Unlike many of Lovecraft's other tales, "The White Ship" does not expressly tie into the popularized Cthulhu Mythos. However, the story cannot be entirely excluded from mythos continuity either, since it makes reference to preternatural, godlike beings. The tone and temperament of "The White Ship" speaks largely of the Dream Cycle literary structure that Lovecraft utilized in other stories such as The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926) and "The Cats of Ulthar" (1920).
A lighthouse keeper named Basil Elton engages upon a peculiar fantasy in which a robed, bearded man is piloting a mystical white ship which appears when the moon is full. Elton walks out across the water on a bridge of moonbeams and joins the bearded man on this ship, and together they explore a mystical chain of islands unlike anything that can be found on Earth.
They travel past Zar, a green land where "dwell all the dreams and thoughts of beauty that come to men once and then are forgotten", then the majestic city of Thalarion, "City of a Thousand Wonders", where dwell frightful demons. They pass Akariel, the huge carven gate of Thalarion, and continue their voyage. Elton is informed that those who enter both places have never returned. During the voyage they seem to be following an azure celestial bird. They also pass Xura, the "Land of Pleasures Unattained", which seems pleasant from a distance but reeks of plague upon getting nearer. They finally settle in Sona-Nyl, the "Land of Fancy", where Elton spends a period of time which he describes as "many aeons", living in what seems to be a perfect society. In his time in Sona-Nyl, Basil learns of Cathuria, the "Land of Hope". Though no man truly knows where Cathuria is or what lies there, Elton is thrilled with the idea, fantasizing about it wildly, and urges the bearded man to take him there; a request which the latter reluctantly agrees to. They follow the celestial bird westward. After a perilous journey to where the crew believes Cathuria to be, the ship instead finds itself at the edge of the world, and plummets to its doom.
Elton awakens to find himself on the wet rocks next to his lighthouse, mere moments after he first departed on the white ship - and just in time to witness a catastrophic shipwreck caused by the light having gone out for the first time. Nothing remains of this wreck the next morning but the corpse of a bird familiar from his dream-journey, and a single brilliant white wooden spar. Elton does not see the white ship again.
In Popular CultureEdit
The story was adapted into a song by the 1960s psychedelic rock band H. P. Lovecraft on their self-titled debut album. Additionally, doom metal band, Solitude Aeturnus, wrote and played a song on their debut album, Into the Depths of Sorrow, called “White Ship.”
"The White Ship" has been published in the following collections.
Note: Most of this bibliography comes from The H. P. Lovecraft Archive. This list should not be considered complete.
- The United Amateur (Volume 19) #2 – November 1919 (pp 30–33)
- Weird Tales - May 1927
- The Dream-Quest Of Unknown Kadath – Ballantine Books, New York – 1970 (pp 220–228)
- The Lurking Fear and Other Stories – Ballantine Books, New York – 1971 (pp 41–48)
- Dagon and Other Macabre Tales – Arkham House, Sauk City, WI – 1987 (pp 36–42) (definitive version)
- The Transition of H. P. Lovecraft: The Road To Madness – Ballantine Books, New York – 1996 (pp53–58)
- The Thing On The Doorstep and Other Weird Stories – Penguin Books, New York – 2001 (pp 21–26)
- Waking Up Screaming: Haunting Tales Of Terror – Del Rey, New York – 2003 (pp 224–231)