Tag Archives: folklore

Inspiration: Sunken Cities

I’ve been working my way through Lovecraft’s The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath and came across a very nice bit of description:

The ship was about to pass over the weedy walls and broken columns of a sunken city too old for memory.

It made me think of all the sunken cities in literature and myth. In addition to the sunken city Randolf Carter sails over in Unknown Kadath, Lovecraft also created R’lyeh, an alien city submerged in the South Pacific, which is home of an ancient malevolent being. R’lyeh will someday rise to the surface and humanity will be doomed. Tolkien, inspired by the story of Atlantis, created the story of Numenor. The Numenorians were not satisfied with what they had; they wanted immortality too. The Valar punished them by drowning the island.

Recently, I stumbled across another sunken city story: The Legend of Ys. It is a part of Breton folklore, and tells the tale of a sinful city swallowed by the sea. The king’s daughter, Dahut, had engaged in orgies and murder. Lucifer appeared in the guise of a Red Knight and tricked Dahut into opening the dikes that held back the sea. Doesn’t make much sense to me. Wouldn’t Lucifer want the orgies and murder to continue? The legend we have today is probably a jumble of a pagan myth that was rewritten with an added Christian moral by some medieval monk. Since Ys is below sea level, Dahut may represents a chthonic goddess. I think the story needs a retelling to sort things out.

Indeed, while I haven’t read any of them, the legend has inspired stories by Robert W. Chambers, Poul Anderson, and Jack Vance. It even inspired Claude Debussy to write some music for piano (listen below).

If you were to rewrite the Legend of Ys (or a new sunken city story), why did Ys really fall? Perhaps Dahut was really a hero. Would you write it from the perspective of someone who witnessed the city’s fall, or would you write it from the perspective of someone finding the ruins years or ages after the fall?

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