Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
We have here at DCotU have a new thing, it’s call Cthulhu Critters. Each post will be dedicated to exploring a single monster form HP Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. We are going to start with his Fungi from Yougoth.
Before we get so far, let’s ask if the Old Gent from Providence created so many modern horror tropes, why is he remembered mainly for his bestiary?
I think there are two main reasons for this. The first one is that a lot of Lovecraftian Tropes weren’t original with him. He didn’t invent cosmic horror, he perfected it. He didn’t create the idea of a medieval dimension created by the dreams of men, he took the idea for the Dream Lands from Lord Dudsany. Even the idea of uncaring ultraterestrials visiting the Earth were first pioneered by Arthur Machen and Robert W Chambers.
But with very few exceptions (he didn’t create the idea of anthropomorphic fish beings) Lovecraft’s critters were completely his own. He deliberately rejected the concept of the alien found in most pulp stories of the time, which was typified with the Martian, a green skinned human with antennas. He believed if something evolved in an alien environment then it would be truly alien. This lead to a bevy of strange and fascinating entities.
Also it is important that the modern resurgence of Lovecraft, was speared on by the advent of Chasosium’s Call of Cthulhu Role Playing game. This introduced many people to the Mythos, even more people were introduced to HPL, by people who found him through the game. The RPG did the exact opposite of what Lovecraft did, it attempted to give statistics to, what he claimed where indescribable. This put the monsters and deities in to factoids that the human mind could digest. It was top offed with some awesome art. That made people want to find out about the Mythos beasties.
So, let’s start CC fungi from Yougoth or the Mi-Go. The Mi-go are an utterly alien race from the ninth planet in the solar system, Yougoth. Though it is never clear if they are form there, or just used it as a staging area for their exploitation of this solar system.
They are made of non-terrestrial atoms whose molecules vibrate in a frequency different form anything on Earth, that makes it very hard to show up on film and that even at a distance human feel the presence of something disturbingly un-natural.
We call them fungi because it is the nearest terrestrial comparison, they are not really fungi. They have bat like wings that are pretty much useless in Earths gravity but allow them to fly in the “aether of space” They have claw like hands, with a body that is often described as crustaceans. They communicate with each other by a combination of sounds and lights emitted form parts of their bodies.
It is important to note that of the many of the different extraterrestrial intelligences that Lovecraft rights about all of them travel by ‘flying on space winds” or travel though portals. None including the mi-go travel in spaceships. Neither flying saucers nor as were popular amongst the pulps of the time, spaceships.
This doesn’t mean the Mi-go weren’t technologically advanced. They were brilliant mining engineers and developed electrical ray guns. They were also skill surgeons. Since the frail human body could not stand the extreme environment of space, they developed away to remove a human brain and transport it across the cosmos in specially designed cylinders.
The planet Yuggoth is usually associated with Pluto. Pluto was discovered by Clyde W Tombaugh on February 18th 1930, Yuggoth first appeared in the poem Recognition, written between December 1929 and January 1930. In this poem it is described not being in our solar system, but beyond the stars. In September 1930 he wrote Whispers in the Darkness, where Yuggoth was associated with Pluto. Later writers explained this inconstancy by saying that Yuggoth orbits another star, but that they colonized Pluto, which they named after their home world, and use it as a staging area.
Lovecraft loved astronomy. If he hadn’t missed so much high school due to sickness, and that his math skills stunk, he would have gone to Brown University and studied astronomy. He loved space sciences as much as he loved myths and traditions. All though some of his science was later proven false, they were the cutting-edge theories of the time.
The name Mi-go probably originated with the word migou which is Tibetan for Yeti. The abominable snowman, which Lovecraft compares to the Fungi from Yuggoth, is of course a large white ape like creature who has nothing to with our pals from Yuggoth, other than the fact they like to live on the top of tall mountains. This isn’t the only time that HPL associates one of his creations with a monster in folklore that bares no similarity in appearance with it. He did this with the titular creature in th4e Shunned House, who was a mass of tentacles with vampires.
In late 1929 and early 1930 Lovecraft fancied himself as a master of the macabre and poetry, like his idol Edgar Allan Poe. Unfortunately, most of his poems were not that good and he created nothing on the level of Poe’s incredible Annabel Lee. The one collection of poems that received any level of praise is his collection of 36 pseudo-sonnets, The Fungi from Yuggoth.
FfY is the name of the collection and not the title of a specific poem. Yuggoth is mentioned in two poems IV Recognition and XIV Star Winds. Since they are in public domain I am including both here.
The day had come again, when as a child
I saw—just once—that hollow of old oaks,
Grey with a ground-mist that enfolds and chokes
The slinking shapes which madness has defiled.
It was the same—an herbage rank and wild
Clings round an altar whose carved sign invokes
That Nameless One to whom a thousand smokes
Rose, aeons gone, from unclean towers up-piled.
