The previous article started a discussion on the history of the Elder Ones and left off with the Mi-Go arriving on Earth and battling with the Elder Ones, pushing them back into the sea. Moving forward:
- Long-term, natural, geologic forces continued to impact Elder One cities. “Seismic convolutions of land or sea -bottom, and other natural causes” resulted in the destruction of many of these cities.
- It appears that the Elder Ones retreated to both deep in the sea as well as one of their last terrain outposts in the Antarctic.
- As part of the geologic changes, peaks higher than the Himalayas formed (the Mountains of Madness). Some of the Old Ones prayed to these mountains but none ever dared to travel to them to see what lay beyond.
- Over time underground limestone was hollowed out through groundwater, creating a series of caves and tunnels.
- A river that originated from the Mountains of Madness flowed toward the Old One’s city and then dropped down into these deep limestone caves.
- Then the great cold came (the latest Ice Age), the vegetation thinned out and the Elder Ones had to rely on heating devices.
- The last great city of the Elder Ones was in the sea; the remaining populations took refuge there from the global cooling.
- To build the great undersea city the Elder Ones used Shoggoth tissues and other biomatter to create beasts of burden and phosphorescent organisms as a source of light in the deep sea. These “labor” Shoggoths grew to great sizes. They also eventually created cold-resistant Shoggoths, adapted to live on the land.
Lovecraft’s history of the Elder Ones essentially ends with a series of questions. Is the undersea city still in existence? What was the ultimate fate of the ocean-dwelling Elder Ones? Are they still alive (which was obviously answered in the story)? A more interesting question is there no signe of them in more recent geological strata? Could it be that they died out except for some isolated colonies deep in the sea or that humans did not yet find this more recent fossil evidence (this situation occurs all the time in paleontology). Did the Mi-Go drive the Elder Ones to the north or into the Mountains of Madness?
While not explicitly identified, it is implied in the story that the Shoggoths at least partially contributed to the ultimate downfall of the Elder Ones on Earth and this will be discussed further in an upcoming article.
Reading the story a number of times, I always wondered if the bas-relief drawings were more of a representative of Elder One mythology and/or religion and not a historical account. Indeed, Robert Mr. Price mentioned this as well in an article he wrote called Patterns in the Snow (Crypt of Cthulhu #81). In the article Price states, “Suppose the narrator has taken literally, i.e., as history, what was the myth of the star-heads. Perhaps the notion of their ancestors descending from the stars was no more historically true than the myths of many nations that their kings are descendants of the gods?”
While the entities on the murals they battled were real within the context of Lovecraft’s universe, I wonder if some of the other components of their history, such as their arrival on Earth, the creation of life and their disappearance, was more directly linked to religious beliefs. For example, the sinking of the R’lyeh into the Pacific Ocean, did the Elder Ones see this as “divine intervention”?
In this same article, Price makes an interesting augment that Dyer and Danforth may have been “reading” the history of the Elder Ones on the bas-reliefs backwards. Initially in At the Mountains of Madness, fossil evidence points to the fact that the Elder Ones are a very ancient form of complex life that evolved on Earth, before all other multicellular life. Somewhat similar circumstances are known to have occurred on Earth in the past. For example, during the Permian – Triassic extinction event up to 96% of marine species and 70% of terrestrial vertebrate species (both groups are complex multicellular life) became extinct. Whole groups of animals, such as the trilobites, sea scorpions and spiny sharks, went completely extinct. Fifty out of fifty-five brachiopod families died out (Michael J. Benton, History of Life).
Did a mass extinction event or cosmic war with opposing entities take out the Elder Ones? According to Price’s Patterns in the Snow article, this may not be the case. If the bas-reliefs are properly read backwards as proposed in Price’s article, then the Elder Ones would be residents of Earth and ended up “filtering” back up to the star instead of coming from them. It is an intriguing hypothesis and from a technological standpoint it makes sense. However, if the murals account for Elder One history, do they also accurately account for the history of other entities, as least from the Elder One’s point of view? For example, does this mean that R’lyeh rose from the Pacific Ocean, the Cthulhu spawn battled with the Elder Ones and then filtered back up to the stars before the Elder One did themselves? It is an intriguing hypothesis but further investigations are needed to determine if the Elder Ones came from the stars to settle on Earth or if the Elder Ones are a form of Terran biology that mastered interstellar travel and then left the Earth.
To conclude this article, one point that appears to made in the mural drawings is that the creation of the Shoggoths at least partially contributed to the disseappearnce of the Elder Ones. That is precisely what the next article will cover – the relationship between the Elder Ones and the Shoggoths. Thank you and Happy Halloween! – Fred