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Wednesday, October 31, 2012

How Zenopus Met His Doom

Tulzscha the Green Flame. Source.

Earlier this year, in The Shadow over Portown, I speculated a connection between the wizard Zenopus and the Deep Ones of Lovecraft's Shadow over Innsmouth. Today, on Halloween, I'll discuss another Lovecraft story that possibly influenced Holmes' Sample Dungeon: The Festival (1925). (Warning: this post contains some spoilers if you haven't read the story. It's short if you want to read it first).

The intro of the Sample Dungeon sets up a mystery: what happened to Zenopus? We learn that on a cold night in winter his tower was "suddenly engulfed in green flame", but despite this several servants escaped and the tower stood until toppled by the authorities. The servants report that Zenopus was destroyed by some powerful force he unleashed in the depths of his tower. The end of the adventure refers to the "(undiscovered) deeper levels where Zenopus met his doom".

The "green flame" stands out as an interesting detail. It could be offhand, but knowing Holmes' fondess for Lovecraft, I searched and found that a monstrous green flame features prominently in The Festival. I hadn't read this before, but it was in one my Lovecraft compilations, and while reading it I noticed the setting reminded me a lot of Portown.

The story begins with the narrator traveling on a cold winter night (Yule) to the ancient sea town of Kingsport (fictional, but based on Marblehead, MA). Eventually his kin lead him to a hilltop church in the town, where he descends into underground passages: 

"I knew we must have passed down through the mountain and beneath the earth of Kingsport itself, and I shivered that a town should be so aged and maggoty with subterraneous evil". 

In a subterranean chamber, he witnesses his kin worshiping a pillar of green flame:

"...suddenly there spread out before me the boundless vista of an inner world - a vast fungous shore litten by a belching column of a sickish greenish flame and washed by a side oily river that flowed from abysses frightful and unsuspected to join the blackest gulfs of immemorial ocean" and "...what frightened me most was that flaming column; spouting volcanically from depths profound and inconceivable, casting no shadows as healthy flame should, and coating the nitrous stone with a nasty, venomous verdigris. For in all that seething combustion no warmth lay, but only the clamminess of death and corruption."

Lovecraft never names the green flame, but the Call of Cthulhu RPG calls it Tulzscha.

After witnessing further horrors, the narrator leaps into the underground river and is swept out into the harbor, to be rescued later. This is reminiscent of the river in the Sample Dungeon, which can sweep characters from one room to another and connects to the sea.

The famous final paragraph of The Festival even mentions dead wizards in a quote from the Necronomicon: 

"The nethermost caverns...are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl." 

So The Festival and the Sample Dungeon share:

     -a seaport town on a cold, wintry night
     -a structure on a hill overlooking the town, with labyrinthine tunnels beneath
     -a monstrous green flame spouting from the depths
     -an underground river that connects to the sea
     -references to dead wizards 

These could merely be coincidence, but the shared detail of the green flame is certainly intriguing, and using the Festival as inspiration, we might speculate that Zenopus made contact with the green flame while excavating his cellars, but on that cold winter's night it claimed him and emanated up through his tower. But the green flame is cold and did not destroy his body, which remains in the depths and instructs the worms...

Happy All Hallow's Eve!

See also other posts on Holmes & Lovecraft:
The Underworld of Holmes
The Shadow over Portown
Dr. Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos in Deities & Demigods
Dr. Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, part II
Dr. Holmes and the Cthulhu Mythos, part III
Kingsport as Portown


  1. That's really an underrated HPL story. It doesn't appear in all that many compilations, but it's very good.

  2. Brilliantly done, ZA: thanks for pointing out the parallels. I love this possibility!