Archive for March, 2013

Literary references in the Crawling Chaos quest

March 2, 2013 4 comments

Not only the ideas behind the Crawling Chaos quest chain, but sometimes entire phrases of what the NPCs are saying, are based on various well-known pulp stories. Here are the ones I’ve noticed, though I’m sure there are others that I don’t know about, since I haven’t read *that* much of Lovecraft and Howard yet, and nothing of the other authors of the Cthulhu mythos.

H. P. Lovecraft: Nyarlathotep. Online text.

This is the basis for the Messenger in the Dragon’s Spine; Tiandal borrows from this story when describing the Messenger as being of “old native blood”, “swarthy”, “slender, and sinister”, when he talks of having knelt before him although he could not say why, of “the great, the old, the terrible city of unnumbered crimes”, of the “choking room” and the “stifling night”, of how the Messenger’s “words took something from us, something that had never been taken before yet which showed only in our eyes”. The Messenger himself borrows from the same source when he talks about exploring his “uttermost mysteries”.

H. P. Lovecraft: The Haunter of the Dark. Online text.

This story is the basis of the Shining Trapezohedron and its history: when Ankh-Ausar tells you the Trapezohedron was made on the alien planet of Yuggoth, and that it was later seen in Valusia, Lemuria, and Atlantis, this is the story where it all comes from. (He also mentions the land of Lomar, which is from various other HPL stories.) The Messenger also alludes to it when he speaks of possibly seeing you “in a place called Providence, in a chapel where pilgrims seek starry wisdom. We will haunt the dark.”

R. E. Howard: The Shadow Kingdom. Online text.

This is another major source of the Dragon’s Spine content. In this story, Kull, originally from Atlantis, is now king of Valusia and finds himself threatened by serpent men who are able to take on the appearance of any human, even his guards, his councillors, etc. He learns of the phrase “ka nama kaa lajerama” with which he unmasks them and defeats the plot against him. Alanza basically tells you a synopsis of this story in one of your early conversations with her; Ankh-Ausar’s “all men wear masks, and many a different mask with each different man or woman” is almost verbatim from this story. Note that some of this material has already been alluded to earlier in Age of Conan, in the House of Crom and the inscriptions therein.

H. P. Lovecraft: The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. Online text.

The protagonist of this story, Randolph Carter, descends the “seventy steps of light slumber” and “seven hundred steps of deep slumber” (phrases mentioned by Ankh-Ausar during the conversation about the Shining Trapezohedron) and spends most of the rest of the story adventuring through an increasingly bizarre dream-world in search of a marvellous city that he had seen in his earlier dreams, (spoiler warning) until he finally learns that it’s really just a manifestation of his own memories of youth and home, and promptly wakes up (end spoiler warning).

Along the way, he travels though the desert plateau of Leng, complete with a vast subterranean monastery where he encounters a “high-priest not to be described”. He also finds himself in a fight against malignant toad-like aliens from the Moon; some of these even play flutes. The mini-instance where you do the last part of the Crawling Chaos quest seems to be partly inspired by these things: the instance is called Dreamscape of Leng, the first wave of mobs are toads, and the second wave are Priests Not to Be Described.

Furthermore, Nyarlathotep is frequently mentioned in this story as the messenger of the Other Gods, and near the end of the story he even appears in person, taking on the appearance of a young Pharaoh.

Leng is also mentioned in several other works by Lovecraft.

H. P. Lovecraft: At the Mountains of Madness. Online text.

This story of Antarctic exploration doesn’t have such a direct connection to the Dragon’s Spine, but it frequently alludes to uncanny piping sounds and might have been inspiration for the way that the piping sound effect is used in the Dragon’s Spine whenever you approach an area that is significant for the Crawling Chaos quest. In any case, piping and flutes are constantly mentioned by Lovecraft in association with Nyarlathotep and similar entities. Ankh-Ausar might also be referring to this story when he talks about the serpent men pilfering “dead, Cyclopean cities that were ancient even then”; a big part of At the Mountains of Madness deals with the exploration of just such a city.

Zealia Bishop, H. P. Lovecraft: The Curse of Yig. Online text.

This tale seems to be the origin of the idea of the serpentmen as “children of Yig” (as they are called at various points in Dragon’s Spine content, e.g. by Ankh-Ausar). In this story, Yig is a snake-demon from Indian folklore, who regards snakes as his children and takes revenge on people that harm them; in this case his victims are two white settlers in 1880s Oklahoma. Lovecraft suggests that Yig is an earlier version of the more benevolent snake deities from further south, such as Quetzalcoatl and Kukulcan. The latter is from Maya mythology, which is another link to the Dragon’s Spine — as we’ll see below, the serpent men speak a few Maya words here and there.

A couple of minor allusions

The Tempest of Set’s “May the Great Serpent shows you marvels strange and terrific” is an allusion to H.P. Lovecraft’s The Festival (“their marvels are strange and terrific”). The player’s character also mentions “sights both strange and terrible” in a conversation with Ankh-Ausar.

Tiandal’s “followed fast and followed faster” is of course from Poe‘s The Raven.

Ankh-Ausar’s “I am a man who likes to talk to someone who likes to talk” is from The Maltese Falcon; certainly it appears in the movie, I’m not sure if also in the book as I haven’t read it.

Commander Achillas’ “Something slithering this way comes!” is from Macbeth (“something wicked this way comes”).

Abasi’s “We cannot linger here. This is ghoul country!” is from Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (“We can’t stop here. This is bat country!”).

The names of two Slithering Chaos quests, “The Origin of Species” and “The Descent of Serpent Men”, are of course allusions to two books by Charles Darwin.

I guess there are others that I haven’t noticed — let us know in the comments.

Maya language

We get to hear a few phrases in the language of the serpent men: “cimil tumen otzil uinicob” and “hayal uinicob tumen katun kan”. What do they mean? A bit of googling suggests that the words seem to be from the Mayan language, but I’m not sure what exactly they mean and if these particular phrases are from some earlier source or not.

Most of the following list is from the Maya dictionary on unless otherwise specified:

  • cimil = to die
  • cimil = pestilence or death [source]
  • tumen = for, by reason of, because of
  • uinicob = men, people
  • otzil uinicob = miserable men
  • hayal = to level with the ground, to destroy
  • katun = 7200 days [source]
  • I can’t find kan, but there is a potentially relevant can = conversation, talk; the generic name for serpents; the number four; a gift or present; to converse, to tell stories; to teach, to impart information; to give another a contagious disease; strongly, powerfully, to tie very firmly.

So I guess it’s safe to say that the serpent men appear to be neither particularly cheerful not particularly benevolent 😛

Categories: Age of Conan, Lore, Quests