The Root of the Mountain

This Week’s Prompt: 70. Tone of extreme phantasy. Man transformed to island or mountain.

The Resulting Story: Mountain out of a Man

The creation of a mountain or island or even the world from a single person or creatures is far from new. We discussed last year the tradition of murder at the dawn of time—of great primeval crocodiles and serpents and monsters of the sea that oppose sky gods and are murdered for it. Among these many beasts, there are a handful that in turn are laid out to form the foundation of the world—a testament to their size and to their importance in the world.


Marduk fighting Tiamat

The first example of such a creature we will discuss is the most malicious. Tiamat is a vast mother goddess, the primordial salt water sea that rages at the death of her husband the freshwater sea. In her war with her grand children she :

Made in addition weapons invincible; she spawned monster-serpents,

Sharp of tooth, and merciless of fang;

With poison, instead of blood, she filled their bodies.

Fierce monster-vipers she clothed with terror,

With splendor she decked them, she made them of lofty stature.

Whoever beheld them, terror overcame him,

Their bodies reared up and none could withstand their attack.

She set up vipers and dragons, and the monster Lahamu,

And hurricanes, and raging hounds, and scorpion-men,

And mighty tempests, and fish-men, and rams;

They bore cruel weapons, without fear of the fight.

Her commands were mighty, none could resist them;

After this fashion, huge of stature, she made eleven [kinds of] monsters.

Her exalted commander, Kingu, bore the Tablets of Destiny and power over all the gods! Tiamat’s shape is hard to say. While moderns may think of her as a great dragon, she appears in some cases more like a cow with great udders, and certainly odder then most reptiles with her lips. Each portion of her is divided up to make the cosmos—the sky is held by her ribs, her tears are the Tigris and Euphrates, the Milky Way is her tail. The blood of Kingu was used to make mankind.


Ymir and his cow

The other example is Ymir—First living thing of the Norse mythos, born when the lands of fire and frost met. At this point, the great first giant emerged—Ymir. And shortly after he found his great cow companion—to my knowledge, this is unrelated to Paul Bunyan. He persisted like this for a time, fathering the frost giants. Eventually, however, the sons of Bor—Odin, Ville, and Ve—slew him and arranged the cosmos from his body. From his skull, they made the heavens. From his hair, forests. His bones became the hills, the seas run with his blood. His brains were made into clouds, his eyebrows were men. And in one case, the maggots that fed on his corpse became the dwarfs.


Less malicious is the act of Pangu. Pangu is from Chinese myth, and takes on his form not from a violent ambush or great war, but as he comes to old age. In his early years, with the aid of four beasts, Pangu separated the earths and heavens to make a habitable cosmos and cut Yin from Yang with a great ax. But as time went on, he came to grow old and die at the age of 18,000. Slowly, he takes on the form of the world as he passes on into death. Like Ymir, his body is divided up into various parts of the world. The wind is his breath, the thunder his voice, his left eye floats upwards to be the sun, his right eye is now the moon. The fleas on his body became animals, his beard became the milky way, his head mountains, his bone marrow great diamonds.


Svyatogor coming on his steed

There are other, debatable examples. Typhon, for instance, was trapped beneath a mountain and an island in one version of his myth. But trapped is not the same as became, I don’t think. More directly linked to our tale is the Russian bogatyr, Svyatogor. Svyatogor is a mountainous man, who eventually lays down in his own stone coffin to die. He passes his strength on to Illya, the greatest of the bogatyrs, through his breath.

Mt. Mayon.png

Mt.Mayon–yes, the smoke formed like that naturally.

Perhaps the least malicious, even less than Pangu, is Mt. Mayon. Mt. Mayon is the result of a tale of love between Magayon and the prince Panganoron. The two’s relationship enrages the failed suitor Pagtuga, who gathers his warrior s and steals Magayon’s father. The ensuing war sees the lovers victorious, but Patgua’s warriors shoot one of the two—versions differ—on the way home. The other commits suicide, and are both are buried. After their burial, a mountain arises from their graves—Mt. Mayon, a still active volcano.

Fictionally, I’m again reminded of the story of YISUN from Kill Siz Billion Demons, who destroys themselves to create a pair of gods, who in turn make all gods. This generation of gods in turn gives themselves over entirely to death in order to create a world each—with life and creatures spreading forth from their holy city of Throne.

The stories so far touch mostly on great cosmic creations. I think ours will be more like Mt. Mayon—a place of legend, yes, but not as grand as the entire world. Our story, as one of ‘phantasy’ instead of horror, I feel a cataclysmic battle less of interest then the slow, gradual expansion of a mind. We start with a body, a man or woman, and slowly they become something more—something vaster, and often covered in life. We can consider, perhaps, that both mountains and islands are found in groups—ranges and chains. At the same time, they can be quite lonely places. A deserted island or a lonely mountain is not an uncommon description.

