Henry S. Whitehead was born today, March 5, in 1882. He wrote a number of stories for Weird Tales during its early years before his untimely death in 1932. Much of his fiction focused on the Caribbean, where he was stationed for a number of years as a minister of the Episcopal Church. H. P. Lovecraft visited Whitehead for several weeks in 1931. He had a great respect for Whitehead as a person and as a writer.
To mark the occasion, I read “The People of Pan”, which was first published in the March 1929 issue of Weird Tales. The story is available in Voodoo Tales The Ghost Stories of Henry S. Whitehead.
In this story, Grosvenor is working for a lumber company investigates a an unexplored island where there is a considerable forest of uncut mahogany. He quickly discovers two unusual things. First there’s a freshwater stream which goes from flowing to dry on a 24 hour cycle. Second, there are no insects, birds, or other animals on the island.
After surveying the forest for his employers, he explores the interior, where he discovers the source of the stream is a deep lake. The lake is in a cylindrical well. Along one wall are a series of metal rungs. Grosvenor climbs down the ladder to where it ends on a metal platform. Entering the door he finds there, Grosvenor enters an underground world where the people are descended from Atlantis and a sister continent. Force to flee from the Native Americans who drove them out of the Yucatan, they discovered the lake and the caverns. Lit by natural gas, they grow everything they need there and worship Pan. The people speak classical Greek. They have no idea who built the lake or the caverns.
Grosvenor befriends them, tells them of his plans for harvesting the mahogany, and makes plans to come back for an extended stay once the timber has been cleared.
You know this isn’t going to end well.
“The People of Pan” is an interesting lost world story. I found the gimmick of the unvisited island in the middle of the shipping lanes to be a bit of a stretch, and one of the characters even commented on that. However, given the explanation of why the island had no animals, I can see how it might not have any people on its surface.
It’s definitely written in the style of an earlier age. There’s no sex or violence. But it’s still an interesting read.