Nyarlathotep

Nyarlathotep

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Nyarlathotep (the Crawling Chaos) is a fictional character in the Cthulhu Mythos. He is the creation of H. P. Lovecraft and first appeared in his prose poemNyarlathotep” (1920). The being is one of the cosmic Outer Gods and appears in numerous stories by Lovecraft. Nyarlathotep is also featured in the works of other authors, as well as in role-playing games based on the Cthulhu Mythos.

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Nyarlathotep in Lovecraft

Nyarlathotep’s first appearance is in the eponymous short story by Lovecraft (1920), in which he is described as a “tall, swarthy man” who resembles an Egyptian Pharaoh. In this story he wanders the earth, seemingly gathering legions of followers through his demonstrations of strange and seemingly magical instruments, the narrator of the story among them. These followers lose awareness of the world around them, and through the narrator’s increasingly unreliable accounts the reader gets a sense of the world’s utter collapse. The story ends with the narrator as part of an army of servants serving Nyarlathotep.

Nyarlathotep (usually referred to in conjunction with the subnomen, “The Crawling Chaos”) subsequently appears as a major character in The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926/27), in which he again manifests in the form of an Egyptian Pharaoh when he confronts protagonist Randolph Carter.

The twenty-first sonnet of Lovecraft’s poem-cycle Fungi from Yuggoth (1929/30)–not to be confused with the entities identified as the fungi from Yuggoth, or Mi-Go in “The Whisperer in Darkness“–is dedicated to Nyarlathotep, and is substantially a poetic retelling of the short story “Nyarlathotep.”

In “The Dreams in the Witch House” (1933), Nyarlathotep appears to Walter Gilman and witch Keziah Mason (who has made a pact with the entity) in the form of “the ‘Black Man’ of the witch-cult,” a black-skinned avatar of the Devil associated with New England witchcraft lore.

Finally, in “The Haunter of the Dark” (1936), the tentacled, bat-winged, dark-loving monster dwelling in the steeple of the Starry Wisdom sect’s church is identified as another form, or manifestation of, Nyarlathotep.

Though Nyarlathotep appears as a character in only four stories and one sonnet (more than any other Great Old Ones or Other Gods), his name is mentioned frequently in numerous others. For example, in “The Whisperer in Darkness” Nyarlathotep’s name is spoken frequently by the fungi from Yuggoth in a reverential or ritual sense, indicating that they worship or honor the entity in some fashion.

Despite similarities in theme and name, Nyarlathotep does not feature at all in Lovecraft’s story “The Crawling Chaos,” (1920/21) an apocalyptic narrative written in collaboration with Elizabeth Berkeley.

Inspiration

In a 1921 letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, Lovecraft related the dream he had had — described as “the most realistic and horrible [nightmare] I have experienced since the age of ten” — that served as the basis for his prose poem “Nyarlathotep”. In the dream, he received a letter from his friend Samuel Loveman that read:

Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible — horrible beyond anything you can imagine — but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.

Lovecraft commented:

I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in public halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts — first, a horrible — possibly prophetic — cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus. As I received the letter, I seemed to recall that Nyarlathotep was already in Providence…. I seemed to remember that persons had whispered to me in awe of his horrors, and warned me not to go near him. But Loveman’s dream letter decided me…. As I left the house I saw throngs of men plodding through the night, all whispering affrightedly and bound in one direction. I fell in with them, afraid yet eager to see and hear the great, the obscure, the unutterable Nyarlathotep.[1]

Will Murray suggests that this dream image of Nyarlathotep may have been inspired by the inventor Nikola Tesla, whose well-attended lectures did involve extraordinary experiments with electrical apparatus, and whom some saw as a sinister figure.[2]

Robert M. Price proposes that the name Nyarlathotep may have been subconsciously suggested to Lovecraft by two names from Lord Dunsany, an author he much admired: Alhireth-Hotep, a false prophet from Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegana, and Mynarthitep, a god described as “angry” in his “The Sorrow of Search”.[3]

Summary

Nyarlathotep differs from the other beings in a number of ways. Most of them are exiled to stars, like Yog-Sothoth and Hastur, or sleeping and dreaming like Cthulhu; Nyarlathotep, however, is active and frequently walks the Earth in the guise of a human being, usually a tall, slim, joyous man. Most of the Outer Gods have their own cults serving them; Nyarlathotep seems to serve these cults and take care of their affairs in their absence. Most of them use strange alien languages, while Nyarlathotep uses human languages and can be mistaken for a human being. Finally, most of them are all powerful yet purposeless, yet Nyarlathotep seems to be deliberately deceptive and manipulative, and even uses propaganda to achieve his goals. In this regard, he is probably the most human-like among them.

