Nyarlathotep is a nightmare—an actual phantasm of my own, with the first paragraph written before I fully awaked. I have been feeling execrably of late—whole weeks have passed without relief from headache and dizziness, and for a long time three hours was my utmost limit for continuous work. (I seem better now.) Added to my steady ills was an unaccustomed ocular trouble which prevented me from reading fine print—a curious tugging of nerves and muscles which rather startled me during the weeks it persisted. Amidst this gloom came the nightmare of nightmares—the most realistic and horrible I have experienced since the age of ten—whose stark hideousness and ghastly oppressiveness I could but feebly mirror in my written phantasy. . . . The first phase was a general sense of undefined apprehension—vague terror which appeared universal. I seemed to be seated in my chair clad in my old grey dressing-gown, reading a letter from Samuel Loveman. The letter was unbelievably realistic—thin, 8½ X 13 paper, violet ink signature, and all—and its contents seemed portentous. The dream-Loveman wrote:
“Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible—horrible beyond anything you can imagine—but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.”
I had never heard the name NYARLATHOTEP before, but seemed to understand the allusion. Nyarlathotep was a kind of itinerant showman or lecturer who held forth in publick halls and aroused widespread fear and discussion with his exhibitions. These exhibitions consisted of two parts—first, a horrible—possibly prophetic—cinema reel; and later some extraordinary experiments with scientific and electrical apparatus.
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmare that inspired his story “Nyarlathotep.”
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 14 Dec. 1921. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 160-2.
Thro’ the ghoul-guarded gateways of slumber,
Past the wan-moon’d abysses of night,
I have liv’d o’er my lives without number,
I have sounded all things with my sight;
And I struggle and shriek ere the daybreak, being driven to madness with fright.
I have whirl’d with the earth at the dawning,
When the sky was a vaporous flame,
I have seen the dark universe yawning,
Where the black planets roll without aim;
Where they roll in their horror unheeded, without knowledge or lustre or name.
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Nemesis,” Lovecraft describes his dreams as a nightmarish voyage through space and time.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Nemesis.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, pp. 46-8.
And then it was that my former high spirits received their damper. I began to have nightmares of the most hideous description, peopled with things which I called “night-gaunts”—a compound word of my own coinage. I used to draw them after waking (perhaps the idea of these figures came from an edition de luxe of Paradise Lost with illustrations by Doré, which I discovered one day in the east parlor). In dreams they were wont to whirl me through space at a sickening rate of speed, the while fretting & impelling me with their detestable tridents. It is fully fifteen years—aye, more—since I have seen a “night-gaunt”, but even now, when half asleep & drifting vaguely along over a sea of childhood thoughts, I feel a thrill of fear … & instinctively struggle to keep awake. That was my own prayer back in ’96—each night—to keep awake & ward off the night-gaunts!
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner, Lovecraft describes the nightmares he experienced after the death of his maternal grandmother.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Rheinhart Kleiner.” 16 Nov. 1916. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 29-42.
I am not sleeping much this week, but last night I had a promising fragment of a dream that was cut short by premature awakening. I was alone in black space, when suddenly, ahead of me, there arose out of some hidden pit a huge, white-robed man with a bald head and snowy beard. Across his shoulders was slung the corpse of a younger man—cleanshaven, and grizzled of hair, and clad in a similar robe. A sound as of rushing wind or a roaring furnace accompanied this spectacular ascent—an ascent which seemed accomplished by some occult species of levitation. When I awaked, I had an idea for a story—but queerly enough, the idea had nothing to do with the dream!
DESCRIPTION: In a letter to the Gallomo, Lovecraft describes a scene from one of his nightmares.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “To Alfred Galpin and Maurice W. Moe.” 1920. Selected Letters. Edited by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei, vol. 1, Arkham House, 1965, pp. 100-6.
And it was then that Nyarlathotep came out of Egypt. Who he was, none could tell, but he was of the old native blood and looked like a Pharaoh. The fellahin knelt when they saw him, yet could not say why. He said he had risen up out of the blackness of twenty-seven centuries, and that he had heard messages from places not on this planet. Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combing them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of nightmare. Never before had the screams of nightmare been such a public problem; now the wise men almost wished they could forbid sleep in the small hours, that the shrieks of cities might less horribly disturb the pale, pitying moon as it glimmered on green waters gliding under bridges, and old steeples crumbling against a sickly sky.
DESCRIPTION: In a passage from the short story “Nyarlathotep” (1920), Lovecraft describes his apocalyptic vision of the future, a future dominated by a mysterious figure known as Nyarlathotep.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Nyarlathotep.” The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Penguin Books, 1999, pp. 31-3.
Out of what crypt they crawl, I cannot tell,
But every night I see the rubbery things,
Black, horned, and slender, with membraneous wings,
And tails that bear the bifid barb of hell.
They come in legions on the north wind’s swell,
With obscene clutch that titillates and stings,
Snatching me off on monstrous voyagings
To grey worlds hidden deep in nightmare’s well.
Over the jagged peaks of Thok they sweep,
Heedless of all the cries I try to make,
And down the nether pits to that foul lake
Where the puffed shoggoths splash in doubtful sleep.
But oh! If only they would make some sound,
Or wear a face where faces should be found!
DESCRIPTION: In his poem “Night-Gaunts,” which refers to a bat-like creature Lovecraft often saw in his childhood dreams, Lovecraft describes in detail how these horrors haunted and harassed him.
CITATION: Lovecraft, H. P. “Night-Gaunts.” The Ancient Track: The Complete Poetical Works of H. P. Lovecraft. Edited by S. T. Joshi, Hippocampus Press, 2013, p. 88.