Long before barbaric tribes ventured into Northern Eärwa, the Nonmen battled for the survival of their own advanced and waning civilization. Known to themselves as ji'cûnû roi or "the People of Dawn," the Nonmen proved culturally, psychologically and biologically distinct from lesser breeds of humanity. You might even call them monstrous.
Physically taller and stronger than their human kin, the Nonmen never abandoned the use of caves as a form of shelter and therefore evolved both culturally and physically for lives centered in subterranean environments. As such, like so many natural-world troglophiles*, they lost both pigment and body hair in their buried mansions.
Nonmen dental physiology is also rather distinct in that they boast an upper and lower shelf of fused teeth rather than individual teeth. The details of this peculiar array are scant, but a few possible natural-world parallels present themselves. The mouth of a ray boasts tooth bands and puffer fish feature single "tooth plates" in either jaw -- though a fish hardly seems the proper parallel for a highly-evolved hominid. We see specialized fused rows of teeth (AKA toothcombs) in such mammals as the lemur, but it's hard to equate this with the Nonman smile.
Elephant dentition, however, presents a more attractive parallel. Pachyderms are polyphyodonts rather than diphyodont, meaning they cycle through teeth their entire life rather than depending on two sets. Long ridges of teeth move from back-to-front along upper and lower jaws, slowly wearing into a shelf at the front as the roots are absorbed. Nonmen teeth may function in a similar fashion. In fact, the teeth of Sranc (a debased weapons-race engineered from Nonmen stock by the unholy Inchori) are described as "small, curved combs of enamel with three pairs of roots to a tooth."
Nonman culture is rather cold and alien in comparison to those shared by Eärwa's human population, and nothing typifies this quite like the Nonman inability to "see" paintings. They instead depend exclusively on complex, multilayered high relief carvings.
While some commentators have attributed this aesthetic quirk to monochromatic vision, I think a more likely interpretation can be found in agnosia, a rare neural disorder that disrupts the ability to process sensory information.
Agnosia includes such specific stimuli transmission-scrambling conditions as prosopagnosia (face blindness) and phonagnosia (voice blindness). But there are also cases of agnosia that relate directly to the cognitive experience of music -- as well as various forms of visual information. Consider the 1978 case of an artist who, following an accident, developed an inability "to identify single objects on visual presentation, and displayed marked difficulty in interpreting complex objects, depicted scenes, and partially occluded figures." He could still recognize geometric forms, perceive optical illusions and copy designs -- could in fact utilize many of his artistic skills -- but his post-injury work exhibited an "over-elaboration of detail."
Based on descriptions of Nonman carvings and the architecture, I think "over-elaboration of detail" is very much in keeping with their aesthetic tendencies. Just as agnosia forces us to recognize our tenuous and subjective cognitive grasp of reality, it also forces us to realize that a different sort of ascendant hominid might reside in a slightly different visual world.
2018 UPDATE: I actually had the chance to ask Bakker about this in one of our 2017 interviews with him (embedded at the bottom of this page). Here's what he had to say:
Of course, the greatest mystery of Nonman physiology is the biological immortality granted them by the alien Inchori **-- a gift that also accompanied the "womb plague" (AKA Nasamorgas or "death of birth") responsible for the death of all Nonmen women and children. The secrets of this gift remain the sole property of the Consult, that cabal of Inchori, Nonman and human sorcerers committed to undying freedom from divine judgement.
* Troglophiles are cave-dwellers that complete their life cycles in a cave, but also thrive above ground. Trogloxenes use caves for shelters but don't complete their life cycles there. Given their cultural ascension and functional extinction, it's hard to say which category truly suits the Nonmen. See my post on the Crawlers of "The Descent" for more.
** In some cases, this also results in vastly increased height.
Monster of the Week is a - you guessed it - regular look at the denizens is of our monster-haunted world. Sometimes we'll focus on the cultural aspects, but mostly we'll look at the possible science behind a creature of myth, movie or legend. Be sure to explore the Monster Gallery as well as the Monster Science video series.