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.
Those of The Great Race of Yith are a little complicated to describe. They make their appearance in the 1936 novella The Shadow Out of Time, and like most of Lovecraft’s creations, they are extraterrestrial intelligences that began their existences aeons before humans even evolved. However, the physical form they are known for is not their original one… for what added “Great” to the name of the Yithian race are their tremendous intellectual and psychic abilities that allow them to transfer their minds with other beings.
Even more amazing is the fact that their powers are so vast and expansive that they can breach the bounds of time by exchanging minds with creatures of wholly different eras, past and future. This allowed them to possess effectively limitless amounts post- and precognitive knowledge given enough time to research. Lovecraft described the situation as follows:
And, meanwhile, the Great Race itself waxed well-nigh omniscient, and turned to the task of setting up exchanges with the minds of other planets, and of exploring their pasts and futures. It sought likewise to fathom the past years and origin of that black, aeon-dead orb in far space whence its own mental heritage had come—for the mind of the Great Race was older than its bodily form.
The beings of a dying elder world, wise with the ultimate secrets, had looked ahead for a new world and species wherein they might have long life; and had sent their minds en masse into that future race best adapted to house them—the cone-shaped beings that peopled our earth a billion years ago.
Thus the Great Race came to be, while the myriad minds sent backward were left to die in the horror of strange shapes.
H. P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Out of Time.
The physical forms ascribed to the Yith in Lovecraft’s 1935 short story are not their originals. Instead, they are a race of beings that were native to Earth around the time roughly before of the Permian–Triassic Extinction Event. The great race would exist in these stolen forms to build a civilization that would last some 200 million years until the end of the Cretaceous era, when a race of Flying Polyps from another galaxy destroyed their civilization after a long conflict.
The appearance of the Great Race’s commandeered bodies was given the following bit of narration by the author:
The Great Race’s members were immense rugose cones ten feet high, and with head and other organs attached to foot-thick, distensible limbs spreading from the apexes. They spoke by the clicking or scraping of huge paws or claws attached to the end of two of their four limbs, and walked by the expansion and contraction of a viscous layer attached to their vast, ten-foot bases.
These members were sometimes contracted almost to nothing, and sometimes extended to any distance up to about ten feet. Terminating two of them were enormous claws or nippers. At the end of a third were four red, trumpetlike appendages. The fourth terminated in an irregular yellowish globe some two feet in diameter and having three great dark eyes ranged along its central circumference. Surmounting this head were four slender grey stalks bearing flower-like appendages, whilst from its nether side dangled eight greenish antennae or tentacles. The great base of the central cone was fringed with a rubbery, grey substance which moved the whole entity through expansion and contraction.
H.P. Lovecraft, The Shadow Out Of Time.
The Great Race of Yith did not meet their end at the hands of the cosmic Flying Polyps 66 million years ago, however. The Yithians, thanks to their mental time traveling, were aware of their eventual downfall to come at the hands of the Polyps. Therefore, they scoured the future for a time when their victorious enemies no longer existed, projecting and their minds forward into many eras… including into human times. Finding humans woefully inadequate, limited and still vulnerable to Polyp attack, they ultimately transfered their minds en masse into the bodies of a beetle-like race that dominates the Earth long after mankind has gone extinct.
Thus the intellects of the Yith escaped their coming/past doom yet again… and let the minds of another race that had nothing to do with the situation whatsoever take the fall in their stead. Again.
What a bunch of tricky bastards!