Monday, March 12, 2012

The Shadow Over Portown

Xenopus laevis, Daudin (1802)

     The name of the wizard Zenopus is very close to Xenopus, which means “strange foot” in Greek, but is also the name for a genus of African clawed frogs, which are social, aquatic, fish-eating, and have unusually large hindfeet that are webbed and clawed. The use of the name was presumably an in-joke as Dr. Holmes was a neurophysiologist and Xenopus laevis is commonly used in biological research. Holmes would also have been aware of the Temple of the Frog adventure in the Blackmoor supplement, as he mentioned going through all of the OD&D supplements when preparing the Basic rulebook.

     In the fall after the publication of the Basic Set, Holmes wrote up the Cthulhu mythos for publication in Dragon magazine #12 (Feb 1978), with additions by Rob Kuntz. This was later used as the basis of the Cthulhu mythos in Deities & Demigods (1981), with further revision by Jim Ward. One of the entries was for the Deep Ones from Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth. In Holmes' original write-up, the Deep Ones "occupy certain coastal towns" and "are frog like in appearance with webbed hands and feet. As they grow older they spend more time in the ocean and become more icthic in appearance. They are potentially immortal, as are their halfbreed offspring". Holmes later used a highly similar race of frog/fish-men called the Dagonites as the antagonists of his own D&D-derived novel, The Maze of Peril (1986).

     Since Zenopus lives in a coastal town (Portown) and has an amphibious name, we can speculate a connection between him and the frog-folk for whom Holmes had a literary affinity. Like the narrator of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, perhaps Zenopus was a half-breed Deep One who discovered his roots at an older age, perhaps while exploring the pre-human city upon which Portown was built.

     "What lies in the (undiscovered) deeper levels where Zenopus met his doom?"

A cloaked Deep One painted by Bleaseworld


  1. You are quite a sleuth, Sherlock.

    Maybe someone ought to add a second and third level with these thoughts in mind. It would be moe Holmsian than other attempts I've seen.

    1. Thanks, Thomas. I've actually been slowly designing a 2nd level, hopefully I can get it together in the next few months...

    2. That is good news. Take your time and I'll look forward to seeing it.

  2. Nice! I'm totally feeding off your excavation of old Portown.

  3. Very cool, ZA. Can't wait to see what you come up with.