Maat and Apep

This Week’s Prompt: 45. Race of immortal Pharaohs dwelling beneath pyramids in vast subterranean halls down black staircases.

The Resulting Story:The Immortal[Imperial] Rites

We have an exquisitely preserved corpse today, my friends. For Egypt kept her kings intact, either with desert sands or by mankinds hands. And her pharaohs and pyramids are known the world over. We’ve discussed some of Egypt’s associations before, in more exotic contexts. Here we’ll examine some more or less concrete narratives.

The Pharaohs had a divinity ascribed to them, often but not always inherited from a divine ancestor(typically Ra and Horus, although lineages vary). The supernatural duties of the pharaoh and the kings before them predominantly focused on maintaining order (Maat) in the world. Examples of this include the Nile’s regular floods, which if poor were proofs of the failing power of the pharaoh. The pharaoh alternatively was key in Maat among humankind as well. The pharaoh by maintaining good and just behaviors among humanity promoted the maintenance of the eternal order of the cosmos.

This was a sort of microcosmic achievement, the actions of the kingdom extending out into the universe. This was also the purpose of state sponsored rituals and temples, to keep an order over all the cosmos. The rising sun and the flowing river needed to be maintained, after all, or all life would perish from the earth.

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Notably, then, there are agents of Chaos to be opposed. The most prominent of these is Apep, a great serpent. Apep dwells in the underworld, and daily assails Ra to devour him. He is defeated by Bast and Set, depending on the time period, or even Ra himself. Apep bears a resemblance to Leviathan, who we talked about here, in his role as serpent devouring the sun. Compared to other world destroying serpents, such as Jormungandr or Vritra, Apep is rather small, a measly 16 meters (or, roughly,48 feet). Sometimes however, he is said to be the vast horizon, or just beyond it. His roar will shake the underworld, calling to mind mythological the Kur dragon. Apep posses a number of powers, including the favorite of the serpent: a magical gaze. His wars with Set are the thunderstorms. His battles below with Ra’s entourage are earthquakes. In the end, often, Ra claims him in the form of a cat. His actions betray a greater, almost immortal chaos that is waiting to be unleashed. Apep is thus the eternal enemy of the pharaoh and Maat, more than any other. Appropriately, as an immortal entity of chaos, some suppose Apep to be the first god-king, overthrown by Ra. Others say he was born of Ra’s umblical chord after Ra’s birth.

Interestingly, his name derives by some accounts from the word ‘to slither’. Apep is thus a crawling creature of chaos….and the relevance of this expands somewhat when we talk about the odd detail this corpse has. A set of black stairs. Where is this familiar image from? Mr. Lovecraft would later ascribe such stairs to the entrance of the Dreamlands. The priests at the bottom of the stairs have distinctly Egyptian sounding names: Nasht and Kaman-Tha. Furthermore, the ruler of the Dreamlands is that dread lord Nyarlahotep, who’s name is meant to evoke Egypt.

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Nyarlahotep has emerged in our examinations before, but let us take a moment to note a few parallels. Nyarlahotep frequently has the form of the Black Pharaoh, a form used to create cults and according to some rule Egypt for an unspecified time. Nyarlahotep’s most eminent title is the ‘Crawling Chaos’, something akin to the description of Apep as a slithering force chaos. Bast, the Egyptian god who in many cases defeats Apep, persists as an Elder God in the Dreamlands, opposing the more chaotic elements of the Cthulhu Mythos.

We thus have the interesting opportunity of engaging with the Mythos in a more concerete way. It has been sometime before we dealt in the mythos themselves, instead of their shadows. More intreastingly, Nyarlahotep’s character is the sort that can be directly included and confronted in the story proper. Not only because such confrontations are frequent in the mythos (Quest for Unknown Kadath, The Witches House, the Nyarlahotep poem), but also because Apep was so confronted. Priests of the Egyptian faith published guides to the overthrowing of Apep, dismembering his body.

