Old One in fiction
Old One is a term for a deity or other ancient, powerful supernatural entity. This term is often used in fiction, primarily in fantasy and horror fiction.
H. P. Lovecraft
Throughout the weird fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, the term "Old Ones" is employed in various contexts. His first mention of the Old Ones appears in "The Call of Cthulhu" (1926), where he uses the term in reference to a group of primordial beings entombed in the mythical city of R'lyeh. At one point in the story, Inspector John Legrasse of the New Orleans police department raids a cult ritual gathering, capturing several of its members:
They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died.
Lovecraft also mentioned the Old Ones in "The Dunwich Horror" (1929), naming them as mysterious entities associated with the Outer God Yog-Sothoth. In The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1936), the Old Ones had the power to keep the Deep Ones in check. In Lovecraft's revision story "The Mound" (1940), the denizens of K'n-yan are referred to as "Old Ones".
In Lovecraft's novella At the Mountains of Madness (1936), "Old Ones" was another name for a fictional alien species, the Elder Things. These creatures were said to have built cities around the world in ancient times, but were eventually relegated to Antarctica. At the end of their reign, they were all but destroyed by the shoggoths, a slave race of their own creation.
August Derleth's interpretations transformed the beings of Lovecraft's artificial mythology. Perhaps most importantly - and controversially - he introduced a good versus evil dichotomy between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones. It's generally considered that one of Derleth's greater innovations was the assignment of these beings to a single mythological pantheon as part of the overarching Cthulhu Mythos. One of the categories of this pantheon – the "Old Ones" or "Great Old Ones" – has become a standard in analyzing Lovecraft's fiction.
Other published fiction
The Dark Is Rising
In The Dark Is Rising (1965–1977), a series of novels by British author Susan Cooper, the Old Ones are agents of the Light, born as men and women, whose task is to prevent the Powers of the Dark from taking control of the world. They are immortal but are not gods and most do not appear different than middle-aged humans. Their abilities include time-travel, shape-shifting, and ability to speak and understand various languages without having learned them. Most of their powers are designed to allow them to fulfill their goal of combat against the forces of the Dark and are activated upon reading The Book of Gramarye. Their full abilities are never detailed and they are often the protagonists in the series and serve as a balancing force to the Lords of the Dark who have similar powers.
The Dark Tower
In The Dark Tower series (1982–2012) written by Stephen King, the "Old Ones" (sometimes also called "Great Old Ones") were a highly advanced civilization known as the Imperium that ruled All-World many centuries before the events detailed in the story. They were obsessed with technological development and saw their inventions as a solution to every challenge, replacing the immortal, magical essence of creation with mortal machinery. The Imperium harnessed the magic of the Dark Tower, using it to travel to other worlds and historical eras so that they could revel in destruction and death. In their hubris, the Old Ones sought to rule the entire space-time continuum, but in order to do this, they first had to destroy and then rebuild the Dark Tower. However, their attempt brought about a great catastrophe that spurred them to wage war against each other. The ancients managed to destroy themselves in one final battle, leaving Mid-world a radioactive wasteland. Technological relics of the Old Ones' era can still be found scattered throughout the land.
In the original version of the first Dark Tower novel, The Gunslinger, it was implied that the world of the Dark Tower series is a decayed future version of present-day Earth, thus the Great Old Ones are a future stage in the development of contemporary civilization. However, as the series evolved, it was revealed that All-World (the world inhabited by main character Roland Deschain) and Earth (or, more specifically, "Keystone Earth") are parallel worlds, or different "levels" of the Dark Tower, rather than a single world at different points along its history.
In Vampire Diaries novels (1991–2014), the Old Ones are pure-blood vampires and the most powerful undead creatures in the world. They were never human and have existed long before the pyramids were built. The first Old One to appear is Klaus, a malicious and very dangerous pure-blood vampire who has lived in Germany for centuries and comes to Fell's Church to destroy the protagonists. He is defeated thanks to a group of ghosts who send him to purgatory. Eventually he is revived by his followers but is definitely defeated and destroyed by ingesting the blood of a Principal Guardian (Half angel-Half human). During The Salvation series, it is revealed that there are ten Old Ones: Klaus, Davos, Celine, Solomon, Milimo, Pachacuti, Alexander, Benevenuto, Chihiro, Gunnar of the North. Only four were destroyed by Elena Gilbert and her friends, while the others were destroyed by hunters and guardians. However, at the end of the series, Elena travels in time, altering the events of the past and all those who died have back to life, but altering the present, implying that Klaus, Davos, Celine and Solomon continue to exist but it isn't revealed what happened with the other Old Ones.
