As surprising as the presence of Shoggoths in Innsmouth in HPL’s The Shadow Over Innsmouth, is the appearance of the Elder Things (or Elder Ones as named by Robert M. Price) in his story The Dreams in the Witch House. While the Elder Things were not explicitly named in the story, they certainly made an appearance based on their description provided by HPL.
Elder Thing by the very talented artist Filippo Borghi
At one point in the story after traveling through hyperspace, Walter Gilman finds himself “half lying on a high, fantastically balustrade terrace above a boundless jungle of outlandish, incredible peaks, balanced planes, domes minarets, horizontal disks poised on pinnacles, and numberless forms of still greater wildness…”
Example of old limestone balustrade (from www.colourbox.com)
As Gilman moves to stand up on a terrace, he examines the chest-high balustrade (a type of ornamental railing). They are made of a strange shining metal whose “colour could not be guessed in the chaos of mixed effulgences, and their nature utterly defied conjecture.” These balustrades “represented some ridged barrel-shaped objects with thin horizontal arms radiating spoke-like from a central ring and with vertical knobs or bulbs projecting form the head and base of the barrel.” The description continues for a another three long sentences and was clearly describing a small representation of an Elder Thing.
To the left is a representation of Nyarlathotep and Brown Jenkin by Liv Rainey-Smith in a hand-colored woodcut (called “Sign!”). To the right is an Elder Thing “Balustrade” figurine by Ann S. Koi. Both can be found on the Kickstarter website for the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival & CthulhuCon 2014 Portland, OR.
As Gilman tries to stand up he accidently snaps one of the balustrade “spiky figures’ off. At the same time he hears something from behind and turns to see five figures walking toward him, which included Keziah Mason, Brown Jenkin and three of the barrel-shaped entities, 8 feet tall and “propelling themselves by a spider-like wriggling of their lower set of starfish-arms.” This causes Gilman to awake up in his bed and immediately leaves his apartment. He comes back later, around 9 o’clock at night, and to his horror and amazement he finds the spiky figure of the Elder Thing that he accidentally broke off the balustrade in his dream on his table. In the story this was a turning point because before this incident, Walter Gilman was convinced everything that was occurring was due to some bad dreams and being overworked. With the appearance of the Elder Thing figurine, the problems within his dreams become manifested into reality.
So the question is – why were the Elder Things associated with Keziah Mason and Brown Jenkin? The great Lovecraftian scholar S.T. Joshi in the Penguin Classics edition of The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories was wondering about this as well.
“….although there seems to be no legitimate purpose to their appearance in this tale.” – S.T. Joshi
However, once again discussions about this story on the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast were very enlightening. Some of the hypotheses proposed included that since Keziah Mason and Brown Jenkin can travel through time and space that they were visiting the Elder Ones for some forbidden knowledge. Remember the terrace that Walter Gilman was on looked very different than Antarctica. It was a steaming, jungle environment with three suns so it was not Earth or even ancient Earth. For some reason, in my mind, I think of that brief glimpse we get of the Predator’s world in the Alien vs. Predator: Requiem movie. Not the spaceships but the atmosphere and buildings (see below).
Home world of the Predators in AVP: Requiem. Did the world that Walter Gilman visit in The Dreams in the Witch House look like this?
Another idea, which was brought up by Kenneth Hite on the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast is that maybe the Elder Things had a “witch cult” of their own. Keziah Mason and Brown Jenkin were both members of the witch cult, which worshipped the tall Dark Man. In Keizah’s mind the Dark Man was Satan but we know him as Nyarlathotep. Maybe to the Elder Things Nyarlathotep looked like a large Dark Elder Thing instead of a tall Dark Man. Indeed, maybe the Elder Things that Walter Gilman very briefly met were part of an Elder Thing cult worshiping Nyarlathotep. Remember of all of HPL’s entities, the Elder Things were the closest to being “human”. As Dyer said, “Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn – whatever they had been, they were men!”
Elder Things on another one of the worlds they colonized? Artwork by Harry O Morris
We may never know why Walter Gilman saw the Elder Things and what Keziah Mason and Brown Jenkin were doing “associated” with such entites. However, is this how the Elder Things arrived at Earth over a billion years ago? Maybe they used hyperspace, guided by the representatives or “wizards” of Nyarlathotep to get to Earth. It is said the Elder Things filtered down from the stars and later lost the ability to conduct interstellar travel. Did the cults of Nyarlathotep fall out of fashion in the Elder Thing civilization, leaving them Earth-bound? This would explain how they lost their ability to travel through space (and maybe time as well).
Next time I will be talking about the architecture and mathematics of the great City of R’lyeh. On a concluding note, I must say, as we leave the Witch House, that I listened to samples of the Lovecraftian Rock Opera – Dreams in the Witch House and really enjoyed the music. I intend on purchasing a copy of this and would recommended it; give it a listen. If a live show of this every comes to Philadelphia, I would definitely attend. Thank you – Fred.