- John Gaines
One of the earliest adventure novels detailing the journey of a group of explorers from the surface world through a subterranean civilization, Abraham Merritt’s The Moon Pool is also one of the best examples of the genre. With an exciting narrative full of thrilling action sequences, memorable characters, and a fascinating civilization of bizarre wonders, The Moon Pool is a great adventure novel that will thrill fans of classic science fiction. For fans of shorter novels, it is also a fast-paced read. Edited together from two novellas titled “The Moon Pool” and “Conquest of the Moon Pool,” it is under 300 pages in length and can be completed by most readers in about 3-5 days. For those seeking to discover the roots of sci-fi adventure stories in the early twentieth century, The Moon Pool is an excellent trip back in time.
The Moon Pool follows a similar formula to some of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ earlier novels in that it is written as a first-person narrative detailing the expedition of a particular character and the dangers he faced. Walter Goodwin, a heroic American, journeys to the South Pacific island of Ponape in search of members of an earlier expedition that disappeared due to a luminous pool and a glowing phantasm known only as The Dweller. Assisting him are Olaf Huldricksson, a towering but superstitious Swede, Larry O’Keefe, a valiant and loyal Irishman, and Marakinoff, a manipulative and dangerous Russian. After exploring the island of Ponape and the caverns beneath it, the party ventures into the Moon Pool chamber, and the land of Lakla beneath it. A land of brilliant crystals, transcendentally beautiful women, and muscular dwarfs, Lakla is the last remnant of a lost civilization that once dominated the surface world. Its technology is still far in advance of the surface world’s in many aspects, and its people still dream of conquest…
One of the strongest points of The Moon Pool is its economy of storytelling. With only a few major characters, The Moon Pool never loses its narrative focus and provides a great deal of action and suspense through its portrayal of how the characters interact with their strange environment. Will the superstitious Olaf be able to use his physical might to survive a brutal duel to the death, or will he be felled by his superstitious fear of “trolldom?” Will the charming O’Keefe be able to seduce the beautiful but cruel Yolara by teaching her a “love song,” or does she realize his intent to escape? Another strong point of The Moon Pool is the amount of detail that Merritt devotes to explaining the appearance, customs, and language of the civilization of Lakla. Even the concept of daily cycles in a subterranean world is explained, and much of the entertainment value of the novel comes from finding which bizarre device or unusual ritual the heroes will encounter next.
Sadly, not all aspects of The Moon Pool hold up as well as its characterization and distinct world. The novel was written in the tradition of nineteenth-century adventure novels like H. Rider Haggard’s She, and still employs a writing style and language similar to these authors. Many modern readers, trained on the much more laconic style of modern writers influenced by Ernest Hemingway, may find Merritt’s descriptions and use of metaphor excessively florid. The language in The Moon Pool occasionally dates badly, with descriptions of “Hun Cannons” (German artillery) and “wireless” (radio) that may confuse some modern readers. Also, some modern readers may find the depth of Goodwin’s adoration for O’Keefe to be a “bromance” of unintentional comedy.
Despite these flaws, The Moon Pool remains a gripping adventure novel that will delight genre enthusiasts. If you find yourself enjoying this novel, you may enjoy Edgar Rice Burroughs’ similar Pellucidar series, beginning with At the Earth’s Core. You may also enjoy reading Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth and H. Rider Haggard’s She. All of these “explorer” novels provide a window into the development of action-oriented science fiction and make for a good, light read.