The Shadow Out of Time
The Shadow Out of Time is a novella
A novella is a written, fictional, prose narrative usually longer than a novelette but shorter than a novel. The Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Nebula Awards for science fiction define the novella as having a word count between 17,500 and 40,000...

 by American
American literature
American literature is the written or literary work produced in the area of the United States and its preceding colonies. For more specific discussions of poetry and theater, see Poetry of the United States and Theater in the United States. During its early history, America was a series of British...

horror fiction
Horror fiction
Horror fiction also Horror fantasy is a philosophy of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie atmosphere. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural...

 writer H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft --often credited as H.P. Lovecraft — was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction....

. Written between November 1934
1934 in literature
The year 1934 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* The first Flash Gordon comic strip is published.*Boris Pasternak and Korney Chukovsky are among those present at the first Congress of the Soviet Union of Writers....

 and February 1935
1935 in literature
The year 1935 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* June 15 - W. H. Auden enters a marriage of convenience with Erika Mann.* July 30 - Allen Lane founds Penguin Books to publish the first mass market paperbacks in Britain....

, it was first published in the June 1936
1936 in literature
The year 1936 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* Life magazine is first published.* The Carnegie Medal for excellence in children's literature is established in the UK.-New books:...

 issue of Astounding Stories.

Plot summary

The Shadow Out of Time indirectly tells of the Great Race of Yith
Great Race of Yith
The Great Race of Yith are aliens in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. They first appeared in Lovecraft's short story "The Shadow Out of Time" . They are called the Great Race because they are the only beings to have mastered time travel...

, an extraterrestrial species with the ability to travel through space and time. The Yithians accomplish this by switching bodies
Body swap
A body swap is a storytelling device seen in a variety of fiction, most often in television shows and movies, in which two people exchange minds and end up in each other's bodies. Alternatively, their minds may stay where they are as their bodies adjust...

 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
Spiritual possession
Spirit possession is a paranormal or supernatural event in which it is said that spirits, gods, demons, animas, extraterrestrials, or other disincarnate or extraterrestrial entities take control of a human body, resulting in noticeable changes in health and behaviour...

. It is never revealed what they really look like. The cone-shaped bodies they used on earth belonged to a species from a parallel line of life that had evolved alongside with other forms on the planet.

The Yithians' original purpose is 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
History is the discovery, collection, organization, and presentation of information about past events. History can also mean the period of time after writing was invented. Scholars who write about history are called historians...

 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 cephalopod beings who lived 250 million years ago on Earth. The cone-shaped entities (now also known as the Great Race of Yith) lived in their vast library city in what would later become Australia
Australia , officially the Commonwealth of Australia, is a country in the Southern Hemisphere comprising the mainland of the Australian continent, the island of Tasmania, and numerous smaller islands in the Indian and Pacific Oceans. It is the world's sixth-largest country by total area...

's Great Sandy Desert
Great Sandy Desert
The Great Sandy Desert is a desert located in the North West of Western Australia straddling the Pilbara and southern Kimberley regions. It is the second largest desert in Australia after the Great Victoria Desert and encompasses an area of...

 (22°3′14"S 125°0′39"E ).

The story is told through the eyes of Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, an American in the early 1900s 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
Flying polyp
A flying polyp is a member of a fictional alien race in the Cthulhu Mythos. The creature first appeared in H. P...

" 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.

Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee

The narrator of the story, a professor of political economy at Miskatonic University
Miskatonic University
Miskatonic University is a fictional university located in Arkham; a fictitious town which is said to exist in Essex County, Massachusetts. It is named after the Miskatonic River . After first appearing in the H. P...

, and from 1908 until 1913 a victim of the Great Race of Yith
Great Race of Yith
The Great Race of Yith are aliens in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. They first appeared in Lovecraft's short story "The Shadow Out of Time" . They are called the Great Race because they are the only beings to have mastered time travel...

. He was born circa 1870.

