I’ve encountered an interesting item which perhaps throws a small sidelight on the use of the telephone in Lovecraft’s “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919). You’ll recall that a telephone is taken on the descent…

I promise to keep you informed over the telephone of every move — you see I’ve enough wire here to reach to the center of the earth and back!”

The telephone might sound like an unlikely thing to take down below. But wired long-distance field telephones were a known ‘thing’ at that time, not least because of their use in the war. A modified long-distance field telephone was also used in the very deep explorations of the pioneering explorer of underground rivers and lakes, E.A. Martel (1859-1938), then world famous.

Though Martel had quit the more arduous forms of exploring by the time Lovecraft was writing “The Statement of Randolph Carter”, back in 1912 Martel visited America for a celebrity tour of the caves and… “spent three days exploring in Mammoth Cave, Kentucky”. Mammoth Cave, you’ll recall, being a favourite location of interest to H.P. Lovecraft.

Here is Martel, mistakenly called “Hartel” by the American editor, dramatically profiled in a popular magazine article of 1923. The article details the use of his special telephone in circumstances not unlike that of Lovecraft’s story…

The article’s artist also shows the chest-mounted speaking-horn for the underground telephone. Presumably the backpack held the the coiled cable, ready to be spooled out, and the batteries.

Incidentally I see that there’s now a 2013 DVD documentary on Martel in German and French, being a substantial 1995 documentary film rescued from the archives. Note that… “In addition, a limited edition of the English version is currently available” for 19 Euros. The film won a number of awards at film festivals, and may interest some readers of Tentaclii. Martel also sounds like a prime subject for an as-yet unmade documentary graphic novel. France is quietly but strongly investing in its ‘soft power’ in the form of comics, partly to help reach the young ‘coming billions’ in French-speaking Africa, and it may be relatively easy to find French interest in such a project.


Talking of unearthly voices, I see that Archive.org now has a new TTS “read aloud to me” button…