"Nyarlathotep" is a prose poem/short story by H. P. Lovecraft written in 1920, and first published in the November 1920 issue of The United Amateur. It is the first mention in fiction of the Cthulhu Mythos entity Nyarlathotep.
The story is written in first person and begins by describing a strange and inexplicable sense of foreboding experienced by humanity in general, in anticipation of a great unknown evil.
The story proceeds to describe the appearance of Nyarlathotep as a "man" of the race of the Pharaohs, who claims to have been dormant for the past twenty-seven centuries, and his subsequent travels from city to city demonstrating his supernatural powers. Wherever Nyarlathotep went, the story relates, the inhabitants' sleep would be plagued by vivid nightmares.
The story describes Nyarlathotep's arrival in the narrator's city, and the narrator's attendance at one of Nyarlathotep's demonstrations, in which he defiantly dismisses Nyarlathotep's displays of power as mere tricks. The party of observers is driven away by an infuriated Nyarlathotep, and wanders off into at least three columnal groups: One disappears around a corner, from which is then heard a moaning sound; another disappears into a subway station with the sound of mad laughter; and the third group, which contains the narrator, travels outward from the city toward the country.
The story ends by describing horrific, surreal vistas experienced by the party, in which they realize horror and doom have come to the world.
Behind the Mythos
Originating in one of Lovecraft's dreams, a source of some of his moving work, Nyarlathotep has gone on to be one of the central figures in the expanded Cthulhu Mythos, with an almost constant stream of derived works. Many of these works treat Nyarlathotep as inimicably hostile to humanity or even outright "evil". Perhaps this is due to Nyarlathotep being amongst the most apparently understandable and human-like of Lovecraft's creations.
Lost in the ongoing fascination with "Nyarlathotep", which is really a continuous reiteration of the derived version of the character, is the subtlety of his canonical appearances in Lovecraft's original stories. Nyarlathotep acts as the guardian, indeed almost custodian of the ancient and apparently forgotten or abandoned gods of earth in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, and is not always an unsympathetic figure or even an antagonist. Lovecraft's cosmicism would make Nyarlathotep dangerous, elemental and mysterious, but also a transformative figure, as he was in this original appearance. That is often lost or ignored in the Nyarlathotep sequels cottage industry.