There are autobiographical aspects to the character. The years of Peaslee's amnesia correspond to the timespan of Lovecraft's adolescent nervous breakdown, which forced him to drop out of high school and withdraw from society. During this period, Lovecraft suffered from facial tics, which may be reflected in the Yithian-possessed Peaslee's inability to control his facial muscles. The feeling Lovecraft described upon returning to Providence after living in New York City for two years that he was "awakening from the queer dream about being away from home" has been called "the cornerstone upon which Lovecraft built his masterpiece, 'The Shadow out of Time'."

But An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, which calls Peaslee perhaps "the most thoroughly developed of HPL's characters", notes that there are parallels as well to Lovecraft's father, Winfield Scott Lovecraft, who also displayed eccentric behavior during a five-year period of madness.

Wingate Peaslee

Son of Nathaniel Peaslee, also a Miskatonic professor. He is described by his father as "the only member of my family who stuck to me after my queer amnesia of long ago, and the man best informed on the inner facts of my case."

William Dyer

A Miskatonic University geology professor who accompanies the expedition to Australia. See At the Mountains of Madness.

Other victims

The story mentions a number of victims of the Yithians' mind-swapping whom Nathaniel Peaslee recalls talking with, including:

Titus Sempronius Blaesus

A Roman
Ancient Rome
Ancient Rome was a thriving civilization that grew on the Italian Peninsula as early as the 8th century BC. Located along the Mediterranean Sea and centered on the city of Rome, it expanded to one of the largest empires in the ancient world....

 "who had been a quaestor
A Quaestor was a type of public official in the "Cursus honorum" system who supervised financial affairs. In the Roman Republic a quaestor was an elected official whereas, with the autocratic government of the Roman Empire, quaestors were simply appointed....

 in Sulla's time". Sulla first became consul in 88 BC, and was dictator of Rome from 82-80 BC. A quaestor was a Roman financial official; Sulla reformed the office and raised their number from ten to twenty.

Bartolomeo Corsi

A "12th century Florentine monk
A monk is a person who practices religious asceticism, living either alone or with any number of monks, while always maintaining some degree of physical separation from those not sharing the same purpose...

". This character also appears in Phillip O. Marsh's 1994 novel The Worm Shall Ye Fight!


A Cimmerian
Cimmeria (Conan)
Cimmeria is a fictional land of barbarians in antediluvian earth and the homeland of Conan the Barbarian in the works of Robert E. Howard.-Fictional history:...

 chief who lived circa 15,000 BC. This is a homage to Lovecraft's friend Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Robert Ervin Howard was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. Best known for his character Conan the Barbarian, he is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre....

, whose best-known creation, Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Barbarian
Conan the Barbarian is a fictional sword and sorcery hero that originated in pulp fiction magazines and has since been adapted to books, comics, several films , television programs, video games, roleplaying games and other media...

, hailed from Cimmeria and worshipped Crom. In Fred L. Pelton's 1989 short story "The Sussex Manuscript", Crom-Ya is said to be a worshipper of Tsathoggua
Tsathoggua is a fictional supernatural entity in the Cthulhu Mythos shared fictional universe. He is the creation of Clark Ashton Smith and is part of his Hyperborean cycle....



"An Egyptian
Ancient Egypt
Ancient Egypt was an ancient civilization of Northeastern Africa, concentrated along the lower reaches of the Nile River in what is now the modern country of Egypt. Egyptian civilization coalesced around 3150 BC with the political unification of Upper and Lower Egypt under the first pharaoh...

 of the 14th Dynasty
Fourteenth dynasty of Egypt
The Eleventh , Twelfth, Thirteenth and Fourteenth Dynasties of ancient Egypt are often combined under the group title, Middle Kingdom, though this dynasty overlaps partially with either the Thirteenth Dynasty or the Fifteenth Dynasty, during the Second Intermediate Period.It is associated with the...

, who told me the hideous secret of Nyarlathotep
Nyarlathotep, also known as the Crawling Chaos, is a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe created by H. P. Lovecraft. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers and in the tabletop...

". The 14th dynasty was about 1700 BC.

Pierre-Louis Montagny

"An aged Frenchman
The French Republic , The French Republic , The French Republic , (commonly known as France , is a unitary semi-presidential republic in Western Europe with several overseas territories and islands located on other continents and in the Indian, Pacific, and Atlantic oceans. Metropolitan France...

 of Louis XIII's time". Louis XIII was king of France from 1610-1643.

