Painted in Colors of My Choosing

Surrounded by the world painted in colors of my choosing,
Where do I find meaning in the scars I could not choose?
In the heart of a world where only I am the hero,
I'm onstage, appearing in every scene until the end
What do I do? I can't even pretend to be empty

—Bump of Chicken, "Hello World", Blood Blockade Battlefront
Been thinking about something, when I was going through some of the higher-numbered Pathfinder Bestiaries.

I really like Pathfinder's basic ruleset, but I find the DarkerAndEdgier that seems to dominate most Paizo products, particularly their adventures and many of their monsters, to be bottomlessly puerile. I mean, seriously, "we made ogres a cross between the hillbillies in The Hills Have Eyes and the ones in Deliverance"? That's only particularly impressive to people for whom those movies represent the thrill of transgression, i.e. for people who still cannot obtain R-rated materials on their own behalf—or people arrested in that phase of development.

DarkerAndEdgier appeals only to comfortable people in peaceful times; always remember what the last director of the Grand Guignol said, about why it closed down. Also, that kind of Cosmic Horror only works if you want the theme of your setting to be "all goodness and standards are an illusion, a veneer over the caperings of thirsting, mindless gods". The "horror" is the cosmos, hence the name, not the scary entities themselves but the fact that they are destined to win—have already won, they represent the true nature of reality—and that there isn't even an Odin to fight beside at that Ragnarök.

Besides, the subconscious motivation behind Cosmic Horror as a phenomenon in literary history was, transparently, just the petulant tantrums of 19th-century people upset at their little certainties being kicked over. What did Lovecraft find horrifying, aside from perfectly inoffensive sea-creatures? Negroes and non-Euclidean geometry. What did Arthur Machen find his horror in? Impregnation of "our" women by the "other", and neopaganism (he appeared to believe the latter represented a resurgence of the real thing, which is cute, but that doesn't affect the point).

(And, seriously, trying to make tentacles frightening is just...goofy. Tentacles are not frightening—well, jellyfish tentacles are, but rationally, because they can hurt you, not in a "creepy" sort of way. Octopus tentacles are the manipulatory appendages of what amounts to a curiously intelligent snail. In the immortal words of Gabriel Gale:
Why isn't it quite as logical the other way round? Why not say the octopus is as wonderful as the flower, instead of the flower as ordinary as the octopus? Why not say that crackens and cuttles and all the sea-monsters are themselves flowers; fearful and wonderful flowers in that terrible twilight garden of God. I do not doubt that God can be as fond of a shark as I am of a buttercup.
The same goes for trying to make snakes "hideous", so beloved of Howard. Look dude, I avoid snakes for purely practical reasons, like I avoid wolverines; but a wolverine is just a roided-out pine marten, and a snake is just a lizard without legs. There's nothing intrinsically scary about lizards, any more than about weasels.

The whole thing is a "1950s sitcom-housewife leaping on chair because she saw a mouse" level of unseemly.)

While I do like creepiness in my fantasy, I prefer the creepiness of something like the manga Seeds of Anxiety (Fuan no Tane)—I highly recommend you check it out, but nowhere near bedtime—or Belloc's "The Wing of Dalua". It's not a vision of cosmic meaninglessness (which amounts to a Victorian saying "if I can't have my Early Modern conceptions of cosmic meaning, there must not be any at all"), but as a glimpse of the fact that, though the cosmos is a place governed by order, not all of that order even pertains to us, let alone being beneficial to us. (The "cosmic meaninglessness" thing I find more depressing—not to say "tiresome"—than really creepy.)

Rather than the same tired neo-Freudian/closet-misogynist "pregnancy as monster" stuff, I like my body-horror more along the lines of the plants in Trigun or the feathered elves in Übel Blatt—where the shapes of beings mostly human in character and desires, are not the only shapes their bodies can take. (Machen occasionally approaches this idea but gets bogged down in the same whining about tentacles as Lovecraft, or rather strident shrieking about how "hideous" and "malevolent" Pan is. Never mind that as Greek gods went, Pan was no more rapacious than Zeus, and vastly less petty.) If I have to have the more directly, morally-relevant, "atrocity" kind of body horror, something like those spiders made of legs (in a flying fortress powered by the suffering of dying girls) in Hitsugi no Chaika, is quite adequate to my purposes.

A creepy element that most modern fantasy, so wed to a rather limited conception of goodness, always forgets, is something like Talking God in Navajo mythology, and his habit of appearing right behind you without having made any noise. Something similar is on display in the short story "The Ikon" by Maurice Baring. The scary supernatural entities in that story? Sts. Cyril and Methodius, Equal to the Apostles. I like that theme both because, remember, the thing angels always have to open with, in the Bible, is "be not afraid"; and also because...what on earth made you think that something being holy meant you had nothing to fear from it?

Related to the thing I like about Fuan no Tane and "The Wing of Dalua", is that too much of Pathfinder is anthropocentric. E.g., while in D&D some of the spirits of the dead always did become fiends, celestials, etc.—which I never much liked—the demons in Pathfinder's setting are born of mortal sins. Uh...what? They should be so old that mortal sin cannot possibly be a factor; they should be ancient beyond our comprehension.

Now, the demon-qlippoth dichotomy is based on the tanar'ri-obyrith dichotomy in post-3.5e D&D, but aside from how that was stupid (almost as stupid as their making Tharizdun the Big Bad of the entire D&D cosmology, rather than just a very old evil god sealed away by the powers of good), it still makes the demons dependent on mortals. Why should that be? They shouldn't give a damn about mortals except as potential pawns and playthings. (It also gives Paizo more chances to indulge their weird "we hate pregnancy" tic, with the qlippoth obsession with trying to wipe out mortal life so more demons aren't born from their sins, but at least there it makes sense, unlike with the drakainia, which is just adolescent edgelordliness.)

In a weird way I think the bizarre anthropocentrism is actually related to the Cosmic Horror. As I said, Cosmic Horror's petulant subtext, the dying curse of Early Modern humanism, is "if we're not the most important thing in the world, then nothing is important". And "some of the most powerful spiritual entities in the cosmos are birthed from mortal sin" is actually the same thing, in reverse, beings of vast power being born from our acts.

Actually, while human beings and their actions are of great importance and value, their values are an attempt (however imperfect) to grapple with an external reality. That reality is vastly bigger than they are, and while it matters greatly how well they acclimate themselves to it, it is "indifferent" to them at least in the sense that they are essentially incapable of changing it—let alone having originated it.

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