A shadow under Innsmouth

I’ve been working on this drawing for a long time – on and off, about a decade and a half.  I suppose I probably did the pencil sketch around the time I first read H. P. Lovecraft’s short stories, and that the BBC documentary series Blue Planet might have brought me some inspiration.  That dates the idea for the drawing back to around 2001.  Of course, she and her abominable kin have lurked around the watery edges of our world for millennia longer.

I decided to work the pencil sketch into an ink drawing for my portfolio a couple of years ago, but between an abortive first attempt and successive deployments in Africa, a final drawing always seemed to be just out of reach.  You can see both the original (right) and finished (left) drawings, below.  Perhaps the long gestation has been for the best.  Although the two drawings certainly both depict the same idea, with each iteration I’ve made subtle refinements.  The finished drawing blends together Lovecraft’s ‘Deep Ones’ with Grendel’s mother – from the Old English poem Beowulf (c. 700–1000 AD) – and a whole host of sea-hags, troll-women and ogresses, while taking aesthetic cues from Wayne Anderson’s artwork for the book (and film adaptation) Flight of Dragons, by Peter Dickenson.

One unusual thing about this drawing is that I’m not completely sure what exactly it depicts.  Certainly I would have been thinking of Lovecraft’s ‘Deep Ones’, which he first introduced and described in The Shadow Over Innsmouth in 1931:

They were mostly shiny and slippery, but the ridges of their backs were scaly.  Their forms vaguely suggested the anthropoid, while their heads were the heads of fish, with prodigious bulging eyes that never closed.  At the sides of their necks were palpitating gills, and their long paws were webbed.  They hopped irregularly, sometimes on two legs and sometimes on four.

There are similarities between Lovecraft’s creation and the description of ‘Jenny Greenteeth’ – a malevolent English water-spirit – given by the author Charlotte Burne, who would go on to become president of the UK’s Folklore Society, in Shropshire Folklore: A Sheaf of Gleanings (1883, p. 79).  Lovecraft was certainly familiar with a wide range of folkloric and mythological creatures, and Burne’s book would have been quite contemporary at the time Lovecraft was crafting his mythos.  Burne describes ‘Jenny Greenteeth’ as:

An old woman who lurks beneath the green weeds that cover stagnant ponds; Ellesmere children were warned that if they venture too near such places, she will stretch out her long arms and drag them to her.

In particular I notice that both creatures are described as being long of limb or claw, which I’ve tried to reflect in my illustration.  The spiny, scaly ridges are straight out of Lovecraft while the lure, face and pond-weed hair reflect more the creature of folklore.  In the end, whatever I’ve drawn, I’m very happy with how it turned out.

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