The Weakness of the Old Ones

An excellent and entertaining resource on Lovecraft’s stories is the HP Lovecraft Literary Podcast hosted by Chris Lackey and Chad Fifer.  Over the years they have reviewed and analyzed all of HPL’s stories and currently are doing the same for stories that HPL has cited in his essay “Supernatural Horror in Literature.”  I highly recommend the Podcast.

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What is interesting about going through the Podcast episodes of HPL’s stories, particularly since the stories are presented in chronological order, is you can see themes or trends appear throughout his writings.  One of the ideas that periodically comes up and has been noted by Chris and Chad is that in some respects select entities of HPL’s seem to be easily defeated or relatively weak beings.  In this article I will be discussing this idea and presenting a hypothesis to explain it

First, it should be noted that some Lovecraftian entities seem to be very hardy if not downright immortal.  The Elder Ones (or Elder Things) were described a number of times as being extremely tough yet flexible.  These beings are known to have the capacity to travel interstellar space, live in the deep waters of the ocean or on dry land, which can include the steaming jungles near the equator or the Arctic / Antarctic regions of the poles.  Additionally, they can be put into some type of stasis or coma and can be revived millions of years later.  The Elder Ones are obviously well adapted to surviving a wide variety of environments and are well known to be residents of our universe.  The same can be said of their creations the shoggoths; well adapted and hearty organisms.

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Elder Ones by bioytic-9000 (www.deviantart.org)

However, in contrast to the Elder Things and shoggoths, other Lovecraftian entities do not appear to be as well adapted to our universe, let alone a Terran environment.  For example, in “The Whisperer in Darkness” the Mi-Go were described by Henry Akeley as being “clumsy in getting about” and having wings that “are not much use for short flights on earth.”  The Mi-Go are not of this Earth or of our universe, which is why they appear as clumsy in our atmosphere and gravity.

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Mi-Go by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

In “The Dunwich Horror,” which is a story I have yet to cover on this blog site, Wilbur Whateley was easily killed by a guard dog while he was attempting to steal a copy of the Necronomicon housed at the library at Miskatonic University.  Additionally, after he was killed Wilbur’s body rapidly decomposed so that by the time the medical examiner came to inspect the body nothing was left except a “sticky whitish mass.”  Two things come to mind on this.  First, while powerful from an inter-dimensional perspective, Wilbur was relatively weak in our reality; he was essentially killed by a dog (he obviously was right to be fearful over dogs).  Second, once dead, Wilbur’s hybridized inter-dimensional biomatter quickly dissolved.  This indicates that a considerable amount of energy was required to keep Wilbur’s body stable and intact while he was alive.

Similar to Wilbur, his twin was defeated by Dr. Armitage through an incantation.  According to Armitage, “The thing has gone forever.”  Thus, this large, invisible, inter-dimensional being was simply obliterated by some phrases from the Necronomicon.

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Wilbur Whateley by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)

Finally, Cthulhu was presented as a god-like being who could influence people over the world through their own dreams.  In spite of Cthulhu’s god-like status compared to us puny humans, he appeared to be easily defeated.  Johansen drove the vessel the Alert head long onto Cthulhu.  The result of this was Cthulhu popped like an “exploding bladder” in an “acrid and blinding green cloud.”  However, while Cthulhu was defeated, it was not destroyed.  Johansen could see Cthulhu recombining in the water.  Thus, Cthulhu still lies deep in R’lyeh in a deep sleep.

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Cthulhu Rising by Spenzer777 (www.deviant.org)

In each of these examples, these apparently powerful, inter-dimensional entities appear to be have difficulty in our reality or can be easily destroyed or defeated.  How can this be?  Essentially I hypothesize that since their beings originate from other dimensions or are inter-dimensional hybrids, their powers are limited in our dimension or reality.  Thus, the inter-dimensional entities in our reality can be thought of as astronauts or deep sea divers.

