“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶)

It has been known for a long time, then, that Lovecraft had the same prejudice againt the Japanese as he did againt the Chinese, or African-Americans. […] So what? Mishima Yukio was gay, and Kawabata Yasunari committed suicide after being spurned by the maid. The personal proclivities of literary greats have nothing to do with the quality of their masterpieces.

We Japanese tend to be forgiving of heroes. We feel absolutely no contradiction in being enthralled by the Cthulhu Mythos, and the fact that Lovecraft was prejudiced.
—Asamatsu Ken, foreword to The Dreaming God 2

“Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶) is a story in The Dreaming God, the fourth and final volume in the Lairs of the Hidden Gods series from Kurodahan Press, edited by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健). It is the English-language translation of the 2002 story 苦思楽西遊博 (Kushi Kakusei Yūhaku); the translator was Kathleen Taji.

Journey to the West is one of the classic Chinese novels, comparable to Homer’s Odyssey in Western literature, and has served as inspiration for a vast array of fiction, film, manga, cartoons, etc., including the venerable and popular Dragon Ball saga. Tachihara Tōya may be the first to remix this classic with the Cthulhu Mythos. Lovecraft scholar Robert M. Price also notes in the introduction that the story also draws from (or at least strongly parallels) August Derleth’s Trail of Cthulhu serial novel in parts. Most notably, the third chapter (“Sandy’s Story”) echoes a major plot point in “The Black Island” (1951) where the narrating character is affected by the Elder Sign.

The result is a fragment of an epic. Tachihara provides three chapters from three different character perspectives; the full story could be a hundred. A taste of what-might-have-been. The Mythos in “Quest of the Nameless City” is not quite that as Lovecraft or Derleth had written it; the Old Ones are filtered through a different cultural lens, and though we are not given vast details about their place within the cosmology, the story incorporates the Mythos entities into the gestalt as it does all the other inhuman creatures from Journey to the West. As the character Pigsy notes in chapter two:

The world is vast, and there are even manuscripts like the Book of Mountains and Seas, full of Chinese mythology. Thus, I suppose the existence of such fantastic beings is not astonishing in the least.
—Tachihara Tōya, “Quest of the Nameless City” in The Dreaming God 41-42

Initially, one of the key aspects of the Cthulhu Mythos is that it is different, explicitly alien and other to both Christian theology and “typical” horrors like ghosts, vampires, werewolves, and zombies which abounded in the pulp fiction of the time. This was not an ironclad rule if you tiptoed even a little outside the bounds of Lovecraft’s own writing; Robert E. Howard had no qualms about including the occasional vampire in his Conan and Solomon Kane stories, which are tied in to the wider Mythos, and other authors have been more explicit in adding Cthulhu & co. to the kitchensink of contemporary fantasy and horror. This trend was perhaps best emphasized when Dungeons & Dragons added the Cthulhu Mythos to Deities & Demigods (1980), Cthulhu was given stats alongside Japanese and Norse deities and Arthurian and Native American heroes.

What Tachihara is doing in “Quest of the Nameless City,” whether intentionally or just as a side effect of the brilliant idea of combining the Mythos with Journey to the West, is effectively lampshading this tendancy to assimilation. Like any “authentic” mythology, the Cthulhu Mythos is ripe for multiple interpretations, some conflicting, and some adapting the familiar stories into new contexts. There are no contradictions here that cannot be ironed out by another chapter, another gloss, or simply let stand to be enjoyed on their own merits.


Bobby Derie is the author of Weird Talers: Essays on Robert E. Howard & Others (2019) and Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014).

2 thoughts on ““Quest of the Nameless City” (2007) by Tachihara Tōya (立原透耶)

  1. >> We Japanese tend to be forgiving of heroes. We feel absolutely no contradiction in being enthralled by the Cthulhu Mythos, and the fact that Lovecraft was prejudiced.

    Would that we Americans be so likewise understanding of the prejudices of the past and enjoy the art simply for the sake of itself.

    Like

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