Mackenzie is an avid writer who enjoys fan culture and the interesting topics surrounding classic literature and the analyzation of books.
Who Is H.P. Lovecraft?
H.P. Lovecraft is the father of modern-day horror. His stories influence everything consumers to see in horror today.
Lovecraft had a tough childhood where he relied on books to get through his own day-to-day life. His sharing of the morbid and the mysterious will mark him as one of the most influential and creative minds of more recent times.
"Polaris" is one of his earlier stories (published in December of 1920) that had little to no influence on other writers as his later stories had.
Summary of "Polaris"
The story begins with a night sky. Our narrator, who is left unnamed throughout the story, spends one of his many insomnious nights watching out the window in his little cottage on a swamp. The star, Polaris, is said to be winking at him from the sky.
The narrator then describes a story to the reader of a night where an aurora fell over his house, and he had a strange dream of a marble city. In this marble city, Polaris is also in the sky watching over him. They speak a language in the city that he has never heard before, but he understands what they are saying. He enjoys watching the population before he is awoken and ripped away from the marble city. He dreamt of the city over and over, watching and learning about the occupants. At a point, he established his worth in the city, which he learns is named Olathoë. He begins to wonder whether Olathoë was a dream world or if the marble city was real.
The narrator gains a physical form one night and is given a job within the city. Olathoë has begun a war with a neighboring city, the Intuos people. The men in the marble city engage in combat, walking together for the war, while our narrator's job is to sit in the tower and notify the army if the Inutos begin a raid.
Sitting in the tower, Polaris almost seems to tell a rhyme to the narrator. He does not understand the poem and falls asleep, letting his guard down and failing the marble city.
The narrator finally wakes up to his swamp, now thinking that the swamp is a dream world that he will never be able to escape while the marble city is his real place of belonging.
Slumber, watcher, till the spheres, Six and twenty thousand years Have revolv'd, and I return To the spot where now I burn. Other stars anon shall rise To the axis of the skies; Stars that soothe and stars that bless With a sweet forgetfulness: Only when my round is o'er Shall the past disturb thy door.
— Polaris' Poem
Let's take a look at some of H.P. Lovecraft's inspiration for this story.
Lovecraft in WWI
Lovecraft himself was weak throughout his entire life. He could not go to elementary school, and when he was finally able to go to high school, he suffered a mental breakdown before he graduated.
Later in his life, Lovecraft could not fight in WWI due to his mental and physical weaknesses. Relating this to the narrator in Polaris, he felt unnecessary because he could not fight in the army with the rest of the city's soldiers. His position was to sit on the tower and watch the people march to the battle below.
Lovecraft wrote Polaris putting all of his fears and guilt over his inability to fight in WWI to his narrator. On the outside, looking in, is an easy way to explain this common Lovecraft self-insert.
The Dreams of Lovecraft
Most of the stories Lovecraft produces are from his dreams. This is one reason why almost all of Lovecraft's stories take place with a nameless narrator in a dream world, unlike our reality.
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In "Polaris" specifically, Lovecraft was said to have had a dream where he was in a marvelous city. This city was unlike most other dreams of his. Lovecraft was viewing the city from an outside perspective. He could not talk to the people in the street, and they could not interact with him.
Let's break down the characters in "Polaris."
The Narrator is the unnamed main character of our story. He lives in both worlds: the real world, a lonely place on a swamp, and the dream world, where the marble city, Olathoë, is located.
The Narrator is weak and lonely, living alone in the real world and sitting alone in the dream city. He has an essential job of watching for intruders in the city, but dozes off, getting himself locked out of his dream world.
Along with the story, he falls more into confusion and mystery at points, wondering if the dream world is the real world and if his home on the swamp is a prison keeping him locked within his mind.
The Narrator is a self-insert of Lovecraft who also feels alone and isolated from the world around him. Lovecraft, like The Narrator, feels he is locked/stuck in our world.
Polaris can be considered a reoccurring character in the story. It is a connection between the two worlds that always seems to catch the attention of The Narrator. Polaris is explained to be talking to The Narrator without words and at the end even seems to recite a poem to the main character.
Can Polaris be considered a character? Yes.
The Narrator's control feels foreign and supernatural, capturing his attention and keeping him up at night. At the end of the story, Polaris, with the poem, finally lulls The Narrator to sleep.
Alos lives in the city of Olathoë. He is the army commander in the city and gives The Narrator the job of watching from the tower. Alos is aware of The Narrator's weakness but still tries to help him find a place in the city.
There are two main settings in the story. One, the swamp-dwelling of the Narrator. Here he is alone and trapped. He finds a hard time sleeping and spends his nights looking at the window and into the night sky where Polaris seems to mock him.
The other setting is the city of Olathoë. The Narrator enters the city through his dreams, and it starts slowly. He cannot communicate with the people of the city and spends his time watching and analyzing the place around him. Olathoë is beautiful and astounds. The Narrator views the city of marble as a new place of belonging. Eventually, he gains a physical form in the city and is given a job to protect the city he so desperately wants to be a part of.
Olathoë begins to confuse The Narrator, who no longer can tell the difference between Olathoë and the real world. Between the two worlds, there is only one thing they share, Polaris in the night sky. Polaris watches The Narrator in both worlds and finally speaks, lulling The Narrator to sleep.
When The Narrator falls asleep in Olathoë, he is transported back to his swamp in the real world, which he now believes is a prison of his own mind. The Narrator feels as though Olathoë is his real home, and the swamp is the dream world.
The conflict of the story is The Narrator being alone in his own mind.
The Narrator builds himself a dream world, hiding him from the real world where he has no purpose. In the world he creates, Olathoë, he has a purpose. He watches over the beautiful city, waiting to alarm the army for intruders.
In Olathoë, he still feels as though he could be doing a more important job. The Narrator watches the soldiers go to and from battle wishing he could join, but he is too weak for that.
Throughout the story, The Narrator seems unhappy wherever he is. He is hunting for an escape and when he gets to that place he tries to find another way out. There is little doubt that it had been able to join the army The Narrator would've found fault in that as well.
At the end when The Narrator falls asleep in the tower and reawakens back in his little house in the swamp unable to get back to his own dream world, it's his subconscious accepting that he'll never be satisfied
Reducing the Mystery
Let's analyze two important questions about the story.
Is the Dream World Real?
Debatable. Lovecraft writes his stories with mystery, making the reader think about the unknown and the fear of it. Dreaming is something that is involved in almost every one of his stories. Some of those worlds are real, and others are fake. It's up to the reader.
Personally, I believe that the city of Olathoë is a figment of The Narrator's subconscious. I think this because he is alone with his own thoughts each night, staring at the sky above where Polaris sits, unmoving, mocking him. It's a slow inducing of insanity where one has no purpose or place in life. He makes his own.
Why is he "kicked out" of his dream world?
At the end of the story, it seems like The Narrator is pushed out of the dream world and unable to return.
I believe this is because he will never truly find satisfaction, even in his own mind/dreams. When he didn't find satisfaction within his job in Olathoë, he began to look at Polaris once again, which is the same thing he did when he was bored and unable to sleep in the swamp.
When he became bored with Olathoë, his subconscious decided to kick him out, perhaps one day creating a new world with a new purpose.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.