ship to order it to stop, and send aboard a search party. If suspicions about the origin of the ship and/or its cargo were confirmed, the ship’s crew was permitted to take to their boats unhindered. Once the victim’s lifeboats were clear, the submarine sank the ship with a torpedo or, more often, with surface gunfire” (7).
Then, out of desperation in the war, Germany on and off did away with the scruples of the “Prize Rules”, and conducted unrestricted warfare on enemy ships, military or otherwise.
That included attacking merchant ships without warning, which was considered the height of “ungentlemanly conduct”.
German U-boats began to sink huge amounts of enemy merchant ships. At one point, the impact of shortages created by raiding U-boats forced Britain to institute restrictive rationing.
As a result, U-boat’s crews were treated to the same celebrity status, as German Air Aces were. The German Admiralty used newsreels to turn them into cellulite heroes.
While the type of brutality at the hands of U-boats has been documented in World War 2:
“The authors, Sönke Neitzel and Harald Welzer, discovered the recordings while searching in British and US military archives for material about the German U-boat war. They expose a German U-Boat Commander ranting’s glee at having “knocked off a child transport” carrying more than 50 refugee children which his submarine had just sunk in the Atlantic…“ (8).
There is some evidence that the purported atrocities of WW I U-boats, may have been largely an invention of the Allied Military to sway public opinion against Germany:
“…The post war period was the time when the press had to start figuring out what was true and what was false in all matters involving the reports that their assorted papers and magazines had printed during the conflict. Admiral Sims of the U.S. Navy caused a stir when he went on record announcing that a particularly odious policy observed by the Germans, widely believed to have been true, was in fact, a falsehood: ‘I stated…that barring the case of the hospital ship “Llandovery Castle” I did not know of any case where a German submarine commander had fired upon the boats of a torpedoed vessel…’” (9).
Due to some people’s attempt to re-write the atrocities of WW II to fit Neo-Nazi propaganda, I am not sure whether the proceeding reference is legit.
To recap here, I assume because Lovecraft lived through those times, and he was a man of keen intelligence, that he sourced his character from reliable contemporary sources.
Concurrently, I believe the following about the World Wars:
“History is strewn with the wrecks of nations which have gained a little progressiveness at the cost of a great deal of hard manliness, and have thus prepared themselves for destruction as soon as the movements of the world gave a chance for it” (10).
So, there is some question whether LCDR Heinrich was a scion of his society, a mass murderer sanctioned by his Prussian Fatherland.
The Heart of a Sanctimonious So-and-So:
As you listen to the The Temple’s narrator, you cannot help but notice what a smug ass the fellow is.
One dictionary defines sanctimonious as “Feigning piety or righteousness: ‘a solemn, unsmiling, sanctimonious old iceberg that looked like he was waiting for a vacancy in the Trinity’ (Mark Twain)” (11).
Piety or self-righteousness is not just a bane of the religious. Dedication to a cause can turn anyone into a self-righteous zealot.
I remember a cartoon about the Toyota-hybrid Prius, having a licensed plate that renamed the Toyota – the Pious – because of the smug self-righteousness its environmental owners displayed.
Was LCDR Heinrich a zealot propagating a just cause?
The Significance of a Name:
Now, let us briefly explore the significance of a person’s name, as they are used in literature.
Names are a part of every culture and of enormous importance both to the people who receive names and the societies that given them.
Given that idea, why do authors name their characters as they do?
Ken Kesey, in his 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, used the name of his main character –Randle Patrick McMurphy – as a literary device. McMurphy’s initials – R.P.M. – meant:
“’His initials RPM give substantial meaning to his actions…he is a personification of motion, energy, and change’. He creates a big nuisance throughout the ward with his gambling, singing, laughing, and constant movement. McMurphy runs away from the rules and regulations of Nurse Ratched…” (12).
In a similar vein, let us look at LCDR Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein. Why did Lovecraft give the Commodore of the U29 such a long name?
“Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein” is significant. In German, “Graf von…” literally means, “Earl of…” or “Count of…” and denotes inherited nobility.
I believe Lovecraft did this, as a way to lay the first stone in the arrogant foundation of this character.
As we will see: Heinrich acts like a blue-blood with a chip on his shoulder. The Temple could have been subtitled: The Atrocities of an Aristocrat.
A View of Others, looking down from a High Horse?
Next, notice how Heinrich sizes up others, based on his descriptions of them.
Is there a pattern to his opinions? And if so, what is it?
Is there a hint of high-and-mightiness in the way he sees others?
