Sunday, November 08, 2009

Fungi Not From Yuggoth

I'd like to start a new series.

Lovecraft chose vermin and the other atrocious things that he could imagine to conjure up shocking images of alienness. The mores of Lovecraft and his peers might have felt a thrill over seeing a polar bear or tiger, but rats, frogs, squids, spiders, and gross fungus were just a bother. They were considered disease ridden, useless things to be eradicated or trodden upon. He singled some of these out in his fiction as shock factors.

Mr. Henry David Thoreau might have a different opinion, as do biologists today, but to an average reader of horror stories in those days they were either objects of revulsion worse. Lovecraft's instincts were good - the exotic things he chose were usefull to propel the revulsion, to set the mood, and to build upon into even greater horrors.

Fungii from Yuggoth?

XIV. Star-Winds

It is a certain hour of twilight glooms,
Mostly in autumn, when the star-wind pours
Down hilltop streets, deserted out-of-doors,
But shewing early lamplight from snug rooms.
The dead leaves rush in strange, fantastic twists,
And chimney-smoke whirls round with alien grace,
Heeding geometries of outer space,
While Fomalhaut peers in through southward mists.

This is the hour when moonstruck poets know
What fungi sprout in Yuggoth, and what scents
And tints of flowers fill Nithon's continents,
Such as in no poor earthly garden blow.
Yet for each dream these winds to us convey,
A dozen more of ours they sweep away!

So whence fungi? The 1905 Encyclopedia Britannica is as good a source as any to see what Lovecraft might have thought of common fungus.

Multiplied pages are devoted to the current state of understanding of fungus from mushrooms, to beetle fungus, to lichen. Many important enzymes had already been extracted from lichen, and other species. But for Lovecraft, I think, he only wished to conjure up a sense of shudder, or revulsion in the common literate reader.

As to lichen, that common scum on trees - though usually found in the upper branches and trunks of trees - there is a small section of that "symbiosis".

What Mr. Lovecraft proposed as part jest, part shock, and part challenge to our senses, I believe we can explore: Less the letter of his exploration of "alien" and more of the spirit of "alien". As we move deeper into the 21st century, we need to be prepared that we are about to encounter alien forms of life that our minds may not be prepared.

With that in mind, Chrispy has often explored the essence of squids (and other cephalopods) to understand "Cthulhu". Now it's time to explore "fungi" to understand what Lovecraft was trying to say: That we are nearly irrelevant to the true life on our planet - and other planets.

It seems that the laws of nature do hold throughout our universe. Therefore, the rules of 'evolution' most probably apply. Simple chemical building blocks accumulate in warm areas of massive bodies, and therefore RNA, DNA, single cell organisms, worms, and more complex life most certainly form throughout the universe. Life will be virtually everywhere we look, as long as energy, and certain chemistries are present. It will take forms more strange than our imagination can dream - and yet be eerily familar. And it will be very, very dangerous to us.

Stay tuned ...

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