- “Curse of Yig, The“
- Short story (7,030 words); ghostwritten for Zealia Brown Reed Bishop, in the spring of 1928. First published in WT(November 1929); rpt. WT(April 1939); first collected in BWS; corrected text in HM Dr. McNeill, who runs an insane asylum in Guthrie, Oklahoma, tells the narrator (a researcher investigating snake lore) of the legend of Yig, “the half-human father of serpents,” specifically in relation to the story of two settlers, Walker and Audrey Davis, who had come to the Oklahoma Territory in 1889. Walker has an exceptional fear of snakes, and has heard tales of Yig (“the snakegod of the central plains tribes—presumably the primal source of the more southerly Quetzalcoatl or Kukulcan…an odd, half-anthropomorphic devil of highly arbitrary and capricious nature”) and of how the god avenges any harm that may come to snakes; so he is particularly horrified when his wife kills a brood of rattlers near their home. Late one night, the couple sees the entire floor of their bedroom covered with snakes; Walker gets up to stamp them out but falls down, extinguishing the lantern he is carrying. Audrey, now petrified with terror, soon hears a hideous popping noise—it must be Walker’s body, so puffed with snake-venom that the skin has burst. Then she sees an anthropoid shape silhouetted in the window. Thinking it to be Yig, she takes an axe and hacks it to pieces when it enters the room. In the morning the truth is known: the body that burst was their old dog, bitten by countless snakes, while the figure that has been hacked to pieces is Walker. In a final twist, Dr. McNeill shows the narrator a loathsome half-snake, half-human entity kept in his asylum: it is not Audrey herself, but the entity to which she gave birth three-quarters of a year later. HPL wrote: “this story is about 75% mine. All I had to work on was a synopsis describing a couple of pioneers in a cabin with a nest of rattlesnakes beneath, the killing of the husband by snakes, the bursting of the corpse, & the madness of the wife, who was an eye-witness to the horror. There was no plot or motivation—no prologue or aftermath to the incident—so that one might say the story, as a story, is wholly my own. I invented the snake-god & the curse, the tragic wielding of the axe by the wife, the matter of the snake-victim’s identity, & the asylum epilogue. Also, I worked up the geographic & other incidental colour—getting some data from the alleged authoress, who knows Oklahoma, but more from books” (HPL to August Derleth, October 6, ; ms., SHSW). HPL sent the completed tale to Bishop in early March 1928, making it clear in his letter to her that even the title is his. He adds: “I took a great deal of care with this tale, and was especially anxious to get the beginning smoothly adjusted…. For geographical atmosphere and colour I had of course to rely wholly on your answers to my questionnaire, plus such printed descriptions of Oklahoma as I could find.” HPL charged Bishop $17.50 for the tale. She sold the story to WT for $45.
An H.P.Lovecraft encyclopedia. S.T. Joshi, David E. Schultz.