Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Today we care going to continue our exploration of beasties form the Cthulhu Mythos by discussing nightgaunts. These winged horrors are most often associated with the elder god Nodens, but as we will see this is not always the case.
These creatures can travel through other dimensions and space have no face, with horns on the top of their heads and large black like winds. They are pitch black in color, so it is extremely had to see them at night, in fact an observer on a moonless night may only see the stars blocked out when they pass overhead, as traces that they were even there. They have large sharp talons that allow them to swoop down and abduct unsuspecting humans. They tickle their prisoners with their barbed tail to keep them pacified.
Liked the winged Ni-go they were first captured in print during H.P. Lovecraft’s poetic phase between December 1929 and January 1930. They appeared in a pseudo-sonnet in the works entitled The Fungi from Yuggoth. In the Poem XX Nightguants. I have included it here for you if you have not already read it.
Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
But every night I see the rubbery things,
Black, horned, and slender, with membranous wings,
They come in legions on the north wind’s swell
With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.
Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
And down the nether pits to that foul lake
Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
But ho! If only they would make some sound,
Or wear a face where faces should be found!
From the geography from this poem we can see that the nightgaunts are not native to this earth but dwell in the Dream Lands.
This may ne the first place Lovecraft wrote about the nightguants. But are not the first placed he encountered them. When he was five years old he had a series of nightmares where he was abducted by them. It is at this time he christened them nightgaunts. Lovecraft historian ST Joshi has speculated that these dreams where brought on by the death of HPL’s grandfather Whipple Phillips. These dreams were so traumatic that Lovecraft would use them in his writings almost thirty years later.
Lets ponder why these creatures would be so scary to a five year old. As an adult we may scoff as the beings primary weapon being the ability to tickle us with its tale, but as a child, tickling is often unwanted and unconsented touching by an adult that leaves them gasping for air. Like wise a small child can not resist being picked up by an adult, like a human in the claws of a nightgaunt they are helpless. Night guants are mouthless. In fact a child will often get and silent, they do bot have the ability or desire to reassure a victim that it is a game, like a parent might be able to do to a child they are tickling. Children often get reassurance from the facial expressions of adults, since the ng’s have no facial features this comfort can not be given.
As a side note my first on line credit was as The Zen Spider in The Unofficial Marvel database, noting that the nightguants came from Lovecraft’s childhood nightmares, under an entry about them in the Conan Comics.
Lovecraft associated the nightguants with the elder God Nodens. To me Nodens and the Elder gods in general are a hard nut to crack. Some people have simplified it to the elder gods are a basically the good guys of the Cthulhu Mythos, if this is true then this god of light sure picked a horrific creature to be its angel.
The Elder gods like Nodens Hypnos and Bast (the Egyptian cat goddess is added bin Chasiums Gall of Cthulhu RPG, because of Lovecraft’s well documented love for cats) are seemed by some as beneficent because Nodens is helpful to the protagonist and they are andromorphic Later writers like August Dearleth tried to turn the Cuthlhu Mythos into a good versus evil story making the Elder gods the good guys. At best they are less indifferent towards humans and their motives and actions are still alien and unfathomable by humans. Both Nodens and Hypnos abduct humans against their will.
Author Brian Lumbley associated nightgaunts with his own creation Yibb-Tstll. Y-T is at the center of time and space and can see all, as such she is the second most knowledgeable Cthulhu Mythos deity, after only Yog-Sothoth. Lumbley states the nightguants suckle at her breast. This seems unlikely since the nightgaunts have no mouth, but some have porpoposed that it is just concealed. Personally I think it is more likely that the suckling is not physical but psychic nourishment.
Because of her association with the nightguants many have labeled Yibb-Tstll, an Elder God. However this is unlikely since he is so closely associated with other out gods “The Drowners. Also since her main appearance is in Lumbley’s Horror at Oakdeen , where she is called upon to kill a man, force’s a man into a ritual against his will and kills five sacrifices it is unlikely she was supposed to be a ‘good guy.”
A final mistress of the nightguants is Vammatar, an evil sorceress who appears in the Marvel Conan the Barbarian comics of the late 70’s. These nightguants don’t look like the dark faceless horrors that Lovecraft described. These creatures are red and fury and have a mouth full of sharp fangs.
Conan the Barbarian of course gets instantly accepted in to Cthulhu Mythos, since he was created by Lovecraft pal and mythos author, Robert E. Howard. Vammatar however was created by fellow Mythos circle mebers and torcher bares of the Conan cycle after Howard’s death, L Spurge Decamp and Lin Carter and was adapted to comic books by Roy Thomas and Sal Buscema.
How do we rectify the seeming differences in the stories of who the nightgaunts serve? In reality this of course was caused by three different writers sometimes telling stories decades apart. In universe how ever we have come accustomed to servitor races following one particular deity. There is however no reason to assume this is true all of the time. It is possible that some clans of nightguants follow Nodens and yet another clan follows Yibb-Tstell.
As for Vammatar, we have seen elsewhere in the mythos where witches or sorcerers can force alien being to there will using sum mooning and binding spells. It is no to far fetch that she did that to a group of nigthaunts (if what we see in the Conan comic truly are nightguants.)
Due to the short nature of the poem Nightguants, it has more than once been used as the natation of for short films. I have included two here. Off the two I prefer the latter one, by Fudgson Films, if for no other than the sheer terror in the female narrator’s voice.
I love the dark and mysterious nightguant as a creature, we don’t understand its reasoning nor are we sure who it worships, are they good or evil. All we know for sure is that they came to the Dream Lands, through the nightmares of a child.