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Friday, August 24, 2012

HPL Review: The Curse of Yig

My first exposure to the name Yig was in 1989 when GWAR released their seminal album Scumdogs of the Universe, which included the track “The Horror of Yig,” a song which gave little if no indication of who or what Yig was. Years later, I’ve run into the name a few times here and there in reading or gaming sessions. Now, after finally having read this story, I can finally say I know what Yig is.

The Curse of Yig is a tale within a tale; a doctor at an asylum relates to an American Indian anthropologist in 1925 the story of a married 19th century settler couple and their run-in with the mystery surrounding the legend of the Indian Snake God and “half-human father of serpents,” Yig.
This is the origin tale of Yig, initially written by Zealia Bishop but referred to Lovecraft in 1928 for fleshing out. Accepting it as a paid job, Lovecraft did so, and returned the story to Bishop, who promptly sold it to Weird Tales magazine under her own name; it was subsequently printed in 1929.

No spoilers here, but there are a few key plot points I can reveal.

1. The settler husband, Walker Davis, is terrified of snakes, with an “almost epileptic fear.”

2. Yig is a snake god who watches over his progeny on earth, vowing vengeance on all who harm them.

3. An old Indian squaw told Walker, when he was small, that he would meet his end owing to snakes.

4. The Indians in the story are preoccupied with appeasing and sating Yig to avoid his wrath.

5. In the beginning, the anthropologist is shown some sort of horrifying snake/human hybrid creature locked away deep in the asylum underground, and it is the precursor to revealing the Davises’ story.

The story is expertly woven, the atmosphere portrayed with horrifying detail. As the story progresses, you can almost hear the ritual pounding of the Wichita Indians’ tom-toms in the distance. When they finally and suddenly stop, you can really feel the same dread felt by the main character. That entire scene is a nailbiter.

The other image that drills its way into your brain and nests there for a few hours after you’re finished is what happened (in a story within the story within the story) to the man who suffers dozens of venomous bites from an entire horde of rattlesnakes. I will say no more. (shudder)

This story is written in a far less arcane manner than most of the other HPL tales I’ve read to this point. I would venture to categorize it as a wonderful place to begin if you’ve never exposed yourself to Lovecraft’s writings before but are curious about them. You’ll spend far less time during the reading of this story looking up words in the dictionary or struggling to understand them through mere context clues than you will with most of the others I’ve had a chance to look at.

The toughest bits of reading were really the passages of dialog exchanged between the Davises. Remember Stephen King’s role in Creepshow? The country bumpkin covered with alien meteorite-spawned moss? Yeah, it’s like two of him talking to each another only missing maybe three more teeth each. It’s a consistently illustrated dialect, to be sure, but a hard one to decode at times.

The Curse of Yig is a fantastic story. Of the seven or eight I’ve read so far, this is the most accessible and easily one of the most enjoyable. It took me two sessions of reading to get through it.

GLOSSARY

Sententious: adj | given to moralizing in a pompous or affected manner | ex. I could no longer stand the sententious lecture of the Southern Baptist preacher, so I quietly excused myself from the congregation.

Squamous*: adj | covered with or categorized by scales | ex. Wonder Woman never got it on with Aquaman because she was completely turned off by his squamous genitals.

Salient: adj | most noticeable or important | ex. I understand now why jumping off this bridge is a poor idea; the gravity issue you bring up is a salient point.

Saltatory: adj | archaic | relating to the action of leaping or jumping | ex. I wanted to dance with the strangely beautiful mutated grasshopper woman, but I found it hard to keep up with her saltatory style.

Bluff: adj | direct in speech or behavior but in a good-natured way | ex. Uncle Marty was a bluff man, sure to tell it like it is and probably make you laugh in the process.

*this one I actually looked up after coming across it in a game of Cthulhu Gloom