We thus have established perhaps a society of immortal pharaohs (and truly old pharaohs as well. Apep is first referenced it seems in 4000 BC, placing our Pharaohs as older than any hero of the Illiad or Oddessy, and older then the civilizations that made them), dedicated to the maintaining or binding of an agent of Chaos from the world. I would say the waking world, rather than the world of Dreams, as that way will allow some menace to the agents of darkness. Our pharaohs are perched then at the peripice, on the boundary line between reality and the land of dreams.

Now, to spin the eternal battle into a single narration requires an outsider. I’d posit an outside observer, rather than a change in the battle. Partially because a change in the battle requires an overlapping amount of work (explaining the significance of the battle, the battle itself, and presumbably an outside observer finding it) while adding more than can be expected in our word count (the after effects of the battle, finding the site of the battle, and an ending that hinges on undoing the chaos or merely witnessing a victory). An outsider then may descend into the land of Egypt, perhaps persuing some local legend of the steps of immortality, perhaps even pursing the great hall of immortals that is beyond the Silver Key.

The story would then be a report of a terrible mystery or seires of mysteries (what is the purpose of this place, what do these pharaohs protect from, whence comes their power, etc). Our reporters endeavors to find it would make it resemble one of our earliest (and my favorite) stories, who’s character I think we should revive as well.

To continue this, the primary difficulty of the story will perhaps be getting to the place. We could include signs of the chaos nearly breaking through. A peasants revolt, a plague, a famine (the three very often are found together), any of these could provide difficulties to cross into the path of interpid investigator. We know such works existed in the past (such as Ibn Battuta, who wrote a number of journals from his travels abroad), and the difficulties those explorers faced in their works could certainly serve as reference for our current character.

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The River Runs Deep

This Week’s Prompt: 38. Drowning sensations—undersea—cities—ships—souls of the dead. Drowning is a horrible death.

The Resulting Story:Drowning Deep

To drown is to die a bad death. This prompt invites us to consider many aspects, many things that one might see down among the inky black of the sea. The image of an underwater city brings to mind fantastic locales of Atlantean ruins, but more directly brings to my mind (perhaps do to the morbidity of the rest of the subject matter) to an old Poe poem, presented here in abbreviated form(Because Poetry is Amazing).

City In The Sea
Lo! Death has reared himself a throne 
In a strange city lying alone 
Far down within the dim West, 
Where the good and the bad and the worst and the best 
Have gone to their eternal rest. 
There shrines and palaces and towers 
(Time-eaten towers that tremble not!) 
Resemble nothing that is ours. 
Around, by lifting winds forgot, 
Resignedly beneath the sky 
The melancholy waters he. 

The poem ties the deep, undersea city with elements of hideous horror, of time, and of Satan. All topics we’ve discussed before and one’s that provide plenty of room for horror. But we’ve done them before. We also covered the notions of some nautical myths in our talk on Rhode Island, although a few more regarding ships and the souls of the dead need mentioning.

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There is of course the famous Flying Dutchman, made famous in the most contrasting roles I’ve seen: Davey Jones in the Pirates of the Caribbean and Spongebob Squarepants. The Flying Dutchman is a continuation of sorts on the themes of the Wild Hunt Infernal: The Crew is condemned forever to plow the waves and skies. Davey himself seems to have a sordid past, either a devil himself or Jonah damning sailors yet. The souls of unfortunate sailors descend to his place, and in this way he holds all three of the elements as one.

Chilean Folklore presents another ship, however, manned by more then the dead. The Caleuche is a phantom ship at sea that contains not only the dead, but also gives instruction and transport to warlocks. To access the ship, a warlock must summon a Caballo marino chilote, a golden horse with a fishes tail. The King of The Sea would then permit transport to the ghostly vessel.

Of course, not all such water horses were kindly. The Scottish waterhorse would rather ride into thnae lakes and drown it’s rider than provide mystic aid. A plethora of drowning entities follow this route. The Siren sings to drown, as we’ve said before. Slavic Vodyanov and Rusalka drown those near their rivers as well.

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My favorite drowner, as of late, is the Ahuitzotl. The river dog, as it is sometimes known, will lurk in the river and then drag you below with the hand behind its tail. After drowning, the little beast will eat the finger nails, eyes, and teeth. And oddly specific sort of animal.