Astronaut and deep sea diving suits allow humans to explore non-habitable environments such as space and the ocean.  However, the trade-off to exploring these unforgiving, inhospitable environments is limitations in movement and speed due to their specialized suits.  Additionally, we are entirely dependent on an artificial means of breathing.  Thus, we need to expend a high amount of energy to explorer these environments over short periods of time.  From the perspective of a shark or whale humans in the ocean may appear to be powerful beings, yet at the same time we are weak in that we are slow moving and dependent on exteneral forces / energies to keep up alive.  I believe the same can be said about the inter-dimensional Old Ones.
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An astronaut’s suit keeps them alive but limits mobility, and vision; the suit is both power and a limitation for humans (astronaut.com)

In each case, the Mi-Go, Wilbur Whateley and Cthulhu, are inter-dimensional, or semi-inter-dimensional entities probing or exploring our universe and reality.  For the Mi-Go, they may be a stable form of inter-dimensional life that can do quite well in our universe, however, they obviously are not adapted to many of our physical constants such as gravity.  Additionally, as HPL cites in “The Whisperer in Darkness” the Mi-Go are “composed of a form of matter totally alien to our part of space – with electrons having a wholly different vibration-rate.”  Thus, while possibly not residents of our universe, they appear to be moderately comfortable here.  Maybe they can be thought of as explorers (or miners?) with equipment and gear; although in their case their equipment are their biological modifications.

In contrast, Wilbur Whateley and Cthulhu are entities that appear to require an enormous amount of energy to maintain their status in this universe.  Upsetting this stream of energy killed Wilbur and temporarily defeated Cthulhu.  Thus, their respective forms in our reality may be their astronaut or diving suits – Cthulhu may look very different in its own residential universe.  Also, using the astronaut or diving suit analogy, this would explain the apparent weakness of these entities.  If Wilbur and Cthulhu were successful in opening the way from their universe to ours these circumstances would certainly change.

Next time the discussion will focus on Nyarlathotep.  Thank you – Fred.

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Cthulhu 1790 by Fiend Upon My Back (www.deivantart.org)

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33 thoughts on “The Weakness of the Old Ones

  1. Good points as usual, Fred. In the case of Cthulhu I would add that he’d had just awoken from several million years of death-like hibernation, which would leave him very weak even beyond the inherent difficulties of being in our reality. I also suspect, since R’lyeh sank again shortly after Johansen’s encounter, that the stars were in fact not quite ‘right’ enough for his full resurrection. Makes me wonder if that has happened on other occasions as well.

    On the subject of the Elder Things’ amazing durability, has it occurred to anyone else that they seem just too good to be natural? Think about it: practically immortal with the ability to thrive in almost any environment, able to do without much technology and, to top it all off, the power to travel interstellar space with just a little chemical enhancement! We also know they were masters of biological science to the point they could create made-to-order lifeforms. These things make me suspect that the Elder Things’ distinctive form was in fact a result of their own bioengineering and may not have any relation to their original naturally-evolved form. In other words, the Elder Things were their own greatest creation!

    1. I can definitely get behind the idea of the Old Ones / Elder Things performing improvements on their own bodies. One thing worth bearing in mind, though, is that around the time of their war with the Mi-Go they had lost their capacity for space-flight. Positive death for a species given to the colonisation of planets!

      This, I think, speaks of something rather odd. Perhaps it’s a kind of degradation they underwent over their millions of years on Earth. Their rejection of their race’s mechanised society (“ome of the sculptures suggested that they had passed through a stage of mechanised life on other planets, but had receded upon finding its effects emotionally unsatisfying”, ATMoM) could imply that they forswore the most advanced of their technologies — one of which may have been a genetic adaptation allowing space flight (solar sails, protection from the vacuum of space, take your pick). With a primitive technology level (compared to their starfaring cousins, anyway) they might have lost the ability to engineer this trait.

      Or perhaps, if they all had that as a stable feature of their species, perhaps the Old Ones’ loss of space-flight was simply the Mi-Go outmanoeuvring them on the genetics front! A swift strike with a suitably nasty retrovirus could have been used to strip away their more problematic powers. Explaining that in their official histories / propaganda would no doubt prove bothersome.

      1. Hey Phil – I know the Elder Things eventually lost the power of space travel but I am not sure about the Mi-Go since they could go back and forth to Pluto. Although I think they used inter-dimensional gateways so I may be wrong about this.

