This Week’s Prompt: 47. From Arabia Encyc. Britan. II—255. Prehistoric fabulous tribes of Ad in the south, Thamood in the north, and Tasm and Jadis in the centre of the peninsula. “Very gorgeous are the descriptions given of Irem, the City of Pillars (as the Koran styles it) supposed to have been erected by Shedad, the latest despot of Ad, in the regions of Hadramaut, and which yet, after the annihilation of its tenants, remains entire, so Arabs say, invisible to ordinary eyes, but occasionally and at rare intervals, revealed to some heaven-favoured traveller.” // Rock excavations in N.W. Hejaz ascribed to Thamood tribe.
The Resulting Story: The City in Silver Sands
After a dirth of short, brief prompts, Mr. Lovecraft has graced us with a longer and more elaborate notion! Excellent. And one with a good deal of information as well! Let us begin then with the nature of the tribes and the city they supposedly hail from, according ot the texts at hand.
Thamud, Jadis, Tasm, and Ad are all members of the a group of tribes referred to as ‘Perishing Arabs’. All four are extinct populations according to the Koran: Jadis and Tasm by genocide, Ad and Thamud were destroyed for their lack of faith. Iram of the Pillars is a city of Ad, and was destroyed in some versions by a storm, in others by volcanic activity. Iram was sent a prophet, to bring monotheism to the region, but did not listen. Likewise, Thamud was sent a prophet and by accounts from the Koran shared some relation to Ad. Thamud was destroyed by earthquake after rejecting the prophet. Thamud seems to have constructed homes from within mountains, or inside of them, an architectural feature I suggest we continue in our own story.
Now, of course, civilizations that have fallen from hubris are not new. We’ve covered some before, but we might call to mind Atlantis and Babel, also punished for their arrogance. Sodom and Gomorrah likewise for their crime of inhospitably were laid low by YHWH. However, what is notable about Irem is not only it’s location (a desert, as opposed to at sea), but also it’s nature as still existent. Sodom and Gomorrah are traditionally not available for human eyes to behold, and Atlantis is buried in the sea. No, Irem is still in the desert, where some occasionally find it.
The invisibility of Irem to all but holy eyes also bears resemblance to hidden kingdoms of djinn, which occupy a different spatial relation then those of mortal men. We might also consider hidden kingdoms and cities such as beyuls of Tibetian mysticism or the fairie lands of Celtic myth.
Celtic myth, particularly Irish, adds an interesting element: the phantom Island. Brasil (not the nation) is and island that emerges and disappears at certain times throughout the year. In Slavic myth, there is Buyan, the island that holds the immortal Korschie’s heart. Both islands are near impossible to reach, but not as otherworldly as lost Atlantis is. Our story, from these traditions, should probably be about the cross over into such an otherworldly place, which is more than mortal but less than magical entirely.
An odd, if depressing, version also found in Russia is the Kingdom of Opona. Opona is an earthly paradise for serfs, that lies on the edge of the world. There are no nobles, no gentry at all here. Only peasents and their ruler, the wise and just White Tsar. It is an odd place, that many peasants wandered forever searching for. I don’t know exactly what to make of it, except as a note of interest.
I would even suggest borrowing some of the most common themes of those strange places that are just out of sight, namely the warping of time upon entrance. We might find in our mysterious city a plethora of lost souls, still wandering from eras long past or only just recently present. This could perhaps create a colorful visual, if not cast to draw from. The associations with these hidden locals and the dead should also, in all likliehood, be preserved in our text.
Before continuing, I will pause here to note that Mr. Lovecraft does appear to have used this prompt for his own work, The Nameless City. The work in that case focuses on an archaelogical expedition, and in some ways is similar to At the Mountains of Madness which also featured archaelogical uncovering of an alien city, filled with hieroglyphs and markings.
For our own story, I would begin with the city alive instead of dead. A city that is only briefly and occasionally aligned with our own, allowing travel only at very specific intervals of time and space. Partially because this will be an easy seperation from Lovecraft’s own work, but partly because it also allows us to play with the notions of apparent destruction. It would also allow us to include other characters who are perhaps a tad more otherworldly then our lead.
As to their own identity, I would shy away from an actual man of science or a professional in matters of reality. We won’t be using our belabored Ottoman bureaucrat or a census man. No, I think a better character might be one who is interested in such ruins, who has sought them out at the time they appear, and made the journey at no small expense out of an obsession. I think it will be an obsession on matters occult more than scientific, determined to plunge the depths of reality for some lost secret or another, or believing that the hidden city of Irem actually contains. I imagine then our narrator is an eccentric of some sort at the least. I have an idea for his means of communication, but that would perhaps be giving too much away.
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