The Elder Ones created the Shoggoths. A lot has been said about this fascinating relationship in the At the Mountains of Madness and what ideas filtered from HPL’s mind and onto the page to produce such an interesting concept. This article will discuss the relationship between the Creators (Elder Ones) and the Created (Shoggoths) and what it has been interpreted to represent.
Two ideas have been frequently identified in discussing the relationship between the Elder Ones and the Shoggoths. The first is more political and societal, discussing how this relationship represents a class-based society, which in turn necessitated the enslavement of one group of entities over another. The second idea is how pushing the boundaries and abilities of science result in some complicating situations, and possibly the downfall, of a civilization. This article will focus on the first idea, while a subsequent article will focus on the second.
Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness from Arkham House (1964 edition)
A lot of material has been discussed and written about how the relationship between the Elder Ones and the Shoggoths represents Lovecraft’s view on society and civilization. In addition, these interpretations of HPLs views have been quite varied. Some see the Elder Ones and Shoggoths representing HPL’s ideal civilization where an elite class (or in this case species) rules over a class (species) of workers or laborers. Others see it as an analogy of the history of slavery in America and still others think of it as representing the inevitable fall of civilizations due to societal decadence. However, in order to get a glimpse of what themes and ideas HPL may have been thinking of while writing At the Mountains of Madness, one need to examine some of his non-fictional writing.
First, in An H.P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia (S.T. Joshi and D. E. Schultz, Greenwood Press, 2001) and as previously mentioned on this blog site, the Elder Ones are somewhat identified with humans in many ways relative to the rise and fall of civilization and technology. In addition, HPL describes the Elder One government as socialistic, which is what HPL was a proponent of in his views of government. Other ideas that have been discussed include the Shoggoths as a literary representation of slavery in America and that the rise and fall of the Elder One civilization comes from HPL’s assimilation of Oswald Spengler’s The Decline of the West (Joshi and Schultz, 2001).
The book Miscellaneous Writings, edited by the eminent Lovecraft scholar S.T. Joshi (Arkham House, 1995) provides more direct insight into HPL thoughts on this subject matter. In a section of that book called “Political Theorist” a number of Lovecraft’s essays on this subject are provided. However, Joshi provide some very insightful information in his introduction to that collection of essays. In it Joshi cites that through his life HPL moved from his desire to be within the upper class of an aristocracy to over time arriving at more of a socialistic view (Joshi, 1995), similar to the Elder Ones. HPL thought that such an aristocratic – socialistic system would foster the upper class to develop in the arts and sciences. It is interesting to note that in HPL’s “utopian” political system, economic wealth would be more equitably distributed but political power would be limited to a few – as he called it – an oligarchy of intelligence (Joshi, 1995). If you are an Elder One, such a system sounds like a pretty good deal – but what if you are a Shoggoth?
A sketch of an Elder One by H.P. Lovecraft
In addition to his political views, HPL’s racist views have obviously had a strong impact on his fiction and this is particularly the case for At the Mountains of Madness. As Joshi has stated, we cannot be lenient on HPL’s views on race (Joshi, 1995). With that, this discussion will stay as objective as possible and will attempt to present HPL’s view on this subject based primarily on his own writings. For example, in Collected Essays: Volume 5, Philosophy, Autobiography and Miscellany (again edited by S.T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2006), HPL states in his long essay A Layman Looks at the Government – “..unless some individuals were emancipated from want and hardship-as could be done only through giving them a plenitude of resources whilst others starved, and letting them enjoy a leisure based on the slavery of others-the race could never utilize its maximum mental and aesthetic potentialities or evolve concepts, folkways, and traditions in any way appropriate to the biological status of the species; concepts, folkways, and traditions eventually colouring even the lives of the masses unable to create or fully share them.”
With other statements such as “Thus the aristocratic attitude needs no apology” and “If some people had not been allowed to rise on the bent backs and corpses of slaves and famine-victims, the race as a whole would never have gone far from the primitive state”, it is clear that HPL’s distorted philosophy on this matter made its way into his fiction. So when Dyer declares in At the Mountains of Madness that the “Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn – whatever they had been, they were men!” it would be more appropriate to state that “they were privileged or aristocratic men!”
While the enslavement of the Shoggoths allowed the Elder One’s civilization to flourish, it was also their downfall. Did HPL see the acquired intelligence of the Shoggoths as providing knowledge to the masses and subsequently ruining it for civilization as a whole? There is one point that should be made relative to the Elder Ones and the Shoggoths is that this form of slavery is very different than that seen in American History or in fantastical literature, such as the lower class powering the cities of the future in the movie Metropolis or in the book / movies the Planet of the Apes where the Great Apes enslave humans. This point is the fact that the Elder Ones created the Shoggoths, so they certainly felt entitled to use them as they see fit. In a way, the Shoggoths could be thought of as biological or genetic robots as opposed to another race or species being enslaved and that will be the discussion for the next article. Thank you – Fred