The Shadow Out of Time
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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
see Shadow of Time (disambiguation)
The Shadow Out of Time indirectly tells of the Great Race of Yith, an extraterrestrial species with the ability to travel through space and time. The Yithians accomplish this by switching bodies with hosts from the intended spatial or temporal destination. The story implies that the effect when seen from the outside is similar to spiritual possession. The Yithians' original purpose was to study the history of various times and places, and they have amassed a "library city" that is filled with the past and future history of multiple races, including humans. Ultimately the Yithians use their ability to escape the destruction of their planet in another galaxy by switching bodies with a race of cone-shaped plant beings who lived 250 million years ago on Earth. The cone-shaped entities (subsequently also known as the Great Race of Yith) lived in their vast library city in what would later become Australia's Great Sandy Desert (Template:Coord).
The story is told through the eyes of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, an American living in the first decade of the 20th century, who is "possessed" by a Yithian. He fears he is losing his mind when he unaccountably sees strange vistas of other worlds and of the Yithian library city. He also feels himself being led about by these creatures and experiences how they live. When he is returned to his own body, he finds that those around him have judged him insane due to the actions of the Yithian that possessed his body. While he was experiencing a Yithian existence in Earth's ancient past, the Yithian occupying his body was experiencing a human one in the present day.
The narrator at first believes his episode and subsequent dreams to be the product of some kind of mental illness. His initial relief at discovering other cases like his throughout history is withered when he discovers that the other cases are too similar to his own to be without a connection. The narrator's dreams become more vivid, and he becomes obsessed with archaeology and ancient manuscripts (as was the Yithian)--but lacks any sort of proof that would demonstrate whether he was (or is) simply mad.
He discovers that the Yithians on Earth died out eons ago, their civilization destroyed by a rival, utterly alien pre-human race described as "half-polypous" creatures, but the Yithian minds will inhabit new bodies on Earth after humanity is long gone. His tenuously held sanity is challenged when he discovers the proof he seeks—and that not only do remains of the Yithians' past civilization still exist on earth, but also still remaining are those who destroyed them. It is also mentioned that the current appearance of the Yithians is not the original, but one acquired during a previous mass-projection of the minds of their race when disaster beckoned, leaving the original inhabitants to die in the bodies of the Yithians.
S. T. Joshi points to Berkeley Square, a 1933 fantasy film, as an inspiration for The Shadow Out of Time: "Lovecraft saw this film four times in late 1933; its portrayal of a man of the 20th century who somehow merges his personality with that of his 18th-century ancestor was clearly something that fired Lovecraft's imagination, since he had written a story on this very theme himself--the then unpublished The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1927)." Lovecraft called the film "the most weirdly perfect embodiment of my own moods and pseudo-memories that I have ever seen--for all my life I have felt as if I might wake up out of this dream of an idiotic Victorian age and insane jazz age into the sane reality of 1760 or 1770 or 1780." Lovecraft noted some conceptual problems in Berkeley Square's depiction of time travel, and felt that he had "eliminated these flaws in his masterful novella of mind-exchange over time."
Other literary models for The Shadow Out of Time include H. B. Drake's The Shadowy Thing (originally published as The Remedy in 1925), about a person who has the ability to transfer his personality to another body; Henri Beraud's Lazarus (1925), in which the protagonist develops an alter ego during a lengthy period of amnesia; and Walter de la Mare's The Return (1910), featuring a character who seems to be possessed by a mind from the 18th century.
A similar plot was used in the story Les Posthumes (1802) by Nicolas-Edme Rétif, where the character the Duke of Multipliandre has the power to project his soul into other humans and through time and space across the universe. It is not known whether Lovecraft was aware of this.
The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society has produced Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow Out of Time, a Dark Adventure Radio Theatre adaptation of the story, similar to their previous adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness and The Dunwich Horror.
The Shadow Out of Time was adapted by artist Larry Todd as "The Shadow From the Abyss" in Skull Comics #5 (Last Gasp, 1972).
The Shadow Out of Time was adapted by cartoonist Matt Howarth in the book "Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft" Graphic Classics, Volume 4; and is included in both the first (2002) and second (2007) editions.
The Shadow Out of Time was adapted by cartoonist I. N. J. Culbard in a graphic novel of the same time, published in November 2013.