Villains Month: Nyarlathotep

H.P. Lovecraft is widely regarded as one of the greatest horror writers of the 20th century, and his work has influenced countless authors so pervasively that many are unaware of said influence. Part of the reason Lovecraft’s works are so effective is because they do not deal in such human concepts as good and evil. The monsters in his stories are utterly alien, and as such beyond any notions of morality as we understand it. They are scary because for them, laying waste to all of humanity would be no more meaningful or difficult than fumigating a house would be for us, which forces us to acknowledge how insignificant we are in the grand scheme of existence. Given this, while they are patently terrifying, most of Lovecraft’s creations don’t really qualify as villains. There is one being, however, who fits the role of a villain rather well: Nyarlathotep, also known as the Crawling Chaos, the Demon Pharaoh, and The God of a Thousand Forms.

Nyarlathotep is a shapeshifter, and appears to various people and cults throughout the world in a myriad of forms, but as his name implies, he seems to appear most often as a tall, dark-skinned man who resembles an Egyptian pharaoh. While most of the Elder Gods of the Lovecraft Mythos are trapped beyond time and space, sleeping in ancient prisons, or lost in their own madness, Nyarlathotep is free, intelligent, and completely in control of his faculties, which he uses to serve as his brethren’s messenger. The rest of his kind consider humanity to be less than cosmic dust, or at best some sort of servitor race, but Nyarlathotep is actively malevolent towards humanity, and plays games with people that lure them to their doom. One of his crueler games took place in the short story Dream-Quest of the Unknown Kadath, in which he promises to send adventurer Randolph Carter home from his long quest to find the gods of the Dreamlands by providing him with a bird to fly him there. Of course this is a lie, and the bird finds itself called to the center of the universe, where mad Azathoth dwells and Carter would surely meet a horrible, maddening demise. In other tales, he starts cults for the express purpose of driving humans mad with the power of his unholy music.

As to what makes Nyarlathotep different from the others, there is little explanation given, but I speculate that as much as anything, he was created by his “father” Azathoth for the purpose of keeping the humans in line or drawing on their power to fuel the escape of the Elder Gods after the cosmic war often hinted at in Lovecraft’s stories. Given this, the Crawling Chaos probably went a bit native, so to speak, adopting a more human mode of thinking to better deal with his charges. Sadly, nothing of human compassion or sympathy rubbed off, and instead he became a creature more adept at spreading human misery. I imagine the countless millennia of waiting for the Elder Gods to return would be quite boring with a human concept of time, so Nyarlathotep spends them playing twisted games for his own amusement.

Like most of Lovecraft’s creations, Nyarlathotep was never defeated (though Randolph Carter did ultimately outwit him). He’s still out there, carefully orchestrating horror after horror, sometimes for fun, sometimes to serve the mad designs of the Demon Sultan Azathoth. When the stars are right, his brethren will return, and while they will take to their conquest with inhuman efficiency, Nyarlathotep will laugh as humanity is wiped from the universe.