Journey To Carcosa

Carcosa is a fascinating place, a mythical land that was first written about by iconic author Ambrose Bierce and which was later adopted by a range of other writers before becoming a part of popular consciousness.

There’s a lot for us to talk about here and a lot of different sources to draw upon, so let’s cut to the chase and start travelling. Here’s everything you need to know about Carcosa.

Out Version of Carcosa

We draw inspiration from the more ephemeral representations of Carcosa. In Beyond The Black Sea, Carcosa is a world locked in an orbit with a black hole. Its a sword and sorcery setting mostly of bronze age or more primitive technology. We have several mini sagas set in Carcosa starting with The Skull. We also have our Aldebaran source book which details much of Carcosa, however this is a whole world and our intention is to create enough content for your gaming group to add what you need for the stories you want to tell. 

The Docks

Ambrose Bierce and Carcosa

The story of Carcosa begins with writer Ambrose Bierce and his 1886 short story An Inhabitant of Carcosa. In it, “the spirit Hoseib Alar Robardin” tells his tale, culminating with the iconic ending:

A level shaft of light illuminated the whole side of the tree as I sprang to my feet in terror. The sun was rising in the rosy east, I stood between the tree and his broad red disk – no shadow darkened the trunk!

A chorus of howling wolves saluted the dawn. I saw them sitting on their haunches, singly and in groups, on the summits of irregular mounds and tumuli filling a half of my desert prospect and extending to the horizon. And then I knew that these were the ruins of the ancient and famous city of Carcosa.

What’s interesting about this is that the city itself barely features in the story. It’s mentioned more in passing than anything, with very little description and the lens of time shrouding the truth about the city. By the time that the reader encounters it, the city has already been destroyed, and we hear about it from a character who used to live there.

So where does the name come from? Interestingly, it seems as though it’s just one of those names that captures people’s imagination, because it’s since been reused by more authors than you can shake a pen at. The leading theory for where Bierce got the name is that he’d heard of the French city of Carcassonne and that he simply modified the Latin name of “Carcosa”, but who knows?


Robert W. Chambers and  Carcosa

Other writers to have used the Carcosa name and concept include Robert W. Chambers, who wrote, “I cannot forget Carcosa where black stars hang in the heavens; where the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon; where the twin suns sink into the lake of Hali; and my mind will bear for ever the memory of the Pallid Mask. I pray God will curse the writer, as the writer has cursed the world with its beautiful stupendous creation, terrible in its simplicity, irresistible in its truth – a world which now trembles before the King In Yellow.”

So not somewhere you’d want to go on holiday, then.

Chambers’ use of  Carcosa was as a part of his 1895 work The King in Yellow, where the author used the  Carcosa concept along with a couple of Bierce’s other names including Hali (the lake with the twin suns) and Alar, a city that sits beside the lake. If you’re wondering about those twin suns, by the way, Carcosa isn’t a neighbouring planet to Tattooine. It’s said to be in the star cluster Hyades, the closest cluster of stars to our sun.

Other locations mentioned by Chambers include Demhe (with its “cloudy depths”), Hastur, Yhtill and Aldebaran. Not to be confused with Alderaan (what is it with these Star Wars similarities?), Aldebaran is a giant star about 65 light years from our sun. It’s the brightest star in the Taurus constellation and is nicknamed “The Eye of Taurus”, as well as the 14th brightest star in our night sky.

The King in Yellow also includes a short piece of poetry (technically it’s lyrics but without any music) called Cassilda’s Song, which you can listen to in the player below.

H. P. Lovecraft and Carcosa

Carcosa was later picked up by the legendary cosmic horror writer H. P. Lovecraft, who adopted it as part of his Cthulu mythos. This was an important boost for the Carcosa story because Lovecraft himself had a huge legion of admirers, including many writers who themselves expanded on the theme in their own work. On top of Lovecraft, these authors include Karl Edward Wagner, Lin Carter, James Blish and Charles Stross.