One, he calls the Boatswain Muller:
- ”…an elderly man who would have known better had he not been a superstitious Alsatian swine…”
- “…He was in a detestably childish state, and babbled of some illusion…”
Two, look what Heinrich says about his second-in-command. Lieutenant Kienze:
- “… [he is said to have]…chafed under the strain, and was annoyed by the merest trifle…”
- “…seemed paralyzed and inefficient, as one might expect of a soft, womanish Rhinelander…”
- “…I could not help observing…the inferior scientific knowledge of my companion. His mind was not Prussian…”
- “…He was a German, but only a Rhinelander and a commoner…”
And three, listen to his thoughts about the U-boat crew in general:
- “…Kienze and I did not like these displays of peasant ignorance…”
- “…The six remaining pigs of seamen, suspecting that we were lost…suddenly burst into a mad fury…a delirium of cursing and destruction. They roared like the animals they were…”
Lovecraft puts some strong, emotionally-laden words in the mouth of Heinrich. “Superstitious…swine.” “Inferior…companion.” “Peasants…pigs…animals.” At best, the commander sees his crew as stupid serfs, and at worst, unreasoning animals to be put out of their misery.
If Heinrich had a low opinion of others, how did he see himself?
Was Heinrich an Aristocrat with an Attitude?
Now, let us examine how Heinrich see himself.
I want to cite a few instances that capture the aristocrat’s high and exalted opinion of his person and position.
He saw the demise of the U-29 only in terms of how it reflected on him:
- “…the circumstances surrounding me are as menacing as they are extraordinary, and involve not only the hopeless crippling of the U-29, but the impairment of my iron German will in a manner most disastrous.”
- “…Was, indeed, Fate preserving my reason only to draw me irresistibly to an end more horrible and unthinkable than any man has dreamed of? Clearly…I must cast off these impressions of weaker men…”
And listen to his estimation of his own mental prowess:
- “…I am not given to emotion of any kind…”
- “…It is only the inferior thinker who hastens to explain the singular and the complex by the primitive shortcut of supernaturalism…”
- “…I was too sound a reasoner to connect circumstances which admit of no logical connection…”
- “…poor Kienze…was a soft-headed Rhinelander who went mad at troubles a Prussian could bear with ease…”
- “…I am a Prussian and a man of sense…to the last…”
Allowing for Heinrich’s self-estimate, the Prussian might have successfully challenged the later Mr. Spock to a game of German Raumschach or three-dimensional chess.
As we’ve seen, LCDR Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein’s opinion of himself borders on that of a Germanic Feudal Lord of the Dark Ages. Likewise, he loathes his crew as serfs.
Given that picture of Heinrich, what kind of value did he place on human life?
Whose Orders was Heinrich Obeying?
Next, let us the significance of human life according to LCDR Heinrich from three vantage points:
- How he treats foreigners;
- His stated value of a compatriot’s life; and
- The actions he took to preserve “order”.
First, look how the German Commander treats foreigners.
He turns the guns of the U-29 on lifeboats full of shipwrecked survivors – and thinks so little of the people, that he simply records the event as:
“After that we sank the lifeboats with our guns and submerged.”
Where is the mention of the English ship’s crew that dies in that gunfire? The only roles they play are props in a charade of “following the rules of engagement” as part of “a good cinema view for the admiralty records.” He does not mourn their deaths, but regrets instead: “…that so fine a reel of film should never reach Berlin.”
Second, look how Heinrich proclaims his value of a German’s life.
- “…I regretted that no physician was included in our complement of officers, since German lives are precious…”
- “I was very sorry for him [Lieutenant Kienze], for I dislike to see a German suffer…”
Based on the forgoing, one would think Heinrich would go out of his way to preserve a German life.
But, how does he treat the “precious” German lives entrusted to him?
Three, in the interest of “order”, and to preserve the honor of the “Fatherland”, Heinrich:
- “…severely reprimanded the men…”
- “…confined [Boatswain Muller] in irons and had him soundly whipped…”
- “… [took unspecified]…drastic steps were taken [against two sailors]…”
- “… [sanctioned] Lieutenant Kienze’s shoot[ing of] a seaman named Traube, who urged…[the]…un-German act [of surrender]…”
- “… [in face of mutiny]…shot all six men, for it was necessary, and made sure that none remained alive.”
- “… [in the face of] a potentially dangerous madman… [Heinrich] compl[ied] with…[Kienze’s]…suicidal request…[in doing so, Heinrich] could immediately free [him]self from…a menace.”
