The Double Shadow: A Clark Ashton Smith Podcast

Transcription for Episode #22: “The Door to Saturn” pt. 1

Show notes for the episode

P = Phil, R = Ruth, T = Tim.

R: I have called up in all my years of horror / P: inch by inch, with baleful terror / R: no god nor devil / T: the red moon, ominous and gibbous / R: no demon nor lich nor shadow / T: had declined above the terraces / P: of the wormy corpses that he dug with his hands from unconsecrated graves / R: and the thing was a streaming ooze of charnal pollution / R: dreaming of conquests / T: It is verily known by few / R: and of vaster necromancies / P: there were people — mostly priests and women, it is told — whom he picked up as they fled / T: It is verily known by few, but is nevertheless an attestable fact / P: and pulled limb from limb as a child might quarter an insect / T, P, R: The Double Shadow — A Clark Ashton Smith Podcast.

T: Hello, and welcome to The Double Shadow, a podcast exploring the weird fiction the life and works of 20th century writer, Clark Ashton Smith. I’m Tim.

P: I’m Phil.

R: And I’m Ruth.

T: And today we’re covering “The Door to Saturn”.

R: Part one.

T: Yeah, part one.

R: First half.

T: Yeah. It’s a long, strange trip…

P: [laughs] I miss Jason.

T: I know, so do I.

R: We can have Jason back, guys. It’s okay.

T: Jason Thompson, our guest, was on last episode.

R: And will be back we hope for “The Seven Geases”.

T: I have a book called The Black Book of Clark Ashton Smith and in it are his notes that we wrote hfor each story. Not notes for every story…I was looking for one for “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” and I couldn’t find it. But then after the show I was looking through the book a little more leisurely and I found an entry called “The Ancient Shadow: the Shadow from the Sarcophagus”, and it says “Satampra Zeiros and Tirouv Ompallios, noted Hyperborean thieves and burglars, are hired by the rule Vash, high priest of the moon god, to enter the tomb of the ancient pre-human sorcerer Hrun, then they are to break open the stone sarcophagus of Hrun and bring to rule Vash certain magic talismans said to have been interred with the wizard. Then it goes on, it’s like a few paragraphs of stuff that is crazy and would have been a completely different story than the one that we read. Maybe I’ll type it up and we can post it on the site..

P: Does the…Is the note dated? Like, are you sure this would have been the first Setampra Zeiros story or is it a note for like an unwritten prequel or something

T: That’s true. It’s not dated. It isn’t dated.

R: Yeah, it would have had to have been a prequel, but either way that’s pretty cool.

P: Good find, Tim.

T: Thanks.

R: Did you find anything for this story?

T: No. There’s nothing in the story, just the title. He wrote all the titles of the Hyperborea stories. There might be a little fragment in there. Some of them are just one sentence and I haven’t read the whole book so… I’ll do better homework.

R: Well, in his letters, he mentions this as having a light ironic tone, which actually caused a bit of a problem with Farnsworth Wright, because he didn’t take the story seriously enough to publish it. And so finally it had to be published in Strange Tales, which paid him twice as much–at least according to the notes in the Night Shade edition. But he mentions in his book that he’s a little disappointed with the fact that it keeps getting rejected at this point by Farnsworth Wright, because of the tone. But I think it’s very good he didn’t change it

T: Yeah, me too.

R: Because this is a fun story.

P: So this story was, as Ruth just pointed out, published in Strange Tales–I think the full name is Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror.

R: Nice.

P: It was published in January 1932, and the issue features a cover story by Jack Williamson as well as work by August Derleth and our old friend Hugh B. Cave, among other people. I don’t know much about Strange Tales of Mystery and Terror other than kind of what Ruth just pointed out, that it was like the better-paying cousin of Weird Tales. And it didn’t last very long, I think it lasted like eight issues or something.

R: That was the one that Smith sold something else to and then they couldn’t print it and eventually Wright took it.

P: I feel like…I mean, while I love this story but I wonder if… there are some scenes that I feel like have extended word counts and I wonder if that’s because he was– well, I guess he didn’t know he was writing for them, I was gonna say maybe he was trying to…

T: Bulk it up a little?

P: Yeah. To get a little more of that Depression era cash. But like I said he didn’t know he was writing for Strange Tales at the time, so he probably didn’t write it that way.

T: What was the other one that Strange Tales had when they folded? Was it–

P: It was like…It was one of the big ones, right?

T: ‘Colossus’?

P: I think it was ‘Colossus’.

R: That sounds right.

P: I find it weird. OK, this is–

R: Yep, it was ‘Colossus’.