We should note, though, that Lovecraft never directly mentioned Carcosa in any of his short stories, or at least in the ones that were published. With that said, he did mention it in in an essay he wrote called Supernatural Horror in Literature. Sharing his experience with reading Chambers’ The Yellow Sign, he wrote, “After stumbling queerly upon the hellish and forbidden book of horrors the two learn, among other hideous things which no sane mortal should know, that this talisman is indeed the nameless Yellow Sign handed down from the accursed cult of Hastur – from primordial Carcosa.”

Lovecraft is also published alongside Chambers and other great writers like Arthur Machen and Edgar Allen Poe in a book called Shadows of Carcosa: Tales of Cosmic Horror. There’s also Lovecraft’s novella The Whisperer in Darkness, which mentions some key bits of lore including Hali and Hastur:

I found myself faced by names and terms that I’d heard elsewhere in the most hideous of [connections] – Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran, and the Magnum Innominandum—and was drawn back through nameless aeons and inconceivable dimensions to worlds of elder, outer entity at which the crazed author of the Necronomicon had only guessed in the vaguest way. I was told of the pits of primal life, and of the streams that had trickled down therefrom; and finally, of the tiny rivulet from one of those streams which had become entangled with the destinies of our own earth.”

What Carcosa is Like

We’ve shared a few different excerpts throughout this article which should give you a good idea of what Carcosa is like, but there are a few more clues that we can take a look at. In The Repairer of Reputations, a short story in Chambers’ The King in Yellow, we get a few clues such as that there are black stars in the sky and twin suns that sink into Hali. It’s also said that “the shadows of men’s thoughts lengthen in the afternoon”.

In a short story called Litany to Hastur, author Lin Carter said that Carcosa has black domes and huge towers. More recently, Neal Wilgus wrote a piece for a 21st century King in Yellow anthology which reimagines the legend and has Carcosa as a mysterious small town in the backwaters of America. What’s cool about this is that they bring it into a modern era by having Hastur’s Hardware store and the Yellow Sign Hotel.

There’s even a direct line of inspiration and retelling linking Carcosa to Stephen King, whose Dark Tower series is loosely inspired by Robert Browning’s poem Childe Roland to the Dark Tower Came. In the same King in Yellow anthology, editor DT Tyrer wrote a piece also based on Browning’s poem and the fairy tales that it inspired in which the Dark Tower itself may just be one of the many towers in Carcosa.

Carcosa in Our World

By this point, you might be thinking that Carcosa doesn’t exist in our own world, and that’s true to a certain extent. That mythical place described by Bierce and Chambers might not exist, but there is a real world place called Carcosa that’s worth mentioning.

Back at the end of the nineteenth century, a building called the Carcosa Mansion was built as the official governmental residence of the Resident-General of the Federal Malay States. The first holder of the office was a guy called Sir Frank Swettenham, who’d read The King in Yellow and who’d liked the name. As recently as 2015, the building was being used as a hotel called the Carcossa Seri Negara, although don’t start booking your flights just yet as it’s now abandoned.

Carcosa has also been used as the name of two different publishing houses. The first was a specialist sci-fi publisher that was formed in 1947 by Frederick B. Shrover, Russel Hodgkins and Paul Skeeters. The second was founded in 1973 by David Drake, Karl Wagner and Jim Groce and published four collections of pulp horror.

Carcosa in Pop Culture

Because of its popularity in literature and fiction, Carcosa has also taken on an important place in popular culture. That means that it’s been reused and remixed in so many different places that it’s often hard to keep track. Just a few of my favourites include:

  • True Detective: Here, Carcosa is a temple used by religious leaders and leading politicians in Louisiana, essentially depicting Carcosa as the heart of a cult which worships “The Yellow King”.
  • The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina: There’s a character and a carnival named Carcosa, and it’s slowly revealed that all of the carnival workers are mythological beings and deities.
  • DigiTech: This technology company has released a guitar effects pedal called Carcosa with two modes called Hali and Demhe.
  • Mass Effect: In the third Mass Effect game, there’s a planet called Carcosa.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire: In the fantasy series that inspired Game of Thrones, there’s a city of Carcosa that’s ruled by a sorcerer and which sits right at the far eastern edge of the known world on the shores of a huge lake.
  • Joseph S. Pulver: This successful author has written dozens of stories based on the work of Robert W. Chambers, including Carcosa. He’s even acted as the editor for several Carcosa-themed anthologies.