The Dresden Files
In The Dresden Files series of novels (2000–present) by Jim Butcher, the Old Ones are demons or dark gods who once ruled the world before mankind. They were apparently banished from our reality. The Seventh Law of Magic prohibits the summoning of both the Old Ones and their minions the Walkers, or Outsiders.
In the Monster Hunter series of novels (2007–present) by Larry Correia, the Old Ones reference a race of gods and their minions from outside our reality. They are one of the main factions in the cosmic war for earth and have been trying to gain a foothold on our planet since it was formed. They are generally described as sky scraper sized squids.
The Vampire Chronicles
In The Vampire Chronicles series of novels (1976–2003) by Anne Rice, characters Akasha and Enkil, progenitors of the vampire race – who appear in The Vampire Lestat (1985) and The Queen of The Damned (1988) – are referred to both as "Those Who Must Be Kept" and "The Old Ones". Within this series, the term "Old Ones" is also used to describe several other obscure, centuries-old vampires who are much stronger and more powerful than the younger, recently made vampires.
The Power of Five
The Power of Five are a series of five novels (2005-2013) by Anthony Horowitz in which 'the old ones' refers to a vague collection of demons (including half human and half animal mash-ups) attempting to cross over through several "Gates" to enslave and torture the entire human race. In the series, the Old Ones ruled Earth ten thousand years ago and suppressed numerous human rebellions before finally being banished into another dimension by the Gatekeepers, who are later reincarnated into modern teenagers in order to stop the Old Ones when their prison is unlocked. The series has many similarities to H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos such as the old ones needing to play upon the avarice of a human organisation to be released into the world.
The Americana Mythos
The Americana Mythos is a series of novels and short stories (2016–present) by Connor Grant. The old ones are referenced indirectly in Years of The Worm (2016) and more overtly in Eden Parish (2017). The series also introduces several new Old Ones, such as "Ythath, The Worm of the Woods", and "The Father".
Dungeons & Dragons
The Advanced Dungeons & Dragons reference book Deities & Demigods (1980) included a section on the Cthulhu Mythos and provided statistics for the Old Ones and their various minions for optional use in player campaigns. TSR published this material under the assumption that it was in the public domain, but Arkham House, claiming to hold the copyright, had already licensed it to Chaosium for their Call of Cthulhu role-playing game series. To stay the threat of legal action, TSR issued a second printing that credited Chaosium for granting them permission to use the material, but removed the content altogether from subsequent editions.
Among Immortal-level characters in Dungeons & Dragons Basic, the term "Old Ones" is applied to legendary beings possessing infinite power and lifespans who are thought to have created the multiverse. Their true abilities and goals remain strictly the province of rumor and speculation since no real evidence has been found either to confirm or disprove their existence. The Old Ones have established a barrier called the Vortex Dimension between the higher planes wherein they reside and the rest of known reality which they fashioned as an experiment to determine if other beings can evolve and produce a new generation of "Old Ones".
In the Forgotten Realms campaign setting, members of the vremyonni, a secretive brotherhood of ancient wizards in the nation of Rashemen, are commonly referred to as "Old Ones". All male Rashemi children who display magical aptitude are removed from their homes and sent to live with the vremyonni where they receive training in sorcery; there they must remain or else face permanent exile from their homeland. Both loyal to and respected by the witches who rule Rashemen, the vremyonni spend their unnaturally long lives engaged in arcane research and experimental spellcraft.
The race of Alien Intelligences known as the Old Ones in the Palladium Fantasy Role-Playing Game (1984), created by Kevin Siembieda and published by Palladium Books, are regarded as the most ancient and powerful beings in the Megaverse. Their presence and influence figure prominently in the Palladium Fantasy setting, but they also receive occasional mention in other role-playing game series from Palladium. Described as "the masters, if not the very source of magic" who appear as "hideous, oozing slimes and gelatinous mounds of flesh and tentacles", they are each the embodiment of a particular aspect of evil and subsist upon the respective brands of suffering they inflict. After being overthrown and defeated through the combined efforts of various races under their rule, the Old Ones were placed into an enchanted slumber and hidden away in hopes that they will neither reawaken nor escape.
Within Games Workshop's fantasy and science fiction settings there is reference to the Old Ones; these are implied to be the same creatures, though they have been presented in slightly different ways.