P: Oh, it was ‘Colossus’. This is completely unrelated to Clark Ashton Smith, but I keep waiting for L. Ron Hubbard to show up in one of these books. Because I just finished that Scientology book by Lawrence Wright, which was amazing. I guess he wasn’t a Weird Tales writer? Or maybe he was just being published by other kinds of pulp magazines but it’s…

R: He was a pulp writer, but I think he was more adventure, thriller, detective mystery.

P: Well, no because he definitely…

R: And sci-fi. Obviously.

P: He did a lot of science-fiction. But he kind of wrote across all genres, I just find it strange that he hasn’t shown up at all, but maybe he didn’t start writing until a little bit later. But I don’t think that’s true.

T: Was he more of like a novelist?

R: No.

P: No. He wasn’t.

R: Well…

P: Not at the time. I mean, he eventually became a novelist, but he was definitely a short story writer.

R: For the pulps.

P: I only think of it because–well, Tim’s already heard me talk about this–but Jack Williamson, one of Jack Williamson’s biggest fans was John Parsons, who was like a crazy rocket-scientist…

T: Occultist…

P: Occultist…

R: Founder of the JPL…

P: Yes, and L. Ron Hubbard went and schmoozed around with him for quite a while, a little bit after….

R: And stole his wife!

P: Yeah. Anyway, made me think of it. But he hasn’t shown up. But this isn’t a podcast about
L. Ron Hubbard, thank God, so let’s carry on.

T: No. No, it isn’t.

R: Have you guys read Chinatown Death Cloud Peril?

T: No.

R: It’s a story with a lot of pulp writers in it, including a dying H.P. Lovecraft and it includes L. Ron Hubbard as well as one of the writers. Yeah.

P: So, that’s that digression out of the way. Shall we move into “The Door to Saturn”?

R: Let’s kick open a door to Saturn.

T: At the end of this episode we’ll be announcing another contest. I was able to get a copy of The Weird, which we talked about a lot towards the beginning of the show and on the forums. But I was able to get a copy of that from the publisher to give away. So stay tuned and we’ll let you know how to get that at the end of the show. So you have to listen.

P: I’d like to think that if they started listening they’d listen anyway, unless they turned us on and were like “Door to Saturn?! Screw this! Wait a minute, contest? I’m in!” We push and we pull our listeners in many different directions.

[reading by Joe Scalora]

“When Morghi, the high priest of the goddess Yhoundeh, together with twelve of his most ferocious and efficient underlings, came at morning twilight to seek the infamous heretic, Eibon, in his house of black gneiss on a headland above the northern main, they were surprised as well as disappointed to find him absent.

Their surprise was due to the fact that they had every intention of taking him unawares; for all their plots against Eibon had been carried on with meticulous privacy in underground vaults with sound-proof bolted doors; and they themselves had made the long journey to his house in a single night, immediately following the hour of his condemnation. They were disappointed because the formidable writ of arrest, with symbolic flame-etched runes on a scroll of human skin, was now useless and because there seemed to be no early prospect of trying out the ingenious agonies, the intricately harrowing ordeals which they had devised for Eibon with such care.”
T: Whoa. That reader you just heard is a friend of mine. His name is Joe Scalora and he’s been wanting to do readings for us since the beginning and I thought that “Door to Saturn” would be a challenging one to give somebody.

P: Yeha, I mean that’s just cruel. We have a very high bar for readers to cross. You have to pronounce various things that we will never have to.

T: Because I don’t wanna say most of this stuff so I outsourced.

R: Nice. Good plan, Tim. Good plan.

P: I have a lot of things. I know Ruth has a lot to say about Yehoundeh.

R: I do.

P: I’d like you to start because maybe you’ll cover the things I think about Yehoundeh as well.

R: First I’m just gonna note: Oh my gosh, guys, it’s Eibon.

T: Yeah! I know, right?

R: That’s pretty exciting because we’ve seen the Book of Eibon and we’ve heard about Eibon and we knew he was in Hyperborea. But this is Eibon. I’m pretty excited about that and I’m kind of excited about Eibon’s former buddy adventures which sadly didn’t really get their own story. Yehoundeh. Yeah. I have thoughts about the priests of Yehoundeh, who apparently conduct inquisitions against people who are worshipping the wrong sorts of gods, and my thought is “Ooh, Yehoundeh! I’m an elk, I prance around in the forest all day! I look pretty in the moonlight by the lake glimmering as I take some things, and I have maybe horns and I wear flowers in my hair and ooh, I’m an elk, I’m an elk!” And like: You live in a world where there’s Zhothaqqua! You live in a world of awesome deep mysteries, and they’re like “Oh, I’m gonna worship Yehoundeh, I’m a pretty prancing elk thing!” and I just…I don’t understand these people. I don’t understand these people at all.

