Lovecraft’s lifelong interest in astronomy is reflected in his 1920 story Polaris. Several stars are named in the opening paragraphs, and one of them, Aldebaran is featured in a later story called The Festival. There is also the “horned waning moon”, Lovecraft’s formulaic bad omen that hangs over his home as well as a mysterious city that he visits. Like several of his stories, this one has the feel of a dream that has been reworked with additional details and the creation of a narrative structure.
Interestingly, the author describes his initial location and the nearby landscape in relation to the stars in the autumn sky. He is at the window of his room—a room he never seems to leave except in his dreams—which faces north. There is a wooded swamp and a graveyard nearby. He is captivated by the North Star, which he gazes at for long periods of time. The North Star, or Polaris, lies in almost a direct line with the axis of the earth, so that as our planet rotates, all the other stars appear to circle it. It is unique among stars in that it remains a fixed point in the sky, and so is useful for measurement and navigation. This may be why Lovecraft has his character watch it so intently. He has lost his bearings and is trying to regain them.
As the narrator contemplates the North Star, he begins to have visions of a city, and by degrees arrives there, taking on flesh as one of its inhabitants. Lovecraft is ambivalent about which region constitutes reality, and this is consistent with his dream psychology. “This is no dream, for by what means can I prove the greater reality of that other life in the house of stone and brick…?” The North Star acts as a kind of gateway between the two places. To the narrator, it provides an experience of the distant past, when the now frozen north was occupied by the thriving but besieged Lomarian civilization.
When he becomes fully present in the city, we learn its name and that of its mortal enemy. Olathoë, in the country of Lomar, is threatened with immanent attack. The narrator, “feeble and given to strange faintings”, is asked to man one of the watchtowers, and provide early warning of the advance of enemy troops. The evil Inutos—probably a modification of Inuit—“squat, hellish, yellow fiends”, have already destroyed several nearby towns, and are just over the horizon.
Lovecraft contrasts this marauding enemy, knowledgeable of the arts of war but little else, with the good guys, the people of Lomar. They are honorable, grey-eyed, truthful, intelligent, patriotic, and cultured—sort of like idealized white Anglo-Saxon Protestants, except that Christianity of any kind lay several millennia in the future.
Lovecraft’s racist views are once again displayed in his fiction. His description of the Inutos recalls a similar malevolent ethnicity described in He, when he experiences a vision of New York City far in the future. His interest in linguistics and history is shown playfully in his alteration of the name of the attackers, from Inutos to the modern day Eskimo. There is cleverness in this, but the racism is still disturbing.
While sitting up in the tower, the narrator gazes at the North Star, which again lulls him to sleep. This time he is transported back to reality from the dream city of Olathoë, and is trapped in the present. He has neglected his duty, and his failure has possibly led to the destruction of the noble Lomarians. There is a haunting sense that he was supposed to have received a communication of some sort from the North Star, and done something important as a result. What was it? A direction?
There is a poem in Lovecraft’s Fungi From Yuggoth series—Evening Star—that was published posthumously in 1943. It is uncertain whether there is a close connection between Polaris and Evening Star, but the poem contains imagery reminiscent of the story. The poet becomes fascinated with a star that appears at dusk. Gazing at it gives him visions of gardens and architecture, “of some dim life—I never could tell where…but now I knew…those rays were calling from my far, lost home.” Both the story and the poem seem to reflect Lovecraft’s feelings about the direction of his life, its purpose, his sense of being besieged by the demands of adulthood and the loss of his childhood home.