If you’ve already devoured each and every episode of the second season of Netflix’s hit Stranger Things 2, or even if you’re watching more leisurely and haven’t gotten to the end yet, you’ve no doubt seen images in the promotional material of the series’ most iconic new creature: the giant, many-legged entity which Will Byers calls “the Shadow Monster.”
It’s the season’s main threat and is a lot more nefarious than any mere Demogorgon. While the Dungeons & Dragons analogy of the Shadow Monster is the “Mind Flayer,” deemed as such for its ability to tap into and control human minds, there’s also another great point of reference in the deity mythos of H.P. Lovecraft: the Nyarlathotep.
Nyarlathotep, also known by various monikers including “the Crawling Chaos” and “the Haunter of the Dark,” is the deity that appears most in Lovecraft’s stories. Unlike some of the other major Outer Gods, which often exist in space or other dimensions, Nyarlathotep can hop between dimensions—he’s been the villain of both the real-world and Dreamlands fiction of Lovecraft—and can take many forms, including human. Several depictions of the Nyarlathotep, however, depict him as a mass of tendrils with no discernible face. Even Lovecraft himself, as written in the Necronomicon, called Nyarlathotep “the mad faceless god.”
He has the ability to drive his followers mad, and bring with him pestilence and death. From the short story called “Nyarlathotep” published in 1920, Lovecraft described him thusly:
“Into the lands of civilisation came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences—of electricity and psychology—and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude. Men advised one another to see Nyarlathotep, and shuddered. And where Nyarlathotep went, rest vanished; for the small hours were rent with the screams of a nightmare.”
Wherever Nyarlathotep went, the inhabitants’ sleep would be plagued by vivid nightmares. The story ends by describing horrific, surreal vistas experienced by the party, in which they realize horror and doom have come to the world. Doesn’t sound too dissimilar to what Will Byers sees in his now-memories in the first several episodes, nor does the visage of the faceless, massive spider thing to the most common visage of Nyarlathotep’s true form.
Lovecraft’s evil deities are enormous and monstrous but are often also mentally devastating, and none embodies that more than Nyarlathotep. Similarly, while the first season of Stranger Things had a monster from the Upside Down that was hulking and brutal, the second season gave us one that struck fear into young Will Byers’ heart and tore his sanity asunder. The Shadow Monster is definitely this year’s big cosmic bad, and ol’ H.P. would be proud.
Images: Netflix/Fantasy Flight Games/Zuccarello