- Warhammer 40,000
In the fictional universe of Warhammer 40,000, the Old Ones traveled through space manipulating minor species on several planets and growing them into tools for their battle against the C'tan. The Slann were probably their servants. Although a reference in the novel Ghostmaker (2000) might indicate that the Old Ones could be the Eldar, all other instances that refer to both the Eldar and the Old Ones make clear that the two are separate races, the Eldar always being less powerful than — and usually servants and/or creations of — the Old Ones.
- Warhammer Fantasy
Though less prevalent, the Old Ones also appeared in the background material for the Warhammer Fantasy setting. The Slann are the ruling caste of the Lizardmen.
Before the Lizardmen Army book was released, the race now known as the Old Ones were called the Slann (primarily referenced in the High Elf rulebook); after the book was released, they were renamed the Old Ones allowing the name "Slann" to be assigned to the mage-priests of the Lizardmen. No current allusions are made as to the physical appearance of the Old Ones, although it is assumed they were bipedal, as was the race that served them (the Slann, who in turn presided over the Saurus and Skinks: the Saurus being the warriors, the Skinks being in charge of work requiring more finesse). Some materials (Drachenfels) referred to them as the "toad men" from the stars. The Old Ones were the ones who set up the warp gates at either pole of the planet and shifted it into a more favorable orbit before encouraging the development of the native species. In older versions of the material, the Old Ones were known as the Old Slaan and were ancestors of said race, who at that time were far more humanoid (a race of psychic frog-men).
In the television series Babylon 5 (1993–1998), a group of ancient races known collectively as the "First Ones" appear during the course of the show. According to the show's lore, these powerful entities were the first civilizations to form in the galaxy.
Buffy the Vampire Slayer
In the fictional "Buffyverse" established by television series Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997–2003) and Angel (1999–2004), both created by Joss Whedon, the "Old Ones" are powerful pure-breed demons that once dominated Earth before humankind appeared and during its earliest years. In the first-season episode "The Harvest", Watcher Rupert Giles tells Buffy:
This world is older than any of you know. Contrary to popular mythology, it did not begin as a paradise. For untold eons demons walked the Earth. They made it their home, their... their Hell. But in time, they lost their purchase on this reality. The way was made for mortal animals, for man. All that remains of the Old Ones are vestiges, certain magicks, certain creatures....
The Old Ones are referenced in the seventh season (2011–2012) of Supernatural, where they are primarily called "Leviathans".[verification needed] They were among the first of God's creations but were locked in Purgatory as they were powerful enough to destroy all Creation. When Purgatory was accidentally breached and the angel Castiel absorbed all the souls inside, the Leviathans entered him too, steadily destroying his body and physically trying to rip their way out of him.
In Being Human (UK), the Old Ones are a group of vampires of varying ages. They are introduced with Ivan in series 2, and Hal Yorke, a member of the series 4-5 trio, is an Old One. Series four's main plot revolves around the Old Ones trying to take over the world. The vampire world takes great effort to prepare for them, including rituals, Cutler's plan, even such things as red carpets. The Old Ones are unaffected by religious symbols. Mr Snow is an Old One and also one of the first vampires, whose blood can be found in every vampire.
Age of Mythology
An expansion pack to the computer game Age of Mythology (2002) from Ensemble Studios introduces the titan Kronos, who is referred to as the "Old One", as the game's primary antagonist.
In Bloodborne (2015) by FromSoftware and SCE Japan Studio, the game references celestial beings known as "Great Old Ones". One in particular, Ebrietas, is known as "The Daughter of the Cosmos".
In Darksiders (2010) and its sequel (2012) from Vigil Games, the term "Old Ones" refers to all beings predating the appearance of angels, demons, and humans, among which are included the Makers who are responsible for creating many worlds and realms, including even the creation of Heaven's Ivory cities.
In Demon's Souls (2009) by FromSoftware and SCE Japan Studio, the "Old One" is a powerful entity taking the form of a massive hovering construct of wood, rock, and soil who is accidentally awakened and seizes control of the kingdom of Boletaria with an army of soul-devouring demons. The Old One and its demons are the source of both magic and miracles, which are both considered Soul Arts.
In the Dragon Age series (2009–present) from BioWare, the Archdemons are said to be "Old Gods" who were buried underground by the Maker, where they became corrupted by the Darkspawn.
In the Halo novel entitled Halo: Cryptum, the Precursors are referred to as the "Old Ones" at one point.