        Also, I would be careful about assuming space travel is more advance than non-space travel, at least relative to evolution. Technically the only time you should use terms such as primitive and advanced (in the context of evolution) is relative to time not traits. Just because they lost the ability to travel through space does not mean they are primitive; in fact from a purely evolutionarily point of view, the non-space traveling Elder Things are more advance since they exist in present day (this of course assumes that the Elder Things operate through Darwinian evolution which is itself a BIG assumption). Many organisms loose traits over time; adapt to the environment they are in but this does not make them more primitive. Many cave-dwelling invertebrates loose the ability to see (eyes) but it does not make them more primitive. If space travel was a heritable trait (again another BIG assumption) then it was selected against since they were comfortable living on Earth.
        Again, thank you for the comments!
        Fred

    2. Excellent points! Or maybe some “other” engineers created them! The bioengineering of the Elder Things is firmly based in Darwinian selection (initially artificial and then natural). In contrast the bioengineering of the Mi-Go seems to more Lamarckian – more of a “fit to order” scenario.
      Fred

      1. I’m not sure we can say that the Mi-Go used bioengineering, at least if you mean by that ‘genetic engineering.’ In ‘The Whisperer in Darkness,’ Lovecraft only talks about their use of incredibly advanced surgical techniques. The Mi-Go surgeons are capable of modifying their subjects’ major organs and grafting on totally new organs that become fully-functional. (Where do they get these new organs? Do they grow them artificially or obtain them from ‘donors?’) Most famously, they can remove a subject’s brain and transplant it into a mechanical support device so that it remains alive and functioning indefinitely. (As an aside, it is implied they can re-implant the disembodied brains, but can we really assume that?) But they don’t seem capable of creating life from scratch in the way that the Elder Things can.

        Also, HPL mentions that the Mi-Go have several sub-species, not all of which are capable of spaceflight.

      2. Hey Julianus – thank you for the comments. I meant to use the term bioengineering in a more general sense (modification of tissues / organs, not just genetic). Being from the “outside” the Mi-Go may operate very differently from an evolutionary stand point when compared to humans or Elder Things. Thus, while life on Earth evolves through the Darwinian mechanism of nature selection, the Mi-Go may evolve from a Lamarckian perspective, which would be a more directed form of evolution; need a pair of wings – let’s attach them onto ourselves. The key is can they transfer these changes to their asexual offspring? If so then we have a form of Lamarckian evolution!
        Thanks for your comments!
        Fred

    1. Thank you – Nyarlathotep is turning out to be more complex then I originally thought so the upcoming article will focus solely on HPL’s short story of the same name.
      Fred

      1. That’s Nyarlathotep for you! Are you doing one article, or a series? I profoundly hope the latter, because Nyarly is by far my favorite invention of Lovecraft’s.

  2. As for Cthulhu, I’d say it’s hazardous to think he’s been “defeated”.
    As you say he was not destroyed, for this was not his “advent” (as Frater Julianus points out), but only one of his periodical “manifestations” which are the only way for HPL to place this fearful, obscure menace in our future, without having to actually do the report of his coming and his final taking of Earth (I suspect C.A. Smith would have been more willing to do this, remember Rlim Shaikort?). It’s more frightful this way.
    Maybe I’m wrong, but I always thought HPL wants his readers to think that human efforts can only delay the inevitable, and that’s the best we can achieve.
    As for Wilbur Whateley and his brother, I agree they were “defeated”, but then again I seem to recall they were not “all grown up”, though I still may be wrong. Fred, you say “this large, invisible, inter-dimensional being was simply obliterated by some phrases from the Necronomicon”. Well, who knows how much science, how much knowledge and power is locked up in this nutshell of a phrase?
    I fear there has been no “humanity’s easy wins over such dread beasties”, for Cthulhu is no Gojira, nor a Kaiju from “Pacific Rim”.
    Rest assured I don’t want to bring you down, just stating my opinion, and I think the risk is to reduce one of the greatest efforts of american literature to an “inter-dimensional brawl”.

    1. Hey Roberto – no problem. In fact, one of the reasons why “The Dunwich Horror” is not one of Joshi’s favorite stories is because of the seemingly “inter-dimensional brawl” at the end. However, I agree, and as HPL has identified throughout his stories – it is only a matter of time before the Old Ones are established in our universe. Their limitations in our universe are only a temporary setback – once they break through this is their universe! Additionally, I feel we do not know the true nature / appearance of these entities since their physical appearance in our universe is limited by our universal constants.
      Thank you for the comments.
      Fred

  3. Interesting stuff, Fred!

    My 2 cents: I wouldn’t say Cthulhu was “easily defeated” at all! There were eight sailors on the island when Cthulhu woke up. Two of them instantly “perished of pure fright” just from looking at him. He then swept up three more in his “flabby claws before anybody turned.”

    That’s five men dead within about three seconds of Cthulhu opening his eyes! Another man died during the escape, and another looked over his shoulder and went mad from the sight of the risen god pursuing him.

