Frankenstein or The Modern Prometheus was written by Mary Shelley and first published in 1818. It is a story about Dr. Victor Frankenstein who creates a creature in a strange scientific experiment. While the exact means of creating the creature is somewhat vague and involves electricity, the story is considered one of the first science fiction stories. This is primarily due to the fact that Frankenstein does not use magical or occult means to make the creature; instead, he uses a laboratory filled with scientific equipment. In sharp contrast to the original novel, in the 1931 Universal movie Dr. Frankenstein creates the monster by stitching dead body parts together and using electricity to bring it to life. In both cases, life was created from inanimate material, similar to the Elder Ones creating the Shoggoths.
While the Elder Ones had a specific, practical reason for creating the Shoggoths (to be used as a force of slave labor), Dr. Frankenstein had a very personal event in his life that spurred him to create life and that was the death of his mother. Frankenstein was successful in his experiments; however, he did not consider his responsibilities as the creator of a sentient entity. The Elder Ones were better prepared to deal with the Shoggoths once created; however, this did not last. In both cases one of the key components in the downfall of the creators was the created entities acquiring intelligence (or at least more of it). Once the created obtained intelligence as well as other associated traits such as free will and self-identify, they were no longer easy to control by their creators.
Probably the best analogy for the Shoggoths is the concept of biological robots (also known as biorobots), which is simply defined as the creation of life from non-living matter. Another analogy of Shoggoths as created forms of life comes from more science fiction; specifically the replicants from the film Blade Runner. Here we are talking about synthetically created people made by humans who eventually rebel against their creators. In a sense, the replicants were very similar to Shoggoths – a form of slave labor that were extremely strong but could not reproduce on their own.
Another entity that is frequently compared to the Shoggoths is the creature in the 1982 movie version of The Thing (which is based on a short novel by John W. Campbell, Jr. called Who Goes There?). While these two creatures appear to have similar attributes such as the ability to shape-shift and The Thing can look like a Shoggoth, I would argue that these are two very different species and are not related.
We know nothing about the origins of The Thing; we do know it can easily assimilate other life forms and make exact replicates. In addition, The Thing can easily reproduce through simple fission. I’m sure the Shoggoth can assimilate or eat prey but based on HPL’s stories I do not think it could create exact copies of the creatures it would digest. A number of times HPL suggests that the Shoggoths imitate the Elder Ones but there is no reference to the Shoggoths shaping themselves to look like the Elder Ones. In addition, while The Thing could easily reproduce like a bacteria, or more appropriately a virus, Shoggoths were not known to reproduce on their own at least during the Miskatonic Expedition of 1930-31.
To conclude this discussion of the Shoggoths, the Elder Ones made their creations extremely flexible and adaptive. They could live in the deep sea or on land; they could be used for physical labor as well as provide functions such as serving as a source of light through bioluminance. I’m sure the Elder Ones were conducting all sorts of experiments on the Shoggoth, stretching them to the limits; testing their endurance and resiliency against various temperatures, pressures, chemicals, energy sources and other parameters. Since Shoggoths could not reproduce on their own, they need assistance from the Elder Ones to make others of their own kind; thus, I think it’s appropriate to call Shoggoths a form of biorobotic life. Although it is mentioned in At the Mountains of Madness that the Shoggoths did acquire the ability to reproduce on their own, this obviously failed or was never true. For if it was true, wouldn’t Earth be covered in a seething ocean of Shoggoths; a global Shoggoth pit?
This concludes, at least for a while, my discussions on the Elder Ones and the Shoggoths, next time I will begin discussions on the Mi-Go and other issues associated with HPL and his interests in science. Thank you – Fred.
Shoggoth by the talented artist Eric Lofgren