Tsathoggua (or Zhothaqquah) is described as an Old One, a godlike being from the pantheon. He was invented in Smith's short story "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros," written in 1929 and published in the November 1931 issue of Weird Tales. His first appearance in print, however, was in H.P. Lovecraft's story "The Whisperer in Darkness", written in 1930 and published in the August 1931 Weird Tales.
The first description of Tsathoggua in the Mythos writings occurs when the protagonists encounter one of the entity's idols:
|“||He was very squat and pot-bellied, his head was more like a monstrous toad than a deity, and his whole body was covered with an imitation of short fur, giving somehow a vague sensation of both the bat and the sloth. His sleepy lids were half-lowered over his globular eyes; the tip of a queer tongue issued from his fat mouth.||„|
|~ Clark Ashton Smith , "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros"|
Later, Tsathoggua is described again:
|“||[In] that secret cave in the bowels of Voormithadreth... abides from eldermost eons the god Tsathoggua. You shall know Tsathoggua by his great girth and his batlike furriness and the look of a sleepy black toad which he has eternally. He will rise not from his place, even in the ravening of hunger, but will wait in divine slothfulness for the sacrifice.||„|
|~ Clark Ashton Smith , "The Seven Geases"|
Tsathoggua is often found asleep. He is incredibly lazy and refuses to leave his chambers unless mortally threatened. If disturbed, he will eat him unless the awakener has a sacrifice to offer; in which case, Tsathoggua will eat the sacrifice instead and then fall back into hibernation. However, there are exceptions. When the wizard Ezdagor sent the Hyperborean Lord Ralibar Vooz as a sacrifice in Smith's "The Seven Geases", Tsathoggua refused him and bound Ralibar Vooz to a geas, sending him to be eaten by another denizen of Mount Voormithadreth (the next five likewise did the same).
Robert M. Price notes that "Lovecraft's Tsathoggua and Smith's differ at practically every point." Lovecraft, dropping Smith's bat and sloth comparisons, refers to the entity in "The Whisperer in Darkness" as the "amorphous, toad-like god-creature mentioned in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon and the Commoriom myth-cycle preserved by the Atlantean high-priest Klarkash-Ton" (HPL: "The Whisperer in Darkness") --the priest's name a tip of the hat to Tsathoggua's creator.
Later, in "The Horror in the Museum", a story ghost-written by Lovecraft, he writes, "Black Tsathoggua moulded itself from a toad-like gargoyle to a sinuous line with hundreds of rudimentary feet."
It is likely that Tsathoggua can alter his shape, the better to adapt to whatever environment he is in. When he dwelt on Cykranosh (a planet we know today as Saturn), he probably had a much different form, probably looking more like his paternal uncle Hziulquoigmnzhah , whose head dangles underneath his spheroid-like body.
|“||This was a squat, plain temple of basalt blocks without a single carving, and containing only a vacant onyx pedestal. . . It has been built in imitation of certain temples depicted in the vaults of Zin, to house a very terrible black toad-idol found in the red-litten world and called Tsathoggua in the Yothic manuscripts. It had been a potent and widely worshipped god, and after its adoption by the people of K'n-yan had lent its name to the city which was later to become dominant in that region. Yothic legend said that it had come from a mysterious inner realm beneath the red-litten world — a black realm of peculiar-sensed beings which had no light at all, but which had had great civilisations and mighty gods before ever the reptilian quadrupeds of Yoth had come into being.||„|
|~ H. P. Lovecraft and Zealia Bishop , "The Mound"|
|“||They’ve been inside the earth, too — there are openings which human beings know nothing of — some of them are in these very Vermont hills — and great worlds of unknown life down there; blue-litten K’n-yan, red-litten Yoth, and black, lightless N'kai. It’s from N’kai that frightful Tsathoggua came — you know, the amorphous, toad-like god-creature mentioned in the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon and the Commoriom myth-cycle preserved by the Atlantean high-priest Klarkash-Ton.||„|
|~ HPL , "The Whisperer in Darkness"|
- Main article: Formless Spawn
|“||The basin ... was filled with a sort of viscous and semi-liquescent substance, quite opaque and of a sooty color.... [T]he center swelled as if with the action of some powerful yeast [and] an uncouth amorphous head with dull and bulging eyes arose gradually on an ever-lengthening neck ... Then two arms — if one could call them arms — likewise arose inch by inch, and we saw that the thing was not ... a creature immersed in the liquid, but that the liquid itself had put forth this hideous neck and head, and [it was now forming arms] that groped toward us with tentacle-like appendages in lieu of claws or hands! ... Then the whole mass of the dark fluid began to rise [and] poured over the rim of the basin like a torrent of black quicksilver, taking as it reached the floor an undulant ophidian form which immediately developed more than a dozen short legs.||„|
|~ Clark Ashton Smith , "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros"|
Tsathoggua's will is carried out by the formless spawn, polymorphic entities made of black goo. They are extremely resilient and very difficult to dispatch. Formless spawn can take any shape and can attack their targets in nearly every conceivable way. They are surprisingly flexible and plastic, and can quickly flow into a room through the tiniest of cracks. They attack by trampling their targets, biting them, or crushing them with their grasp. Formless spawn often rests in basins in Tsathoggua's temples and keep the sanctuary from being defiled by nonbelievers.
