Every Thursday, Nathan at Fantasy Review Barn leads a group of fellow bloggers on “Tough Travels”, a trip through the tropes that populate the fantasy and sci-fi world, using Diane Wynne Jones’ hilarious The Tough Guide to Fantasyland as a guide.
This week’s subject is “Unnatural Creatures (Tentacles Preferred)”:
Okay, this is a serious stretch. But I gotta find some way to make Eddings fit, even if it is jamming a square peg in a round hole. So, in the Malloreon, there are cryptic references to the Dark Prophecy coming from beyond the stars. That’s good enough for me. And while Zandramas didn’t have tentacles, she certainly had her fingers in a lot of pies to make sure the Dark Prophecy’s machinations went off as planned. Yeah, I got nothing here.
I figure Cthulhu is going to dominate this week’s Lovecraft entries, so I figured I’d go with this classic. “The Dunwich Horror” was my introduction to Lovecraft’s weird, wonderful and, yes, incredibly racist work. It follows Wilbur Whateley, the dark, inbred child of unearthy rites, borne of the reclusive Lavinia Whateley and some unknown father. That’s where the otherworldly tentacles come in. Fortunately, the monstrous family is defeated, a rarity in Lovecraft’s work.
Pratchett’s Discworld series started as a general parody of fantasy novels before finding its voice as social satire. The Color of Magic incorporates several homages, from Conan to Pern, as well as Lovecraft. This tentacled elder God lives beneath an altar at the center of an eight-sided temple filled with disorienting architecture that makes it larger on the inside than outside. Twoflower and Rincewind run afoul of the God on their adventures.
Not every Lovecraftian critter is evil. Lub is a young Deep One who befriends Harrison Harrison in Gregory’s YA paean to Lovecraft. Short for “Landlubber”, the cargo-shorts wearing Lub loves to spend time in an abandoned lighthouse near Dunnmouth, skateboarding and reading comics. I imagine a fishy Bart Simpson.
Annihilation is Lovecraft meets the Everglades, a trippy journey into Area X, an environmental anomaly inhabited by creatures that are not so normal with a tower at its center. This tower is actually an underground tunnel filled with mysterious, blasphemous writing, inhabited by The Crawler an otherworldly tentacle creature. We never learn exactly what the Crawler is, or its connection to the writing, and as the trilogy progresses there are only more questions. I’m still not sure I “get” the series, but damn I loved reading it.
Another wonderful Lovecraftian creepfest from last year, Maplecroft reimagines Lizzy Borden’s notorious parricide as a battle against otherworldly creatures bent on assimilating the residents of Falls River, Mass. Borden whacks the fishy humanoids, ax in hand, while her sister Emma, a noted biologist examines mysterious samples from the nearby ocean and beach. One of those samples, a strange jellyfish, is sent to a colleague at Miskatonic University, who is warped by the sample, which he calls Mother. No tentacles, but plenty of otherworldly awesome.
We’ll wrap it up this week with a non-Lovecraftian tentacle monster. The Watcher in the Water lurked outside the Gates of Moria, and while the Fellowship dawdled around trying to figure out how to open the door, it made its presence known attacking Frodo and driving off poor Bill the pony. It’s also revealed that the Watcher killed Oin, from Bilbo’s company. Of course if Boromir hadn’t fucked around, and they’d figured out the riddle to open the door, there wouldn’t have been any problems.