Friday, July 25, 2014

Tsathoggua And His Fans

Tsathoggua is a minor deity in the pantheon of “old ones” created by H.P Lovecraft and his colleagues.  There is reference to him in Lovecraft’s The Shadow Out of Time (1936).  The narrator, Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee, rattles off a list of earthly minds that have been captured by the Great Race for study, including “three from the furry prehuman Hyperborean worshippers of Tsathoggua…” 

The entity is also mentioned in Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness (1931), which is his first appearance in a published story.  The doomed Henry Akeley, who is under the surveillance of a nearby colony of aliens, tells that narrator in a letter that “I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azatoth…”  In my view, this is one of Lovecraft’s strongest attempts at science fiction.

Two other stories by Lovecraft that cite the loathsome Tsathoggua include At the Mountains of Madness (1936), and his collaboration with Hazel Heald, The Horror in the Museum (1932).  In the latter story, “Black Tsathoggua moulded itself from a toad-like gargoyle to a long, sinuous line with hundreds of rudimentary feet…”—which suspiciously resembles a description of Tsathoggua in one of Clark Ashton Smith’s stories, discussed below.  In At the Mountains of Madness, the narrator speculates that “the devotees of Tsathoggua were as alien to mankind as Tsathoggua itself.”

In a letter to Helen Sully, who was feeling “hopeless, useless, incompetent & generally miserable”, Lovecraft offered some empathy, commiseration, and this admonition:  “So…for Tsathoggua’s sake, cheer up!”

Robert E. Howard’s The Black Stone (1931) seems to contain a reference to the batrachian deity.  (See also Bibliographies of Doom )  A “huge monstrous toad like thing” appears on top of the monolith in the gruesome climax of the story.  Though not named, the creature seems to match the description of Tsathoggua.  The fact that several of these stories were published by various authors within a year or two of each other suggests some kind of sharing or collaboration, an outbreak of Tsathogguaism circa 1931.        

Tsathoggua appears as one of several supernatural entities early in Clark Ashton Smith’s The Seven Geases (1933).  In that story, the aggrieved wizard Ezdagor says, “You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad…He will rise not from his place, even in the ravening of hunger, but will wait in divine slothfulness for the sacrifice.” (See Geas Who Is Coming to Dinner.) 

The depiction of Tsathoggua had changed in interesting ways since his initial appearance in an earlier work, Smith’s The Tale of Satampra Zeiros.  The story was originally written in 1929, but published in Weird Tales in 1931.  (Lovecraft’s The Whisperer in Darkness came out in August of that year; Smith’s in November.)   The story establishes Clark Ashton Smith as the original creator of Tsathoggua.  

In diction and style, The Tale of Satampra Zeiros will remind some readers of stories by Lord Dunsany, for example The Hoard of the Gibbelins (1912) and How Nuth Would Have Practised His Art Upon the Gnoles (1912).  The story concerns two thieves who in a moment of grandiosity decide to raid an ancient basaltic stone temple of its jewels and antiquities—in the dead of night.  There are clever euphemisms and innuendos scattered throughout the early part of the story:  “…the fact that we had no funds for our journey was of small moment, for, unless our former dexterity had altogether failed us, we could levy a modicum of involuntary tribute from the guileless folk of the country-side.”     

But the tone of the story darkens precipitously as the two begin their journey through a dark forest to arrive at an ancient, abandoned city.  To create dis-ease and intensifying fear, Smith makes effective use of details about the flora and fauna the men encounter.  Their eventual altercation with Tsathoggua changes the adventure story into a nightmare.  As in many of Smith’s stories, a grisly detail mentioned at the very beginning of the story returns to view full circle at the end—a very effective device.  The Tale of Satampra Zeiros in my view is one of the more effective “mythos” stories and is recommended reading.       

(Tsathoggua also appears more extensively in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon, but these resources are not as readily available.)

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