Nyarlathotep enacts the will of the Outer Gods, and is their messenger, heart and soul; he is also a servant of Azathoth, whose wishes he immediately fulfills. Unlike the other Outer Gods, causing madness is more important and enjoyable than death and destruction to Nyarlathotep.[4] In this sense, he strongly resembles the traditional role of the devil.[citation needed]

Quotations

And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences – of electricity and psychology – and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of a nightmare.
—H. P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep

And through this revolting graveyard of the universe the muffled, maddening beating of drums, and thin, monotonous whine of blasphemous flutes from inconceivable, unlighted chambers beyond Time; the detestable pounding and piping whereunto dance slowly, awkwardly, and absurdly the gigantic, tenebrous ultimate gods — the blind, voiceless, mindless gargoyles whose soul is Nyarlathotep.
—H. P. Lovecraft, Nyarlathotep

It was the eldritch scurrying of those fiend-born rats, always questing for new horrors, and determined to lead me on even unto those grinning caverns of earth’s centre where Nyarlathotep, the mad faceless god, howls blindly to the piping of two amorphous idiot flute-players.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Rats in the Walls

What his fate would be, he did not know; but he felt that he was held for the coming of that frightful soul and messenger of infinity’s Other Gods, the crawling chaos Nyarlathotep.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath

There was the immemorial figure of the deputy or messenger of hidden and terrible powers – the “Black Man” of the witch cult, and the “Nyarlathotep” of the Necronomicon.
—H. P. Lovecraft, The Dreams in the Witch House

Popular culture

Literature

Nyarlathotep sometimes appears or is referred to in literature outside the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror:

  • In Stephen King‘s The Stand and his Dark Tower series of books, the character Randall Flagg was known (among many other names) as Nyarlathotep. His short story “Crouch End” features the name spelled “Nyarlathotep”.
  • The children’s horror writer Brad Strickland used Nyarlathotep as the main antagonist in his book The Wrath of the Grinning Ghost.
  • Nyarlathotep is a student in Harry Turtledove‘s short story “The Genetics Lecture.”
  • The Book of the SubGenius briefly mentions an entity called “Nyardim Thothep”
  • Pulp novelist Barry Reese uses Nyarlathotep in several of his Rook Universe stories. Nyarlathotep appears in “Kingdom of Blood” and “The Gasping Death”. Nyarlathotep also appears under the guise Mr. Blackman in the short story “The Great Work” which was printed in both Thrilling Adventures and the fifth edition of Startling Stories

Comics

Music

  • German heavy metal band Rage has a song titled “The Crawling Chaos”, a song seemingly about the destruction of the earth by Nyarlathotep, on their 1995 album Black in Mind.
  • Italian heavy metal band Bejelit has a song titled “Haunter in the Dark”, based on the story of the same name, from their Bones and Evil EP.
  • The band Nox Arcana has a song titled “Nyarlathotep”.
  • The Belgian metalcore band Congress has a song intro titled “Nyarlathotep” on their “Angry With The Sun” album.
  • The band Burning Star Core has a song entitled “nyarlathotep” on their album “The Very Heart of the World”.

Games

  • As the Thing Outside Time and Space in the trading card game Hecatomb.
  • Nyarlathotep is the main antagonist of the Demonbane series which spans games, comics, novels, and a TV series, in which it is trying to free its father Azathoth from the Shining Trapezohedron. It has taken on four named forms so far: Nya, an owner of a mysterious bookstore filled with dangerous grimoires, Nyarla, a maid to Augusta Derleth, Father Ny, the leader of the Church of Starry Wisdom, and the Tick-Tock Man, technology incarnate. It has also taken on the forms of an unnamed black man “from Egypt”, and a talking black rat, among others. Its “true” form is depicted as a great shadow filled with fangs and claws and tentacles with three flaming eyes.
  • In the Derelict campaign mod of the game FreeSpace 2, the Nyarlathotep is the designation of a Shivan Lucifer class destroyer which was found floating in subspace for centuries.
  • His name and title (crawling chaos) is mentioned in Ice Station Santa, the first episode of season 2 of the Sam and Max adventure game series by Telltale Games. When attempting to exorcize a demon, Nyarlathotep’s name is one of the incorrect guesses of the demon’s true name.

