Happy Hallowmeme: Zalgo

Join us this October as we look into the horrifying meme-beasts that haunt the Internet and trace their roots back to literature and role-playing games. In this installment we meet Zalgo, a being who infects everything it touches with insanity and death.

Have You Heard the Good Word of Zalgo?

Zalgo is an Internet meme that, like most memes, evolved as a one-off joke. It debuted in 2004 on SomethingAwful by Goon Shmorky, who wasn't even sure where the idea came from:

I like how people who try to figure out the origin of the "meme" don't even know where it came from originally. I'll tell you where it came from. From me. I just made it up. Zalgo is something horrible. Zalgo is something that's coming. It's coming soon. It has nothing to do with Lovecraft. I'm not nerdy enough to make those kind of references.

Despite Shmorky's protests that he/she's "not nerdy enough to make those kind of references" to Lovecraft, the idea of Zalgo has it roots in another Lovecraftian monstrosity. Several sources reference Zalgo having something in common with H.P. Lovecraft's work, making vague references to Cthulhu. But Zalgo's influences are much deeper, and there are parallels in both how he is portrayed and how his madness infects others.

Zalgo's Ancestry?

Hints of what Zalgo represents can be found in phrases like "he comes" and "he who waits behind the wall." Zalgo is also known for corrupting text through modified images and fonts, turning characters in comics and photos into gaping sockets for eyes, adding additional mouths, and tentacles where they shouldn't be.

The first clue of Zalgo's parentage can be found in Ramsey Campbell's short story "Cold Print," published in 1969:

Beyond a gulf in the subterranean night a passage leads to a wall of massive bricks, and beyond the wall rises Y'golonac to be served by the tattered eyeless figures of the dark. Long has he slept beyond the wall, and those which crawl over the bricks scuttle across his body never knowing it to be Y'golonac; but when his name is spoken or read he comes forth to be worshipped or to feed and take on the shape and soul of those he feeds upon. For those who read of evil and search for its form within their minds call forth evil, and so may Y'golonac return to walk among men . . .

Like Zalgo, Y'golonac deforms the basic humanoid form into a headless monstrosity, and additional mouths appear in Y'golonac's hands (and, if you believe the drawing of Y'golonac in the D20 web enhancement for Call of Cthulhu...other places). Like Zalgo, Y'golonac can infect those with impure thoughts simply by reading about him in the twelfth volume of the Revelations of Glaaki. And Y'golonac is trapped behind a wall, just like Zalgo.

I had the chance to ask Campbell myself as to where he got the idea for Y'golonac and he said, "I haven't a clue, I was just a kid back then." I only realized later that Campbell began publishing Mythos stories when he was just 18. Maybe that same thought infected whoever was behind that first SomethingAwful post that created Zalgo.

Mike "Talien" Tresca is a freelance game columnist, author, communicator, and a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to http://amazon.com. You can follow him at Patreon.
Michael Tresca


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