    It’s also important to remember that the Alert was obviously a large vessel (and Lovecraft mentions several times that it was “sturdy” and “heavily armed”). When Cthulhu is wading out in pursuit, Lovecraft describes the ship as being larger than the tentacled one himself:

    “The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht”

    1. Thank you for the great comments. I guess I use the phrase “easily defeated” within the context of the potential global / large scale damage Cthulhu could have inflicted in our universe if unleashed! Thanks again!
      Fred

  4. Hehe, I see your point! 😀

    It’s a bit anticlimactic when Cthulhu wakes only to get biffed on the head with a boat and that’s it. No fire and brimstone? No end times? No global apocalypse?

    But, as you say, the boat didn’t actually defeat him (it?). In fact, I don’t think anything (or, at least, anything human) “defeated” him. The stars weren’t right. Cthulhu went back to sleep because he wasn’t ready to wake up yet. Ultimately, it’s not possible for humans to ever defeat Cthulhu – certainly not by popping him with a boat. We just have to hope we’re lucky and pray the stars aren’t right. 🙂

    Looking forward to Nyarlathotep!

  5. I always have one problem with illustrations of the Elder Things: the pictures all show them with only two wings. In HPL’s description of them, their five-way symmetry is constantly emphasized. Surely they should have five wings spaced equally around their bodies?

    Great ‘blog, by the way. Keep up the good work!

    1. Good point – since the Elder Things appear to have evolved from organisms with a radial symmetry (as oppose to bilateral symmetry like us humans), you would assume that their would be five wings like everything else; even two wings but the other three being vestigial would make sense. Maybe that is the case?
      Again, thank you for the great comments!
      Fred

  6. Yep! Funny and interesting “thermodynamic” theory about the Mythos! I am especially interested by the demonstration made with Wilbur Watheley disappearance.

    But I think it’s a rather simplistic explanation of the Lovecraftian’s universe, that focuse on a dimensional difference between the “monsters” and us.

    I think it could be more challenging to have a different (unspeakable!) physical explanation for each of the weird events going around the great old ones.

    1. Thank you for the comments! First, as I always note that none of these ideas / concepts are theories. Gravity is a theory; evolution is a theory. What I propose are hypotheses – hypotheses that have not even been tested! They are just a human’s feeble attempts to try to understand the Old Ones and the entitles / forces from outside.

      I agree that these are rather simple explanations but we have to start somewhere and where we start is what we know about the universe. It is difficult for us to perceive beyond our 4-dimenional space-time continuum so we try to understand the Old Ones, at least initially, within this frame of reference. As I have also said in the past, I believe the true nature and form of Cthulhu and others is masked by us from our own limitations.

      I also agree that it is much more challenging to have a different physical explanation, again due to limitation of perception. However, there have been models that have “tweaked” our own physical constants to see if life (at least as we know) it could exist; one of the basic ideas being that stable matter (atoms) are required for the develop of life at least as we know it. Modifying the influence of gravity or the mass of an electron can have dramatic impacts on another universe. In addition, there have been models to stimulate existence if one of the four forces of nature (say the weak nuclear force) was completely removed from reality. Surprisingly stable matter could potential form in the absence of the weak nuclear force; at least that is what some of the models state.

      Thanks again for your comments!
      Fred

  7. I’ve always imagined that the reason why Cthulhu was so “easily” defeated was because it wasn’t actually awake yet; as someone previously mentioned, the stars weren’t yet right. I think the incident was more akin to a brief stirring in one’s sleep, and Cthulhu’s rising was essentially just sleepwalking, or tossing and turning. When the ship rammed Cthulhu, all it really did was disrupt the brief stirring and return it to its deathsleep.

    1. Hey Aaron – good point. I think one fully “awake” or “converted” into our reality Cthulhu would be a might force to contend with – thank you for the comment! Fred

  8. Love “Cthulhu 1790”. It’s an illustration.
    Your article is very interesting. And now makes me think… In “The case of Dexter Ward” the evil magician ends defeated by some words pronounced by the psychiatrist. Now, why Dexter Ward himself didn’t that?
    I never understood that.

    1. Thank you for the comments – The Case of Charles Dexter Ward is one of the stories I need to do in the future.

      1. Awesome! Thank you. Looking forward to read it.
        Besides, I just noticed that I didn’t finish my first sentence.
        It’s : “Love Cthulhu 1790, it’s a great illustration”.
        Now is better.

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