Throwback Thursday: H.P. Lovecraft’s Elder Things (1931)

Mountains of Madness, by Andrei Sherstuk. Click here for more of the artist’s work!

Great and dreadful Cthulhu is without doubt Lovecraft’s most recognized creation, and many who are only casually aware of his work may think he’s the end-all and be-all of his work. I’d even personally go so far as to say that Cthulhu in the present day is overexposed, his shadow obscuring many of H.P.’s other fascinating creatures and stories. So on this Throwback Thursday, I’m casting a light on one of his lesser know creations before they… or I… scurry off into the darkness.

The Elder Things are a race of extraterrestrials, and came to the Earth and colonized it as the first aliens to do so about one billion years ago. They first appeared in H. P. Lovecraft’s novella At the Mountains of Madness which he wrote in 1931, but wouldn’t see publication until 1936. They would go on to be referenced in many of his later stories, but nothing he would later say would be as detailed as the description he gave them in their first story:

Objects are eight feet long all over. Six-foot five-ridged barrel torso 3.5 feet central diameter, 1 foot end diameters. Dark grey, flexible, and infinitely tough. Seven-foot membraneous wings of same colour, found folded, spread out of furrows between ridges. Wing framework tubular or glandular, of lighter grey, with orifices at wing tips. Spread wings have serrated edge. Around equator, one at central apex of each of the five vertical, stave-like ridges, are five systems of light grey flexible arms or tentacles found tightly folded to torso but expansible to maximum length of over 3 feet. Like arms of primitive crinoid. Single stalks 3 inches diameter branch after 6 inches into five sub-stalks, each of which branches after 8 inches into five small, tapering tentacles or tendrils, giving each stalk a total of 25 tentacles.

At top of torso blunt bulbous neck of lighter grey with gill-like suggestions holds yellowish five-pointed starfish-shaped apparent head covered with three-inch wiry cilia of various prismatic colours. Head thick and puffy, about 2 feet point to point, with three-inch flexible yellowish tubes projecting from each point. Slit in exact centre of top probably breathing aperture. At end of each tube is spherical expansion where yellowish membrane rolls back on handling to reveal glassy, red-irised globe, evidently an eye. Five slightly longer reddish tubes start from inner angles of starfish-shaped head and end in sac-like swellings of same colour which upon pressure open to bell-shaped orifices 2 inches maximum diameter and lined with sharp white tooth-like projections. Probable mouths. All these tubes, cilia, and points of starfish-head found folded tightly down; tubes and points clinging to bulbous neck and torso. Flexibility surprising despite vast toughness.

At bottom of torso rough but dissimilarly functioning counterparts of head arrangements exist. Bulbous light-grey pseudo-neck, without gill suggestions, holds greenish five-pointed starfish-arrangement. Tough, muscular arms 4 feet long and tapering from 7 inches diameter at base to about 2.5 at point. To each point is attached small end of a greenish five-veined membraneous triangle 8 inches long and 6 wide at farther end. This is the paddle, fin, or pseudo-foot which has made prints in rocks from a thousand million to fifty or sixty million years old. From inner angles of starfish-arrangement project two-foot reddish tubes tapering from 3 inches diameter at base to 1 at tip. Orifices at tips. All these parts infinitely tough and leathery, but extremely flexible. Four-foot arms with paddles undoubtedly used for locomotion of some sort, marine or otherwise. When moved, display suggestions of exaggerated muscularity. As found, all these projections tightly folded over pseudo-neck and end of torso, corresponding to projections at other end.

H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness.

The Elder Things maintained thriving colonies and massive cities on Earth for hundreds of millions of years. They lost their dominance over the planet near the very beginning of primate evolution, in spite of ages of war between themselves and many other alien colonists and gods. But in the end, the onset of the ice age and cooling of the planet forced them to withdraw into their cities. Their civilization on Earth entered a decline, and they eventually were destroyed by an uprising of a salve race they had engineered that became too smart and capable for them to control.

Their last city, and several Elder Things thought initially dead, were discovered on a high plateau in the Antarctic in 1931 by an expedition from Miskatonic University. Freed from freezing caves, the beings were mistaken for fossils, but soon found to be only in a state of hibernation after they thawed out. They killed most of the expedition on revival, then journeyed to their bizarre and empty city now entombed in ice. A surviving pair of scientists tracked and followed the Elder Things into the ghostly ruins, only to find that even greater horrors lurk in its recesses…

Lovecraft – Elder Thing, by KingOvRats. Click here for more of the artist’s work!
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