Hastur the Unspeakable: The King in Yellow

The malignant cosmic entity Hastur has evolved from his origins as a benign god to become a core figure in Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos; this article explores the history and popular portrayals of Hastur the Unspeakable, known as The King in Yellow.

In this article, you will learn:

  • The original inspiration and vision of Hastur as created by Ambrose Bierce
  • The fictional history and evolution of Hastur in the Cthulhu Mythos
  • Key appearances of Hastur in literature
  • How Hastur has been portrayed in popular culture

Overview of Hastur

Hastur, also known as “The King in Yellow,” “The Unspeakable One,” or “Him Who Is Not to Be Named,” is an entity of the Cthulhu Mythos. Although now closely associated with H.P. Lovecraft, Hastur was originally created by Ambrose Bierce and was only briefly mentioned by Lovecraft in one story.

Over time, Hastur has evolved from a benign god of shepherds to a malignant cosmic being within the Cthulhu Mythos.

Hastur is often depicted as a Great Old One, a brother or half-brother of Cthulhu, and an enemy of the Mi-Go. He is associated with the mythical city of Carcosa, the King in Yellow, and the Yellow Sign. Hastur’s true form is unknown, but he is often portrayed as a huge, octopoid monstrosity wrapped in tattered yellow robes. His cult followers are devoted to tracking down and destroying the Mi-Go.

Original Inspiration and Vision of Hastur

The name “Hastur” first appeared in Ambrose Bierce’s 1891 short story “Haïta the Shepherd” as a benign god of shepherds who lived in the mythical land of Carcosa. In Bierce’s story, Hastur was a protective deity who watched over shepherds and their flocks.

In 1895, Robert W. Chambers published a collection of horror stories called The King in Yellow, which featured supernatural events connected to a fictional play also called The King in Yellow. The stories mention the names Hastur, Carcosa, Hali, and the Hyades in vague, ominous ways. A “Yellow Sign” is also described that drives people insane. Chambers linked the King in Yellow, the city of Carcosa, and the Yellow Sign to the name Hastur without explaining their relationships.

Fictional History of Hastur

H.P. Lovecraft read Chambers’ The King in Yellow in early 1927 and incorporated elements of it into his Cthulhu Mythos. In his story “The Whisperer in Darkness,” Lovecraft mentions Hastur briefly but does not definitively portray him as a god or mortal:

I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran and the Magnum Innominandum.

Later in the same story, Lovecraft describes the Mi-Go being tracked and attacked by followers of Hastur:

There is a whole secret cult of evil men (a man of your mystical erudition will understand me when I link them with Hastur and the Yellow Sign) devoted to the purpose of tracking them down and injuring them on behalf of the monstrous powers from other dimensions.

From these vague mentions, later Mythos authors like August Derleth developed Hastur into a malignant Outer God and Great Old One, a half-brother of Cthulhu banished to the depths of space. Derleth portrayed Hastur as an enemy of the Mi-Go with numerous avatars, including the King in Yellow and the Feaster from Afar.

As Hastur evolved in the Cthulhu Mythos, he became more intricately linked with Carcosa, the King in Yellow, the Yellow Sign, and the Lake of Hali. His cult followers use the Yellow Sign to worship Hastur and sacrifice victims to him. Hastur seeks to destroy his brother Cthulhu and control cosmic history from his dark throne in Carcosa.


“Haïta the Shepherd” by Ambrose Bierce (1891)

The first appearance of Hastur as a benevolent god of shepherds in the ancient, mythical land of Carcosa. Haïta prays to Hastur to protect his flock.

And with night there came a storm, but there was no danger, for Hastur was kind.

“An Inhabitant of Carcosa” by Ambrose Bierce (1891)

A man wakes up lost in the ruins of Carcosa, which includes a tomb with the name “HALI” inscribed on it. This introduces the name Carcosa and connects it with Hastur.

The King in Yellow by Robert W. Chambers (1895)

Hastur is mentioned briefly as a mysterious character, location, and deity across multiple stories that discuss the fictional play The King in Yellow:

  • “The Repairer of Reputations” – Hastur is the name of a mysterious, cursed city.
  • “The Yellow Sign” – Two artists speak ominously of Hastur and Casilda. A mysterious sign drives people insane.
  • “The Demoiselle D’Ys” – Hastur may be the name of a supernatural being who curses a family.

“The Whisperer in Darkness” by H.P. Lovecraft (1930)

Lovecraft briefly mentions Hastur among other Mythos entities:

I found myself faced by names and terms that I had heard elsewhere in the most hideous of connections—Yuggoth, Great Cthulhu, Tsathoggua, Yog-Sothoth, R’lyeh, Nyarlathotep, Azathoth, Hastur, Yian, Leng, the Lake of Hali, Bethmoora, the Yellow Sign, L’mur-Kathulos, Bran and the Magnum Innominandum.

He also links Hastur to the Yellow Sign and a cult of evil men who attack the Mi-Go. This cements Hastur as part of the Cthulhu Mythos.

“The Return of Hastur” by August Derleth (1939)

Derleth provides the first portrayal of Hastur as an evil Great Old One, depicting him as a half-brother of Cthulhu banished to the dark star Aldebaran. Hastur returns to Earth but is repelled by the Elder Gods.

“The Feaster from Afar” by Joseph Payne Brennan (1974)

One of the first depictions of the Feaster from Afar, a flying avatar of Hastur with tentacles that can suck brains from skulls. It is summoned by Hastur’s cultists but defeated by a Mi-Go.

“A Litany to Hastur” by Lin Carter (1980)

A poem describing Hastur ruling over the cursed, ruined city of Carcosa beneath black stars and beside the Lake of Hali.

“The Pallid Mask” by Mark Rainey (2001)

Focuses on the King in Yellow and his pallid mask. Reinforces Hastur’s association with the play The King in Yellow which drives people insane after reading it.

Hastur in Popular Culture

Hastur and the King in Yellow have been featured in numerous works across various media:

  • Tabletop RPGs: Featured as a Great Old One and servant of Yog-Sothoth in the Call of Cthulhu roleplaying game.
  • Comic Books: Appears in Alan Moore’s provocative comic Neonomicon.
  • Television: The King in Yellow and Carcosa are referenced in HBO’s acclaimed True Detective.
  • Video Games: Hastur appears as an NPC and boss enemy in various horror games like The Secret World and Sinking City.
  • Anime/Manga: Haiyore! Nyaruko-san features Hastur as a major character.
  • Novels: Robert Chambers’ The King in Yellow has inspired many later weird fiction novels.
  • Music: Several black metal and industrial bands reference Hastur and the King in Yellow. The band Hastur takes its name from the deity.

Overall, Hastur remains one of the most intriguing and complex characters in the Cthulhu Mythos. His evolution from benign god to otherworldly monstrosity reflects the collaborate, expansive nature of the Mythos. Hastur’s rivalry with his brother Cthulhu and his mysterious kingdom in Carcosa continue to inspire uncanny fiction that disturbs and terrifies audiences.

Despite his brief mentions in Lovecraft’s own work, Hastur has cemented himself as one of the core elements of the weird and cosmic horror genre.

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