The Temple (short story)

"The Temple" is a short story written by H. P. Lovecraft in 1920, and first published in the pulp magazine "Weird Tales" in February 1925. It was the first story Lovecraft published in "Weird Tales", and indeed was his first publication in any professional outlet. [Joshi and Schultz, p. 261.]


"An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia" judges "The Temple" to be marred by crude satire on the protagonist's militarist and chauvinist sentiments", and by "an excess of supernaturalism, with many bizarre occurrences that do not seem to unify into a coherent whole." [Joshi and Schultz, p. 261.]


The story is introduced as a "found manuscript" penned by Karl Heinrich, a Lieutenant Commander in the Imperial German Navy during the days of World War I. It documents his untimely end at the bottom of the ocean.

Heinrich begins by declaring that he has decided to document the events leading up to his final hour in order to "set certain facts" before the public, aware that he will not survive to do so himself.

After sinking a British freighter, and thereafter sinking its surviving crew's lifeboats, the cruel and arrogant Heinrich commands his U-29 U-boat to submerge; surfacing later to find the dead body of a crewmember of the sunken ship, who died clinging to the exterior railing of the sub. A search of the body reveals a strange piece of carved ivory. Because of its apparent great age and value, one of Heinrich's officers keeps the object, and shortly thereafter, strange phenomena begin to occur.

An uncharted current pulls the sub southward, and several members of the crew suffer the sudden onset of severe fatigue and disturbing nightmares. One even claims to have seen the corpses of the dead seamen from the British freighter staring at him through the U-boat's portholes. Heinrich has him brutally whipped, rejecting the pleas from some of his men to discard the ivory charm. He eventually resorts to killing a couple of them when it is clear that they have gone insane from fright, ostensibly to maintain discipline.

Next, a mysterious explosion irreparably damages the U-boat's engines, leaving them without the ability to navigate, only the ability to surface and dive. They soon encounter a United States warship, and several of the terrified crew plead with Heinrich to surrender, but instead, Heinrich has these "traitors" killed, and facing ominous ocean waves, orders the U-boat to submerge, now being pulled southward without resistance.

With the U-boat's batteries running low, and their chance of rescue non-existent, the six remaining, delirious crewmen attempt a mutiny, successfully disabling the U-boat by destroying several key instruments and gauges, even as they rave on about the curse of the ivory talisman, but all are killed by the venomous Heinrich. His lone companion, Lieutenant Klenzen, grows increasingly unstable and paranoid. Certain of their fate, the two pass the time in their drifting vessel by sweeping the sub's powerful searchlight through the dark abyss, noting that dolphins follow them at depths and for lengths previously unheard-of.

Soon after, Klenze goes completely mad, claiming that "He is calling! He is calling!" Unable to soothe his insane companion, and unwilling to join him in suicide, Heinrich agrees to operate the airlock, grateful to send Klenze to an assured death in the airless, crushing pressure of the deep. Heinrich, alone at last, drifts for a couple more days before his U-boat finally lands at the bottom of the ocean, where he was amazed to see the sunken remains of an ancient and elaborate city, deciding it to be the ruins of Atlantis.

Overcome with excitement, Heinrick dons a deep-sea diving suit, exploring the breathtaking, indescribable beauty of the ruined city, discovering a mysterious rock-hewn temple, amazed to find the image of the ivory carving within. He spends the next couple days in darkness as the sub's last battery reserves are expended. In the end, he acknowledges that even with his mighty "German will", he is no longer able to resist the powerful visions and auditory hallucinations, nor his madness-inspired impulse to depart his U-boat and enter the temple, now impossibly illuminated by what seems to be a flickering altar flame. Slipping on his diving suit, he releases his sealed manuscript in a bottle, and goes willingly to his death.


Like "Dagon", "The Temple" is a nautical story with a World War I background.

The theme of submerged cities with non-human worshipers recurs in Lovecraft's later works, most notably "The Call of Cthulhu".


*S. T. Joshi and David Schultz, "An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia".


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