Warning: Exposure to Cthulhu Causes OCD

Monster Monday: I’m going to attempt to post about monsters (my favorite topic) each Monday. Today we’re talking the mac daddy of all monsters, Cthulhu. Not familiar? It’s hard to sum up in a few lines. He’s a mythical god, older than the pantheons of Greece or the Vikings, that lives in another dimension. He’s part of the Old Ones that ruled Earth aeons ago. They sleep now, but continually seek a way into our world again. To rule and to feed.

The brainchild of author H. P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu and other creepy netherworld critters attempted to scare the life out of various folk in his stories. A recurring theme in his work is that of madness. Imagine actually seeing a god. Coming face to face with one. Not Zeus with his fluffy white beard and lightning bolt. I mean a literal force of nature. Awe inspiring doesn’t cut it. Lovecraft felt that the human mind couldn’t handle such an experience. The typical result was madness.

As a fan of Stephen King, I’ve read two of the stories he’s written that touch on Lovecraftian ideas. One is Crouch End from Nightmares & Dreamscapes. It’s a tremendously creepy tale about a couple of Yanks getting lost on the deserted streets of London. Only one makes it back, though she has lost her sanity.

A more recent story I’ve read is N from Just After Sunset. N refers to the name of an accountant who visits a shrink. The poor fellow developed a crippling case of obsessive compulsive disorder after witnessing a thin spot in the world. Stephen King has written about this sort of thing before. Other worlds border our own and sometimes the fabric that separates the two wears thing. The character N found such a place and was infected by OCD.

Insanity has always been associated with Lovecraft, but this was the first time I’ve read about the madness manifesting as a compulsive disorder. N must count things, and the numbers must always be even. Six is a fix. Eight makes it straight. He also arranges objects in diagonals and circles. He says it’s to save the world. And in this story, he isn’t being metaphorical. Can you imagine, compelled to count and arrange to keep monstrous slimy things out of our world? This story is well worth a read. It has a surprise ending that I won’t spoil, but it’s good enough that I sought it out again to read.

I had forgotten the name and had to listen to nearly all my King audio books until finding it. That’s an obsession. Uh oh. Perhaps I’ve caught N’s compulsion. I better start counting.

(There are 458 words in this post. That’s even. A good number.)

Tim Kane

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Did the Greek Gods Eat Mini Marshmallows?

Ambrosia. The word either inspires dread or joy from the coconut and marshmallow concoction. But the origin of this word leads to a recipe for immortality.

Now, why the interest in the snack food of a defunct pantheon? Besides the fact that mythology is plain cool, I’m doing research for a new novel. What better way than to blog about it. Now, I’ve really dug how Rick Riordan handled the Greek gods in Lightning Thief. But I feel he could have done more with ambrosia and nectar. (Maybe he has in subsequent books). So, I’m here to explore these mythical foods, as well as what makes a god immortal.

It seems that the Greeks interchanged ambrosia and nectar. Ambrosia could be eaten or drunk. Nectar was mostly drunk, but sometimes eaten. Me, I always thought of ambrosia as the food (maybe because of the fruit salad) and nectar as the drink.

There’s little information on how ambrosia and nectar are made. Apparently doves carried the food to the gods on Olympus. Ambrosia is described as being nine times sweeter than honey and its fragrance guards against disagreeable speech. I take this last part to mean that arguments won’t break out over the dinner table—good idea when you’re dealing with the Olympian family dynamic. (My guess, they weren’t serving Ambrosia when Eris plunked her golden apple on the table.)

What is clear is that eating the stuff makes you a god. Right after Apollo had been born, he climbed up to mount Olympus (a stunning feat for a newborn) where he received ambrosia and nectar to make him immortal.

A version of the Tantalus myth has the fellow dining at the table of the gods. Tantalus slips some nectar and ambrosia in his toga, and then shares the stuff with his friends on Earth. Not a cool move. Sure you get immortality, but is that really going to help you when Zeus hurls a thunderbolt at your butt?

My first exposure to the stuff (not literally, but in literature) was with the 1904 novel The Food of the Gods and How it Came to Earth by H. G. Wells. In this story these scientists, Bensington and Redwood, create a new chemical food called Herakleophorbia IV, which makes things grow to ginormous size. Being responsible nineteenth century scientists, they feed this stuff to their kids and the result is 40 foot babies. Kind of a weird story, but it falls in line with the Greek myths. The gods and titans were supposed to be gigantic.

The interesting thing I stumbled on was the gods’ blood, or lack thereof. It seems that the Greek gods bleed ichor. I only knew this stuff from Dungeons and Dragons and H. P. Lovecraft, so in my mind, I saw this black oily liquid. However, the ichor of the gods is a golden and resplendent. The theory goes that since the gods do not eat mortal food (food that rots and dies) neither do they. After all, the word ambrosia derives from the root of mbrotos, meaning mortal. Add the prefix “a” prefix to get “not mortal”. The food won’t rot, so neither will the consumer.

So what happens when these immortal gods don’t get their food fix? Well, they can’t die. Instead, the godly ones lie down, breathless, and sleep. They loose all power until they get more ambrosia and nectar.

Now eating (or drinking) ambrosia changes mortals. I’m assuming a human’s blood would transmute to ichor. I don’t know how much you need to ingest. Did Tantalus eat enough? Who’s to say.  After Achilles died, Thetis anointed him with ambrosia to destroy the human side he inherited from his mortal father, Peleus. This implies that simply rubbing the stuff on your skin transforms you, killing your mortality.

Bottom line, you start sipping from the nectar cup, there might be no turning back. It’s like the forbidden apple. One taste is too much. No wonder the gods were irked when someone stole the stuff. There were too many bickering brothers and sisters in Olympus already. Why add a few interlopers?

Ambrosia serves as the ultimate class division between mortals and immortals. Gods have it. Men yearn for it. And no, the recipe for immortality does not include marshmallows.

Tim Kane