Sunday, February 3, 2013

People Who Smell Like Fish

I have a report from "News of the Weird," a newspaper column by Chuck Shepherd and Chip Rogers. It's from last year (Apr. 26, 2012), but old newspaper reports never die as long as they report on something weird. You can ask Charles Fort about that. The report is about an affliction called Trimethylaminuria, which "causes sufferers to smell like dead fish." According to the column, the affliction was first described in medical literature in the 1970s, but an older account dates to ancient Hindu times and the tale of "a maiden who 'grew to be comely and fair, but a fishy odor ever clung to her'." Readers of weird fiction will recognize Trimethylaminuria, for H.P. Lovecraft described it in "The Shadow Over Innsmouth":
A certain greasiness about the fellow increased my dislike. He was evidently given to working or lounging around the fish docks, and carried with him much of their characteristic smell. Just what foreign blood was in him I could not even guess.
That passage is from the second section of the story and describes the narrator's driver. Lovecraft's reflexive nativism rears its ugly head in this passage as well. 

"The Shadow Over Innsmouth" was composed in 1931, printed in 1936, and abridged and reprinted in Weird Tales in January 1942.

Original text copyright 2013 Terence E. Hanley

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