P: This is what I think. I think in the world of the Mythos, Yehoundeh is the weirdest thing because she’s not…she or he just seems so simple compared to everything else. Like, in a world of insane-making tentacle-monsters who come from beyond the stars, the weirdest thing might actually be an elk goddess. Just because it’s so not in keeping with anything else that goes on in these stories.

R: The people of Hyperborea have just become Hyperboring.

P: But don’t you think that’s interesting? Like why…so Zhothaqqua caught on, right? And all this…like, you never heard about Yehoundeh, ever. Is is just because, she’s boring? Is that it?

T: Well…the story, at the end of the story, it’s kind of…he kind of drops that…

R: Well…

T: Well, we’ll get to it when we get to it.

P: But I guess I mean, just in the world of, like, Weird Tales and HP Lovecraft fandom, like why I had never heard this name until this paragraph.

T: And it is really weird that they worship an elk goddess. And somehow, like you’re saying it seems weirder than worshipping, like, a bat-sloth god. You know? But they’re both animal creatures, animal-like creatures.

P: Yeah, but an elk isn’t a hybrid. The bat-sloht, the sleepy-eyed bat-sloth god is much different than a very simple elk.

R: I just think it’s people who want to get their boring on and like pretty shiny things…and inquisitions.

T: Yeah, exactly. Yehoundeh’s big on inquisitions.

P: I don’t know. Maybe the form of goddess is weird but the things they intend to do with her worship seem awfully interesting to me.

R: Well, I do like the flame-etched runes on a scroll of human skin. I’m giving them points for that.

P: These guys spent hours thinking about types of torture. They were in a room, a subterranean room and they were just, like, drunk with the idea of how they were gonna undo Eibon physically.

T: It actually reminded me a lot of the cabal to undo Malygris.

R: Yeah. Except that I’m kind of liking Eibon mroe than Malygris.

T: Well, he’s a little more…He’s got a bro. He’s got a bro in Zhothaqqua.

R: I know! They’re like bros. They need a ‘bro movie’.

T: It’s like they’re roommates.

R: Are we going to talk later about how they became buds?

T: Yeah, let’s talk about the actual story now. [laughs]

P: We are talking about the story, Tim!

T: Yeah, but we’re talking about larger contextual things…

P: So let’s talk about who Morghi is.

T: He’s the high priest of the goddess Yehoundeh.

P: I guess, like, his personality. Because it says that like he, of all these guys is…well, we later learn he’s basically drunk with the idea of inquisition. But what learn here is that he’s particularly disappointed because Eibon was his chief rival, basically. It is a lot like the Malygris set up, acutally. But Morghi was really excited to go get Eibon, specifically because he’d heard that Eibon had been worshipping Zhothaqquah.

T: And he basically–it’s not so much as a frame-up, but he basically took some rumors and used them as fodder to draw up these inquisition rites to go knock down his main rival.

R: Which turn totally to be true, because when they go to search his house for him after they can’t find him, they find tons of Zhothaqquah stuff around.

T: Wait, wait–it’s not a house, it’s a pentagonal tower of five stories built of gneiss, black gneiss. Which is a kind of rock.

P: Is it “g-nice” or is it “nice”?

T: Well, there’s a “g” in it.

P: Yeah, but it’s not “g-nosis”!

T: [laughs] Says who?!

P: [laughs] Says everybody!

T: It’s a “nice” pentagonal tower.

R: It’s a “nice house”. A nice tower…

P: I kind of wish it was “g-nosis”.

T: I know. It’s so sad.

R: And I do like that…Now, here’s a place where, you know from Poseidonis how they had the deaf-mute slaves on the market, this might actually be a good reason to have deaf-mute slaves because the three servants of Eibon are tortured with a slow drip of boiling hot asphaltum. Maybe they would have done it if they were deaf-mutes anyway, but I think it would have been kind of assumed that those servants wouldn’t really know where their master had gone.

T: Yeah, they didn’t get any information from those servants.

R: Nope.

T: They don’t know what happened. Eibon is just gone, and that kind of frustrates Morghi.

R: Yeah. More than a little bit.

T: “He was driven to credit his rival with superior resources of magic.” So he’s realizing that he’s been outclassed here, and he doesn’t like it so much.

P: I just wanna talk about how much Eibon like Zhothaqquah. Like, the story goes to some length to establish that it’s not just like, there’s one icon of Zhothaqquah. It’s like, he’s everywhere in this place. It’s like you walk into a teenage girl’s room and it’s plastered with Justin Bieber posters…

T: That’s exactly how I pictured it.

