Column: Writing the Mythos: Biography of a Mythos Sorcerer

Writing the Mythos: Biography of a Mythos Sorcerer

By G. W. Thomas

returnMany of the students of the arcane that inhabit Mythos tales could be called “sorcerers”. Men like John Carnaby in Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Return of the Sorcerer” (Strange Tales, September 1931) or Joseph Curwen in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (Weird Tales, May-July 1941) by Lovecraft himself, even mutated Wilbur Whateley, could carry that name. All these guys seek power and end up, well, read on…

Here’s a quick run-down of what has to happen to you if you want to become a sorcerer in a Mythos tale, based on the works of Lovecraft and, particularly, his follower, August Derleth, who seemed to pump out these kinds of stories throughout the 1950s, usually crediting old HPL as much as himself:

  1. You have to be born into a family with a dark secret (like the poor slob who will end up working in the family business, so too will the sorcerer be born into trouble. He may not know of this connection; he may discover it in a terrifying search or have it sprung on him as his fate unravels, but he is one by virtue of the dissimilar eyes or the fishy cast of his face or some other genetic trait).
  2. He will have to raised by a distant relative or friend away from the family then, once a man, he will have to come back to the old home town to discover the truth.
  3. Once back on the often-abandoned and shunned old homestead, he has to discover some ancient landmark, a stain that wouldn’t go away, for instance, where the ancient spirits of the evil family ghosts can reside.
  4. That being encountered, it is now time to find the family library that includes titles like the Turba Philosophorum, Liber Investigationis, or De Lapide Philosophico. Of course, you have to read them all. At this point, you should run away back to Boston or New York and change your name, take up painting sunflowers or join the Church. Instead you’ll keep reading…
  5. The temptation is too great. You have to know. It’s time to try a spell or visit an evil location. The old spirit of the family will either take you over or pervert your soul. You are now ready to start buying mysterious truckloads of animals to sacrifice and other paraphernalia of your trade.
  6. The local children begin disappearing and strange fires are seen on mountaintops once again. You are almost there. Keep delving. You visit cemeteries and insane asylums to confer with relatives of a different nature.
  7. Oh no, the neighbors have noticed the old family is at it again. Can you keep the mobs away or will you fail? This is your big moment to come out and claim your title as sorcerer.
  8. You survived. Now it’s time to go for the gold, releasing a terrible entity on the world. You’ll show them. (What are we doing tonight, Pinky? Trying to take over the WORLD!)
  9. Those pesky scholars from Arkham’s Miskatonic University are coming. Can you do it in time?
  10. No dice. You’ve failed to raise Gkcg’GhlL or Dffg’Lkkjul or whatever its name is. You’re off to the insane asylum. But that’s okay. It’ll give you more time to gibber and spew weird hints for the next relative who’s on his way.

weird_tales_1941I’ve said it here before, but it bears repeating. If you’re going to write a Mythos story, you have to do something beyond the usual retread. If your tale resembles this in more than passing then you might want to rethink it. I mean, I’d like to see one of these guys actually succeed. (It would be different, at least.) More interesting, perhaps, would be to show what this path of destruction does to the inner person. Lovecraft and Derleth don’t really show the inner struggle of these characters much. What really has to happen inside a person to decide to sacrifice another living being to a dark god? The result might be closer to a serial killer novel than Mythos fiction, but at least it would have a ring of truth.