The Shadow Out of Time – Part 1, a Discussion on the Taxonomy of the Great Race

In HPL’s tale The Shadow Out of Time a previously unknown species and it’s associated civilization is discovered.  In typical HPL fashion, how this discovery is made is very unique and details on this will be discussed in subsequent articles.  However, for this article the focus will be on the unknown species – the Great Race.

The Great Race of Yith (from S. Petersen’s Field Guide to Cthulhu Monsters (1988); illustration by Tom Sullivan)

First thing that should be stated is that the “minds” of the Great Race are alien but there cone-shaped bodies are of Terran origin.  This being the case, as a resident species of Earth, it may be possible that the cone-shaped beings are also the by-product of the Elder Things creating complex eukaryotic life some the bacterial communities of the Archaen Eon.

In order to minimize confusion, a few definitions will be established.  First, the term ‘the Great Race” will be used to describe the fused entity that is the mind of the aliens and the body of the Terran cone-shaped species.  When focusing solely on the mind of the fused entity, the term Yithian will be used since  Yith is the planet where they come from, switching with the minds of the cone-shaped beings on Earth, just prior to some world-wide catastrophe on Yith.  However, even Yith was not the ultimate orgin of the minds, which is unknown.  Finally, when referring specifically the body of the fused entity, the term cone-shaped being (CSB) will be used.

Another illustration of the Great Race (from Nottsuo)

As a Terran species, the cone-shaped being (CSB) appears to be some highly specialized form of mollusk (Phylum Mollusca).  In particular the CSB may be in a taxonomic Class onto it’s own since it appears to have traits of two major groups.  First, the large fleshy foot is a trait that snails (Class: Gastropods) possess.  Second, the tentacle-like appendages at the top of the CSB reminds one of similar organs found on an octopus or squid (Class: Class: Cephalopods).

Example of a Gastropod, the land snail Fumonelix jonesiana (from

Example of a number of Cephalopods (e.g. squid and octopus;

It’s the large plate-like “exoskeleton” or “shell” of the CSB that is perplexing  in its investigating its morphological taxonomy.  We do not know what the plates are made of; if they are composed primarily of calcium carbonate then that is more evidence they belong in the mollusk phylum.  If these plates truly represent an outer shell then the CSB may be more closely related to snails.  However, some cephalopods have internalized shells (e.g. cuttlefish, which have an internal bone called a cuttlebone), while others have entirely lost their shell (e.g. octopus).  Without examining the internal anatomy of a CSB it is difficult to conduct a formal taxonomic assessment of them relative to mollusks.

Are the CSB are a highly evolved and specialized form of gastropod, cephalopod or some other unknown class of mollusk?  The octopus is considered to be the most intelligent invertebrate on Earth.  If any group of invertebrates has the potential to acquire higher levels of individual intelligence it would be the octopus.  Are the CSBs a more “advanced” form of cephalopod or do they deserve a separate taxonomic class onto themselves within the mollusk phylum.  Conducting a cladistics analysis with mitochondrial and /or ribosomal DNA, or possibly with RNA, with samples from CSBs and other mollusks would help to solve this riddle.

However, as we will see next time, it is possible that the CSB do not even below in the mollusk phylum.  In fact, maybe they are not even animals at all.  More details on this will be provided next time when we talk about the other aspects of CSB biology including reproduction.  Thank you – Fred

The Great Race of Yith by Pahapasi.


15 thoughts on “The Shadow Out of Time – Part 1, a Discussion on the Taxonomy of the Great Race

  1. Awesome post, just finished that story, one of my favorites, so it couldn’t have come at a better time. Looking forward to the next parts.

  2. The Yithians are very very PreCambrian by 500 million years, and the PreCambrian is when the major existing phyla (and some extinct ones) first left fossil impressions. Since the fossil record is so terribly incomplete, and the Cambrian explosion illustrated the early diversity and astonishing disparity of body plans already extant, We could confidently assign the Yithians to their own phylum.

    1. Hey Tom – good point! As I will discuss in the next article, I will present some evidence that they may not even be an animal phylum.

      Also, if I appropriately cite you as the artist, could I use one of your illustrations for one of the upcoming articles on the Yithians? Love your work!

      Thank you for the comment.


  3. Hi! Sorry I couldn’t reply sooner, our household was entertaining guests when I got the post. I was also working on some “Witch House” business.

    All I can say is “yay!” Your “Shadow Out of Time” discussion has begun! And what a great way to start what will most certainly be an incredibly interesting series of articles. The Terran bodies of the Yithians (if memory serves me right, they’re semi-plant…?) are very strange and this article is very enlightening (as I’m sure the following will).


    1. Hey Brian – re-reading the story, I actually think they may have some traits that are more fungal-like but I will discuss that in the next article. I’m glad you enjoyed the last article! Thank you – Fred.

  4. The comic book adaption of “The Shadow Out of Time” claims the mental entities influenced the conical beings to be perfect receptors for their minds and ensured they would have an adequate brainspan to contain one of the mental entities and supply a long lifespan and asexual reproduction by spores. The mental entities would only have claimed a single generation if they did not use their telepathic projection to simply take a new body when the old one died or escape into time to scout out for the Great Race while a new body was prepared-though that is only conjecture on my part.

    1. Hey Larry – thank you for the comments. Very interesting ideas! Your conjectures and the material cited in the comic book adaption actually addresses some of the questions I was going to raise in an upcoming article. Specifically, when the Cone entities reproduce do the “minds” reproduce as well or do they transfer from one body to another – does this mean some Cone entities have the alien minds but others don’t?
      Thanks again!

      1. Hey Brian – I am not sure. I was referring to Larry Counts’s comments. He should be able to answer that.


    1. Very interesting idea! Given how incomplete the fossil record is, it is certainly possible!
      Thank you for the comment.

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