We came to the Mictlán, the place of the dead, which the ancient people called Xinaián […]
—”The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas, trans. Silvia Moreno-Garcia
Most of “The Mound” is given as a story-within-a-story: the English translation of the Spanish conquistador Pánfilo de Zamacona y Nuñez, gentleman, of Luarca in Asturias, Concerning the Subterranean World of Xinaián, A. D. 1545. Few of the Aztec codices have survived the flames and floods, the mold and wear of centuries of hands; we today often read about the peoples and places they encountered through accounts like Zamacona’s…who being their own skewed, flawed interpretation of what they see and witnessed of ways of life and belief of which they knew little, and could only understand through the lens of their own religion, politics, philosophy, and experience.
Which is a long way to say: no one has tried to tell the story from T’la-yub’s point of view.
In Lovecraft’s narrative via Zamacona, T’la-yub is a tragic figure. She dared to love, dared to dream of a monogamous union, and the subject of her affections determined only to put her aside as soon as convenient. For her transgressions in the name of romance, she is doomed to mutilation, death, and then undeath. T’la-yub is one of the ghosts of the mound, the dead woman who holds her head, facing eternal punishment for a momentary infraction.
There’s something very Christian about that interpretation, isn’t there? Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas flips the script. What if Zamacona didn’t understand what was happening? What if he misconstrued his place and importance in the sequence of events?
As with her other stories “Tloque Nahuaque” (2011), “Ahuizotl” (2011), and “In Xochitl in Cuicatl in Shub-Niggurath” (2014), “The Head of T’la-yub” mixes elements of the Mythos was Aztec mythology. Instead of the more Pellucidar-esque elements of Lovecraft’s alien civilization beneath the earth, the focus is on T’la-yub’s personal spiritual and physical journey, here modeled on the descent of the dead to Mictlán, the growth of her understanding as to what she has become and what her role is. The result is brief, but novel: a new way to look at this aspect of the “Mesoamerican Mythos,” taking Lovecraft not at face value, but as one interpretation of events told through a very European lens.
Which doesn’t mean that Lovecraft was wrong and García-Rosas is right; the point of the story is not to disprove Lovecraft or point out sources of error, but to provide a new viewpoint that suggests that the picture is much more richly complex than Lovecraft himself gives it. Where works like Winter Tide (2017) by Ruthanna Emrys takes “The Mound” at more or less face value, or The Queen of K’n-yan (2008) by Asamatsu Ken (朝松健) that takes the basic ideas but moves in its own direction, “The Head of T’la-yub” is essentially an alternative narrative of “The Mound”—and readers can put on their scholar’s caps, read up on Aztec mythology, and decide for themselves where the balance of truth lies.
“The Head of T’la-yub” by Nelly Geraldine García-Rosas was translated by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and was first published in She Walks in Shadows (2015); it was republished in the paperback edition Cthulhu’s Daughters (2016).