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These drownings provide a better plot, I believe, then the undersea city itself. There is something awful and personal about drowning: It is a death that kills and isolates inequal measure and rapidly. It is also often, to my mind, associated with suicides. It is hard to kill a man by drowning intentionally, as opposed to by poison or by a simple knife. It is a death that often involves much struggle or none at all, betokens either great force or a void of anything.

I think the story will take the form of a mystery then. A series of drowning, along a canal. The same spot. But is it, our inquisitive detective will wonder, the work of a murderer? Is the place now a nexus of despair, a self perpetuating site like some bridges become? I don’t want to say too much, as I have little to say. Come by next week to behold the horror that lurks beneath the surface.

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Birds and the Bees

This Week’s Prompt:32. As dinosaurs were once surpassed by mammals, so will man-mammal be surpassed by insect or bird—fall of man before the new race.

The Resulting Story: Gil’s Gone

So, we have a couple wonderful things to talk about! So many horrifying ideas. I have worked with this concept before, for my own pre-society purposes, but I’ll try a different route than last time I touched on this one. We’ve talked about cyclical surpassing and ages a few times already, here and here. But now we have the notion of a much grander movement: an entire kingdom replacement. And this is new.
It is firstly an almost apocalyptic notion. The surpassing of the dinosaurs was their complete extinction, and the arrival of (eventually) a level of organization and planning that was utterly alien at the time. If there are any reptilian civilizations, they are so utterly obliterated as to be effectively non-existent. The horror of the future advancing suddenly on a viewer, and the world rendered unrecognizable, is often a reactionary thing.

The deep seated fear of the passage of time is common in Lovecraft, and in this it takes a biological form. The powers of the future will not only out pace us in prominence and intelligence, but they will also forget what to us seems so grand and powerful. We talked about that with Ozymandias here.

Now, insects and birds do share a few common components worth examining as horror authors. Both are occasionally impressive group animals. Both are often shockingly more intelligent then they seem, crows being quite ingenious and ants practicing almost human levels of sophist action in architecture, planning, and agriculture. Neither has a terribly expressive mouth and far less expressive eyes, an important aspect of the alien and horrifying.

Birds are less …strange, relatively speaking. Alot of their strangeness I know is thanks to this wonderful comic artist humon, who outlined the mating styles and courting of a number animals and is a fun resource for strange or alien ideas of romance or the like. Birds do flock, and of course there is the famous war they waged documented by the amazing Alfred Hitchcock (and the…admirable recreation by Birdemic). They are a bit more rife with folkloric and mythological imagery, however, and such things are my favorite to talk about.

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Races of intelligent birds brings to mind first the Tengu birds of Japan. The tengu are, at varying times, aggressive demons, angry ghosts, dangerous protectors, and mountain spirit. They often are practices of ascetic arts. They also often tricked, as mischievous spirit are, and well versed in sword play.

 

The next notion is that of the Garuda Garuda bird, who is a flaming bird that nearly destroyed the Naga. As a group of entities, it is exclusive to Buddhism. In Buddhism the Garuda has wings many miles wide that cause hurricane wings when flapped. Such vast and cosmic creatures border on that existential fear of wind and weather, and would be worth additions beside things like the Great Old Ones in terror they inspired. They could likewise level mountains, and warred with the Naga frequently, sometimes taking human form.

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Insects, however, are far far more bizarre. The sheer variety of terrors they inspire is astounding. From vast organizations to small scale assaults, insects are frightful characters. I’d detail all of them, but Tom Waits did it better here:

There is some folklore precedent for insects ‘taking over’. In myth, there are the Myrmidons who are (despite human appearances) born of ants. These legendary soldiers, renowned for their discipline, served beside Achilles at Troy and were among the finest in the world. Bee’s have an even more impressive history. Three bee maidens gave Apollo his famous prophetic gift in Greece. The San people of the Kalahari tell of a dead bee becoming the first human after falling into the ground as a seed. In Hindu myth, the form of a bee was used to kill the demon king Arunasura, who could not be slain by bipeds or quadrupeds.