In his story At the Mountains of Madness, H. P. Lovecraft states that "[a] few daring mystics have hinted at a pre-Pleistocene origin for the fragmentary Pnakotic Manuscripts, and have suggested that the devotees of Tsathoggua were as alien to mankind as Tsathoggua itself."
In 1975, Tsathoggua made a cameo in The Golden Apple, book two of The Illuminatus! Trilogy, by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson, where he was also referred to as Saint Toad.
The Tsathoggua Cycle
In 2005, Chaosium published a Cthulhu Mythos anthology edited by Robert M. Price called The Tsathoggua Cycle, which comprised the original Clark Ashton Smith stories featuring Tsathoggua, along with tales by other authors in which the entity has a starring role. The short story collection includes:
- "From the Parchment of Pnom" by Clark Ashton Smith
- "The Seven Geases" by Clark Ashton Smith
- "The Testament of Athammaus" by Clark Ashton Smith
- "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros" by Clark Ashton Smith
- "The Theft of the Thirty-Nine Girdles" by Clark Ashton Smith
- "Shadow of the Sleeping God" by James Ambuehl
- "The Curse of the Toad" by Loay Hall and Terry Dale
- "Dark Swamp" by James Anderson
- "The Old One" by John Glasby
- "The Oracle of Sadoqua" by Ron Hilger
- "The Horror Show" by Gary Myers
- "The Tale of Toad Loop" by Stanley C. Sargent
- "The Crawling Kingdom" by Rod Heather
- "The Resurrection of Kzadool-Ra" by Henry J. Vester III
Smith literally wed Lovecraft's creations to his own gods, which seem to be molded more like the greek pantheon than the cosmic group of Lovecraft's fiction. Indeed, he assigned outlandish familial relationships to his gods — for example, making the Saturnian being Hziulquoigmnzhah the "uncle" of Tsathoggua — and ascribed this bizarre family tree to the Parchments of Pnom, Hyperborea's leading "genealogist [and] noted prophet".
Kzadool-Ra was a son of Tsathoggua, who destroyed him in a fit of jealousy.
Behind the Mythos
George Olshevsky named the nonconvex snub polyhedra after some other Great Old Ones, with the Great snub icosidodecahedron as "Tsathoggua".
- Knygathin Zhaum
- Robert M. Price, "About 'The Tale of Satampra Zeiros'", The Tsathoggua Cycle, p. 56.
- "Quotes from Sandy Petersen" (web site).
- Robert M. Price, recognizing that Smith's gods dwell beneath Mount Voormithadreth, remarked that is fitting that Smith's "Hyperboean Olympians should be under a mountain rather than atop one!" (Price, "About 'The Seven Geases'", The Tsathoggua Cycle, p. 8).
- Will Murray, "Introduction", The Book of Hyperborea.
- Clark Ashton Smith, "The Family Tree of the Gods" in the The Acolyte (Summer 1934).