During World War II, the defense used by the soldiers who operated Nazi Death Camps, such as Auschwitz, was that they were simply following orders. They hoped to lay the blame for their actions in the laps of the officers above them.
But, in LCDR Heinrich’s instance, there was no one to blame for his actions. As one of the “Gods and Commodores” of the High Seas, Karl Heinrich could blame no one but himself.
Was he simply trying to save face and bring his version of glory to his precious Prussian Fatherland?
Or were there darker things that motivated Heinrich’s madness?
A Psychological Pathologic Profile of LCDR Karl Heinrich:
If an alienist (an archaic word Lovecraft used for a Psychiatrist, Psychologist or Psychoanalyst) sat down, and did a criminal profile of Heinrich’s murderous last days, what would he or she find?
I believe they would say, Heinrich’s nationalistic rationalizations of his homicidal ways, masked a deep sadism with features of Narcissism.
We will briefly “flesh-out” those labels, as we study why the fictional German Commander exterminated people.
The Enforcing Sadist:
Historically, the word “sadism” was coined to describe the writings of the Marquis de Sade. The classic definition of sadism is:
“…a sexual perversion where one person gains gratification by inflicting physical or mental pain on others. It can also mean a delight in torment or excessive cruelty“ (13).
If you review the different kinds of sadism and its various levels of severity, one type seems to fit Lovecraft’s portrayal of LCDR Karl Heinrich, Graf von Altberg-Ehrenstein.
That diagnostic classification is an enforcing sadist:
“This…sadist can…be found amongst military sergeants, deans of universities, prison overseers, police officers or other authoritative functions, because they are in a position where they feel they should be the ones controlling and punishing people who have broken rules, regulations or laws. Though they believe they are acting for the common interest, there are deeper motives than just that.
These sadists…seek out the rule-breakers in their domain of authority…and exercise the most severe punishments…for the individual case. [When] enforcing sadists are employed by society [such] as…police or prison staff…they have far-reaching freedoms to dominate, victimize or destroy others… They are supposed to act fairly but their personalities are not able to put limits on the emotions that drive their sadistically vicious behaviors. The more…sadists dominate and punish others, the more satisfaction and power they feel.
Their self-perception of righteousness is reinforced and their ego increases. The satisfaction the enforcing sadist gets from punishing other people can reach a state of intoxication where they cannot stop their behaviour and lose their awareness of reality in these situations. In most cases this does not attract…negative attention because they are acting within their legal authority to exert power and behave completely normally in everyday situations” (14).
In common culture, Big Nurse in Ken Kesey’s 1962 novel, One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, or Boss Man in Donn Pearce’s 1967 film, Cool Hand Luke, are both examples of an enforcing sadist.
Enforcing sadists worm their way into authoritative positions, where they can dominate, victimize and destroy others on a whim. Is there a better position for an enforcing sadist to hold than a U-Boat Commander?
And what about the sense of self-righteousness? Why is, “preserving the honor of the Fatherland”, an adequate excuse that overrules one‘s filial obligations to other human beings?
A Malignant Narcissist:
Now that we understand some of the motives of LCDR Heinrich, what kind of personality traits allows him to act out his sadistic pathologies?
People like the German Commander also possess a malignant narcissistic personality. (15)
Here I would like to match up some elements of the story with features of a malignant narcissist:
- The person has a grandiose sense of self-importance.
Heinrich fantasizes that he actions will immortalized him to future generations.
- The individual believes that he/she is “special” and can only be understood by other high-status people.
Heinrich’s crew do not understand him; he is an Aristocrat; they are peasants.
- The party justifies their actions based on their paranoia – persecutory beliefs, or conspiratory belief that “everyone is out to get me”.
Everything the U-boat crew does threatens the order Heinrich maintains on his sub.
- The person lacks a conscience or empathy for others.
Heinrich guns down at least half a dozen German sailors without remorse. Yet he claims he hates to see a German suffer.
- The individual feels a sense of entitlement.
Heinrich believes the glory of the Fatherland entitles him to take any action he deems necessary.
- The party exploits others to his/her own ends.
Once Heinrich finishes a film about his good treatment of enemy sailors, he kills them by opening fire on their lifeboats.
- The person uses aggression to maintain his/her special status in the world.
The list of atrocities Heinrich commits to maintain control is criminal.
- The individual has a pathological need for power.
Heinrich would rather go down with his U-Boat, to retain his power and privileges as its captain, than live as a prisoner of war.
- The party enjoys inflicting cruelty on others.
