Thursday, July 23, 2015

"The Hounds of Tindalos" (Frank Belknap Long, Weird Tales March 1929)

Frank Belknap Long was a long-time friend and correspondent of H.P. Lovecraft, and as with many of Lovecraft's friends, he dipped his toes on the game of "Yog-Sothothery," as Lovecraft put it, penning cosmic horror tales that would end up bound up as part of the "Cthulhu Mythos." This story, first published in the March 1929 issue of Weird Tales, is Long's best-known contribution to the Mythos.

The story introduces us to a scientist and author, Halpin Chalmers, who has managed to synthesize the drug "Liao," allegedly what Lao Tze was on when he envisioned the Tao.  By consuming the Liao and focusing on the formulas of Einstein, Chalmers is able to mentally project himself backwards in time, remembering past lives or simply observing a time before the present.

Unfortunately for Chalmers (I can't write that name without wanting to put a "Superintendant" in front of it - thanks, Simpsons!), he goes too far in time, to a time before the evolution of multicellular life on Earth - a time before Time itself split into the curved space-time of Einstein and a darker, "angled" dimension.  In this time before Time, Earth was inhabited by creatures Chalmers understands as "the Hounds of Tindalos."  One of these creatures becomes aware of his psychic presence, and begins to pursue him down the vigintillions of years from its era to the present.


There's one way for Chalmers to protect himself; as an inhabitant of curved space, he's unreachable by the Hounds so long as there's nothing with a hard angle around for it to manifest out of.  Out goes all of Chalmer's furniture, and in comes the plaster of paris, to putty up every corner of his room.  But the Hounds are nothing if not cunning, and they have allies in curved space...

This is one of the best non-Lovecraft pieces of Cthulhiana in this era (outside of some of Robert Bloch's work, if you ask me), and Lovecraft enjoyed it enough to name-check the Hounds in "The Whisperer in Darkness" the following year.

The idea of time being split into "curves," containing the universe we know, and "angles," containing much that we don't know, is certainly a different one, though perhaps prescient; who knows what quantum physics will reveal in years to come? Either way, it's a novel take on Lovecraft's thesis that science will open up vistas that fracture the comforting "smallness" of a human-scale universe and force us to confront that smallness head-on.

The Hounds themselves have become quite popular, appearing in role-playing games ranging from Call of Cthulhu to Pathfinder, as well as being name-checked in video games like the Alone in the Dark series and one of the Final Fantasy games.  There's even a lovable plush toy version of the Hound out there to be had!

The typical depiction of the Hounds is of varying levels of canine-ness, which speaks to the evocative nature of the story and the title given to the creatures, though Long notes that the name "cloaks the foulness" of these creatures.  Game designer Kenneth Hite, in his "Ken Writes About Stuff" issue dedicated to the Hounds, notes that "[t]hey do not so much resemble hounds or wolves as they convey to their unlucky viewer an inescapable sense of being hunted." Brian Lumley presented the Hounds of Tindalos as fluttering, tattered bat-like creatures of pure shadow in his Titus Crow series of novels, while C.J. Henderson, in one of the short stories comprising the extended "Teddy London" cycle of occult hardboiled detective stories, depicted the Hounds as rhinoceros-sized armor-plated juggernauts with crab-like limbs and surprising degree of loquaciousness.

I'm actually gearing up to use a Hound of Tindalos in an upcoming session of the Call of Cthulhu RPG, which is what led me back to the original source story.  My own description of the Hound is as follows:

"You see a long, lean shape, all hard edges and shifting rhomboid plates of glittering blackness surrounding a core of blinding blue light.  Azure phosphorescence drips from between knife-edged segments, obscuring the overall outline but leaving you with a cold knot in the pit of your stomach and an impression of greyhound, hammerhead shark and Cubist painting come to life viewed simultaneously.  The creature turns its long, jagged head towards you, and you could swear it seems to grin maliciously."

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