In the video game series Mass Effect (2007–2012) from BioWare, the massive, intelligent plant-like being called the Thorian refers to itself as the "Old Growth". In addition, the geth called Legion refers to the Reapers as the "Old Machines", and claims that the geth who have attacked organics believe the Reapers to be gods.
Taking place in the Forgotten Realms setting of Dungeons & Dragons, the story of Neverwinter Nights (2002) revolves around the "Old Ones", an otherwise unnamed "Creator Race" of extremely powerful, cruel, reptilian humanoids who had enslaved the "warm blooded" races in ages past. Believed to be extinct, their queen Morag attempts to resurrect them and re-establish their dominance over Faerûn.
In Blizzard Entertainment's universe of StarCraft (1998–2010), the Xel'Naga are beings who are said to have been responsible for creating all of the sentient races in the universe and nurturing their civilizations. Although this includes the Terrans (humans), only the Zerg and Protoss had ever come into contact with them. The Xel'Naga are beings of supposedly unsurpassed wisdom and power, though it has been noted that the Zerg became uncontrollable for them and decimated their fleets.
World of Warcraft
In the massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft (2004–present) from Blizzard Entertainment, there are beings known as the Old Gods, malevolent entities that ruled the world of Azeroth in ancient times. The Old Gods were defeated by the Titans and buried deep underground. They still live, and their influence occasionally spills out onto the surface. Some of the Old Gods' names bear close similarity to those of Lovecraftian beings, such as C'Thun (Cthulhu) and Yogg-Saron (Yog-Sothoth).
- A theocratic group of Martians called the "Old Ones" are mentioned by the main character in Robert A. Heinlein's Stranger in a Strange Land (1961).
- Old Ones appear in the Time Quintet (1962–1989), Madeleine L'Engle's series of science fantasy books about the Murry family, notably in A Swiftly Tilting Planet (1978). Similar to those found in Susan Cooper's The Dark Is Rising series, the Old Ones are humans born with unusual mystical powers and dedicated to a never-ending struggle against the powers of darkness and evil. In both series, the Old Ones are associated with an Old Music.
- In the first-season episode "What Are Little Girls Made Of?" (1966) from the original Star Trek television series, an ancient alien android named Ruk (portrayed by Ted Cassidy) refers to his long-deceased creators as "The Old Ones". The old ones are also mentioned in the second-season episode "Catspaw" wherein two aliens named Karob and Sylvia briefly discuss their duty to "The Old Ones", beings who sent Korob and Sylvia to Pyris VII. There is no mention in the episode of whether the two species are related.
- Lovecraftian-style Old Ones appear in Marvel Comics as extradimensional beings who once ruled the Earth tens of thousands of years ago. They serve largely as back-story, the only one of note being the Doctor Strange enemy Shuma-Gorath who first appeared in 1972.
- In the 1995 novel Earthfall by Orson Scott Card, part of the Homecoming Saga (1992–1995), humans are referred to as the Old Ones by the two sentient, indigenous species of Earth.
- John Carpenter's 1995 film In the Mouth of Madness, which is partly based on H. P. Lovecraft's The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
- In the 2000 novel Shadow Scourge by Mark Ellis, part of the Outlanders series (1997–2011), the antagonist Ocajinik is suspected of being an Old One.
- In the short story "A Study in Emerald" by Neil Gaiman — originally featured in the anthology Shadows Over Baker Street (2003) and later appearing in his collection Fragile Things (2006) — the Great Old Ones have taken control of Earth's governments. For instance, the Queen of England is described thus: "She was called Victoria, because she had beaten us in battle seven hundred years before, and she was called Gloriana, because she was glorious, and she was called the Queen, because the human mouth was not shaped to say her true name. She was huge — huger than I imagined possible — and she squatted in the shadows, staring at us without moving."
- In the 2006 novel Bec by Darren Shan, fourth installment in The Demonata series (2005–2010), the "Old Creatures" are beings of light who live in a cave under the sea. The Demonata hate but fear them. They left Earth and ascended to the Heavens almost two thousand years ago when their time came to an end.
- Old One, named after H. P. Lovecraft's fictional race of gods, is a psychedelic doom band from Morehead, Kentucky; they released a single self-titled album in 2009.
- There is a filk titled "The Old Ones" by Zander Nyrond, set to the tune of the 1962 Cliff Richard pop song "The Young Ones", that was inspired by the Cthulhu Mythos.