P: Eibon hearts Zhothaqquah. It’s just out of control.

R: “He was to be found in half the totems”, in pictures that were scrawled on…

T: Flagstones…

R: Parchment, painting…and he’s “amid landscapes whose abnormality and sheer uncouthness may have been due to the half-developed technique of the primitive artists.” So, he’s got posters on the wall and everything.

T: So Morghi’s in this room, this fan room. He rages, full-out rage, and starts ripping all the parchments and posters off the wall, almost as if he thinks that Eibon might be hiding behind them. I don’t know, it’s very cool because there’s kind of a quiet moment where he’s thinking about how he’s been outclassed and he’s looking out the window, and then he just rages and starts ripping everything off the walls. And then he finds a panel…

[reading by Joe Scalora]

“A queer panel, high up in the southeastern side above the writing-table, had been revealed by the removal of one of the paintings. Morghi’s heavy brows met in a long black bar as he eyed this panel. It was conspicuously different from the rest of the wall, being an oval-shaped inlay of some reddish metal tbat was neither gold nor copper — a metal that displayed an obscure and fleeting fluorescence of rare colors when one peered at it through half-shut eyelids. But somehow it was impossible, with open eyes, even to remember the colors of this fluorescence. Morghi — who, perhaps, was cleverer and more perspicacious than Eibon had given him credit for being — conceived a suspicion that was apparently baseless and absurd, since the wall containing the panel was the outer wall of the building, and could give only on the sky and sea.

“He climbed upon the writing-table and struck the panel with his fist. The sensations which he felt, and the result of the blow, were alike astounding. A sense of icy cold so extreme that it was hardly distinguishable from extreme heat, ran along his hand and arm through his whole body as he smote the unknown reddish metal. And the panel itself swung easily outward, as if on unseen hinges, with a high sonorous clang that seemed to fall from an incomputable distance. Beyond it, Morghi saw that there was neither sky nor sea nor, in fact, anything he had ever seen or heard of, or even dreamed of in his most outrageous nightmares…

“He turned to his companions. The look on his face was half amazement, half triumph.

“‘Wait here till I return,’ he commanded, and leaped headlong through the open panel.”

T: The panel is on the wall, right? It’s not on the ceiling?

R: Yeah.

P: I thought it was on the ceiling.

T: I picture it on the wall.

R: It seems to be to me, like, on the upper curved part of the wall. But if it’s where a poster was…

P: High up on the southeastern side, above the writing table.

R: But it would kind of have to be on the wall, just because otherwise the poster wouldn’t have fit over it.

P: There’s a couple of things I don’t understand physically about how this happens. Did they not search very well the first time? They didn’t just notice there was a door behind one of these ‘I heart Zhothaqquah’ posters?

R: I think they didn’t bother taking down the ‘I heart Zhothaqquah’ posters.

P: That doesn’t seem like a very thorough search to me. I’m just saying.

R: When you’re in the top of the tower, you don’t look for a door!

P: Okay, that’s A… but the bigger question is, when you go through the Door to Saturn, can you reach behind you to close it? Like how did that poster get back over that door?

R: I think it must just slam shut.

P: But with the poster over it?

T: Probably one of Eibon’s assistants.

R: One of his servants.

P: I thought they didn’t know anything.

R: Well, maybe they’re really good under torture.

T: Maybe they were wandering around doing their cleanup and they saw the velvet painting of Zhothaqquah smoking a cigar had fallen off the wall.

P: Can one of us or one of our readers create a subsidiary text that just explains this door situation for us?

T: I think that can happen.

P: Hopefully through the eyes of one of the servants who will go on to be boiled alive or whatever they do to them. I feel like…

R: Aw…

P: I feel like the banality of the early part of that story followed by the skin-peeling horror of the second part would really make for something special. “So then I went up into the top room and I realized there’s this door that’s open and my master’s favorite Zhothaqquah poster was all dishevelled. So I closed it!”

R: “And I put the Zhothaqquah poster back up and I felt very good about myself.”

P: [laughs] “Then I dusted a little and I had a sandwich.”

R: [laughs] “And then I got burned to death. Well, maybe I just got partially…”

P: “Later I watched as layers and layers of my own skin was peeled off of my abdomen.”

T: “It was most uncomfortable.”

T: So Morghi…he doesn’t care. He gives zero f-words…

R: Seriously.

P: I forgot that I love this part of the story, where he’s just like, “Whatever, bye.”

T: He’s like “Wait here, Ill be back.” And leaps through into another world.

