Monday, January 14, 2008

Hastur Through the Ages

So one of the challenges for the Tatters of the King adventure is that is attempted to deal with Hastur and his avatar, the King in Yellow. The problem, though, is that within the mythos Hastur as been all over the map, and there have been a number of different stabs at him, which in part accounts for the sprawling (and sometimes unfocused) nature of the adventure.

Let's look at this within the light of the Six Ages of Lovecraft I talked about way back. For those who don't want to link, here they are:

Generation 0 - the Predecessors (Chambers, Bierce)
Generation 1 - The Originators (Lovecraft, Weird Tales)
Generation 2 - The Organizers (Derlith, Arkham House)
Generation 3 - The Explainers (Leiber, Lumley)
Generation 4 - The Gamers (Peterson, Chaosium)
Generation 5 - The Pagans (Tynes, Pagan Publishing)

Hastur and the King in Yellow have a number of incarnations through all this, sometimes together, sometimes not. In addition, the King in Yellow refers both to the mythos entity AND to the supposedly banned play (which we'll put in quotations here - "The King in Yellow" is the play). Its a bit of a mess, part of this is to separate out the skeins.

Generation 0 provides the basic building blocks of Hastur. R. M. Price tracks back Hastur himself to Ambrose Bierce as a beneficent god in "Haita the Shepherd". Chambers builds on this in his work, and brings up "The King in Yellow" as a forbidden play that causes SAN loss in its readers. The play itself, from the little bits used, echosed Poe and his "Masque of the Red Death". For Chambers, Hastur is sometimes an entity, sometimes a place.

Generation 1: For Lovecraft himself, he refers to Hastur only once,in "The Whisperer in Darkness", and he puts Hastur in an odd place, between locations and individuals. It is hard to say if Hastur (Hah-STOOR) is one or the other. He does link Hastur and the Yellow Sign, as part of namecheck to assure you that this is all mystic and not-good. But beyond that? Nada.

Generation 2 puts Hastur definitely among the elder gods with Derlith's "Return of Hastur", which makes the big H a sprawling, spinelike, oozing monster. Hastur was Derlith's boy, a here H makes the big time. Derlith is the one that makes Hastur definitely a being, not a place, and assigns the King in Yellow as its avatar, making a hard link between the two.

Generation 3 sort of downplays Hastur - lacking a firm basis. The Titus Crow Hastur is like Cthulhu - big alienish tentacled monster to conflict with, and be outwitted by, the protagonist. There are attempts to write the play itself, such as James Blish's "More Light", making the play a noxious text that no one can finish. The King as avatar is missing from the scene for these guys,

Generation 4 brings back both Hastur and the King with a vengeance, but doesn't do as much to link them other than to say they are linked. Their Hastur is the molten flesh thing, and D&D offers the time-honored "Speak Hastur's Name thrice and he will appear" (Compare with the movies Beetlejuice and Candyman). The King in Yellow is more engaged as an antagonist than Hastur, and it is here for the first time that the Yellow Sign makes a true appearance (Steven Ross did it in 1989 - before that it was merely an imagined device).

Generation 5 has an interesting take that evokes the Generation 3 explainers, but with a modern twist. Hastur is not a god at all, but the mere force of entropy that is personified by human minds. The King in Yellow is the prophet of this empty god, and their followers are advance men prepping the world for its mindless sacrifice.

"Tatters of the King" seeks to synthesize these diverse elements, which in part accounts for the diverse approaches and uneven feel. The oozing Hastur and the enigmatic servant, with its killer play and unwatchable sign, seem a strange teamup, one that did not exist from one mind, but from a bundle of creative approaches, all striving against each other.

And I have my own theory, but that comes tomorrow.

More later