The nature of this story will be, I think, entirely atmosphere—it could be horror, but it feels more calm and meditative and thus perhaps a bit strange for this blog. Still, it will be an engaging story to write and place to explore. Spacing and pacing the progress from mortal to monument might be difficult. It requires attention to sentence length, to description, to punctuation, and to variation. Atmosphere and mood are, in my opinion, far harder to grasp and far more essential then action or characterization. To make a house feel alive is no easy feat.

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The Start of It All

This Weeks Prompt: 34. Moving away from earth more swiftly than light—past gradually unfolded—horrible revelation.

The Resulting Story :To the Beginning of It All

Well, this prompt is a bit peculiar. We are grounded in the motion of the narrative, a movement away from home into the past. The view expands both as we draw further back onto a larger horizon and as we travel back farther and farther into time. And of course, per Mr. Lovecraft’s usual, there is a horrifying revelation at the end of it all. Where to begin?

I will skip over how time travel occurs when one is moving at relativistic speeds, primarily because I am unqualified for such things. You, if you are interested, can find some sort of start here. Rather, lets begin by constructing something of a narrative arc out of the basics.

There sadly will not be much in the way of folklore or mythic routes this time until the end of the story, as time travel backwards is not a terribly common trope. Likewise, while some horrible revelation at the origin of all things might have something to work with, this will have to wait.

Rather we’ll start with the first beginning, the impetus for this fantastic voyage. And the clearest cause for that would be that most pure of scientific exploits: exploration. Mankind has been fascinated by it’s past and origins for as long as they have been forgotten, and the ability to view such an event would no doubt foster inquiry. There’s an entire novel in the build up, the people who would devise such a machine, and who would in the end put it to use.

But we don’t care about most of that. Instead, it is enough to say that such an engine has been built and sent a crew hurtling back through time, witnessing from greater and greater distance history flow in reverse. This will be the mid section of two great bulks of writing, as I’ve devised it. We must have an introduction to our characters, the conflicts in their lives, and the rules of the machinery at the start. Then we have this, the voyage itself, where we can include beautiful descriptions of the vision and where perhaps we will include the midpoint for the character conflict. It might instead itself by a the midpoint, a stunning display that changes the perspective on the world.


She’s our mum. WE GET IT.

And the high point, the climax, the horrible revelation. And it is a…well, I hate to disparage Mr. Lovecraft, but there is a certain obsession with horrifying origins isn’t there? I could talk of Chaos and Tiamat again as I did here, but I feel we should move in a different sort of horror then here. The first thought is a taint the crew creates by it’s finally stop in the past. That some how, at the end of the journey, they damage things irreparably. This notion is not uncommon in pop culture time travel stories, and is often half the reason to have them. Alternatively, the voyagers ensure some great calamity they sought to stop, dooming them tragically. This also is a common complication, and thus not one I’d like to entertain.

But a third option presents itself as I think about all of this. What if we reverse the nature of the contamination, so that it’s no longer damaging the past but the future? What if something in those first few glorious moments of existence was extinguished long ago (and for good reason) and now, by means of this craft, finds it’s way back?

Now that we have the basics of the plot, we should lay the ground work of a setting. Given the nature of the prompt, the setting here is worth spending sometime ruminating on. We are dealing with something like an elevator or bottle episode: we have a small cast in the same area for almost the entire story. Sure, they might look outside the window to see history whirl past. There is a vast expanse, however, of characterization and atmosphere that can be imbued within something as small and claustrophobic as a spaceship.


Vast, isn’t it? Messy too.

This is apparent in not only works of horror (Event Horizon and Alien both seem rather relevant here), but in science fiction in general. The feel of the Enterprise is fundamentally different then that of the TARDIS.

So what about ours?

Well, our ship is best served, it seems, by a contrast to the strangeness flowing outside. An articulate, clean, neat, and white room with a large viewing mirror might serve to separate it from the swirl of lights and colors and darkness out in the void of space that grows and grows. More importantly, it is easily susceptible to whatever form our primeval corruption takes. Alternatively, we might make it something more lived in. A place that is familiar to the modern reader, like an airplane or a…well, sea ship. Circular tables, nice seats and benches, drinks about. The parts of truly human life. Disruption to this shouldn’t be too hard, and it would move things away from the sort of clinical future that is more common these days.

Now we have a what happens, a where it happens, a vague notion of when (honestly, with times being what they are, is it any matter if it’s in a century or a millennia?), but not a who it happens too. So, who do we need for this little story? Who needs to see the start of everything?

I should mention now that I am in the midst of reading some science fiction myself, namely Dan Simmon’s Hyperion. The book hands questions of knowledge quite well, and I might take a bit from it in the broad strokes of some of it’s characters. Namely, we have in Hyperion a Scholar, a Poet, and a Priest. Each by profession bears a different understanding of what we might for a moment call philosophic truth. Each communicates knowledge in it’s own way. And thus each might present an interesting opportunity to explore this corrupting force from the start of the world.


