Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
Shoggoths are the big bad of the Cthulhu Mythos. They are the toughest and most deadly creature that doesn’t take the name god in all of the stories. In ways they are the most Lovecraftian of his creatures. They are truly unique to him.
How big a threat are these babies? A while back I ran a GURPS Black ops RPG game, the players were 800 point combat monsters. If you are not familiar with the GUPS system this made them among the most lethal 500 people in the Earth. The6y would routinely run towards daemons, vampires and aliens with guns and flamethrowers blazing. There were only three creatures they ever fled from a Lovecraftian Other God, David Gerald’s Chtorr and a Shoggoth.
Want some canon proof of how much a threat they are? HPL’s magical bad ass Abdul ALhazzarad, publicly wrote that he hoped they were all extinct and the thought that they might not be kept even him up at night.
These monstrosities are large intelligent gluttonous mounds of primal acids, think if the primordial soup was sentient and had a bad attitude. It both crushes and burns its victims. The Shoggoth’s primary feature is it many eyes, often varied sizes and colors. Like the Titan Argus they can not be snuck up on because they see all directions at once.
The only Lovecraft story they make their appearance in is At the Mountains of Madness. This novelette is one of Lovecraft’s longest and is the tale where he most accurately lays out his cosmology and pre-human history. Shoggoths are not the product of evolution like humans, or the deep ones, but come from the scientific experiments of an alien race called The Elder Things. These genetic experiments were the elder Things’ workers, soldiers and slaves.
Though I described the Shoggoth as sentient, they didn’t start out that way. Originally the elder thing’s wanted to keep them with a low IQ so they wouldn’t turn on their masters. The problem was that a feature the ET’s wanted to encourage, their ability to easily mutate, so they cane take on new tasks, gave them intelligence and self-awareness.
The Shoggoths resented their life of slavery and rose up and rebelled against the elder things. The elder things eventually defeat their slave’s rebellion but cannot destroy them completely because they are dependent on their slave labor. This leads to a new civil war where the elder things retreated to under the oceans, and presumed to eventually be destroyed, and the shoggoths take over the continent of Antarctica. Here they rove the ancient underground cities of the ET’s, calling out in a mimicry of their former masters vocies.
In the final scene of AMoM, an explorer named Danforth sees something as they flee Antarctica, there is a lot of discussion and difference of opinion among Mythos fans of what he saw. Whatever it was scared the crap out of him Personally I think he saw a Shoggoth, but what disturbed him more this time than his previous encounters with them was that the Shoggoth was at the altitude of their airplane, so now he knew the being could travel to anywhere in the world.
Mountains of Madness was greatly influenced by Edgar Allan Poe’s The Narrative of Arthur Gordon Pym of Nantucket. This is the only full-length novel written by Poe. It starts out as a standard high seas adventure and then turns in to a bizarre and epic tale in the anarchic with giant albino human eating penguins, because…Well Poe. AtMoM even takes the Shoggoth’s call of tekeli-li from the noise the monstrous penguins make. We will see later that The Shoggoth’s can assume other forms, so it’s not too much of a jump to think maybe these bird shaped monstrosities are truly Shoggoths in a different guise.
As I have hinted the shoggoth have been a favorite tool for RPG gamemasters to terrorize playing characters. The most successful would be for Chasioms Call of Cuthlhu RPG. There is even a sequel scenario to AtMoM, for the game called Beyond the Mountains of Madness.
In the Charles Stross’ short story, A Colder War, we see something scarier than just a normal Shoggoth a weaponized shoggoth. The basis for this story is that the events as told in AtMoM, are true, and after World War Two, the USSR has some that they turn into superweapons. They parade them in front of Red Square like they did with missile launcher and tanks during the real cold war.
Friend of DCotU Sean Hoade has a series called Penny Dreadfulls, in one called Arkham Absinth, he tells the story of a coven of decants who encounter a shoggoth. He adds to the story by making the many eyes that appear on the monster are the eyes of its victims. This boost the creep factor up to 11!
In his short story Fat Face Michael Shea takes the idea of Shoggoths mutating and runs with it. He creates a new type of shoggoth, a shoggoth lord. Smaller and not as strong as their brethren, they are smarter and can take the form of a bloated man. The shoggoth lord in the story uses his human appearance to pass as a homo sapient and lure his prey to him.
Shoggoths appeared in the short story, Notebook Discovered in an Abandoned House, by Robert Bloch (The writer of the novel Psycho and the only person Lovecraft ever dedicated a story to). Now I love this story along with Paul F. Wilsons, The Barrens, it is my favorite non-Lovecraft Mythos tale, but the Shoggoths in this tale look and act like nothing with the beasts in AtMoM. They have large elephantine feet as oppose to slithering or levitating slimes. The creatures are so different from the original that Chasium’s Call of Cthulhu RPG made them a separate type of monster called The Dark Young of Sub-Nigurath. We can chalk this up to Bloch’s creative license, but it could also be considered that shoggoth is a term for any large and dangerous mythos monsters.
Shoggoths also appear in Alan Moore’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. In the series Century a prophesized Mon Child is the main plot point. The prophesized moon child turns out to be Harry Potter in the third tale of the trilogy 2009. He then turns into a shoggoth, who can shoot lighting out its penis. This may seem well a bit…Weird, but we are talking about Alan Moore here who loves HPL and pop culture, so it is not surprising that he would make the “Boy Who Lived” as the moon child not that he would make the coming antichrist a shoggoth.