Conan VS. Tsathoogua by Rick Lai

There have been various continuations of Robert E. Howard’s Conan saga by other writers. In Conan the Buccaneer (Lancer Books, 1971) by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, Conan battled a creation of another Weird Tales writer. On the Nameless Isle, Conan entered a temple and beheld a toad-like stone idol with three eyes. The idol came to life and attacked Conan. The barbarian hero maneuvered his assailant into falling off a cliff. Although the idol was animated, its body remained stone. The living effigy shattered into fragments at the base of the cliff.   The toad-like idol was later identified as Tsathoggua, a demonic god created by Clark Ashton Smith in stories revolving around the lost continent of Hyperborea.

Tsathoggua first appeared as an idol in Smith’s “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” (Weird Tales, November 1931). The main difference between Smith’s original depiction and the version in Conan the Buccaneer is that the toad god had two eyes. Tsathoggua appeared as a living entity in two other tales by Smith. Under the alias of Zhothaqquah surfaced in Smith’s “The Door to Saturn” (Strange Tales, January 1932). This tale revealed that Tsathoggua came to Earth from Saturn. Under his regular name, Tsathoggua was portrayed as a carnivorous monster in “The Seven Geases” (Weird Tales, October 1934). Other Hyperborea stories mention Tsathoggua in passing.

Tsathoggua was popular with Smith’s fellow Weird Tales writer, H. P. Lovecraft.  Having read “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros” before its publication, Lovecraft mentioned Tsathoggua in “The Whisperer in the Darkness” (Weird Tales, August 1931).  In this story, Lovecraft provided a different origin for the toad god. Rather than Saturn, Tsathoggua came from the underground realm of N’kai inside the Earth. In a novella revised for Zealia Bishop, “The Mound” (Weird Tales, November 1940), Lovecraft described N’kai in detail. In “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros,” the idol of Tsathoggua was worshipped by an amorphous monster. “The Mound” had similar monstrosities revering images of Tsathoggua.

Clark Ashton Smith later reconciled the conflicting origin stories for Tsathoggua in “The Family Tree of the Gods” from The Acolyte (Summer 1944). Tsathoggua journeyed to Earth through a dimensional opening that caused him to materialize in N’kai. An expanded version of this essay was published as “From the Parchments of Pnom” in Robert M. Price’s anthology, The Tsathoggua Cycle (Chaosium Inc., 2005).

Robert E. Howard also was apparently fascinated by Tsathoggua. Several variations on Tsathoggua populated Howard’s works. In “The Black Stone” (Weird Tales, November 1931), an unnamed toad god is the focus of a cult in Hungary.  The same creature returned in a Honduran temple in “The Thing on the Roof” (Weird Tales, February, 1932).

“The Black Stone” was published in the same issue as “The Tale of Satampra Zeiros.”  How could Howard have prior knowledge of  Smith’s Tsathoggua?  The answer lies in an August 14, 1930 letter by Lovecraft to Howard. Lovecraft  discussed Tsathoggua at length. Here’s the excerpt:

“…Clark Ashton Smith is launching another mock mythology revolving around the black, furry toad-god Tsathoggua, whose name had various forms among the Atlanteans, Lemurians and Hyperboreans who worshipped him after he emerged from inner Earth (whither he came from outer space, with Saturn as a stepping-stone). I am using Tsathoggua in several tales of my own and of revision-clients. . .”

This letter also indicates that the reconciliation between the conflicting origins of Tsathoggua had been worked out more than a decade before the publication of Smith’s “The Family of the Gods.”

Conan may have overtly fought Tsathoggua in the pastiche by L. Sprague de Camp and Lin Carter, but it can be argued that Robert E. Howard himself actually penned a disguised confrontation between his heroic barbarian and the toad god.  This battle transpired in “The Slithering Shadow” (Weird Tales, September 1933). The story was reprinted under the alternate title of “Xuthal of the Dusk” in The Coming of Conan (Ballantine Books, 2003).

Conan stumbled upon the decadent lost city of Xuthal. The citadel was terrorized by a toad-like creature, Thog. Conan fought the monster, but it wasn’t clear whether he slew it. Wounded by Conan’s sword, Thog retreated into a well that led deep into the Earth.

The name Thog is a shortened form of Tsathoggua. The subterranean abyss to which Thog fled could easily be a passageway to N’kai. If not Tsathoggua himself, Thog must be some spawn of the toad god.