The Other Gods: The complete Lovecraft #32

Pantheonic gods are cooler than monotheistic ones. I say this not to denigrate anyone’s faith. Somethings just are…

A cigarette smoking teenage Marlon Brando in black leather in ‘Rebel without a cause’.  Leaning against a Harley Daverson answering the onerous question “What are you rebelling against?” with a sneer as he replies   “What have you got…?” is by its very nature cooler than Old Marlon in ‘The Godfather’ being the don and talking with a mouth full of cotton wool.

They’re both, if you like that kind of thing, awe-inspiring in the literal sense of the word. But Thor, Odin, Loki and all, or Zeus, Ares, Aphrodite and the rest of the toga-wearers who make mortals their playthings, are cooler, than the big bearded guy in the clouds who created everything, knows everything, and is everywhere. Giant wolves that are going to eat the world, serpents that encircle the earth, frost giants, magic hammers, minotaurs, showers of gold that seduce princesses, hydras and golden fleeces. War gods, thunder gods, love goddesses, gods of wine, muses, fates, feasting halls and homes on clouded mountain tops are just a whole lot of cool. A Church of England chapel on a Sunday morning with a dozen choir boys and an organist, not so much…

Norse_Gods

Cool does not imply good btw, Bonnie and Clyde were ‘cool’, Charles Manson was considered to be the hight of ‘cool’ right up to the point the family started killing people, Roman Polanski was ‘cool’, Phil Spector was ‘cool’. The CoE Monotheistic god may not be ‘cool’, but at least he isn’t going around unleashing the Kraken, or hurling lightning bolts at people… At least not since the end of the old testament anyway…

That’s the thing about Pantheonic gods, they may be cool, but there a right set of bastards as a rule, and every pantheon also has its ‘other gods’. For all the fertility goddesses and protecting All-fathers there a Loki, a bunch of frost giants or titans. The monotheists have the Devil, who may well have all the best tunes. The pantheons, however, have their ‘other gods’ and they tend towards the nasty side of chaos. You may sacrifice a goat or seven to Zeus, but you made sure you did not upset Hades, of Hectate at the same time. No one might openly worship Hel, but they probably tried not to upset her just in case.

All this mildly heretical preamble leads us up to ‘The Other Gods‘. A Lovecraftian tale that sits in the middle of all his works. It also links to a fair few other stories both earlier and later in his bibliography. Its two main characters come from that city of the cat lovers Ulthar. Barzai, the elder of the two, was the one who convinced the elders of the town of the wisdom of not killing felines. This may have had something to do with a particular goddess of Egyptian persuasion who is somewhat feline herself. Or more likely that Lovecraft stalwart who ‘came out of Egypt‘, who is himself later linked to this tale in ‘The Dream-Quest Unknown Kadath’. When ‘Nyarlathotep‘ speaks to Randolph Carter in a sardonic fashion of the ill-fated expeditions of other impertinent god-seekers and relates when Barzai’s hubris brought him to the baleful attention of the Other Gods, they “did what was expected”. So, if you don’t read Lovecraft in order, thanks for the spoiler there oh wearer of masks…

The other main character is Barzai assistant/ apprentice Alat, the son of an innkeeper in Ulthar who witnesses the weird rites of the cats on the night that the old Cotter and his wife are killed. He also turns up in ‘The Dream-Quest Unknown Kadath‘, though by then he is 300 years old, has a beard you could hide a yak in and is running a temple of the elder gods. All of which makes a certain amount of sense as ‘The Other Gods‘ also is where Lovecraft first makes mention of  ‘unknown Kadath in the cold waste where no man treads.’ There is a lot going on in this story, it sets up a lot of what is to come and not with mere hints as has happened before.

There also a whole lot of lore been slipped into the background that will come back later in Lovecraft’s stores. Barzai the wise, for example, earned his moniker by reading such works as the Pnakotic Manuscripts (first mentioned way back in ‘Polaris‘ )and the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan. Though reading forbidden ancient texts seems a very unwise thing to do in the Lovecraftian universe… These strange books crop up again in ‘The Dream-Quest Unknown Kadath‘. Kadath itself crops up in several stories, including ‘Beyond the Mountains of Madness’ and in Dunwich. Yet written in 1921, ‘The Other Gods’ still predates most of the tales it links back to.

Barzai and Alat set out on a quest to look upon the faces of the gods of the earth. It is clearly more Barzai’s quest than Alat’s. Alat one suspects would far rather be at home in Ulthar, sipping warm tea and surrounded by cats… But given what he witnessed in ‘The Cats of Ulthar’ as a boy perhaps trailing after a half-mad prophet to a forbidden mountain to look at the faces of the gods seemed a safer option to him… It’s always worth noting that if someone is proclaimed as wise due to reading a few books no one else understands and then starts raving about climbing mountains to look upon the face of the gods, giving them a wide berth is probably safer for your health. But never the less Alat goes traipsing off with Barzai to the mountain most likely to play host to the god’s version of a high school reunion. You know the kind of thing., drinking, dancing, reminiscing about when you were all powerful and worshipped with human sacrifices before those pesky humans got all monotheistic on you…

The gods of the earth, old pantheons long forgot, or at least only half-remembered, have been hiding out at the top of mountains for aeons. But those pesky humans keep climbing them and forcing the gods to change mountains because the last thing you want as a declining pantheon is people to see you in your under-crackers watching games shows in your retirement village… figuratively speaking in any case. Better by far that the humans still think of you as the cool rebel Brando,  but once in a while, they like to go to the old corner and hang out for a while. Luckily the locals know well enough to keep away when the clouds start to form around the mountains. Barzai on the other hand…

Barzai scales the mountain, in true zealot style.Regardless of his own safety, or the safety of poor Alat who follows on behind. Alat is at least wise enough to hang back a little, while his mentor races ahead. Into the clouds goes Barzai, to see at last the faces of the gods… But when he gets there he is not greeted by…

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  “The other gods! The other gods! The gods of the outer hells that guard the feeble gods of earth! . . . Look away! . . . Go back! . . . Do not see! . . . Do not see! . . . The vengeance of the infinite abysses . . . That cursed, that damnable pit . . . Merciful gods of earth, I am falling into the sky!”

Well there you go, what do you expect when you try to seek up on the good half of the pantheon. When you crash a high school reunion there gonna be the bullies there as well as your high school sweet heard and that smart guy from chemistry… Where there be gods, there be the other gods, the twisted ones, the monsters…

There is a lot in this short tale, a lot that ties other stories together, and which lays the seed of things to come. But it is also a good old yarn, a nice bit of mythology, and has a whole lot of cool about it. You can see the ending coming, but that’s beside the point. The strange behaviour of the gods, so beyond the comprehension of mortal man is matched only by the idiocy of the one who is so determined to look them in the face. While the only sage ones here are the villager in the foothills of the mountain who point out the gross error Barzai and Alat are making. It gets five slithering tentacles of encroaching doom from me, as it may be the first fully Lovecraftian tale so far. This is steeped in his own lore and knows exactly what it is doing. But then I am a sucker for pantheonic gods, it’s the cool leather jackets I’m sure…

5out 6

Further Lovecraftian witterings 

 

This entry was posted in humour, Lovecraft, mythos, reads, retro book reviews, sci-fi and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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