With all this folklore, where to go with our monsters? Well, that depends a great deal on how we tell this story. There is the obvious way: as the apocalypse occurs, in rapid action. After all, the dinosaurs were quickly overcome, weren’t they? We could frame it as an alien invasion from within, a sudden hostility of the planet to mortal presence. Except…that’s not what happened to the dinosaurs. Sure, the death of the lizard kings was rapid. But the rise of mankind took millions of years to occur.

Such a vast scale is hard to communicate in a narrative. We could take on a sort of historical view, as a text book instead of as a disaster movie. But that borders on the dull unless done exceptionally well.. A mix of the two, as is the style of Planet of the Apes (which also features a humanity overcome and displaced by another species) could work, following the human survivors in an essentially alien world.

That latter seems the best. It allows an alien setting, amongst a reshaped world, while avoiding the time displacement. The plot is less obvious, but fleeing the new arrivals should not be hard to write as a starting point. Surviving to some safe place (which is invariably, it seems, not safe) is a common enough idea, although it tends to be used only in the few centuries after the apocylpse has touched down.

A nice alternative to the sanctuary narrative might be a rescue narrative. While maybe a little more upbeat (at least possibly) then horror is normally, being captured and held by alien forces for unknown (and given our monsters place in the line of history, perhaps unknowable) purpose is terrifying in it’s own right. And for good reason.

There is a stability we, as a species, insist upon. We are the top of the food chain among things we can see, particularly in Western ‘civilized’ societies. The Netsilik and other Inuit peoples, who rely much more on animals and hunting for survival then domestic animals, ascribe the reverse. We can hunt, only because the animals pity us. Such a notion is utterly alien to the world of Western theology and philosophy, beyond a few possible exceptions of animal nobility and particularly naturalistic philosophers.

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Threatening stability, rendering humanity another animal, puts our fear of chaos and ourselves on center stage. The uncertainty between our kinship with animals (such as cats and dogs) and our…well, feasting on them (as in cattle and sheep) and a general fear that we are not much more than them. There is a very of subordination of place in the cosmos (a common concern in Lovecraft’s) as well as the creation of alien terrain. For, the dinosaurs did not give way merely to humanity, but to all mammals as the apex predators and herbivores. How strange a world, where the chief forest hunter is not the wolf by a flock of hawks or peacocks. What adaptations would they have to help them prey on their new food?

Some of these are starting to form into concrete concepts, with new venues of perception and awareness available to the great garuda birds that is lost to us. The way to traverse between stars and worlds, the way into minds and souls, a race so much more aware and intelligent then we that the comparison would be as if brutes were to call their burrows shining metropoli. There is something…terrifying in beholding something so aware as to look down upon mankind, and I think a rescue of sorts from whatever occult experiments such vast things wish to preform on such small creatures. And there is a lack of avian monsters in the mythos…

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THE MOON

This Week’s Prompt: 30. Strange visit to a place at night—moonlight—castle of great magnificence etc. Daylight shews either abandonment or unrecognisable ruins—perhaps of vast antiquity.

The Resulting Story: The Mansion of the Moon


The Moon. The Moon, majestic mighty Luna. That, my fellows, is what strikes me most from this prompt. The Moon is one of the greatest and largest forces in the heavens. As such, it’s form and meanings are vast and numerous. We will begin with a few folkloric examples (of multitudes), as well as a few mythic divinities, and of course some more popular recent examples.

The Moon has almost always belonged to the wild places. The moon is a shifting changing thing, and this change has been known for quite some time, particularly in contrast to the more constant rising sun. The pair are often persented as opposites in one regard or the other: in southern Mexico, the Moon is Mary to the Sun-Chirst. Diana and Apollo likewise stand as opposites, in gender and attitude (Diana being a huntress of the wild, Apollo the patron of arts and civilization).

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The Moon has it’s animals as well. The rabbit of the moon is a vast cornucopia of forms, from China to the Aztec empire. The reason behind the rabbit changes, admittedly, but often involves some form of self sacrifice (failed or otherwise). The owl, with it’s circular white face and nightly habits, makes an important contrast with the eagle of the sun. In the Near East, the Bull comes forward as a lunar creature as well, tied to the necessary sacrifice to the gods.

