Thursday, August 22, 2013

An Eldritch Education: "The Doom that Came to Sarnath"

Spooky Synopsis: In the land of Mnar, there was lake, and around that lake dwelt a strange, fishy folk in a city called Ib. Though not pleasant to behold, what with their odd ears and bulging eyes and green skin, they were peaceable enough, spending their time in worship of a lizard-god named Bokrug. That is until men came and founded nearby Sarnath. These men did not like the rude features of their neighbors, their devotion to the odd deity, their very existence. So they slaughtered the inhabitants of Ib, stole their graven idol, and proclaimed themselves masters of all they could see. However, for this transgression a deadly prophecy of coming judgment fell upon Sarnath ...

Lovecraftian Language: "Thus of the very ancient city of Ib was nothing spared save the sea-green stone idol chiseled in the likeness of Bokrug, the water-lizard. This the young warriors took back with them to Sarnath as a symbol of conquest over the old gods and beings of Ib, and a sign of leadership in Mnar. But on the night after it was set up in the temple a terrible thing must have happened, for weird lights were seen over the lake, and in the morning the people found the idol gone, and the high-priest Taran-Ish lying dead, as from some fear unspeakable. And before he died, Taran-Ish had scrawled upon the altar of chrysolite with coarse shaky strokes the sign of DOOM."

Eerie Evaluation: Unlike Lovecraft's other dabblings in the fantastic, "The Doom that Came to Sarnath" doesn't aim for poignancy or profundity or perplexing descriptions. I mean, it does have those things. Sarnath's perishing comes across as appropriately cruel, and one can draw more than a few moral precepts from its inhabitants' calculated callousness toward the fishy inhabitants of Ib. And like diner does to a tasteless steak, Lovecraft heavily peppers the story with countless imaginary people and places. But all of these things merely color "The Doom that Came to Sarnath." They aren't its core. No, the story's beating heart is a classically cautionary horror tale about pride and respect, one that sits far more comfortably in its author's creepy oeuvre than "CelephaŃ—s" or "The Quest of Iranon."

Number of Sanity-Shredding Shoggoths (out of five):

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To visit the story index for "An Eldritch Education" (my year spent reading H.P. Lovecraft's work), please click here.

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