Sunday, April 25, 2021

Warm Wet Ragged Tendrils - C.L. Moore's Shambleau & Michael Moorcock's Stormbringer mythologies

 "Somewhere beyond the Egyptians, in that dimness out of which come echoes of half-mythical name - Atlantis, Mu - somewhere back of history's first beginnings there must have been an age when mankind, like us today, built cities of steel to house its star-roving ships and knew the names of the planets in their native tongues..." "Man has conquered space before, .... and faint echoes still run through a world that has forgotten the very fact of a civilization which must have been as mighty as our own".

Shmableu C.L. Moore 



This blog entry picks right up from this Mars themed Sword & Sorcery entry from the other day. 
So Cha'alt is the deal of the Day on Drivetru rpg, but my game campaigns  with Cha'alt & its sister book are on hiatus. Why?! Controversy by Venger, lack of eithos on the players part, a host of reasons?! Nope its work schedules & real life commitments the bane of all table top gaming. So for the moment that little slice of purple & vallium hazed desert Hell is put on hold. 
But let's get back to Mars or more specifically C.L.Moore & Northwest Smith's solar system. There's something about C.L.Moore's solar system that indicates that mankind is a very late comer to this universe. And there's been lots conflicts & wars between the Martians, Venusians, & other entities going back millions of years. Because mankind or an offshoot of it has been on the interstellar stage before. C.L. Moore's Shambleu feels like a tapestry of an old Western, Sword & Planet, & a Lovccraft tale all rolled into one. The C.L. Moore solar system tales feel like this solar system has been a battle ground before. Not simply a place where Law & Chaos have gone at one another but where even the older  races have had a go. 

But Northwest Smith reminds me quite nicely in the same vein as Michael Moorcock's Elric. This reviewer writes of Northwest Smith: "We are told repeatedly that he is an Earthman, though it is only in the later stories that we actually see him on Earth; for all his sentimental attachment, Earth is a place to come from, not a place to be. He is subtly marked as an alien by his eyes, which are colourless. It is only a small step to see the colourless eyes of Northwest Smith turning into the albinoism of another wanderer from exotic adventure to exotic adventure, Michael Moorcock's Elric."

Alexandr Komarov's Elric artwork 

The question isn't where does Northwest Smith fit in but when?! We know that the cycles of Law & Chaos repeat endlessly upon themselves over & over again until the end of all things. 
C.L. Moore's Shambleau tale feels like a book end to a struggle that we as humans don't have a clue about. The Shambleau feels like she (it?!?) feels like a left over bio weapon created by the elder things or perhaps the ancient Melnibonéan sorcerer king's black magicians. No but it might be something that the Melnibonéan used or deployed as a tool of addiction & seduction. 

C. L. Moore's Shambleau as illustrated by the one and only Jean-Claude Forest, the creator of Barbarella.  It's available over at the Cool French Comics site.  You can find it here

The Shambleau has all of the hallmarks of the 
the ancient Melnibonéan legacies. The Shambleau is an intimate cosmic horror that at the same time feeds upon both the soul & the dignity of its victims. Again this has the sardonic humor & inhuman horro of the Melnibonéan race. I'm I saying that the 
Melnibonéan's created the Shambleau?! Nope, but the creature has many of the hall marks & weirdness that we find within the stories & novels of Elric & his doomed 
Melnibonéan race. And just because it wears the shape of a little brown girl creature don't think that it is one even remotely. James Garrison of the Old School Heretic blog goes into the racially charged aspects of the Shambleau far better then I here. 

But the fact that every planets seem to be inhabited by every shade, stripe, & tendriled human variation has been lost on DM Ricky or DM Steve. Shambleau evokes the same disgust that Elric's drug addiction passages do. The Shambleau is 'need' incarnate both sexual, & soul perhaps even other. And yes C.L.Moore's writings are Space Westerns but like her protege' Leigh Brackett. The Space Western here is one that evokes the fact that humanity is pushing out the older races. The monster could easily be at home on Hyperborea of the  Astonishing Swordsmen & Sorcerers rpg or on Clark Ashton Smith's Zothique. And that's one of the beauties of the alien thing. At this point the race is so ancient that even it has no idea how many millions of years of the Shambleau is.  And there's an undercurrent of HPL alieness & 
Cosmicism ro it. The thing is that the alien Shambleau could be at home on some alien back water boom town or found operating within the Young Kingdom's at a brothel or worse. According to the Shambleau wiki entry

"Several commentators refer to the lynching scene that starts the story. Thomas F. Bertonneau remarks that "Moore's protagonist gets into trouble by rescuing what appears to be a young woman from a Martian lynch-mob: his sense of the dignity of the persecuted victim leads him to put himself in danger by opposing the witch-hunters. (Later, Smith has to be rescued from the young woman, who turns out to be a monster in disguise; victimhood can be a disguise.)"[1]

Bernard Fields adds that, "The disturbing undercurrent is that the lynch mob turns out to have been right in wanting to kill the 'sweetly made girl'. Smith was wrong in his chivalrous impulse to save her, and the mob was right to despise him for it." 
The Shambleau are ancient beyond time & the mob itself was right. The inhuman horror of the alien is terrible beyond words. But what would adventurers do against such a creature or would one of the party become an addict to the soul sucking horror of the Shambleau itself. 

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