Author Thomas Ligotti possesses a rare talent in his ability to expose Lovecraftian horror just beneath the surface of daily life. And in his anthropological work “The Last Feast of Harlequin,” he provides fascinating insight into the monstrous truth behind the town of Mirocaw and its bizarre clowning traditions.
At first the festival appears to be just another drunken celebration of clown abuse in small-town America. Then we learn the festival masks a far older and darker reality: the gathering of ghastly, pale-faced humanoids. They eventually leave the town for a network of earthen tunnels, and here the harlequins transform into humanity’s secret, primal, wormlike form.
There’s probably nothing in your religion about angels creating the first humans in the shape of earth-tunneling worm men. Likewise, your evolution text books likely didn’t cover such a pre-bipedal stage of human monstrosity. And yet, as related in in this Daily Mail article, Dr. Heinrich Kusch claims our Stone Age ancestors created a massive network of subterranean passages that webbed through all of Europe. And, get this, the tunnels are “not much larger than big wormholes – just 70cm wide – just wide enough for a person to wriggle along but nothing else.” Chew on that, worm face.
The prospect of a human/earthworm hybrid is as perplexing as it is horrifying. The last common ancestor of earthworm and man existed 600 million years ago, but if you just focus on the digestive system, we’re not all that different. In fact, according to Dr. Alexander Khoruts in Mary Roach’s “Gulp,” humans are “basically a highly evolved earthworm surrounding the intestinal tract.” And this is perhaps what makes the idea of a human worm so terrifying: it breaks us down to our most basic function.
Tears of a Clown
The Mirocaw Harlequins appear as ghastly, clown-faced men who quickly devolve into man-sized worms with a “horrible, mouthing umbilicus” where a face should be. They feast on human flesh and squirm through the “cloacal blackness” of their foul tunnels. In the town of Mirocaw, traditional clowns serve as a means of distracting or rationalizing this horrible reality. So think of that the next time you stare at a grease-painted face and shudder.
Monster of the Week is a — you guessed it — regular look at the denizens of our monster-haunted world. In some of these, we’ll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Other times, we”ll just wax philosophic about the monster’s underlying meaning. After all, the word “monstrosity” originates from the Latin monstrare, which meant to show or illustrate a point.
About the author: Robert Lamb is a senior writer and podcaster at HowStuffWorks, where he co-hosts Stuff to Blow Your Mind with Julie Douglas. He has a love for monsters, an aversion to slugs and a hankering for electronic music.