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This changing nature of the Moon also gives the moon a reputation for shifting nature and illusion, and by extension madness. Among gods, we can see a number of sorcerer gods associated with the Moon. Thoth of Egypt, Kalfu, and Huitica as examples. The Tarot Card of the Moon reflects this uncertainty and changing state. On either side are twin towers, a wolf and a domestic dog, and across from the moon is an amphibious crab crossing from sea to land. The moon violates and warps divisions, it transcends and works between them.

Several of theses, such as Thoth and Chang’e, are further associated with the transformative powers of alchemy. While the Sun plays a more obvious role in Alchemy symbolism, the moon plays an equal role. The synergy between silver and gold in the philospher stone, the combinging of the fundamental masculine and feminine is key for ‘true’ divinity.

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The association with madness, however, runs deeper. In English we maintain the notions of insanity tied to the moon with words like lunacy or moonstruck. The full moon is a time between things, an imitation of the sun in a strange way. The wolves howl at the moon then, and in Europe some trade shapes with men. The moon, as delightful as it can be in it’s blurring of borders, can also dangerous. Some borders exist for a reason. Confusion and chaos inspire dread when taken to far. After all, when dreams and reality become blurred, nightmares come to life again.

This is the heart of the solar-lunar conflict, it seems. The Moon blurs what the sun would define. Here, in the prompt, this is a clear under current. The moon shows a vision of a glorious past that is no longer, the sun forcibly reasserting reality. And that conflict, between reality as objective moving phenomon vs reality as a shifting moment, swinging back and forth, perceived and understood differently through many minds, is a rich one. I would recommend looking into Moon Hunters, a game that deals with these themes and others in interesting ways.

After all, the famous opening of the Call of Cthulhu warns us about the boundaries of objective knowledge: “The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. We cannot deny that there is discomfort in uncertainty, that contradiction (especially as large as a castle) of what seems apparent has a hint of madness and horror about it.

The nature of this dichotomy informs the story we must weave, however. As tempting as it is to invoke the moonbeast or the temple of the moon in the Dreamlands, these are unnecessary and may weigh down the plot. Besides, we had plenty of monsters in our last few works. No, this one will flirt with unreality and uncertainty. This we will have almost certainly no non-human characters (except the moon and castle themselves).

moonbeast

This might be a bit distracting, after all. Credit to King of Rats: http://kingovrats.deviantart.com/

Proceeding from that, the first thing that I can think of with the prompt is obsession. An obsession with finding a lost paradise is a common trope, and one that I think can work well here. The nature of moonlight and madness would add to this. I wonder now, is the castle inhabited? Or is this mystical castle by itself enough to lure someone in?

Who, further, would be enticed by the castle? Someone, no doubt, who wishes to escape. A romantic, probably. The sort that are prone to being moonstruck and caught up in memories of the past. Of course, that sort of obvious choice is a good reason to avoid it. Making a man who is normally scientific, normally a futurist, normally despising the preciousness of nostalgia fall into such a trap would be all the more enticing. Cognitive dissonance is a strong motivator, after all.

I think a romantic uninterested would make a good counterpoint. The unenchanted seeker and the disillusioned fool is a pairing I’m unfamiliar with. The interactions before and after seeing the ruins would be the dynamo of the story.

I’ll start there then. What story have you found among the ruins and the dead?

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Serpents and Sickeness

This Week’s Prompt: 27. Life and Death. Death—its desolation and horror—bleak spaces—sea-bottom—dead cities. But Life—the greater horror! Vast unheard-of reptiles and leviathans—hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle—rank slimy vegetation—evil instincts of primal man—Life is more horrible than death.

The Resulting Story: The Snake and The Shade
There is a lot to cover in this prompt, my fellows in mortuary of writing. Mr. Lovecraft’s prompt is neatly divided and thus we can cover the extensive ground quickly, but you’ll forgive me if it takes some time to get to the plotting of it all. That must wait until the end.

