The Doom That Came to Sarnath
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Created: February 2017
| Updated: February 2017
The Doom That Came to Sarnath
Read this story in the library
"The Doom that Came to Sarnath" (1920) is an early short story by H. P. Lovecraft. It is written in a mythic/fairy tale style and is associated with his Dream Cycle. It was first published in The Scot, a Scottish amateur fiction magazine, in June 1920.
The influence of Lord Dunsany on the story can be seen in the reference to a throne "wrought of one piece of ivory, though no man lives who knows whence so vast a piece could have come", which evokes the gate "carved out of one solid piece" of ivory in Dunsany's "Idle Days on the Yann".
Though Sarnath is a historical city in India —the place where the Buddha first taught— Lovecraft said that he thought he invented the name independently.
According to the tale, more than 10,000 years ago, a race of shepherd people colonized the banks of the river Ai in a land called Mnar, forming the cities of Thraa, Ilarnek, and Kadatheron (not to be confused with Kadath), which rose to great intellectual and mercantile prowess. Craving more land, a group of these hardy people migrated to the shores of a lonely and vast lake at the heart of Mnar, founding the metropolis of Sarnath.
But the settlers were not alone. At the other side of the lake was the ancient, grey-stone city of Ib, inhabited by a queer race who had descended from the moon. Lovecraft described them as "in hue as green as the lake and the mists that rise above it.... They had bulging eyes, pouting, flabby lips, and curious ears, and were without voice."
These beings worshipped a strange god known as Bokrug, the Great Water Lizard, although it was more their physical form that caused the people of Sarnath to despise them.
The people of Sarnath killed all the creatures inhabiting Ib, destroyed the city and took their idol as a trophy, putting it in Sarnath's main temple. The next night, the idol vanished under peculiar circumstances, and Taran-Ish, the high-priest of Sarnath, was found dead. Before dying, he had scrawled a single sign on the empty altar: "DOOM".
Ten centuries later, Sarnath was at the zenith of its power and decadence. Nobles from distant cities were invited to the feast in honour of Ib's destruction. That night, however, the revelry was disrupted by strange lights over the lake and heavy greenish mists, and that the tidal marker, the granite pillar Akurion, was mostly submerged. Not too much later, many of the city's inhabitants fled, maddened by fear, as the king and the people in the feast had been transformed into the original creatures from Ib.
After this some of the survivors reported seeing the long-dead inhabitants of Ib peering from the windows of the city's towers, while others refused to say exactly what they had seen. Those that returned saw nothing of those unlucky enough to be left behind, only ruins, many water lizards, and most disturbingly, the missing idol. Ever since then, Bokrug remained the chief god in the land of Mnar.
Connections to other works by Lovecraft
In the story "The Quest of Iranon", the title character says, "I...have gazed on the marsh where Sarnath once stood." When the narrator of "The Nameless City" sees the eponymous ruins, he says he "thought of Sarnath the Doomed, that stood in the land of Mnar when mankind was young, and of Ib, that was carven of grey stone before mankind existed." In At the Mountains of Madness, the city of the Elder Things is described as "a megalopolis ranking with such whispered prehuman blasphemies as Valusia, R'lyeh, Ib in the land of Mnar, and the Nameless City of Arabian Desert."
The inhabitants of Ib are known in the works of author Lin Carter as the Thuum'ha.