James Woodville

"A Suffolk
Suffolk is a non-metropolitan county of historic origin in East Anglia, England. It has borders with Norfolk to the north, Cambridgeshire to the west and Essex to the south. The North Sea lies to the east...

 gentleman of Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell
Oliver Cromwell was an English military and political leader who overthrew the English monarchy and temporarily turned England into a republican Commonwealth, and served as Lord Protector of England, Scotland, and Ireland....

's day". Cromwell lived from 1599–1658, and was the English head of state from 1653 until his death.


"A philosopher from the cruel empire of Tsan-Chan, which is to come in 5,000 A.D." Tsan-Chan is first mentioned by Lovecraft in the story "Beyond the Wall of Sleep
Beyond the Wall of Sleep (short story)
"Beyond the Wall of Sleep" is a short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft written in 1919 and first published in the amateur publication Pine Cones in October 1919.-Inspiration:...



S. T. Joshi
S. T. Joshi
Sunand Tryambak Joshi — known as S. T. Joshi — is an award-winning Indian American literary critic, novelist, and a leading figure in the study of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and other authors of weird and fantastic fiction...

 points to Berkeley Square
Berkeley Square (film)
Berkeley Square is a drama film produced by Fox Film Corporation, directed by Frank Lloyd, and starring Leslie Howard, Heather Angel, Valerie Taylor, and Colin Keith-Johnston. The film was thought to be a lost film until rediscovered in the 1970s....

, 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 twentieth century who somehow merges his personality with that of his eighteenth-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
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is a short novel by H. P. Lovecraft, written in early 1927, but not published during the author's liftetime...

 (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 Squares 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
Walter de la Mare
Walter John de la Mare , OM CH was an English poet, short story writer and novelist, probably best remembered for his works for children and the poem "The Listeners"....

'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
Nicolas-Edme Rétif
Nicolas-Edme Rétif or Nicolas-Edme Restif , also known as Rétif de la Bretonne, was a French novelist. The term retifisme for shoe fetishism was named after him.-Biography:...

, 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.


Lovecraft critic Lin Carter
Lin Carter
Linwood Vrooman Carter was an American author of science fiction and fantasy, as well as an editor and critic. He usually wrote as Lin Carter; known pseudonyms include H. P. Lowcraft and Grail Undwin.-Life:Carter was born in St. Petersburg, Florida...

 calls The Shadow Out of Time Lovecraft's "single greatest achievement in fiction", citing "its amazing scope and sense of cosmic immensitude, the gulfs of time it opens, [and] the titanic sweep of the narrative".


The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society
H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society
The H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society or HPLHS is the organization that hosts Cthulhu Lives!, a group of live-action roleplayers for the Cthulhu Live version of Call of Cthulhu. Founded in Colorado in 1984, it is now based in Glendale, California...

 has produced Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow Out of Time
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow Out of Time
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Shadow Out of Time is an radio drama performed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and based on the novella The Shadow Out of Time by H. P. Lovecraft. The adaptation was written and produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman.-Production:The CD was released...

, a Dark Adventure Radio Theatre
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre is a series of radio dramas produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society. They are produced in the style of the 1930s, with "Dark Adventure Radio Theatre" being a Mercury Theatre-type production hosted by Chester Langfield and sponsored by Fleur-de-Lis Cigarettes...

 adaptation of the story, similar to their previous adaptations of At the Mountains of Madness
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: At the Mountains of Madness
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: At the Mountains of Madness is a 2006 radio drama performed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and based on the novella At the Mountains of Madness by H. P. Lovecraft...

 and The Dunwich Horror
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Dunwich Horror
Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: The Dunwich Horror is a 2008 radio drama performed by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society, and based on the short story "The Dunwich Horror" by H. P. Lovecraft...


The Shadow Out of Time is adapted by cartoonist Matt Howarth
Matt Howarth
Matt Howarth is an American comic book writer/artist known for such series as Those Annoying Post Bros, Savage Henry, Star Crossed, and Bugtown....

in the book "Graphic Classics: H.P. Lovecraft" Graphic Classics, Volume 4, and is included in both the first (2002) and second (2007) editions.

External links

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