The Encyclopedia of Fantastic Victoriana
by Jess Nevins
"The Monster of Lake LaMetrie" (1899)
copyright © Jess Nevins 2022
“The Monster of Lake LaMetrie” was written by Wardon Allen Curtis and first appeared in Pearson's Magazine (Aug. 1899). Curtis (1867-1940) was an American writer for fiction magazines. He is remembered today for “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie.”
In the spring of 1896 Doctor McLennegan takes his ailing friend Edward Framingham to Lake LaMetrie in the mountains of Wyoming. The lake is bottomless, and both Framingham and McLennegan, who are subscribers to the Hollow Earth theory of Symmes, believe that the lake “communicates with the interior of the earth.”1 They believe that in its depths might be found species of plants and animals no longer surviving on Earth. An earthquake upsets the lake and brings an elasmosaurus to the surface. The dinosaur surprises Doctor McLennegan, who slices its head open with his machete. This only serves to stun the dinosaur, and McLennegan, fearing that it will recover, removes the monster's brain entirely. This only puts the dinosaur into a coma, and it soon begins regenerating its brain. Framingham meanwhile is so agonized by his dyspepsia that he cuts his own throat. This does not immediately kill him, however, and after McLennegan speaks to Framingham (who can communicate via a series of winks, even with his throat laid open) he is struck by an idea.
McLennegan transfers Framingham's brain into the body of the elasmosaurus, whose cranial cavity is coincidentally similar to man's. The operation is a success, and within two weeks time Framingham has acquired enough control of his new body to do as McLennegan says. Two weeks after that Framingham can speak, and the pair begin communicating with each other. Framingham is lonely and afraid that he will either be abandoned or put in a freak show; McLennegan, for his part, denies that he will abandon Framingham but is also afraid of his ultimate fate. After a year's time Framingham begins to change, becoming more bestial and less intelligent and coherent: “no longer is his conversation such as an educated man can enjoy, but slangy and diffuse iterations concerning the trivial happenings of our uneventful life.”2 Almost two years after that an army unit, “dispatched into the mountains after some Indians who had left their reservation,” discovers a dinosaur “engaged in rending the body of a man.”3 They fire on the monster, using their howitzers, and kill it.
The notion of giant serpent-like monsters lurking in lakes is an ancient one; perhaps the most famous, the Loch Ness Monster, can be traced to Adomnán’s The Life of Saint Columba (circa 700 C.E.), about a legendary confrontation between the Irish monk St. Columba (circa 527-597 C.E.) and a sea monster in Loch Ness. In 1833 naturalists began to suggest that
a surviving population of prehistoric marine reptiles (known from newly discovered fossils) could be the best explanation for sea serpent sightings. The idea received a big boost from an immensely popular science writer named Philip Henry Gosse in 1861. The concept of surviving plesiosaurs was further popularized in widely read science-fiction stories, such as Jules Verne’s Journey to the Center of the Earth (1864). Science-fiction writers even relocated the marine reptiles to freshwater lakes.4
“The Monster of Lake LaMetrie” is also of interest for being arguably the first science fiction story to feature a physical brain transplantation.
Print: Hank Davis, ed. The Baen Big Book of Monsters. Riverdale, CA: Baen Books, 2014.
1 Wardon Allen Curtis, “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie,” Project Gutenberg Australia, accessed Nov. 11, 2018, http://gutenberg.net.au/ebooks06/0605351h.html.
2 Curtis, “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie.”
3 Curtis, “The Monster of Lake LaMetrie.”
4 Daniel Loxton and Donald R. Prothero, Abominable Science! Origins of the Yeti, Nessie, and Other Famous Cryptids (New York: Columbia University Press, 2013), 137.