Welcome to Wild Territories, the series where I delve into the lore and inspiration behind small little details scattered throughout my Lovecraftian urban fantasy novels, The Bell Forging Cycle. These posts will be spoiler-free, but you’ll probably appreciate them more if you have the read books in the series. Now, with that out of the way, please join me as we explore part two of Wild Territories: The Mysterious Shamblers of the Scablands.
They move in packs, making little noise and shuffling along in the high grass of the open plains. They are the shamblers, the bizarre humanoid animals that live in the backcountry of the Territories. But what are they? What was their inspiration and what is their connection to the Lovecraftian mythos? What could they mean for the future? Let’s answer all these questions and take a closer look at these mysterious creatures.
Shamblers make their first and most prominent appearance in Old Broken Road, but they do crop up once in my latest novel, Red Litten World. The first mention of these strange creatures comes from the perspective of the character in the Old Broken Road prologue:
“She expected to see a wild dog, or one of those shuffling shamblers who were fearful to look upon but as docile as one of her father’s sheep.”
Those of you with extensive knowledge of Lovecraftian lore know about shamblers, or dimensional shamblers as ol’ Howie calls them. They first appear in Lovecraft’s The Horror at the Museum and later show up in a Clark Ashton Smith tale, The Hunters from Beyond. But they’re not major players. Shamblers, like many creatures within first wave mythos, make only one appearance. Dimensional shamblers are aggressive and dangerous and powerful. They have a strange animal head that is said to be part ape and part canine, tiny yellow eyes, large fangs, and massive claws. In the mythos, they hop from dimension to dimension and kidnap people. It’s creepy stuff, and they’re clearly not as docile as sheep.
If you have sat in on any of my panels or talked to me at cons, I am pretty adamant that I am not writing mythos. I’m writing urban fantasy, heavily influenced by the mythos. Like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, I am playing with the bones and erecting my own monsters. So how are my monsters different? What influenced my version of shamblers?
To start, let’s look at their appearance. Later in Old Broken Road, Wal goes into a lot more detail:
“Shamblers are a strange animal. They look like naked humanoid figures: neckless with malformed heads, sightless bulging eyes, and pallid gray skin. Solitary and slow, they were more nuisance than threat, occasionally stumbling through a laager or running into the side of a cargowain. They were usually herbivorous, wandering the high desert looking for scrub brush, but occasionally they would find a prairie bird or small mammal to munch on.”
This description is the biggest reveal of shamblers to date and established differences right away. Gone are the fangs and claws and small yellow eyes. After Lovecraft, much of my inspiration came from two specific sources. The first is an illustrator. Michael Bukowski runs Yog-Blogsoth a Lovecraftian bestiary of sorts. I’m a big fan. His fantastic (and usually disturbing, consider yourself warned) illustrations are always my first destination whenever I am looking for inspiration in dreaming up monsters. (His take on the various aspects of Nyarlathotep are a favorite of mine.) There was something about his shambler (pictured left) that I loved, and something that inspired me further. The strange tilt of its head, the bizarre shape of its body. I could imagine it lurching, almost zombie-like, across the high deserts and channel scablands. While mine eventually looked different, I think when comparing Wal’s description to Michael’s illustration you can see the similarities.
My second source of inspiration is The Rake a monster that comes from the depths of Creepypasta. A strange naked humanoid creature whose origins started from an unusual photo taken by a hunter’s game camera. In the original story The Rake looks fearsome, the light reflecting in its eyes, the same way light reflects in the eyes of game animals. That strange connection is what led me to toy with the idea of making my shamblers animal-esque humanoids. They might look disturbing, but something has changed. In the world of The Bell Forging Cycle, the monsters who destroyed Earth during the Aligning have disappeared but many, like the shamblers, were left behind. In this series, I am exploring is what has happened to them. Some, like the Cephel and Anur, have shifted from servitors species to become productive members of Territorial society. Others have faded into new legends, and some, like the shamblers, have become simple beast-like creatures.
The distinction is unique, and something I enjoy exploring. Other mentions of these rare and elusive animals are minor. In the first three books, they are another bizarre element in the background, a part of trail life. They serve the purpose to remind us that we aren’t in the world we know anymore, the Territories have been fundamentally changed. Earth is different.
When I set out to write this series I wanted the influence of Lovecraft on everything, and it’s there. It plays a part in everything from religions to major holidays, even slang. I also wanted to shift enough things to keep enthusiasts guessing. I think the shamblers are a great example of that. Where will they go and what part will these bizarre creatures play? Can they still travel between dimensions? Are they as docile as they seem? Only time will tell. For now, the mysterious shamblers shuffle along, wandering the roads between cities and reminding us that the Territories are truly wild.
Thanks for reading the second Wild Territories entry. The idea is to continue this series and reveal little more behind the scenes information about The Bell Forging Cycle. To do that, I need your help. Vote below and decided where we go next time we visit the Wild Territories: