In the Shadows of Madness
A Lovecraftian Look into the Babylon 5 Universe
By Mark W. Chase
"I have seen the dark universe yawning
Where the black planets roll without aim-
Where they roll in their horror unheeded,
Without knowledge or luster or name."
This brief poem named merely "Nemesis" was the opening for the
terrifying story, "The Haunter of the Dark", by Howard Philips Lovecraft.
It was a tale of a universe turned upside down, as were all the "Mythos"
stories of this young, New England writer. The very essence of Lovecraft's
mythos was that our universe was only a twisted delusion of a great, vast,
inescapable darkness, of which mankind was nothing but the merest speck of
insignificant matter. Rarely ever did the tragic hero of a story survive
with his sanity, if he survived at all.
Great, ancient beings, from the stars and beyond,prowl this universe--
their nature and motives far beyond anything our feeble minds could hope to
fathom. Fragments of the unspeakable darkness would float almost by
accident to our world. By chance, some hapless mortal would stumble across
it and his frail perception of reality would be shattered forever.
The ultimate irony of it all was that mankind did in fact make a
difference in the universe despite our apparent infinitesimal worth. The
Great Old Ones did take notice of humans and had tried, and failed, to swat
us from existence. Individuals, though driven mad, did affect the course
of the dark fate within the mocking universe. Men fought against the
darkness and won. Great Old One cults were defeated, Deep One outposts
were destroyed, and unspeakable summonings were subverted.
In possibly one brief glimmer of hope, mankind reached out and
contacted the Elder Gods. They were a distant, but benevolent collection
of entities who opposed the great darkness. They alone stood between our
feeble world and the onslaught of unthinkable horrors.
In the years of H.P. Lovecraft's mythos cycles from 1919-1937 a great
darkness swept through the universe. In the years 2257-2262, it may have
Already in its third season, Babylon 5 has taken on a mythos of its
own. As the Babylon 5 saga moves into the Shadow War, the story has grown
darker and more ominous. Or, as Susan Ivanova puts it in the third season
introduction, "The Babylon Project was our last, best hope for peace. It
But, she goes on to assure, "In the year of the Shadow War, it became
something greater. Our last, best hope for victory." Against all odds,
hope is always present -- unlike Lovecraft's writing where there is no hope
There are many parallels between Babylon 5 and Lovecraft's works.
These parallels may be intentional, some many have be unconscious, or, they
may all be simply coincidence. Whatever the case may be, I give you the
relationships which I have uncovered.
The most obvious parallel is between the Shadows and Outer Gods or
Great Old Ones. In the Cthulhu Mythos, the Outer Gods were the demonic
pantheon of ultimate, unspeakable darkness. However, the Outer Gods
themselves were the epitome of chaos and madness, without soul or mind.
They twisted and wallowed in the eternal night, playing horribly mocking
sounds with their demonic flutes, and orbited the ultimate nuclear chaos,
Azathoth, who resides at the center of the universe. The Outer Gods have
been stripped of reasoning and ordered thought (as we perceive it anyway)
so they may not be a perfect parallel with the Shadows. However, as we
shall see, some of the Outer Gods are not at all mindless.
If not the ultimate Outer Gods, certainly the Shadows are mirrored by
the Great Old Ones H.P. Lovecraft wrote about. Not nearly as powerful as
the Outer Gods, the Great Old Ones do have ordered reasoning (though still
vastly alien to human reasoning). Cthulhu is the foremost well know Great
Old One, but there are others, such as Hastur, Dagon, and possibly Shub-
Niggurath and Yog-Sothoth.
Some Lovecraftian authorities believe that Shub-Niggurath and Yog-
Sothoth were not Great Old Ones, but were in fact Outer Gods. If this is
the case, it would mean that not all Outer Gods are mindless. In
Lovecraft's stories, both of these god-like beings acted in logical, if not
humanly comprehensible, way. It is important to note that these Outer Gods
still exist as cognitive entities. It is possible that the Shadows are
drawn from this surviving group of hideous gods.
The Great Old Ones are described by Lovecraft as having come to Earth
from the stars. They used technology, as did many other minor races, such
as the Mi-Go, the Elder Things, and the Great Race. They were masters of
all the technologies and sciences, to the point of it being ultimate magic.
Dark, black, sinister magic.
The Shadows of Z'ha'dum are certainly masters of dark technology, as
seen by their unholy Shadow ships. They dominate forbidden areas of space
with godlike powers. Revelations in Babylon 5 episodes such as "Voices of
Authority" tell us that the Shadows can see into souls, but they are apart
from the energy which binds all life together. The Shadows are in our
universe, but forever separated from it. Dark, cold, and ancient, the
Shadows have slept for a thousand years, and are now awakening to renew the
war against the First Ones.
To express this parallel, I will give your a brief quote from the
"Encyclopedia Cthulhiana": "The Great Old Ones were at a time members of a
company of beings titled the Elder Gods. Because they practiced black
magic, or they stole certain of the Elder God's sacred records, or even
that they had the temerity to attack the homes of the Elder Gods
themselves, the Great Old Ones were cast out by their brethren and
imprisoned in various places in the stars, and even other dimensions.
Having done this, the Elder Gods returned to their homes near the star
Glyu'Uho, leaving the Great Old Ones within their prisons. There will come
a time, though, when the Great Old Ones will break free of the strictures
imposed by the Elder Gods, and they will come forth from their jails to
challenge the supremacy of their captors once again."
This almost sounds like something Delenn might say! Replace Great Old
Ones with Shadows and Elder Gods with the First Ones, and you have it.
In Lovecraft's mythos, the Elder Gods are not seen nearly as much as
the Great Old Ones, or even the Outer Gods. Likewise, we have seen many
Shadows, and only one Old One (as of episode five of the third season). In
H.P. Lovecraft's work, the Elder Gods took the back seat and almost never
stepped forward. Nodens, possibly an Elder God, possibly a lesser god of
the Dreamlands, did come forward briefly in the "Dream-Quest of Unknown
Kadath". As far as I am aware, this is the only Elder God to be named by
Lovecraft. If the First Ones of Babylon 5 are being treated like the Elder
Gods of Lovecraft, the humans, Narns, and Minbari have little chance for
Many other ancient races are found throughout H.P. Lovecraft's work,
and they cannot be ignored in the Babylon 5 context. There are the Mi-Go,
the Elder Things, and the Great Race of Yith to name the major ones. All
these races are extremely advanced in the sciences. We see this best with
the Great Race in Lovecraft's excellent story "The Shadows Out of Time" (a
title which catches me as being most significant in light of the ancient,
dark race from Babylon 5).
In the story "The Shadows Out of Time", we learn of the Great Race's
outposts on primordial Earth, of their vast libraries cataloging all the
billions of races in the universe, and maybe other universes, and a good
deal of their history and technology, all vastly beyond human
The Elder Things from the story "At the Mountains of Madness" are
described as having star ships, energy weapons, and other fabulous, magical
technologies. However, in the story we learn that the Elder Things had
been wiped out eons ago. Only the ruins of their ancient cities remain in
forgotten places in Antarctica.
The Mi-Go appeared in two of Lovecraft's stories. "At the Mountains
of Madness" the Mi-Go (this name was not given in the story) were the
enemies of the Elder Things. Many battles were fought between the two, and
eventually the Mi-Go retreaded to the northern hemisphere of Earth. Later,
in the macabre tale "The Whisperer in Darkness", the Mi-Go are busy
collecting specimens of other races throughout the universe, collecting
their brains rather, in very technology dependent ways.
The Vorlons may be attributed to one of these races; most likely the
Great Race of Yith, as the Great Race was scholarly and was much wiser than
the other two races I have outlined. The other two are rather evil and
sadistic. Unfortunately, according to H.P. Lovecraft, the Great Race was
all but wiped out millions of years ago by another race of beings dubbed
merely the "Flying Polyps". Strangely, these flying polyps can become
invisible, just like the Shadows. In contrast, the Vorlons were not wiped
out by the Shadows, the Vorlons helped to defeat the Shadows.
It must also be put forward that Morden could very well be the
equivalent of Nyarlathotep. In Babylon 5, Morden appears to be nothing
more than a Shadow/Centauri (and Earth Alliance!) go between. In H.P.
Lovecraft's works, Nyarlathotep was the messenger of the Outer Gods. In
Lovecrafts poem "Nyarlathotep", this dark messenger was a man; a man who
brought final destruction to the human race. In many stories Nyarlathotep
was in the form of a man, though he also had many monsterous forms as well.
In all appearance this "man" was mortal, but he had sinister, dark powers
at his command. If Morden ever becomes some hideous flying monster as
black as the night itself, this parallel will be complete.
Could the Book of G'Quon be the Babylon 5 equivalent to the
Necronomicon? On several occasions, G'Kar has pointed out references to
the Shadows, even pictures of their ships, all with terrifying revelations
behind them. He even gave the book to Garibaldi, telling him that it would
be helpful. I doubt the Book of G'Quon is a forbidden tome written by a
mad Narn named G'abkul G'alkazard; and, as Babylon 5 appears to be much
more optimistic than Lovecraft's tales, I will propose that the book of
G'Quon is a "holy analogue" to the Necronomicon.
As I have stated earlier, these speculations are my own, and in no way
do they express the views of J. Michael Straczynski, Doug Netter, or anyone
working in the production of Babylon 5. These ideas are my own and should
not be taken out of context. Babylon 5 is a unique and completely
innovative universe of possiblities. Like the universe of H.P. Lovecraft,
the Babylon 5 universe has its own dark secrets -- secrets which man was
not be meant to know, and of things which should not be.
And so, I will leave you with a quote from the classic story "The Call of
Cthulhu". The tale which started it all.
"We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of
infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences,
each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but
some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such
terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that
we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light
into the peace and safety of a new dark age."
Harms, Daniel - "Encyclopedia Cthulhiana" (1994)
Lovecraft, H.P. - "At the Mountains of Madness" (1936), "The Case of
Charles Dexter Ward" (1941), "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928), "Dagon" (1919),
"The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" (1948), "The Haunter of the Dark"
(1936), "Nyarlathotep" (1920), "The Other Gods" (1933), "The Shadow Over
Innsmouth" (1936), "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936), "The Whisperer in
Straczynski, J. Michael - the "Babylon 5" series (1993-1996), through
Warner Bros. Television.
Special thanks to Jon Fuller and Mathias Russ who assisted in the editing
of this essey.
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