Heinrich probably had been looking for an opportunity to throw someone into irons and have them severely whipped.
Malignant narcissists seek omnipotence and total control; they will attempt to achieve those goals by any means possible.
A Prussian Serial Killer?
In addition, there are two things “serial” about Heinrich and others like him.
One, a malignant narcissistic personality such as the one Heinrich possesses, is “serial” in nature. Unlike a psychiatric illness like Bi-Polar, which can go into remission, or be controlled by psychotropic medicines, there is no cure for a personality disorder. When a person has a personality disorder:
“…it is for life, especially without intensive psychiatric treatment. The behaviors are largely choices, though some would argue that the biological and environmental factors at play leave little choice”(16).
Two, Heinrich also fits the profile of a certain kind of “serial” killer.
“…A fifth sort of serial killer is the Power Seeker Killer, a person who enjoys having total control over the fate of their victim…” (17).
To sum up our findings: Sadism is the underlying motivation for Karl Heinrich’s behavior. Elements of a narcissistic personality allow his act out his need for power, control, and cruelty without a pang of conscience to hinder him.
And given the right circumstances – say the demise of a U-boat and the deterioration of its crew – he has the liberty to seek out the thrill of a kill, where his victims have nowhere to run.
Elements of Lovecraft’s Cosmicism Prefigured in The Temple:
Now, I want to make a general observation about Lovecraft’s The Temple.
This story was written before many of Lovecraft’s more famous works. However, there are elements of his Cosmicism in this WW I short story that partially serve as precursors to his later tales.
I would like to focus on one here.
Based upon Lovecraft’s narrative, Heinrich is an arrogant and cold-blooded Prussian aristocrat. His faith in his “iron German will”, supremely rational Prussian mental powers, and pathological need to glorify the Fatherland, leads him to machine-gun survivors in lifeboats, later, kill his own crew, while blinding him to a curse he has brought upon himself.
Human life is startlingly insignificant compared to the grandiose motivations that drive Heinrich. People are tools that are kept, as long as they are useful or props to be employed, then discarded when their usefulness ends. And if the peasants, with an emphasis on “…ants”, become “troublesome”, they are quashed like cockroaches under a Prussian Jackboot.
That insignificance of humanity, whether against the background of a small Prussian universe, or the vast Einsteinian cosmos is a common theme in Lovecraft.
It’s as if Heinrich were a member of the secret cult that worships Cthulhu, and like many cultists, he did whatever he could to usher in his Master’s apocalyptic rule and reign:
“Then…[the]…first men formed the cult around tall idols which the Great Ones shewed them; idols brought in dim eras from dark stars. That cult would never die till the stars came right again, and the secret priests would take great Cthulhu from His tomb to revive His subjects and resume His rule of earth. The time would be easy to know, for then mankind would have become as the Great Old Ones; free and wild and beyond good and evil, with laws and morals thrown aside and all men shouting and killing and reveling in joy. Then the liberated Old Ones would teach them new ways to shout and kill and revel and enjoy themselves, and all the earth would flame with a holocaust of ecstasy and freedom. Meanwhile the cult, by appropriate rites, must keep alive the memory of those ancient ways and shadow forth the prophecy of their return” (18).
Lovecraft didn’t need a grand alien like Cthulhu or an ancient earth entity like Dagon in The Temple. The true monster in the story was his German Commander.
Humanity’s Insignificance beyond Lovecraft:
The irrelevance of human life is also a theme echoed outside Lovecraft.
Before Lovecraft, Charles Dickens gave voice to the same notion, as it resonated in some echelons of Victorian Society:
- “[trying to collect Christmas donations]…What may we put you down for, sir?
- [Scrooge:] Nothing, sir.
- [1st Portly Gentleman:] Ah, you wish to remain anonymous.
- [Scrooge:] I wish to be left alone, sir! That is what I wish! I don’t make myself merry at Christmas and I cannot afford to make idle people merry. I have been forced to support the establishments
- I have mentioned through taxation and God knows they cost more than they’re worth. Those who are badly off must go there.
- [2nd Portly Gentleman:] Many would rather die than go there.
- [Scrooge:] If they’d rather die, then they had better do it and decrease the surplus population. Good night, gentlemen. Humbug!” (19).
After Lovecraft, the insignificance of human life reverberates throughout American Pop Culture. For example, in Tim Burton’s Batman, the Joker says:
“…Now comes the part where I relieve you, the little people, of the burden of your failed and useless lives. But, as my plastic surgeon always said: if you gotta go, go with a smile” (1989).