I saw the body spread on that dank stone,
And knew those things which feasted were not men;
I knew this strange, grey world was not my own,
But Yuggoth, past the starry voids—and then
The body shrieked at me with a dead cry,
And all too late I knew that it was I!
It is a certain hour of twilight glooms,
Mostly in autumn, when the star-wind pours
Down hilltop streets, deserted out-of-doors,
But shewing early lamplight from snug rooms.
The dead leaves rush in strange, fantastic twists,
And chimney-smoke whirls round with alien grace,
Heeding geometries of outer space,
While Fomalhaut peers in through southward mists.
This is the hour when moonstruck poets know
What fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents
And tints of flowers fill Nithon’s continents,
Such as in no poor earthly garden blow.
Yet for each dream these winds to us convey,
A dozen more of ours they sweep away!
In Recognition the creatures of Yuggoth seem to be more zombie like than Mi-Go like, and in Star-Winds they seem to be more like traditional terrestrial fungus. I have speculated (with no evidence that this was Lovecraft’s intention) that maybe these Yuggoth bound fungi were in fact the larval stage of the Mi-Go?
The next story that HPL wrote after his poetry phase was the Whispers in the Darkness. This is the only story he wrote where the mi-go play a staring role. It shows that he was still thinking about them and planet Yuggoth when he returned to prose writing.
The Whispers in the Darkness, has some incredible Vermont, scenery porn, and reflects a recent trip their Lovecraft had made there. It starts out with folklorist Albert N. Wilmarth, describing legends of strange alien bodies washing up after the Vermont floods of 1927. He corresponds with fellow folklorist Henry Wentworth Akeley, who tells him the legend of strange creatures living on the top of mountains in Vermont.
Akley sends Wilmarth a wax disc recording that he has made of chanting to strange gods, outside his Vermont cabin. He then sends him a letter saying the creatures are from the planet Yuggoth, and he has made contact with them and that they mean no harm to the human race. He then asks Akley to return the recording and all the letters he has sent him.
Akley arrives in Vermont to find Wilmarths neck bandage claiming he has a sore throat. He says that the Mi-go can remove his brain and put it in a canister and take him off to explore space. He even shows Akley the canister with his name on it.
During the night Akley freaks out and escapes by stealing Wilmarth’s car. He comes back with the police to find that Wilmarth’s hands and face left behind, indicating that the entity that Akley thought was Wilmarth he was talking to the night before was in fact a mi-go in disguise.
Other than a throw away line in his next story, The Mountain of Madness, these are Lovecraft’s only mentions of the Mi-go. Though they do appear in stories written by others after HPL’s death. These include Documents in the case of Elizabeth Akelly, by Richard A. Lupoff, Mi-Go have appeared in subsequent short stories, after Lovecraft’s death where Winton Akley’S Granddaughter is the head of a 1970’s new age cult and is contacted by her grandfather and the mi-go. Another one is The Mine on Yugoth, by Ramsey Campbell. This story is very much in the vein of pulp adventure stories of the 30’s, where an explorer discovers a way to astraly project to distant Yuggoth. Both stories can be found in Chaosium’s anthology The Hastur Cycle.
Mi-go make an excellent creature for Call of Cthulhu based roleplaying games. Where the big squid head, and the likes of Yog-Suggoth, could easily beat puny player characters, a few fungi from Yuggoth could make suitable opponents for a tam of PC’s. This is especially true for the CoC Setting Delta Green, which puts special forces against the mythos.
In movies, the mi-go appear in HP Lovecraft’s The Necornomicon. This is a splat punk movie that tried to piggyback on the success of The Reanimator. One of the stories has the mi-go looking like flying manta rays. They eat a pregnant female police officer’s arms and legs waiting for her to give birth to more food.
I am embarrassed that I have not seen HP Lovecraft Historical Society’s version of The Whispers in the Dark, especially since they did such an incredible version of Call of Cthulhu. From the preview it looks like they have added characters and detail to the original short story. HPLHS however is known for keeping the spirit of Lovecraft’s work as focal point, so I expect it will be rather accurate. I’ve included the trailer, where about half way we see what I assume is a mi-go. I have ordered it form the HPLHS web site so hope to watch it soon.
To me the mi-go are some of the best of Lovecraft’s critters, because they both follow his rule about aliens being completely alien, but also subtly break it. They are completely alien in the fact that they are physically unlike anything form the Earth. Even at a molecular level they are different form us so they do show up clearly on photographs. We call them fungi because no other Tarren description even comes close to describing them. However, they are not to different from us psychologically we cannot relate to them.
They come to Earth as explorers both for scientific curiosity, but also to exploit our vast mineral resources. They worship the old ones, not as deities, they don’t follow them out of superstition but because they know they are powerful entities who will either reward or punish them depending on their servitude. They are known to have on occasion entered into a covert war with The Old Gods like Hastur. They are more advance than human, so they use trickery and stealth to protect themselves form us. To me they are a perfect blend of both the familiar and the unknowable.