R: He didn’t even, like, say “I’m leaving a rope.”

T: Nope.

R: “I’m doing…something?”

P: In my mind, its very Looney Tunes , he just jumps up in goes through it.

R: Same.

P: But if we want to ground it in real physics, I like that he says this and then has to, like, climb up awkwardly through this weird door in the ceiling.

T: Well, I still picture it on the wall. So he’s climbing up through a hole in the wall and then we don’t see what happens and the door…

R: …clangs shut behind him, perhaps?

T: And then the guards look at each other and shrug. One of them adjusts his helmet.

P: I think one of them’s like, “That guy was an [bleeped]hole!”

T: [laughs] “Got anything to eat?” So now we get, in the story, we get a little history about Eibon and Zhothaqquah.

R: And Clark Ashton Smith notes that this is the Mhu Thulan spelling of Tsathoggua as we commonly think of it. So it’s not that this is, “oh this is how it should actually be spelled” or “this is some early draft of it.” This is how…he came up with the idea that this is how these people would spell it, which I love. I love that he comes up with these ideas, “Oh yeah, it’s spelled differently by these people”, even though they know how to say it the same.

T: Yeah. I love Smith’s version of these gods. They’re just as impressive as Lovecraft’s but in a completely different way.

R: I love that Eibon had “cultivated the acquaintance of Zhothaqquah, who, in the desuetude of his worship was now driven to lead an existence wholly subterranean.” So he makes the right prayers, he makes the right sacrifices, and in return for Eibon’s interest, Zhothaqquah confides in him. Which makes me think they’re chatty bros. He says, “C’mon and talk to me, I’ve got things I’ll tell you. I’ve got a worshipper, and I’ll be a cool patron deity.”

T: It’s not like…It doesn’t seem like Zhothaqquah is something that you have to summon that would, like, appear. It’s like he actually lives underground, and you can go and visit him in his house.

P: [laughs] Does it strike anybody else that Zhothaqquah kind of just seems like, a stoner god? I think he might–to put it in terms of modern metal, if you will–I feel like Zhothaqquah could stake a claim to be the patron god of stoner metal. Like, if you’re listening to Sleep or High on Fire or something…

T: You’re communing with Zhothaqquah.

P: You’re communing with Zhothaqquah, exactly. [laughs] He’s like the god of fuzz metal.

T: Yeah, yeah. He’s a strange, sleepy little god. [laughs]

R: Yeah. He’s not, you know, big and ‘tentacle-y’ or whatever…

T: He’s just hanging out underground, eating Cheetos, listening to…

P: [laughs] …the first six Black Sabbath albums, and being like “Let’s just get ripped, guys. What’s the harm? Ain’t no elks down here!”

R: [laughs] This is true, except….actually, except that the elk inquisitors were dumb enough to have their meeting underground, and Zhothaqquah’s got pretty big ears because he’s a bat-sloth god…or a bat-sloth toad god. And he heard what all was going on and he actually was the one that warned Eibon, which is why Eibon wasn’t there when they showed up. So that.

T: Yeah, and he gives Eibon a panel of metal.

R: Well yeah. Sorry. He’d done that beforehand.

T: But tells him, “Don’t”…that this is a metal form another dimension, basically. And don’t use it unless you have to, because it’ll bring you to Cyrkanosh.

P: And like, this just seems like a stoner plan to me. It’s not a real…This is not a good plan. It’s like, “Hey, I got this, dude. Put it on your wall.”

T: I know! You know, you’d think maybe a rope ladder out the window might be a better one.

R: Or a spell or incantation to zap you there and maybe back.

T: Well that’s something that’s weird is that, it doesn’t seem like…There’s not a lot of actual magic in this. There’s a lot of science-fiction that’s kind of pretending to be magic.

R: Mm hmm. Now, here’s the thing that I thought of when I read this. My sister and I used to believe–because we both somehow had this same dream or somehow in the ways that small children that live together do–that there was a door behind our bedroom dresser and that it led down into this amazing room, and we kept periodically trying to get there because both of us in a little tiny part of our brains actually believed that this door was there.

T: Right.

R: And so I think this idea of having a door in your wall that you can open to go somewhere. You have Narnia, you have–I’m trying to think of things where you open a door under certain circumstances–well, you’ve got the set of doors in Howl’s Moving Castle…Did you guys ever fantasize about having a door like that when you were kids?

T: My brother used to, as we were drifting off to sleep–this was when we were, like, tiny kids living in Queens and we shared a room. He used to pretend that he was these little people that lived in the hall closet and that, if I did tasks for them they would build statues to me in their courtyard and things like that.