And in the 21st Century, human beings, each possessing a horrific “carbon footprint”, are seen by environmental cultists as a blight that infests and pollutes the entity known as “Mother Earth” or “Gaia”. Some view infanticide and geriatricide, pedaled under more culturally palatable terms to the masses, as healing the Mother Earth. The fewer pollutants, the better.
As an aside, perhaps literature should develop its own B.C/A.D. timeline, except using Lovecraft’s literary achievements to demarcate time. In the past, those terms meant: Anno Domini (AD or A.D.) and Before Christ (BC or B.C.) are designations used to label or number years used with the Julian and Gregorian calendars. The term Anno Domini is Medieval Latin, translated as In the year of the Lord.
Maybe, BC and AD can be replaced with B.L. – Before Lovecraft. And A.L. – After Lovecraft.
But I digress.
Some Final Takeaway Points from The Temple:
Why did Lovecraft write The Temple?
While Howard Philips may have agreed with Prussian ideals and romanticized their Teutonic heritage, his sinister portrayal of Karl Heinrich draws his loyalties into question.
I believe he wanted to throw a literary spotlight on the Diabolicism of Duty and Patriotism gone awry. In other words, when Duty and Patriotism are practiced in their extremes, evil cannot help but follow. He wrote the story against the backdrop of the sinking of the Lusitania.
War also allows some sick individuals free rein for their insanities to flower and flourish.
I am not saying all military personnel are like LCDR Heinrich. I was an active Army Reserve Officer for over 10 years. No one I knew fit the Heinrich profile.
But I will say, a very small minority of people with problems do go to war, and sometimes bad things happen. For instance, during the Vietnam War, Second Lieutenant William Calley Jr was held responsible for the My Lai Massacre of up to 500 people. There were 14 officers charged in relation to the incident.
In closing, unlike The Shadows Over Innsmouth, a high watermark among Lovecraft’s Legends from Poseidon’s Lair, I believe The Temple bears revisiting.
(1) (Varma 16) http://resources.mhs.vic.edu.au/creating/pages/origins.htm.
(2) An Online Essay: “What Are the Conventions of the Gothic Horror Genre?” By Ann Trent, an eHow Contributor.
(3) An Article: “Gothic Qualities in the Works of Poe” in ArticleMyriad, by Nicole Smith, December 6, 2011.
(4) David R. Saliba, A Psychology of Fear: The Nightmare Formula of Edgar Allan Poe (Lantham, MD: University Press of America, 1980), pp.27-28.
(5) A Bachelor’s Thesis: The Immortality of Gothic Literature: The Many Ways in which the Contemporary Gothic Work Changes, by Danielle Balk, p. 6.
(6) An Online Article: “What’s Gothic Now?” by Alma Katsu, TOR.Com, June 19, 2012.
(7) An Article: “The U-Boat in the Great War and its Effect”, The Western Front Association, David Payne, June 6, 2008.
(8) An Article: “Secret Tapes of ‘Professional Sadists’ reveal True Story of German Soldiers’ War Brutality.” The Independent, Tony Paterson, April 6, 2011.
(9) An Article: “Admiral Sims and The Nation”, The Nation, April 23, 1923. Quoted by http://www.oldmagazinearticles.com/WW1_Propaganda_and_press_censorship.
(10) Physics and Politics, by Walter Bagehot, 1872.
(11) “Sanctimonious,” The Free Dictionary, http://www.thefreedictionary.com.
(12) An Essay: “Randle Patrick McMurphy, a Tragedy from the Beginning”, by Abhinav
Brahmamdam, March 25, 2010.
(13) “Sadism”: Glossary of Literary Gothic Terms, by Douglass H. Thomson, Department of Literature and
Philosophy of Georgia Southern University.
(14) “Sadism”: Oxford Textbook of Psychopathology, Editors Paul H. Blaney and Theodore Million,
2nd Ed, 2009).
(15) An article: “The Malignant Narcissist…A Joyful Sadist”, HubPages, by Leah N. Wells, 2013.
(17) An Essay: “The Personality Profile of a Serial Killer,” by Julietta Leung,
(18) The Call of Cthulhu, by H.P. Lovecraft, 1926.
(19) A Christmas Carol, by Charles Dickens, 1843.
John DeLaughter is a Data Security Analyst who lives in rural Pennsylvania with his wife Heidi, daughter Kirsten, grand daughter Riley, and two cats. He’s devoured Lovecraft, beginning with At the Mountains of Madness in high school. In his spare time, he’s editing his fantasy novel entitled Dark Union Rising.