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.
Six feet end to end, three and five-tenths feet central diameter, tapering to one foot at each end. Like a barrel with five bulging ridges in place of staves. Lateral breakages, as of thinnish stalks, are at equator in middle of these ridges. In furrows between ridges are curious growths – combs or wings that fold up and spread out like fans. . . which gives almost seven-foot wing spread. Arrangement reminds one of certain monsters of primal myth, especially fabled Elder Things in [the] Necronomicon. —H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness
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 furnishing their homes they kept everything in the center of the huge rooms, leaving all the wall spaces free for decorative treatment. Lighting, in the case of the land inhabitants, was accomplished by a device probably electro-chemical in nature. Both on land and under water they used curious tables, chairs and couches like cylindrical frames - for they rested and slept upright with folded-down tentacles - and racks for hinged sets of dotted surfaces forming their books. Government was evidently complex and probably socialistic, though no certainties in this regard could be deduced from the sculptures we saw. There was extensive commerce, both local and between different cities - certain small, flat counters, five-pointed and inscribed, serving as money. Probably the smaller of the various greenish soapstones found by our expedition were pieces of such currency. Though the culture was mainly urban, some agriculture and much stock raising existed. Mining and a limited amount of manufacturing were also practiced. Travel was very frequent, but permanent migration seemed relatively rare except for the vast colonizing movements by which the race expanded. For personal locomotion no external aid was used, since in land, air, and water movement alike the Old Ones seemed to possess excessively vast capacities for speed. Loads, however, were drawn by beasts of burden - Shoggoths under the sea, and a curious variety of primitive vertebrates in the later years of land existence. —H.P. Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness
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.
- Elder Things (as Old Ones) were one of the species detailed in Barlowe's Guide to Extraterrestrials. In it, Wayne Barlowe retcons that the Elder Things' wings, instead of propelling them through the aether (a concept that had been discredited since Lovecraft's time), were foils that utilized solar wind, essentially transforming them into solar sails. The appearance of them in the Guide was later used in the supplemental materials that came with Dark Adventure Radio Theatre: At the Mountains of Madness.
- The story "To Mars and Providence" from War of the Worlds: Global Dispatches equated the Elder Things with the Martians from The War of the Worlds.
- In the novellette "A Colder War", by Charles Stross, the technology of the Elder Things (who are referred to by the CIA as "Predecessors") is central to the plot, and Stephen Jay Gould examines the remains of one. In Stross's novel The Atrocity Archives, it is implied that mutated and devolved descendants of the Elder Things, now little more than starfishes, inhabit the coast of England off of Dunwich. It is also mentioned that one of the bases of the British Antarctic Survey is located over an Elder Thing city and is secretly involved in exploring it.
- Elder Things are referenced but do not appear in Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth.
- The Doctor Who novel The Taking of Planet 5 by Simon Bucher-Jones and Mark Clapham is set in the Elder Thing city, though it is a fictional construct based explicitly on At The Mountains Of Madness. The Elder Things are featured here.
- An Elder Thing, along with a Mi-go and a Cthulhu cult, appear in the "What Ho, Gods of the Abyss?" section of The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Black Dossier. In it, Bertie Wooster's Aunt Dahlia is possessed by the cult, but are saved by Thomas Carnacki and the other members of the League.
- In the first edition of the Dungeons and Dragons game, the original version of the Deities & Demigods book presents Elder Things as one of the example monsters of the Cthulhu Mythos, but are given the name "Primoridal Ones".
- In Hellboy II: The Golden Army, directed by Guillermo del Toro, there are cameo appearances of Elder Things in the BPRD headquarters and in the Troll Market. Also, in a possible reference to At the Mountains of Madness a major character from the previous film (Myers) is mentioned to have been transferred to Antarctica.
- ↑ The term "Old Ones" is ambiguous in the Cthulhu Mythos and can also refer to the Great Old Ones, a separate group of beings described as being enemies of the Elder Things in At the Mountains of Madness.
- ↑ In At the Mountains of Madness, Professor Lake dubs the specimens he discovers "Elder Ones" in reference to the Elder Things of the Necronomicon, unaware that they are actually the same beings.
- ↑ Harms, "Appendix D: Timeline of the Cthulhu Mythos", The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, p. 384.