R: I like your brother.

P: That’s amazing.

T: So it would be like, I would have to get up and open to a door and let the light in to kill the creatures or whatever. And I would always do it. And I kind of always–I knew it was my brother but I kind of half-believed, or maybe wanted to believe, that there was actually a world filled with these tiny little people who needed my help. But there’s a statue of me in their town square right now, so…

R: That’s pretty cool. Is it little you or is it adult you…or is it Zhothaqqua who looks like you?

T: It’s probably me as a kid. I didn’t know I was Zhothaqqua back then.

P: I don’t have any memory of any thoughts like that, I’m sorry to say.

R: No magic doors?

P: I guess I had a very cold childhood.

R: Well, you’re making up for it.

P: All we did was arithmetic…

T: You have plenty of doors to Saturn in your house now, so…
P: While Zhothaqqua is like, “Hey bro, here’s this piece of metal, put it on your wall if you have a hard time”, he also gives him this…how do they explain it?

R: It’s an unpronounceable name of the most powerful of the deities. As a password of sorts.

P: Yes. Who we later learn, Eibon later calls him…it’s the name of Zhothaqqua’s paternal uncle–which also puts him in the lineage of Cthulu, if you wanna trace that back somehow, because Zhothaqqua and Cthulu are related, right? Anyway, he gives him this unpronounceable word that he can use, I guess ,as like a–I don’t even really understand the motivation. It’s like, you’ll show up on Saturn or Cyrkanosh and you’ll just say this word and people will take care of you or something?

R: Yeah, he calls it “a sort of password” in the story which doesn’t quite make sense to me. But there you go.

T: But even Eibon is like “What are you talking about? This sounds…” “The idea of a panel that would open on some remote world impressed Eibon as being rather fantastic, not to say far-fetched.” Meanwhile you’re talking to a sleepy little toad-god underground. Whatever, Eibon.

P: Who’s on his beanbag chair staring at his lava lamp…

T: Watching The Big Lebowski for the hundredth time.

P: [laughs] He’s totally “The Dude” of gods…Anyway, the thing is: Eibon goes to Saturn.

R: Yes. He’s brought a little bread and wine with him, which I kind of love.

P: I love that he refers to the followers of Yehoundeh as “jealous bigots”.

R: Yeah.

P: [laughs] He’s totally right, they are jealous bigots.

T: Yeah. They totally are.

R: It’s true. He springs through the opening into Cyrkanosh with “the agility that was quite juvenile for a wizard of mature years”, which incidentally is not how we see Morghi later on. So, points to Eibon for keeping a little spring in his step. He notes that “it was only a step”–it’s described as a step–but he sees that “all trace of the panel and the dwelling had disappeared” and he’s standing “on a long declivity of ashen soil”, i.e. a stream.

[reading by Joe Scalora]

It was only a step; but turning he saw that all trace of the panel or of his dwelling had now disappeared. He was standing on a long declivity of ashen soil, down which a sluggish stream that was not water, but some liquescent metal resembling mercury, ran from tremendous unscalable shoulders and horns of the mountain heights above, to debouch in a hill-surrounded lake of the same liquid.

The slope beneath him was lined with rows of peculiar objects; and he could not make up his mind whether they were trees, mineral forms, or animal organisms, since they appeared to combine certain characteristics of all these. This preternatural landscape was appallingly distinct in every detail, under a greenish-black sky that was overarched from end to end with a triple cyclopean ring of dazzling luminosity. The air was cold, and Eibon did not care for its sulphurescent odor or the odd puckery sensation it left in his nostrils and lungs. And when he look a few steps on the unattractive-looking soil, he found that it had the disconcerting friability of ashes that have dried once more after being wetted with rain.

He started down the slope, half-fearing that some of the equivocal objects around him would reach out their mineral boughs or arms to arrest his progress. They seemed to be a kind of bluish-purple obsidian cacti, with limbs that ended in formidable talon-like spines, and heads that were altogether too elaborate for either fruits or blossoms. They did not move as he passed among them; but he heard a faint and singular tinkling with many modulations of tone, that preceded and followed him along the slope. Eibon conceived the uncomfortable notion that they were holding converse with each other; and were perhaps debating what should be done with him or about him.

P: Duh-duh-duh…

T: Yeah, that’s a very cool first glimpse at an alien world.

R: Yeah, and…well, it’s not Venus. It’s not Sfanamoë. So that’s good.

T: Yeah, it’s like a desert.

R: Yeah. It’s like the opposite of. But better for life, maybe? There are clearly things growing.

T: And there’s streams of liquid metal and lakes of the same stuff.

