Hyperborean cycle

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This article is about the series of short stories. For the Ballantine Books collection of stories, see Hyperborea (collection).

The Hyperborean cycle is a series of short stories by Clark Ashton Smith that take place in the fictional prehistoric setting of Hyperborea. Smith's cycle takes cues from his friends, Lovecraft and Robert E Howard and their works. Lovecraft wrote to Smith in a letter dated 3 December 1929: "I must not delay in expressing my well-nigh delirious delight at The Tale of Satampra Zeiros [Smith's short story]... [W]hat an atmosphere! I can see & feel & smell the jungle around immemorial Commoriom, which I am sure must lie buried today in glacial ice near Olathoe, in the Land of Lomar!".[1] Soon afterward, Lovecraft included Smith's Tsathoggua (which originally appeared in "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros") in the story "The Mound", ghostwritten for Zelia Reed (Zelia Bishop) in December 1929. Lovecraft also mentioned Tsathoggua in "The Whisperer in Darkness", which he began on February 24, 1930.[2] Because Smith in turn borrowed numerous Lovecraftian elements, the cycle itself may be regarded as a branch of the Cthulhu Mythos. In a letter to August Derleth dated 26 July 1944, Smith wrote: "In common with other weird tales writers, I have ... made a few passing references (often under slightly altered names, such as Iog-Sotot for Yog-Sothoth and Kthulhut for Cthulhu) to some of the Lovecraftian deities. My Hyperborean tales, it seems to me, with their primordial, prehuman and sometimes premundane background and figures, are the closest to the Cthulhu Mythos, but most of them are written in a vein of grotesque humor that differentiates them vastly. However, such a tale as The Coming of the White Worm might be regarded as a direct contribution to the Mythos.".[3]

The Hyperborean cycle mixes cosmic horror with an Iron Age setting. Adding to the peril is the rapidly approaching ice age, which threatens to wipe out all life on the Hyperborean continent. A host of other deities play important roles in the cycle; foremost is the toad-god Tsathoggua, who dwells in Mount Voormithadreth.

Hyperborea[edit]

Hyperborea is a legendary continent in the Arctic. Before it was overwhelmed by the advancing ice sheets of the Pleistocene age, Hyperborea was warm and fertile with lush jungles inhabited by the last remnants of the dinosaurs. A race of yeti-like bipeds known as the Voormi once populated Hyperborea, but were wiped out by the pre-Human settlers that migrated here from the south. These pre-Humans built the first capital of Hyperborea at Commoriom. Later they moved to Uzuldaroum when prophesies foretold of Commoriom's doom.

Gods[edit]

Tsathoggua[edit]

Main article: Tsathoggua

The early settlers of Hyperborea at first worshipped the toad-god Tsathoggua, the patron deity of the Voormi. Later, they turned to more conventional deities — primarily, Yhoundeh, the elk-goddess.

Yhoundeh[edit]

In Smith's "The Door to Saturn", Yhoundeh the elk-goddess is the name of the deity worshipped in the waning days of Hyperborea. Yhoundeh's priests also banned Tsathoggua's cult, and her inquisitors punished any heretics. As the Hyperborean civilization drew to a close, Yhoundeh's priests fell out of favor and the people returned to the worship of Tsathoggua.

According to the Parchments of Pnom, Yhoundeh is the wife of Nyarlathotep, avatar of the Outer Gods.[4]

Cities[edit]

Commoriom[edit]

Commoriom was the first seat of power in Hyperborea, established by the pre-Human migrants from the south. In its heyday, Commoriom was a grand city, built of marble and granite and marked by a skyline of altitudinous spires.

Legend has it that the populace fled Commoriom when the White Sybil of Polarion foretold of its destruction. However, Athammaus, headsman of Commoriom, disputes this claim and attributes the abandonment to the increasingly loathsome depredations of the horrid outlaw Knygathin Zhaum.

Uzuldaroum[edit]

According to Smith's "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros", Uzuldaroum became the capital of Hyperborea after the populace left Commoriom. The city lies a day's journey from the former capital. It was the last population center in Hyperborea before glaciers overwhelmed the continent.

In H. P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness, the city of the Elder Things is called "a Palaeogaean megalopolis compared with which the fabled...Commoriom and Uzuldaroum...are recent things of today--not even of yesterday".[5]

Geographical locations[edit]

Map from the 1971 collection Hyperborea.

Eiglophian mountains[edit]

The Eiglophian mountains, mentioned in Smith's "The Seven Geases", are a terrifying range of ebon peaks, said to be "glassy-walled", and are believed to be honeycombed with hidden tunnels. The Eiglophian mountains cross the middle of the Hyperborean continent, with one range stretching to the south and another to the east.

Mount Voormithadreth[edit]

Mount Voormithadreth is a four-coned extinct volcano and is the tallest peak in the Eiglophian mountains. It is the dwelling place of various horrors, including the toad-god Tsathoggua and the spider-god Atlach-Nacha (his colossal web is here, too).

It has been suggested that the name "Voormithadreth" is a pun, a lisped homonym for "voormis' address".