Death, given that it is the lesser of our two topics, will get perhaps the least coverage. Desolation as a notion, and the concept of the wasteland and horror of emptiness, is a fairly familiar one to modern audiences. I would point to a number of examples, but the Nothing of the Never Ending Story does exceptionally well as desolation made manifest. The sea bottom dead city and the ruin call to mind, personally, a poem by the great Poe. The City In The Sea, which certainly inspired a certain piece of Mr. Lovecraft’s own writing, is certainly what is alluded to here. I recommend the poem highly, it is one of my personal favorites. It’s motifs, however, have little bearing on the second phase of conversation however. Life.

Life as a horror is…less common. First a brief review of the creatures presented to us: we have described here a number of familiar features. First there are the vast unheard of reptiles and leviathans. As we have already covered dragons (here) and leviathans (here), I will leave this be. Next, of course, is the ‘hideous beasts of prehistoric jungle’. I presume Mr. Lovecraft means dinosaurs, but you might have heard these creatures more resembled poultry than nightmares.

Still, the conjuring of the jungle is important. Jungles are nasty areas, impenetrable regions to most (as Mr. Lovecraft might say) civilized peoples. They do not abide well with agriculture, having fairly poor soils that require slash and burn, and worse still have all sorts of diseases and infections through out them. And of course people live there, and often are believed by their neighbors to have terrible powers.

Life’s danger, mostly then, is of unlimited growth. Growth unconstrained and uncontrolled. This as concept has a number of echoes, in science and science fiction. To begin with the more grim, such a terrible notion might be summarized as cancerous. Cancer is the out of control growth that Lovecraft fears, a never ending mutation and spread the consumes an otherwise healthy host. The parody of proper life (if we use such a phrase) unrestrained by death is a fatal one.

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He Looks So Suave For An Eldritch Horror

Moving to the nearest fictional relatives, the idea of life without death as being terrifying is fairly old. The trapping of Death by Sisyphus results in that very sort of chaos. Further cases of immortality as a curse, such as the Sibyl, abound in classic literature. Certainly, this fear of boundary violation is deeply rooted in a fear of the dead themselves, but we covered that (here). In more modern fair, Marvel comics has the (in)famous Many Angled Ones, who descend from a universe without death. They are terrible creatures, unstoppable and mighty. To be without Death is to be truly terrible.

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Not Pictured: The HUNDREDS of Monsters

Life giving entities are also fearsome. We have discussed Tiamat, but perhaps now ought to mention Gaia. Gaia, while now thought of as the kinder being, did sire many races of monsters to usurp gods. She sent forth giants to topple Zeus, and from her come the Cyclopes and the Hundred Handed Ones. Before Gaia, there is the primeval Khaos who spews forth new wonders constantly. Never ending creation is chaos and anarchy, and thus terrible indeed.

The connection runs even in Lovecraft’s own works. Abhoth and Azathoth are life giving entities who create almost mindlessly. Life without purpose almost defines the shoggoths, creatures of absolute horror and dread. These entities are terrible, ancient, and eternally giving birth to horrors against man and culture.

And, as with Jungles, there are sometimes things living among them.

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Naga Shrine

When we discuss ancient reptilian creatures in weird fiction, however, we set upon a second set of serpentine stories: the intelligent serpent. The Naga, for example, of India are a set of dieties that are powerful and deadly. They have their own cities beneath our own, conflict regularly with the Garuda bird, and offer there service to Shiva. They were, like many serpents, river creatures and new secrets of poison.

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Trust Me, Trust Me

A stranger American breed persists, of a hypnotic snake in Hoosier territory. There, it is said, snakes manipulate children and cows into giving them human food and drink in order to grow large and terrible. This mental manipulation is a common trait in media with snakes, of course. The serpent Kaa has hypnotic eyes, the Dragons of Middle Earth have alluring speech, and Jafar (another Disney character, unrelated to the noble vizier) uses a serpents staff to bend the sultan to his will.

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Because You Overthrow the Gods With Rocks. Of Course.

