Sunday, June 23, 2013

Lovecraft 101 - Nyarlahotep

Nyarlathotep is a story of impending doom. Mimicking a thousand prophesiers that have come before, a strange man emerges foretelling of the end of all things. This man comes from the depths of Egypt and looks to be the descendant of the pharaohs themselves, and like a mad showman peddles his prophecies with doom in fantastic shows of wonder.
Many writers and scholars have wondered if Lovecraft had been inspired by the work of Nikola Tesla, who in the day, went around with his travelling show demonstrating the wondrous powers of electricity. Tesla was equal parts genius, showman and madman, and it really isn't a stretch to see him in the depiction of the dark pharaoh.
With the arrival of the traveling man, the entire town is awakened in the night by the screams of thousands of nightmares, as dark dreams soon follow wherever the foreigner travels. Like a big-tent revivalist, Nyarlathotep shocks his audience with wonders and fear. Common from late 19th to early 20th century, spiritualists, evangelicals and even scientists were doing this very thing. Seeking crowds of converts or supporters for their cause. Lovecraft, however, takes this strange slice of American showmanship and turns it into a thing of terror as the dark pharoah sends columns of people out into the night in a zombified haze, overwhelmed by the fear of the things supposed to come. It is there, outside the confines of the showman's tent that they witness in horror the visage of ultimate destruction on the earth. HPL's description in the final paragraph is as poetic as it is gruesomely dispairing.
The character of Nyarlathotep, becomes a recurring name throughout Lovecraft's work. At times it takes a more pivotal role, but often it is thrown in with other names in a list of evil entities on earth. As we learn in later stories, and is hinted at in the final sentences, there is far more to the dark pharoah than being a sadistic showman.

If you want to check out this very short but disturbing introduction to Nyarlathotep, you can check out the full text here: HPL's Nyarlathotep
Illustration by Jeff Powers © 2013

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