Y'quaa[edit]

The gray-litten cavern of Y'quaa is the dwelling place of Abhoth, the Source of Uncleanliness. It is indirectly connected with the Cavern of Archetypes. Atlach-Nacha originated here. Y'quaa might be the true home of the enigmatic Ubbo-Sathla.

Cavern of Archetypes[edit]

The Cavern of the Archetypes is a vast cavern inhabited by the spectral archetypes of all life on this earth. Nug and Yeb reside here.

Notable denizens[edit]

Voormis[edit]

Main article: Voormis

The Voormis are the three-toed, umber-colored, fur-covered humanoids[6] that once had a thriving civilization in Hyperborea. They dwelled underground and worshiped the god Tsathoggua.[7] After most were wiped out by other pre-human settlers, the most savage of the Voormis became restricted to caves in the upper slopes of the Eiglophian mountains.[8] Before Hyperborea's fall, the remaining Voormis were hunted for sport.

Gnophkeh[edit]

Main article: Gnophkeh

The Gnophkehs are Humanoid cannibals who were once residents of Hyperborea before being driven to Lomar by the Voormis. They were driven into exile into the frigid wastes of Polarion where they were later invaded by the people from Zobna. They are described as being covered in coarse, matted hair with large protruding ears and proboscidean noses. They worshiped the Great Old One Rhan-Tegoth and Ithaqua.[7]

Citizens[edit]

Athammaus[edit]

Athammaus, who appears in Smith's "The Testament of Athammaus", was the headsman, or executioner, of Commoriom before its fall. He was also one of the last to leave the city when the population fled to Uzuldaroum. Afterwards, he recorded a chilling testament of Commoriom's final days.

Athammaus was descended from a long line of headsmen. A consummate professional, Athammaus always took great pride in his skill and never shirked his official duty. His career came to an abrupt end when he faced the task of executing the outlaw Knygathin Zhaum.

Eibon[edit]

Eibon, a character in Smith's "The Door to Saturn", was a sorcerer and priest of Zhothaqquah (Tsathoggua). He is renowned as the writer of the Book of Eibon, a tome that, among other things, chronicles Eibon's life, and includes his magical formulae and rites of Zhothaqquah (It is introduced in Smith's tale "Ubbo-Sathla"). Eibon lived in a five-story, five-sided tower made of black gneiss that stood beside the sea on Mhu Thulan. Eibon disappeared shortly after Yhoundeh's premier inquisitor, Morghi, came to his black tower with a writ for his arrest.

When the inquisition came knocking, Eibon fled to Cykranosh (the planet Saturn) through a magic panel given to him by Zhothaqquah. Eibon was never again seen on Earth after that. (When Morghi vanished close on the heels of Eibon, many believed that he was in league with the sorcerer all along and so is largely responsible for the decline in the worship of Yhoundeh.)

Satampra Zeiros[edit]

Satampra Zeiros, who appears in Smith's "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and its prequel, "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles", was the master thief of Uzuldaroum. His exploits are legendary. He lost his right hand during a failed venture to loot the deserted city of Commoriom (though his companion Tirouv Ompallios suffered a worse fate).

The White Sybil of Polarion[edit]

A strange woman, reportedly coming from the realms of Ice creeping upon Hyperborea. She is presented in both "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" and "The White Sybil." In the former she is portrayed prophesizing the doom of Commoriom; in the latter, a character besotted with her pursues her into the ice realm, where he is in the end so blinded by her vision that when found by a common girl he takes his rescuer for the Sybil, weds her, and lives out his days in a joyous illusion, bearing the mark of the Sybil's kiss on his face.

See also[edit]

References[edit]

Primary sources[edit]

Bibliography[edit]

The following short stories are considered part of Smith's Hyperborean cycle:

Books[edit]


Secondary sources[edit]

Books[edit]

  • Harms, Daniel (1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. ISBN 1-56882-119-0. 

Journals[edit]

  • Schultz, David E. (Eastertide 1996). "Notes Toward a History of the Cthulhu Mythos". Crypt of Cthulhu #92: A Pulp Thriller and Theological Journal 15 (2).  West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press.

Web sites[edit]


Notes[edit]

  1. ^ Cf. Selected Letters III, pp. 87–8, Sauk City, WI: Arkham House, 1998. ISBN 0-87054-032-7.
  2. ^ Schultz, "Notes Toward a History of the Cthulhu Mythos", pp. 16–17, note #6.
  3. ^ Schultz, "Notes Toward a History of the Cthulhu Mythos", p. 29, note #46.
  4. ^ Clark Ashton Smith letter to Robert H. Barlow, dated September 19, 1934 (Will Murray, "The Book of Hyperborea Introduction").
  5. ^ H. P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness.
  6. ^ "A Hyperborean Glossary by Laurence J. Cornford"
  7. ^ a b Carter, Lin; Clark Ashton Smith (1976). The Year's Best Fantasy Stories 2. United States: DAW Books. ISBN 978-4-511-24812-0. 
  8. ^ "Cthulhu Mythos Timeline by James "JEB" Bowman"

External links[edit]