- Several of the Doctor Who novels and audio plays refer to entities known as the "Great Old Ones". A number of Lovecraft's creations are mentioned by name, and some entities from the television series have been identified as being Great Old Ones as well.
- Elder race
- Lovecraft 1928, p. 169.
- Lovecraft 1929, p. 491.
- Lovecraft 1936 (March), p. 157.
- Lovecraft & Bishop, p. 105.
- Lovecraft 1936 (April), p. 142.
- Ward & Kuntz, pp. 43–48.
- Allston, pp. 78–79, 126.
- Mentzer, pp. 3–5.
- Baker, Forbeck & Reynolds, pp. 134, 135, 138, 140, 143.
- Pryor, pp. 71, 92–93.
- Siembieda, Long & Rosenstein, pp. 52–54.
- Siembieda & Wujcik, pp. 155, 187.
- Siembieda, p. 208.
- Gaiman, p. 11.
- Allston, A. (August 1992). Rateliff, J. D, ed. Wrath of the Immortals—Book One: Codex of the Immortals. Dungeons & Dragons Basic. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR. ISBN 978-1-56076-412-0. Search this book on
- Baker, R.; Forbeck, M. & Reynolds, S. K. (May 2003). Reid, T. M, ed. Dungeons & Dragons Campaign Accessory—Forgotten Realms: Unapproachable East. Dungeons & Dragons 3rd edition. Renton, WA: Wizards of the Coast. ISBN 978-0-7869-2881-1. Search this book on
- Born, M.; Born, M. E. H. & Einstein, A. (1971). The Born–Einstein Letters: Correspondence between Albert Einstein and Max and Hedwig Born from 1916 to 1955, with commentaries by Max Born. I. Born, trans. London, UK: Macmillan. ISBN 978-0-8027-0326-2. Search this book on
- Gaiman, N. (October 2003). "A Study in Emerald". In Reaves, M. & Pelan, J. Shadows Over Baker Street: New Tales of Terror!. New York City, NY: Del Rey Books. pp. 1–24. ISBN 978-0-345-45273-3. Search this book on
- Lovecraft, H. P. (February 1928). Wright, F, ed. "The Call of Cthulhu". Weird Tales. Chicago, IL: Popular Fiction Publishing. 11 (2): 159–178, 287.
- Lovecraft, H. P. (April 1929). Wright, F, ed. "The Dunwich Horror". Weird Tales. Chicago, IL: Popular Fiction Publishing. 13 (4): 481–508.
- Lovecraft, H. P. (March 1936). Tremaine, F. O, ed. "At the Mountains of Madness". Astounding Stories. New York City, NY: Street & Smith. 17 (1): 125–155.
- Lovecraft, H. P. (April 1936). The Shadow Over Innsmouth. Everett, PA: Fantasy Publications. OCLC 3920225. Search this book on
- Lovecraft, H. P. & Bishop, Z. (November–December 1940). McIlwraith, D, ed. "The Mound". Weird Tales. Chicago, IL: Popular Fiction Publishing. 35 (6): 98–120.
- Mentzer, F. (June 1986). McCready, A. G, ed. Dungeons & Dragons Fantasy Role-Playing Game—Immortals Rules: Dungeon Master's Guide to Immortals. Dungeons & Dragons Basic. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR. ISBN 978-0-88038-341-7. Search this book on
- Pryor, A. (June 1995). Carter, M, ed. Forgotten Realms Campaign Expansion: Spellbound—Campaign Guide. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons 2nd edition. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR. ISBN 978-0-7869-0139-5. Search this book on
- Siembieda, K. (November 1984). The Palladium Role-Playing Game Book II: Old Ones. Detroit, MI: Palladium Books. ISBN 978-0-916211-09-7. Search this book on
- Siembieda, K.; Long, K. & Rosenstein, J. (June 1993). Rifts World Book Four: Africa. Taylor, MI: Palladium Books. ISBN 978-0-916211-58-5. Search this book on
- Siembieda, K. & Wujcik, E. (June 1984). The Palladium Role-Playing Game (Rev. ed.). Detroit, MI: Palladium Books. ISBN 978-0-916211-04-2. Search this book on
- Ward, J. M. & Kuntz, R. J. (May 1980). Schick, L, ed. Deities & Demigods: Cyclopedia of Gods and Heroes from Myth and Legend. Advanced Dungeons & Dragons. Lake Geneva, WI: TSR. ISBN 978-0-935696-22-6. Search this book on
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