When Michael announced he wanted to do a “Mythos Week”, I initially didn’t have any idea what I could contribute to such an effort. The chilling answer — that you can find the Mythos hiding anywhere, all you have to do is look for it — came from an unexpected quarter.
I’ve recently become an avid fan of a certain classic animated series, as well as a recent CG-fest film based on that series. While watching the animated series on YouTube, I came upon one of the few episodes I remembered watching when I was little. I had forgotten most of the details and had been eagerly anticipating reaching this particular episode in the broadcast order.
The series I speak of is Speed Racer, and the episode is entitled “The Fastest Car on Earth”. This two-part episode begins with strange people digging up an automobile engine from a spooky cemetary and making off with it. This engine, designed years ago by Pops Racer and called the GRX, is so powerful that it is capable of catapulting a car to speeds that can warp the driver’s mind. Only a special formula, administered in a spray, can counteract this velocity-bourne warping. The formula itself is highly dangerous, however, as it makes the recipient incredibly thirsty — but if he drinks any water, the same mind-warping strikes him! The test-driver of the GRX was killed in a terrible accident, and Pops buried the engine, hoping it would never be found. Unfortunately, the villains have other ideas.
Our hero, Speed Racer, finds himself inexorably drawn to the car built to house the GRX engine. As he tears headlong down the highway he finds the world shifting and twisting in his sight, and he proclaims that he feels he is being drawn into another dimension. The warping becomes too much, and he collapses at the wheel. Thankfully he survives the experience and eventually the engine is destroyed, but before the end, the GRX has ensnared and wreaked havoc many.
This unusual episode stuck out in my memory for one reason: Speed’s exclamation that he felt he was being pulled into another dimension. We know that logically an automobile couldn’t go fast enough for weird stuff to happen to the driver — you need to be going at significant fractions of lightspeed for time dilation, for example, to be noticeable. But what if… what if…
What if the GRX engine wasn’t just the creation of a master engineer? What if Pops had been influenced by eldritch powers? Imagine this. In his drive to become the greatest automotive engineer in the world, Pops gets his hands on a manual that contains secret techniques of speed which at first seem utterly ludicrous. As he studies the book, however, his mind starts turning over, and eventually he finds himself obsessed. He builds the GRX, and the result is an engine which can warp spacetime itself, travelling faster than any automobile engine has a right to… and in so doing blasts the sanity of anyone unfortunate enough to drive the car housing it.
Even at rest the engine is an evil thing best left buried deep in the earth. It touches the minds of those around it, enhancing their passions, driving them to first distraction and then obsession. Investigator characters just coming near it, or even just hearing or reading about it, can be snared by its power. They will want to find it, possess it. Those with an affinity for racing are the most at risk, because they will find themselves giving, saying or doing anything to drive the car.
The GRX engine is a true monster, made all the more monstrous by its physical form as a device. It’s more than just some claws, weird description and a SAN check: it’s a horrible artifact of the Mythos, a crystalization of the unfathomable principles of the true cosmos.
That episode will forever be one of the creepiest things ever to me, thanks to that twisted look at it. If all you have to do to find the Mythos in a benign series like Speed Racer is turn your head and look at it out of the corner of your eye… imagine where else it might be lurking.
I’ll give you a hand. I’m not done yet. (Warning, spoilers ahead for a 10-year-old game — stop here if you’re allergic to that kind of thing.)
In 2000, a decade before this year’s Alice in Wonderland film (and nine years before Syfy did for Wonderland what they did for Oz in 2007 with Tin Man), a man named American McGee unleashed a delightfully twisted take on Carroll’s magical stories. American McGee’s Alice, developed by Rogue Entertainment and published by Electronic Arts, presents to us a Wonderland and an Alice gone mad.
The Queen has turned into a hideous monster and every corner of Alice’s dream world has become both nightmarish and lethal. Her closest friend and ally in Wonderland, the Cheshire Cat, is now a nigh-skeletal, tattooed beast with glowing eyes, bloodstains on his teeth, and an even sharper sense of wicked humor. Alice wades through terrifying foes on an ever-more-surreal trek, leaving behind a slaughterhouse — and she never once flinches as she continues to apply her bloody knife. The entities she once knew, such as the Mad Hatter, have become monstrosities that could make even the hardest heart quiver in fear, but perhaps it is Alice herself who has become the most monstrous of all.
We find out as things progress that this dream world has been hellishly distorted by Alice’s own slide into madness when her home and family were consumed by a fire, and it is here that we find the inexorable truths of the Mythos reflected. What could possibly be more classic Mythos than an asylum and a pleasant dreamland shattered by insanity and filled with terror? And when you find out who the Queen really is… well, I’ll leave to wonder about that. That way lies… madness.
Alice eventually escapes the nightmare in both worlds, but we’re never quite sure it’s gone forever.
An animated television series. A beloved story. Innocuous and family-friendly — and yet the Mythos can be discovered, worked in, with hardly any effort in either case. Characters we know, love and trust beset are suddenly by terror from outside comprehension. It’s true — you can find the Mythos lurking anywhere.