There are also the Gigantes, the giants born of Gaia we mentioned earlier. Sadly, little is known, except they had serpent legs. Even more obscure are those three primeval serpents (Ananke, Chronos, Zas) of Olympus, who built the world. But we must pass them by.

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They’ve Got Spirit, I’ll Give Them That

For the last batch of weird serpent creatures are the most modern: The serpent men. Found in Mr. Lovecraft’s works and Mr. Howard’s, the serpent men are a recurring force in pulp literature. Common traits include advanced technology, cultish organization, ancient civilization (at least prehuman), and a penchant for disguising themselves. Conspiratorial minds add (in their paranoia) other abilities to this already strong list: mind control, blood rights, and interbreeding. I will not grant the strange madmen more than the strange powers madness gives their delusions, but what writer can’t exploit such stuff. Serpent men(or lizard men, in some cases) have since spread to other works: tabletop games, the works of Doctor Who, the movie V, Star Trek, and others.

For the story, then, and the horror of Life over Death, the best means is perhaps contrast. Death may be given the beginning. Perhaps our protagonist wanders out of a desolate wasteland or a wretched heath. He sees, in the distance, the signs of life. This in turn gives him hope. But as he approaches and enters, he finds the hope false. The life dreadful and hostile. And what fate in such a place awaits him, who can say? After all, from life come man’s wicked instincts, my fellows.

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Made Up Words, Stars, and Utopia’s

This weeks prompt is: 2. Inhabitants of Zinge, over whom the star Canopus rises every night, are always gay and without sorrow.

The Resulting Story:The Tragedy of Elinor Thompson

Hello everyone, welcome back to the Undead Author Society where nothing stays dead forever!

So, like last time, my research began with looking up all the proper nouns. Canopus according, to Wikipedia, has some strong associations as the second brightest star in the sky. The big mythic ones are Chinese (longevity, as the star of the old man), several associations with birds (Polynesians and Kalapalo), a regal title in Hawaiian myth, and Tswanan associations with flying ants, termites, and winds. Canopus is also interesting in its association with navigators and sea travel.
Canopus

Canopus is also significantly hotter than the sun, and a distinct white color. I’ll come back to this in a bit, but sometimes turning to the actual scientific nature of an object over the symbolic is helpful. Lovecraft himself was a rather strict materialist (ignoring the Dreamlands), so the choice of Canopus might be due to its brightness.

Then there’s Zinge. Zinge appears, in the context of the sentence, to be a planet of some sort, clearly inhabited. The word is meaningless, unless its an odd version of Zingdagi, the Hindi word for life. In which case, the title fits with Canopus as the Star of the Old Man and the general utopian flare of the prompt.

And that’s the hardest part of this prompt. Utopian literature was quite popular for a time and have an illustrious history, reaching all the way back Plato’s Republic arguably, and definitely to Thomas More’s Utopia in the fourteenth century, continued in works like Letters from Nowhere. The genre is political in nature, presenting an ‘ideal’ that society should strive for. The tradition of political literature is still alive and well, in the nightmarish form of the dystopia. Dystopia outlived its happier ancestor, probably because dystopia’s have a clear plot and conflict. The world is an awful, horrifying, nightmare. Go and stop it.

Utopia’s…don’t have that clear of a plot, thought they have a clear structure. Typically, a visitor from the time of the author visits, and gets a grand tour of the world, and how much better it is then the world he comes from. Typically there’s a not-so-subtle call to action about how to make this Utopia a reality, but that’s it. This literature doesn’t immediately lead to horror or plot at all. And while thinking this over, it occurred to me that there is an alternative.

First of all, the inhabitants of Zinge are left ambiguous. Life on a distant alien world would definitely evolve differently than here, especially given a much hotter star. And if Lovecraft has taught us anything, it’s that the alien is truly alien in thought and body. How such a society achieved such joy is also open, though Canopus and the possible root of Zinge indicate longevity was involved. Clichéd answers would say some sort sacrifice or sadism would be there. Or sacrificing orphans. I wonder what visitor will come, and what news from Zinge they will bring, next week when I raise them from their grave.

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