The Doom that Came to Sarnath was written in 1919 and published in 1920 in an amateur fiction magazine. It is a pretty cool story with one significant downside which we’ll talk about in a bit. Unlike many of the stories we have covered so far, The Doom that Came to Sarnathis not written in first-person perspective.

There is in the land of Mnar a vast still lake that is fed by no stream and out of which no stream flows. Ten thousand years ago there stood by its shore the mighty city of Sarnath, but Sarnath stands there no more.

Apparently there was another city that stood by the lake, many aeons before Sarnath. This city was called Ib “which was as old as the lake itself, and peopled with beings not pleasing to behold.” These inhabitants were green-skinned with bulging eyes and they worshipped a stone idol of their god Bokrug, before which they “danced horribly” under the moon.

Humans eventually arrived, building cities of their own including Sarnath, near the city of Ib. The humans disliked the residents of Ib so they went to war against them and slaughtered them. They pushed their bodies into the lake and cast down their monoliths. The only thing they left was the stone idol of Bokrug, the water-lizard. They brought this back to Sarnath as a trophy and set it up in their temple. That night the lake glowed with a weird light and the next morning the idol was gone and the high priest of Sarnath was found dead “as from some fear unspeakable.” Before he died he scrawled upon the altar the “sign of DOOM.” Apparently capital letters are important when someone is pronouncing DOOM on you!

There now follows several long paragraphs that talk about how amazing the city of Sarnath became in its heyday. These paragraphs open with lines such as The wonder of the world and the pride of all mankind was Sarnath… or But more marvellous still were… or Lofty and amazing were… or Wonderful likewise were… In short, Sarnath was freaking awesome and if you don’t believe me, go ask Lovecraft and he will explain it to you in excruciating detail. There’s really no plot developing here, just pages of descriptive text that bring the story to a halt. It’s really the only flaw, albeit a major one, in a story that is otherwise wonderful, lofty amazing and marvellous.

And a thousand years of riches and delight passed over Sarnath, wonder of the world and pride of all mankind.

To celebrate the thousandth anniversary of the destruction of Ib a great feast was held. It had been planned for a decade and everyone was invited. Ominously, the night of the feast the high priest saw shadows descend to the lake from the moon. Green mists came from the lake and covered Sarnath. Then near midnight everyone fled the city, running in fear from “a horde of indescribable green voiceless things with bulging eyes, pouting flabby lips, and curious ears; things which danced horribly.” I’m trying to imagine everyone running from these green-skinned horrible battle-dancers. DOOM indeed.

And that’s it. Sarnath was DOOMED a thousand years after its great crime. All traces of the city were gone, leaving only the swamp and the long-missing idol of Bokrug, the great water-lizard.

On the whole, it is a fantastic story. Obviously the pages describing the awesomeness of Sarnath could have been excised and would have left a much better and more concise story. But the concept of slow but total vengeance is appealing. I found myself rooting for the green-skinned dancers and was glad they came back to topple Sarnath.

The thing that really sticks with me from the story is an almost throwaway line that occurs early on. Describing the green dancers, Lovecraft writes “not much is written of these beings, because they lived in very ancient times, and man is young and knows little of the very ancient living things.” That seems to encapsulate one of Lovecraft’s main themes: There are certain things that happened long before humanity ever lived. Creatures roamed the earth, cities existed and strange and powerful beings were worshipped – all predate our history and awareness. We can sometimes find traces, hints of what was and what may still be out there, buried. But it might be best to turn away lest we risk DOOM much like Sarnath.

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