R: Which you have to figure that there must be some sort of water too, or Zhothaqqua wouldn’t have sent him there.

P: Or maybe he would have!

R: Or maybe he would have, too.

T Maybe he just doesn’t understand.

R: Maybe he doesn’t think about these things.

P: “Dude, he didn’t even think about water! Oh my God!”

T: That’s what happened as soon as Eibon went into the panel. “Ah! They need water! Damn!”

R: Well, he’s got a little wine with him. But that’s not gonna help him forever.

P: What do you think…I don’t know how to phrase this question. I guess it’s a two-part question. A, as Ruth just pointed out this, whole thing kind of smacks of Sfanamoë, just in that, the idea of ancient sorcerers ending up on other planets. But it just seems weird to me, from an authorial standpoint, that you would conceive of this world Hyperborea, and then the first time you do it, you tell this pretty simple story about thieves. And the second time you do it, you just completely dismiss it and like, “go to Saturn”. I don’t understand.

R: Yeah, but he’s setting up this legendary Hyperborean sorcerer that he’s gonna draw on in later stories and that he maybe has drawn on before. We should trace the source of Eibon.

P: I have this whole thing about how I find it so hilarious that Eibon, who in ever other story is treated as a pretty, like, serious figure–like this story to me, it’s just a joke. This whole thing is a joke. [laughs]

R: That why I love him, I love this story so much.

T: And this is the Eibon story!

P: It’s the Eibon story, but fundamentally it’s just, like a punchline. I just thinks it’s really funny.

T: And it doesn’t make Eibon seem very…it’s makes him seem like he’s quick on his feet but that’s about it.

P: But he’s not really…He’s not fearsome. He doesn’t, like, really do anything.

T: Maybe that’s the point. Maybe he’s just a really good conman.

R: And the point is that centuries later nobody knows the difference.

T: Yeah. It’s the long con. The Eiboncon.

R Unfortunately, he’s well long dead by then.

T: So he’s on Saturn.

R: And he gets cast in the shadow of something really big

T: Something huge.

R: And sort of fuzzy and sleepy looking and he thinks, “That looks kind of like Zhothaqqua, wonder what that is.”

T: But upside down, right?

R: Yeah. Like, weirdly inverted. I’m not sure how I see this happening but…

T: I think its body is…I think its head is on the bottom of its body because he keeps saying…

R: Yeah. Maybe so.

T: Yeah, so he sees this creature that is reminiscent of Zhothaqqua, but he keeps saying it’s inverted. This is how he explains it in the story: “This being, he perceived, was not easy to classify, with its ludicrously short legs, its exceedingly elongated arms, and its round, sleepy-looking head that was pendulous from a spherical body, as if it were turning a somnambulistic somersault.” So its head is hanging down off its body upside down, and it’s got superlong arms and little tiny baby legs.

R: But the sleepy-looking eyes and the furriness and the general expression make him think, “Ah, this one’s gotta be related to Zhothaqqua.”

T: And even remembers that Zhothaqqua told him that the form that he is on Earth isn’t the form he had on Cyrkanosh, or on Saturn. So maybe Zhothaqqua looked like this or could change his form. Or was just lying.

R: So he spends his time trying to remember what this password-god’s name thing is.

P: Before he remembers it, I wanna talk about Eibon’s thinking here. Because he sees this huge creature, it goes to the liquid that looks like mercury and drinks it. And based on that one thing, Eibon is like “Oh, that’s a god”. Because nothing biological could ever drink that liquid that, mind you, I know absolutely nothing about.

T: “And I am on Saturn…”

P: So clearly, clearly this must be a god. That’s like, the shakiest logic.

R: But the likeness to Zhothaqqua…!

T: That’s why I love Smith’s conception of these ‘gods’ in quotes. Because they’re obviously not. They’re just aliens. But he refuses–refuses—to give us that. He always calls them gods, he always talks about their workings as magic. Because that’s what these characters think. I love it. I love it a lot. (34:50)

R: “Whelp, you can drink mercury so you must be a god. Hang on, I’m gonna try and remember this name.” The name is “Huizlqua…bleeah”. “Huiizzolqo…” I’d like to think he tried as many time to say it as I did. Maybe he was mumbling like [mumbles]. Unfortunately, “doubtless the result was not wholly comformable to Cyrkanoshian rules but Eibon did the best he could with the vocal organs at his command, and his auditor seemed to recognize the word, for it peered at Eibon a little less sleepily than before with its inversely situated eyes and even deigned to utter something which sounded like an attempt to correct his pronunciation”.

T: That’s awesome.

P: [laughs] It’s like…”no, no, no”.

