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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
The Elder Things (also known as the Old Ones and Elder Ones) are a fictional species created by H. P. Lovecraft, which make their first appearance in the 1936 novel At the Mountains of Madness. Additional references to the Old Ones appear in Lovecraft's short stories "The Dreams in the Witch-House" (written after Mountains, but published beforehand in 1933) and The Shadow Out of Time.
The Elder Things were the first alien species to come to the Earth, colonizing the planet about one billion years ago. They stood roughly six feet tall and had the appearance of a huge, oval-shaped barrel with starfish-like appendage at both ends. The top appendage was a head adorned with five eyes, five eating tubes, and a set of prismatic cilia for "seeing" without light. The bottom appendage was five-limbed and was used for walking and other forms of locomotion. The beings also had five leathery, retractable wings, which were used both for in-atmospheric flight and for sailing through the "ether" (a theoretical cosmic substrate now debunked as nonexistent) of empty space. They had five sets of tentacles that sprouted from their torsos, which divided twice into finer tentacles that could be used for swimming and manipulation. Both their tentacles and the slits housing their folded wings were spaced at regular intervals about their bodies.
The Elder Things were vegetable-like in shape, having radial symmetry instead of the bilateral symmetry of bipeds. They also differed in that they had a five-lobed brain. The Elder Things exhibited vegetable as well as animal characteristics, and in terms of reproduction, multiplied using spores, although they discouraged increasing their numbers except when colonizing new regions. Though they could make use of both organic and inorganic substances, the Elder Things were preferably carnivorous. They were also amphibious.
The bodies of the Elder Things were incredibly tough, capable of withstanding the pressures of the deepest ocean and the harsh vacuum of space. Few died except by accident or violence. The beings were also capable of hibernating for vast epochs of time. Nonetheless, unlike other beings of the Mythos, the Elder Things were made of normal, terrestrial matter.
The technology that the Elder Things possessed was not described at length, but was described as being extremely advanced, and At the Mountains of Madness even makes an off-hand mention that they may have had directed-energy weaponry. However, for the most part they made minimal use of high technology, as their natural resilience and movement abilities made many forms of life-support and transportation unnecessary.
They are also described as having a great command of biological principles and genetic engineering, and are known to have synthesized many lifeforms, including the Shoggoths and the ancestral forms of all native life on Earth.
Carvings found in the Elder Things' lost city in Antarctica hint that they possessed an understanding of cosmology and physics at least equivalent to that of mankind as of the mid-20th century, and likely much greater.
Because the Elder Things reproduced through spores, there was little biological basis for families to form, and they would thus live together with others whom they would get along with. Elder Thing "families" lived in large dwellings, where furniture and other decoration was placed in the center of the rooms, to leave the walls open for murals.
In "The Dreams in the Witch-House", the central character is sent through a dimensional portal to a planet in a triple star system (with a yellow, red, and blue star) located "between Hydra and Argo Navis", and populated by Elder Things.
On Earth, the Elder Things built huge cities, both underwater and on dry land. They may be responsible for the appearance of the first life-forms on Earth, including the entity known as Ubbo-Sathla (although sources differ in this regard). They bio-engineered the dreaded Shoggoths to be their all-purpose slave race. Eventually, however, the Shoggoths rebelled–an event that hastened the decline and ultimate collapse of their civilization.
They are known to have warred against the Cthulhi, the Great Race of Yith and the Mi-go. Despite these conflicts, it was the gradual cooling of the planet during the last ice age that spelled their doom. Retreating to their undersea cities deep in the ocean, they would thereafter have no further dealings with the outer world. Their last surface city, located on a high plateau in the Antarctic, remains frozen in ice. The ruins of this city were discovered in 1931 by two members of an Antarctic expedition from Miskatonic University.