And believe it or not, this is only the tip of the iceberg. Over the past hundred years or so, there have been so many additions to the Carcosa canon that we’ve only been able to note a few of the most popular and most interesting examples! There’s even a Carcosa-themed board game


Now that you know just a little bit about Carcosa and its real world and fictional heritage, it’s over to you to keep the discussion going. Carcosa has become a little bit like Atlantis in that it’s entered the popular consciousness and been used all over the place as a result of it.

The location has been mentioned so often and in so many different works that it would be impossible for us to cover them all here, and so instead we took a look at just a few of the most noteworthy examples.

And so now it’s over to you so you can share your thoughts on Carcosa. Be sure to leave a comment so we can keep on chatting. I look forward to hearing what you think!t

Serpent Folk

Serpent People: The Myths, the Fiction and the History

As soon as I start talking about serpent people, I find that people look at me as though they think I’ve gone crazy. That’s probably David Icke’s fault, but we’ll get to that.

What can I say? I just think that serpent people are cool, and some of my favourite stories of all time have featured serpent people in some form or other. Some of the very best are those that just use the classic myths as a background and then build on them.

Today, I’m going to be telling you everything you need to know about serpent people, from their origins in classical mythology to the science behind them and the place they’ve earned for themselves in popular culture. Let’s slither on in.

The Mythology

Serpent people have been around for years, and we can see signs of them in the tale of Medusa, the woman with snakes for hair who turned people to stone with her gaze, although she’s technically a (wo)man serpent. Snakes have long been associated with evil, presumably because of the very real fear of death due to a snakebite. It makes sense that they’d show up as a personification of evil.

In most tales, serpent men are depicted as human-like figures with scaly skin and the heads of snakes or other reptiles. They’re typically descended from a lineage that goes way back, often essentially evolving in parallel in the same way that homo sapiens descended from apes.

Another common theme with serpent men is that they usually have the ability to disguise themselves as human beings. This is where the idea of “lizards in people suits” comes from, although the older legends usually say that they’re able to do this because they have magical powers or other abilities.

Note that serpent men are different to “man serpents”, which are typically depicted the other way round, having the bodies of giant snakes but the heads of human beings. Medusa is a classic example of this, and indeed many other man serpents have the hypnotic stare and superhuman strength that the snake queen is known for.

Nagas and Lamias

Another mythic type of serpent people are the nagas and lamias, although they’re pretty similar to Medusas and as such are more like man serpents. Usually depicted with a human’s head, arms and torso and a snake’s lower body, they’re basically the reptilian equivalent of centaurs. Female nagas and lamias are usually supernaturally beautiful.

The origins of these creatures can, of course, be traced back to folklore. In the traditional tales, Lamia was a Libyan queen who ate children, but it’s thought that the popular image of her was subverted by John Keats, who might have combined Lamia with Lilith, Adam’s first wife, who’s associated with the snake in the Garden of Eden.

Nagas, meanwhile, come from India. If you’ve read the Harry Potter series then you’ll remember Nagini, Voldemort’s snake. She takes her name from the term for a female naga, with male nagas usually being called nagin. Nagas show their Hindu roots because they’re often depicted with more than one pair of arms. Sometimes, they even have multiple heads.

Robert E. Howard

The first appearance of true “serpent people” was in Robert E. Howard’s King Kull stories. Howard, as you might remember, is the creator of the Conan series and an icon in sword and sorcery communities. He’s arguably the reason why sword and sorcery is popular in the first place.