The Yoruba Goddess Oya

The more I think on such a force, the less I like calling it corrupting however. I feel a more direct analog to creative forces might serve us better. Fire. Fire as a force at the start of existence has deep roots. The Eddas refer the fire of Muspelheim, the Yoruba of West Africa have Oya, and the reforming nature of volcanoes has been noted in the Pacific. All this in addition to fire’s…loaded symbolism as destroyer, refiner, creative spark, and maddening pain makes it a better start I feel than an abstract corruption or malady. Rather, some of that first fire at the dawn of all things follows the shuttle back.

And what happens when it returns? Hmph. That is a question I don’t yet have an answer too. I suppose it does what an especially creative fire does. Consume and filter and refine the world in the image of it’s wielder.

What did you dredge up from the edge of space dear reader? Have you seen some other horrid revelation sweeping the nations?

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The Siren Song

The prompt this week is: 22. Mermaid Legend—Encyc. Britt. XVI—40.

The Resulting Story: The Shack by the Shore

This was nearly a damnable story to find, as I do not own a copy of the Encyclopedia Britannica. And if I did, well, there’s been about one hundred years, and no doubt editions would change. Luckily, however, the glorious mind-web of the Internet has preserved the Encyclopedia and in it’s current form it does contain a legend or two.


“Many folktales record marriages between mermaids (who might assume human form) and men. In most, the man steals the mermaid’s cap or belt, her comb or mirror. While the objects are hidden she lives with him; if she finds them she returns at once to the sea. In some variants the marriage lasts while certain agreed-upon conditions are fulfilled, and it ends when the conditions are broken.

Though sometimes kindly, mermaids and mermen were usually dangerous to man. Their gifts brought misfortune, and, if offended, the beings caused floods or other disasters. To see one on a voyage was an omen of shipwreck. They sometimes lured mortals to death by drowning, as did the Lorelei of the Rhine, or enticed young people to live with them underwater, as did the mermaid whose image is carved on a bench in the church of Zennor, Cornwall, Eng.” — Encyclopedia  Britannica


The horror in this legend is manifold, and might be illustrated by examining the mermaid’s kin in some regards. The most obvious is the Siren, who lures sailors to their death by songs.

The more immediate kin are the Swan Maidens and then Selkie, who shed skin and walk among men. And have their skins stolen to compel them to marriage. Like the mermaid, the marriage between man and selkie never goes well.

Weyland Smith

The idea of inhuman lovers being a…poor if attractive idea resonates farther north with the Valkyrie. As the story of Weyland Smith will tell you, Valkryies are beautiful warrior women, who occasionally are compelled into marriage. And then become enraged or leave, because they are spirits of death and battle, and such things are not suited to domesticity. The disconnect between human nature and the inhuman-but-beautiful was also highlighted by Lord Dunsany in The King of Elflands daughter. The horror of something so human being so alien is rife with paranoia worth fear and the effects of the uncanny valley.

The other horror is what damnable fool sees something so alien, a wonder of nature that desires him dead, and is as much beast as human…and strives to kidnap them for marriage and presumable copulation. There is deeply depraved about such a deed. Leaving aside the undertones of sexual violation, there is almost a sublime shallowness to someone who’s response to such an encounter is unbridled lust. A lust that is strong enough for one to try and violate the divine.

That sort of person is doubly unnerving, in how well they may blend with the rest of the world. The legends and tales never remark on the strange behavior of such men, despite the relatively juvenile goals of a an object of beauty. I would be a liar if I said such people don’t exist, and that they are easily recognized or somehow distinguish themselves. The element of “artistic inspiration” that may underlie these themes is given a great treatment in Sandman by Neil Gaiman.

The third aspect of this is captured, somewhat, by the story the Shadow over Innsmouth: what is the result of the inhuman coupling with mortals? Now, Mr. Lovecraft’s own point was, frankly, the fear of racial impurity and horribly insensitive and racist (as his Deep One descriptions sometimes give away). It is a simple fact. However! There is a bit more that can be taken from this, albeit from older sources.

Jersey Devil

Behold, my gathered brothers, the terror of the Gods! Their kin! The Nephilim of Apocyrhpa and Midrash stand as couplings between angel and man, and the results are terrors that prompt the flood as they ravage the earth. The heroes of Greek Myth, towering figures of might, also bear a sort of inhuman terror. The Jersey Devil reportedly has more-than-mortal stock, as a straight horror creation.

This mingling can be condemned for a variety of reasons (the violation of the profane and spiritual by the mortal, the breaking of the tradition of immortals being unable to breed, the might of immortal beings combined with the desires of mortals, sex is scary to some, etc), but such a fear persists to this day. Rosemary’s Baby plays the fear with a perverse power of generation and demonic ailments as well.

So with all the horrors in mind, how can we best exploit this? Well, for the paranoia to play out properly, we must have three characters: The mermaid, the kidnapper, and the protagonist. If we put the protagonist as the mermaid or the kidnapper, then the mystery of who is who is lost. The obvious tension in that regard is gone. The danger of generation and disturbed offspring can be worked in as a final act. The nature of such a creature is something that we will each have to determine.

Who would you throw into the disturbing house on the lake? How would you frame the terror of twin monsters, one mortal one divine? What corpse family have you found of the story?

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