“Nyarlathotep“


“Nyarlathotep“
   Prose poem (1,150 words); probably written in November or December 1920. First published in the United Amateur (dated November 1920, but issued at least two months later); rpt. National Amateur (July 1926); first collected in BWS; corrected text in MW;annotated version in CC
   In a “season of political and social upheaval,” the people “whispered warnings and prophecies which no one dared consciously repeat.” It was then that Nyarlathotep emerged out of Egypt. He begins giving strange exhibitions featuring peculiar instruments of glass and metal and evidently involving anomalous uses of electricity. In one of these exhibitions the narrator sees, on a kind of movie screen, “the world battling against blackness; against the waves of destruction from ultimate space; whirling, churning; struggling around the dimming, cooling sun.” The world seems to be falling apart: buildings are found in ruins, people begin gathering in queues, each of them proceeding in different directions, apparently to their deaths. Finally the universe itself seems to be on the brink of extinction.
   HPL notes that the piece not only was based largely on a dream, but also that the first paragraph (presumably following the very brief opening paragraph) was written while he was still half-asleep ( SL1.160). As with “The Statement of Randolph Carter,” the dream involved Samuel Loveman, who wrote HPL the following note: “Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.” HPL states that the peculiar name Nyarlathotep came to him in this dream, but one can conjecture at least a partial influence in the name of Dunsany’s minor god Mynarthitep (mentioned fleetingly in “The Sorrow of Search,” in Time and the Gods) or of the prophet Alhireth-Hotep (mentioned in TheGodsofPegana). -Hotepis of course an Egyptian root, befitting Nyarlathotep’s Egyptian origin. The fact that Nyarlathotep “had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries” places him in the 22nd Dynasty of Egypt (940–730 B.C.E.).
   Will Murray has plausibly conjectured that Nyarlathotep (described in the prose poem as an “itinerant showman”) was based upon Nicola Tesla (1856–1943), the eccentric scientist and inventor who created a sensation at the turn of the century for his strange electrical experiments. Nyarlathotep recurs throughout HPL’s later fiction and becomes one of the chief “gods” in his invented pantheon. But he appears in such widely divergent forms that it may not be possible to establish a single or coherent symbolism for him; to say merely, as some critics have done, that he is a “shape-shifter” (something HPL never genuinely suggests) is only to admit that even his physical form is not consistent from story to story, much less his thematic significance.
   See Will Murray, “Behind the Mask of Nyarlathotep,” LSNo. 25 (Fall 1991): 25–29.

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