Film

  • A 13-minute short film version of Nyarlathotep[5] was released in 2001, directed by Christian Matzke.[6] It was re-released on DVD in 2004 as part of the H. P. Lovecraft Collection Volume 1: Cool Air.[7]

References

Role-playing game material

  • Aniolowski, Scott D. (1990). “The Sundial of Amen-Tet”, Lurking Fears. Lockport, NY: Triad Entertainments.
  • Aniolowski, Scott D. (1994). Ye Booke of Monstres. Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-019-4.
  • Detwiller, Dennis; Adam Scott Glancy and John Tynes (1997). Delta Green: A Call of Cthulhu Sourcebook of Modern Horror and Conspiracy. Tynes Cowan Corp. ISBN 1-887797-08-4.
  • Diaper, John; et al (1983). The Arkham Evil. Theatre of the Mind.
  • DiTillio, Larry; Lynn Willis (1996). Masks of Nyarlathotep. Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-069-0.
  • Gillian, Geoff (1991). “Regiment of Dread”, Tales of the Miskatonic Valley. Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 0-933635-83-4.
  • Gillian, Geoff; et al (1991). Horror on the Orient Express.
  • Hallet, David; L.N. Isinwyll (1991). “Eyes for the Blind”, Dark Designs.
  • Hamblin, William (1983). “Thoth’s Dagger”, Different Worlds #27.
  • Herber, Keith (1990). “Dead of Night”, Arkham Unveiled.
  • Herber, Keith (1984). The Fungi from Yuggoth.
  • Herber, Keith (1991). Return to Dunwich.
  • Lyons, Doug; L.N. Isinwyll (1989). “One in Darkness”, The Great Old Ones. Oakland, CA: Chaosium.
  • Petersen, Sandy (1982). “The Rise of R’lyeh”, Shadows of Yog-Sothoth.
  • Petersen, Sandy; John B. Monroe (1990). “The Ten Commandments of Cthulhu Hunting”, The Cthulhu Casebook.
  • Ross, Kevin (1997). Escape from Innsmouth, 2nd ed., Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-115-8.
  • Williams, Chris; Sandy Petersen (1997). The Complete Dreamlands, 4th ed., Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-086-0.

Notes

  1. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, letter to Reinhardt Kleiner, December 21, 1921; cited in Lin Carter, Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos, pp. 18-19.
  2. ^ Will Murray, “Behind the Mask of Nyarlathotep”, Lovecraft Studies No. 25 (Fall 1991); cited in Robert M. Price, The Nyarlathotep Cycle, p. 9.
  3. ^ Price, p. vii, 1-5.
  4. ^ Harms, “Nyarlathotep”, The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, pp. 218–9.
  5. ^ http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0325913/
  6. ^ http://www.miskatonic.net/pickman/mythos/nyar1.html
  7. ^ http://www.amazon.com/H-P-Lovecraft-Collection-Cool-Air/dp/B0006HCT3S/ref=pd_bbs_sr_1/104-3769968-8180754?ie=UTF8&s=dvd&qid=1193753134&sr=8-1

External links

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One thought on “Nyarlathotep

  1. Great 120th Birthday Presents to/from H. P. Lovecraft!

    Happy 120th. Birthday H.P.L.!

    Freebies released in celebration of H. P. Lovecraft’s 120th. birthday on 20-August-2010, and to stir up excitement for the possible making of the Universal Studios 3D version of “At the Mountains of Madness” by Guillermo del Toro and James Cameron; and as a celebration by Will Hart of the 20th. anniversary of his being at Lovecraft’s grave-side on his 100th. birthday.

    Released during the last few hours in MP3 Format on:
    http://cthulhuwho1.com
    (The audio companion to the CthulhuWho1 Flickr collections.)

    “Fungi from Yuggoth”
    H. P. Lovecraft’s complete 36 sonnet set; in an all-new recording by William (Will) Hart; in single file, and multiple file versions. A dark poetry reading if there ever was one…

    “What If H. P. Lovecraft Had Lived Into The 1960’s?”
    A 163 minute panel recording in six parts, of Professor Dirk W. Mosig, Professor Donald R. Burleson, J. Vernon Shea, Fritz Leiber, Jr., and S.T. Joshi at the 36th World Science Fiction Convention in Phoenix in 1978. A must-have for Lovecraftians!

    Plus, behind the scenes recordings including a live reading by Don Burleson of his darkly funny, “The Last Supper.”

    And more audio goodies too!

    And there are now over 1200 Lovecraft, Cthulhu, and Providence related images for the taking at the CthulhuWho1 Flickr page at:
    http://www.flickr.com/photos/cthulhuwho1/collections/
    (The image companion site to the http://cthulhuwho1.com audio site.)

    All of the above items (and more to come) were created in honor of H. P. Lovecraft; but since he’s not here with us, it’s up to you, and everyone you can share them with to enjoy them!

    Will Hart
    aka CthulhuWho1
    aka California Cthulhu
    willhart-at-roadrunner-dot-com

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