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Gaffer

The Ecology of Ghouls

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JeffErwin

In Kij Johnson's The Dream Quest of Vellitt Boe, which I quite enjoyed, the heroine learns about edible fungi from the ghouls traveling with her underground.

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Dabbler

I may be an obscurantist, but I wonder if it is better not to know -- if dread and half-speculation [applying Radcliff's terminology so far as I remember it, terror rather than horror] is not better than e.g.  a theory of ghoul agriculture? No discredit is meant to those who devise -- with great ingenuity -- such theories, but I think that there is a case to be made for deliberately trying not to decipher ''contradictions'' (e.g. the exact location of the Plateau of Leng)  or in this case points of fine detail, preferring the murky dread of a thousand hinted madnesses.

 

This leads onto a topic -- perhaps a hobby-horse of mine -- that likely deserves another thread, a personal objection to a systematised Mythos and an increasing preference for Lovecraft's more obscure and less connected works, taking them separately as exercises in atmospheres of terror.

 

Sus! Revenons a ces moutons! (''let's get back on topic'' -- see ''Maistre Pierre Pathelin'')

 

Mr. Whateley's prose is excellent and the ''systematist party'', if I may take the liberty of lumping you together, which carries the horrible risk implying anything worse than a harmless disagreement, has able, ingenious and eloquent defenders (e.g. Mr Erwin, the excellent information about the practices of undertakers on the American continent and in England) on this thread.

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Beyond13

I have previously always assumed that mature ghouls are only part time inhabitants of this reality, and that they are lorewise in taking paths into other realities (presumably the 'Dreamlands').  This relates them more closely to the idea of Jinn, as I believe they were in the original conception.

 

As such, I've always assumed that ghouls do not actually need sustenance, they simply crave it.   As extra-dimensional travelers, it doesn't make much since to speak of the ecology of the ghouls as if they were purely material creatures.  Embalming and the like might cut down on ghoul population in the sense of making them less likely to visit, but does not in fact actually kill them.  Besides which, I've always assumed such things as arsenic and formaldyhde only added spice to the meal as far as a ghoul was concerned.  It might be less desirable and less succulent food, but it was still perfectly edible. 

 

Deprived of the literal rotting flesh of humanity, ghouls might increasingly feed on the metaphorical rotting flesh of humanity.  While the mass of flesh in 'civilized' parts may have decayed, the depravity and moral decay of those same places might have only increased, leading to ghouls increasingly populating the dream and other reified spaces of area.  Ghouls might move from the graveyards to the brothels, opium dens, bars, and boardrooms - becoming less tangible but no less vile.

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Nick Storm

^ Excellent info. I totally concur with lack of sustenance. It won't kill the ghoul, as they can go a very long time without 'grave meat' and possibly supplement it in other ways, as you say. There can definitely be skinny ghouls. As to the physiology of the food - what happens to it? I'd like to think it isn't really 'needed' and certainly doesn't metabolize. Much like the current thought on the 'Zombie' canon.  

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Gaffer

Celebrim, I'm not sure on what you base your idea that ghouls are not material and extradimensional.

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Beyond13

Celebrim, I'm not sure on what you base your idea that ghouls are not material and extradimensional.

 

I didn't say that they were not material.  I said that they were not merely material.  And I think I outlined that, but:

 

1) As I understand it, the Arabic 'Ghul' was a sort of infernal Jinn, and as such as much a sort of spirit as say an Ifrit. 

2) In Lovecraft's works, the lairs of the ghouls connect with the Dreamlands.

3) Ghouls are commonly themselves found in the Dreamlands.

 

If I wanted to give an ecology of the Lovecraftian ghoul, it would be very different than a D&D ghoul. 

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Travern

I have previously always assumed that mature ghouls are only part time inhabitants of this reality, and that they are lorewise in taking paths into other realities (presumably the 'Dreamlands').  This relates them more closely to the idea of Jinn, as I believe they were in the original conception.

 

That ties in to a version of them from Burton's translation of the 1,001 Night, with which HPL was familiar:  "[T]he ghouls of both sexes are wandering demons, which generally infest old buildings; from whence they rush out, by surprise, on people that pass by, kill them, and eat their flesh; and for want of such prey, will sometimes go in the night into burying-grounds, and feed on dead bodies which they dig up."  (Burton's version is of course enthralling, lushly imaginative, and absolutely not to be trusted as a scholarly source.)

 

From the monograph "The Mythical Ghoul in Arabic Culture", which was mentioned in the Great Ghoul Thread, Ahmed Al-Rawi glosses this: "Arab Bedouins think of the ghouls as a kind of genie that possesses one’s body instead of being an animal-like creature, denoting that this monster has retained its old ethereal character mentioned in Islamic texts."

 

HPL adapted his version of the traditional creature pretty freely, incorporating Gothic literature's depictions and some of the European werewolf legend, nor were his depictions consistent over time.  The fantastic ghouls of "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath" differ greatly from the necrophagic troglodytes of "Pickman's Model".  Just as HPL portrayed them according to what his stories demanded, Keepers have a wide range of options for what suits their scenarios.

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Eusebio

The Delta Green books, especially Delta Green: Countdown give an interesting insight in this matter.

 

Why do ghouls feed?

 

Yes, there is the matter of sustenance indeed. As said here before, ghouls who do not feed on a regular basis, take on a thin, shriveled appearance. Ghouls have however more reasons to feed than simple 'keeping up appearances'. 

 

First of all, they adopt the memories of the meal. By taking on the memories of the body they disposed of, they learn above the surface world, how it works, etc... 
Now deprived of a steady food source, they are also deprived of intel. Since, according to the book, it takes a while to fully adopt the memories, the ghouls are now out of sync with the modern day world. 

 

A third possible reason to feed could be a religious one. Many of the more traditional ghouls worship the Charnel God, Mordiggian, a symbol of death. In feeding upon the dead, they revere his work. 

 

This brings us to an interesting result, again, as touched in the DG: Countdown book: the younger, less religious ghouls could care less about traditional rules and have started feeding upon the living. These 'Herectics', as they are called, are fed enough to pass for a human (which simplifies hunting) and are driven by an almost maddening hunger. This had altered their physiology as well, giving them greater strength and mobility than their more traditional counterparts, but lacking in the enhanced senses, digging skills and ghoul cultural notions the older ghouls have. While it is nowhere mentioned in the books, it almost even feels they lack the ability to enter the Dreamlands.

 

With these two 'factions' present, conflict is, of course, inevitable.

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