In completing the analysis of “The Rats in the Walls” there are a few more points I want to discuss. First, even prior to his knowledge of ancestral cannibalism de la Poer was having strange dreams of a “white-bearded daemon swineherd drove about with his staff a flock of fungous, flabby beasts.” In another dream he mentions “a Roman feast like that of Trimalchio, with a horror in a covered platter. Then came that damnable, recurrent thing about the swineherd and his filthy drove in the twilit grotto.” Trimalchio was a character in Satyricon, a work of Roman fiction written by Petronius. Trimalchio was known to host extremely lavish and elaborate dinner parties (S.T. Joshi’s notes in H.P. Lovecraft’s The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, Penguin Classics, 1999) and one can guess what the horror was under the covered platter.
Bearded daemon swineherd by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)
Fungous, flabby beast by Michael Bukowski (www.yog-blogsoth.blogspot.com)
It is interesting to note that once deep in the twilit grotto de la Poer has an encounter with Nyarlathotep and his two amorphous idiot flute-players. Immediately subsequent to this encounter he attacks and feeds on Norrys. Even before this horrible incident, de la Poer notes that the only member of the expedition that he notices is the plump Capt. Norrys. In a previous article “Nyarlathotep: The Rats in the Walls” I suggested two hypotheses which may explain de la Poer’s attack on Capt. Norrys. The first was a genetic trait deeply embedded in the de la Poer genome that was triggered by the conditions experienced at Exham Priory and was then manifested as cannibalism. In an alternative hypothesis, it is suggested that Nyarlathotep influences a sub-set of humanity of a particularly genetic strain, again resulting in cannibalism. For more on this subject, please read that article.
De la Poer’s dream of the white-bearded daemon and the fungous, flabby beasst obviously represents the ancestral de la Poers handling and managing the ancestors of the Norrys as cattle. Was this predator – prey relationship the result of specific genetic markers in the Norrys as well as the de la Poers or was this large-scale, community-based cannibalism the result of Nyarlathotep’s tampering with humanity?
A third hypothesis suggested in this article is that the mechanism responsible for the cannibalism may be microbial in nature. The feeding of the Norrys, other humans and possibly other hominids may have a means of transferring a bacterial or viral carrier or possibly a prion. A prion is an infectious, misfolded protein. Unlike other microbial agents such as viruses, bacteria, fungi, protists and parasites, prions do not contain DNA and/or RNA. These infectious proteins are responsible for mammalian transmissible spongiform encephalopathies with the most well-known of these being bovine spongiform encephalopathy, also known as “mad cow disease.”
A brain from a person with mad cow disease (left), caused by prions, compared to a normal brain (right) (www.sciencelife.uchospitals.edu)
In addition to mad cow disease, prions have also been known to infect isolated tribes in Papua New Guinea who practice a ritualistic form of cannibalism where the organs of the recently deceased are feed to family members. This ritualistic cannibalism included feeding on pieces of brain, which is the primary route of transmission of the prion and results in a disease called “kuru.” Over a period of six months infected individuals would begin to exhibit symptoms such as muscle tremors, uncontrollable laughter, slurring of speech and finally the inability to move or swallow (www.sciencelife.uchospitals.edu). The mechanism behind these symptoms was the prion binding to intracellular components resulting in the death of cells within the nervous system. Is it possible that a less virulent form of prion is responsible for the madness that overtakes de la Poer? We have prions normally in our tissues but we know very little about what function they serve. Do the de la Poers have an alternate “semi-misfolded” prion in their brain tissue that is possibly triggered or initiated to conduct accelerated neurological damage once one occupies Exham Priory or has direct contact with a Norrys?
Exham Priory from the H.P. Lovecraft Tarot Card Deck
Finally, before we leave Exham Priory I want to note that the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast did a great couple of shows on “The Rats in the Walls” with Kenneth Hite as a guest contributor. As usual they did a great job discussing the story and Kenneth’s comments were very informative. For example, going back to the theme of isolation fostering cannibalism, Kenneth notes that de la Poer was essentially cut off from his past due to his ancestral family’s nefarious activities and loss of land, and cut off from his future by the death of his only son. Thus, while the de la Poer blood line is essentially isolated in time, the Norrys blood line flourishes on lands once owned by the de la Poers. Again, this is another example of cannibalism being the outcome of the isolation of an individual or community.
Next time we begin a discussion of HPL’s tale “The Colour Out of Space” starting with HPL’s first scientific love – that of chemistry. Thank you – Fred.