Howard called his creation “serpent men”, and they first appeared in a story called The Shadow Kingdom, which itself was published in the iconic Weird Tales magazine at the end of the 1920s. Interestingly, they were given a second life in the 1970s when Marvel released its Kull the Conqueror adaptations, effectively introducing serpent men into the Marvel cinematic universe.

H. P. Lovecraft

Another important thing to note is that in Howard’s work, the serpent men were one of the few examples of creatures from long, long ago, their dominion being measured in terms of the cosmos as opposed to the lifespan of man. This in some ways makes it a precursor to the unique brand of cosmic horror that H. P. Lovecraft helped to pioneer, a subject that I’ve written about at length before.

The interesting thing about Howard’s serpent men is that they were then adopted as a part of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, although most of the legwork was done by Lin Carter and Clark Ashton Smith. Some of Lovcecraft’s own short stories, including The Nameless City and The Haunter of the Dark, mention pre-human races of lizard people.

In fact, this also means that serpent people are directly connected to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu mythos, and the two of them officially live in the same universe. That’s pretty cool because they also pop up in Spider-Man, making them also part of the Marvel EU. I love the way that they all relate back to each other, even though some of the links are a little obscure. There’s even a cross between a demon and a serpent man that fought against the Avengers.

According to the mythos, the serpent people lived at roughly the same time as the dinosaurs, although they weren’t wiped out by the fateful meteorite. Instead, they dispersed all over the world, warring with mankind and eventually going underground.

Other names for serpent people include “snake men”, “serpent men”, “serpent folk” and “valusians”. And perhaps unsurprisingly, most named serpent people have names that evoke their flickering tongues and serpent-like features. Just a few of the most well-known serpent people include Ssathasaa, Sss’haa, Ssrhythssaa and Zloigm. Try saying those after you’ve had a few drinks.


In popular culture, when we talk about serpent people, most people’s minds automatically go to reptoids. Also known as reptilians, lizard people, saurians, draconians and reptiloids, reptoids are theoretical reptilian humanoids, and the concept was popularised by conspiracy theorist David Icke.

Icke believes that shape-shifting reptoids control the human race by assuming human forms and taking on important positions in global governments and at the top of society. It’s a bit like the Illuminati, except that the Illuminati isn’t made up of serpent people in lizard suits.

I don’t want to spend too much time dwelling on Icke’s ideas because you can look them up for yourself if you’re interested. I’m not too interested in them myself, but I do think it’s fascinating that they’re almost certainly inspired by (if not based on) the serpent people of Robert E. Howard.

In fact, most historians agree that Icke’s theories draw upon earlier myths and legends, and it’s pretty easy to see the parallels. Loosely speaking, Icke says that the world is being run by blood-drinking, shape-shifting serpent people who are adopting positions of power (including in the British Royal family and the Bush family).

They come from the Alpha Draconis star system and are living in underground bases while plotting to overthrow the human race. And whether you believe Icke or not, it’s hard to ignore the fact that at least some people do. According to one 2013 poll, as many as 4% of registered US voters believe in Icke’s ideas.

As for me, I’d rather read Howard or Lovecraft.


Now that you know a little more about serpent people, it’s over to you so that you can start carrying out a little more research of your own. If you’re a novelist, perhaps you can start to use serpent people as a plot device, while if you’re a keen movie buff then you could check out some of the movies that use serpent people as a plot device.

Of course, if you’re into conspiracy theories then you could also look into David Icke and what he thinks, although I’d caution you to take that with a pinch of salt. Far more interesting to me is the history behind snake people and where the legends come from. Snakes themselves have a lot of symbolic power, and you see them being represented everywhere from stories about Medusa to the parceltongue in J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series.

So now you’ve heard a few of my thoughts, I want to hear from you. Be sure to let me know your thoughts on serpent people and the legends that they feature in by leaving a comment, or by reaching out to me on your favourite social networking site. Until next time!