R: “No, dude. This is how you say it.”

R: So then Eibon says “Zhothaqqua” three times, like “Ah, okay: Zhothaqqua, Zhothaqqua, ZHOTHAQQUA!”

P: [laughs] He just comes off as a moron. “Here are the two words you might know, I’m gonna say ’em over and over again.”

T: Then the creature looks at him again and says “Zhsdfdok” and corrects his pronunciation again.

R: Finally it raises us one of its arms from the ground arms from the ground and points to the shore, ‘where the mouth of a low valley was discernible among the hills. It said distinctly the enigmatic words: “Iqhui dlosh odhqlonqh”‘…and then it left.

P: I just wanna say Ruth, you just “Jason Thompsoned” that pronunciation.

R: Yes! I like to think that at this point in the story there’s like an explosion of sparks or something, like “Flash”. Because…

[reading by Joe Scalora]

” “Detestable sorcerer! Abominable heretic! I arrest you!” said Morghi with pontifical severity.

Eibon was surprised, not to say startled; but it reassured him to see that Morghi was alone. He drew the sword of highly tempered bronze which he carried, and smiled.

“I should advise you to moderate your language, Morghi,” he admonished. “Also, your idea of arresting me is slightly out of place now, since we are alone together in Cykranosh, and Mhu Thulan and the temple-cells of Yhoundeh are many million miles away.”

Morghi did not appear to relish this information. He scowled and muttered: “I suppose this is some more of your damnable wizardry.”

Eibon chose to ignore the insinuation.

“I have been conversing with one of the gods of Cykranosh,” he said magniloquently. “The god, whose name is Hziulquoigmnzhah, has given me a mission to perform, a message to deliver, and has indicated the direction in which I should go. I suggest that you lay aside our little mundane disagreement, and accompany me. Of course we could slit each other’s throats or eviscerate each other, since we are both armed. But under the circumstances I think you will see the puerility, not to mention the sheer inutility, of such a proceeding. If we both live we may be of mutual use and assistance, in a strange world whose problems and difficulties, if I mistake not, are worthy of our united powers.”

Morghi frowned and pondered.

“Very well,” he said grudgingly, “I consent. But I warn you that matters will have to take their course when we return to Mhu Thulan.”

“That,” rejoined Eibon, “is a contingency which need not trouble either of us. Shall we start?'”

T: Now it becomes the road–

R: The buddy comedy.

T: The buddy comedy. The road comedy.
R: They’re an “odd couple”.

P: But Tim, what about our competition?

R: Right.

T: Oh, right! So we had another fun and crazy idea for a contest, where–Since we’re doing this during the Hyperborean setting–we could get out listeners to draw their own interpretations of Tsathoggua, the small sleepy god of Hyperborea. Not everyone’s an artist. Totally understand. Just do it anyway. Draw him in stick figures. Because he’s such a weird idea of a creature that we really wanna get as many takes as possible.

R: We’re each going to draw one too, so you can see how awesome or terrible–Ruth kind of terrible–we are at drawing.

T: So even if it’s a stick figure you’re still in the running, and then we’ll choose a random winner and send you a soft-cover copy of The Weird.

E: You can submit your drawing via email to contact@thedoubleshadow.com, @thedoubleshadow on Twitter, or on our Facebook page. And on our forums. I suppose you can do it on Google+, if you’re still on there, because Tim will see it.

T: You Plussers out there. That’s what they call themselves.

R: That’s what you call yourselves

T: We do

R: Next time, The improbable odd couple of Morghi-just-wants-torture-Eibon, Eibon-just-wants-to-have-fun…on Saturn.

[music]

T: “Detestable sorcerer! Abominable heretic! I arrest you!”

P: I think you have say that Morghi showed up before.

R: No, no.

T: No, ’cause he turns around and there Morghi, with his cape flowing in the wind, his bronzesword unsheathed, his beard flowing slightly: [in silly voice] “Detestable sorcerer! Abominable heretic! I arrest you!” [in another, different silly voice] “I should advise you to moderate your language, Morghi,” he admonised. “Also, your idea of arresting me is slightly out of place now, since we are alone together in Cykranosh.”

R: [as Morghi] I suppose this is some more of your damnable wizardry.

T: [in silly voice number 2] “I have been conversing with one of the gods of Cykranosh. The god, whose name is Hziulquoigmnzhah, has given me a mission to perform”

R: Very well, I consent. But I warn you that matters will have to take their course when we return to Mhu Thulan.

T: That is a contingency which need not to bla bla bla…”

P: [laugh] Bla bla bla, let’s start.

T: Shall we start?

Show notes for the episode

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