Friday, October 21, 2011

Respinning the Demon Queen

N. Wright has rattled my cage with his post on Lolth.*  I had been thinking about this post for a while, and noted it in my blog schedule document, but I hadn't moved it up the queue, much less written it.  I shall wait no longer!

Lolth (or Lloth)

Every gamer of my generation remembers Lolth, Demon Queen of an underworld filled with drow and giant spiders, this way:
Erol Otus' Illustration from the Fiend Folio, 1981
Erol Otus' Illustration from Queen of the Demon Web Pits, 1980

 And "she also enjoys appearing as an exquisitely beautiful female Dark Elf," in D&D, called drow (Q1:31).  So perhaps she was even more memorable to pubescent and adolescent boys as looking something like this:

Another Erol Otus Illustration from Queen of the Demon Web Pits, 1980

Thus Lolth has two forms of appearing, even as she has two aspects: Goddess of the drow and Demon Queen of spiders.  These forms are both favorites of artists: reward yourself with a Google image search and you will be inundated with forms both of a horrendous arachnid with varying female humanoid attributes, and of the exquisitely beautiful female dark elf.  (All drow chicks are hot, ergo, Lolth must be the hottest of the hot.)

J. M. Collier's Lilith, 1887

Another powerful demoness is the similarly named Lilith, from Jewish mythology.  Lilith is another sexy demon: according to the tales of some rabbis, she was Adam's first wife, divorced and turned into a demon because she wanted to be on top during coitus.  Thus she was punished as a threat to the belief in a divinely ordained male dominance.  Denied children of her own, she became an envious demon who kidnapped children.  In some people's mythopoesis, she became the first vampire.  Remember vampires?  How often they have pointed ears and are beautifully irresistible?  Like, well, elves.  Also note, female vampires from earliest days were portrayed as kidnapping children, just as the elves did with changelings.

Mash-Up Time: The Demon Queen Gets a Makeover
These two demon-goddesses offer a strong case for identifying the two figures as the same individual.  They share so much thematically that it is easy to do.  As I noted, even their names are very similar.  If you keep the two names, they can just be differences due to language.  Or you could call her Liloth.  Combining them has happy consequences.

If you are tired of the same old folklore controlling vampire game mechanics, you can now offer vampires a makeover based on their demon mistress: driders could be the spider form available for vampires.  Now we know why the drow moved underground: those who had received Liloth's gift (many of the nobles) had to flee the destructive rays of the sun.  Why should you especially identify bats with vampires?  There is one species of vampire bat, but don't all spiders suck their victims dry of their vital juices? We also have tehe answer for why evil elves and vampires kidnap children: Because they are easy-to-catch-and-carry little bags of blood, that's why.  Changelings would be ones selected to be allowed to survive and grow up to be turned into vampires and sent back to plague their old communities.  And remember the fear about female dominance represented by Lilith?  Of course drow are a matriarchal society under the demon goddess.

Vampires and drow tend to be among lots of gamers favorite monstrous races.  They also are the object of complaint as overly used and overly familiar.  I offer this new spin on the Queen of the Demonweb Pits as a way to creatively revamp both the Lolth and her elven devotees.

* His post led me back to Tim Brannan's earlier post.


  1. This is a great analysis, Theodric. I have always been a fan of the Lilith mythology, and tying her to the drow is a fascinating option!

  2. I've been digging into Lilith's background quite a bit, and it seems to have many more parallels/intertwined with Lamia's story than Lolth's. Still though, you've given me an idea...

    In Celtic myth, we have the triune Morrigan. In the Forgotten Realms setting (pre-4e), we had the triune elven diety, Angharradh. Perhaps a case could be made for a trinity of Lilith, Lamia, and Lolth?

  3. I had a passing thought about adding a third aspect to Lolth so that she also could be the tripartite moon goddess/the Fates/the Norns. It might could be done: the fact that she is the Spinner makes this attractive. Lolth would naturally fit with the Moon in the Underworld (the dark moon), Eilistraee would be the maiden, but you would need another to be the mother. The three personalities have worked in short stories I have read, I don't know how you'd make it work in a game. Heck, the two personalities of Yubaba in Spirited Away were great, but I don't know how it would work in anything bigger.

  4. Lilith is already known as the First Wife, so perhaps Lolth, Lamia, and Lilith could be reimagined as the "first Fates/Norns" who somehow failed or were corrupted and cast out. Lamia's Greek history already includes elements as a failed prophetess and baby-eater. Perhaps, Lolth was once as Arachne until losing a contest to another goddess?

  5. I can easily see Lolth or Liloth being the first wife of the first elf. Lamia fits great for me: not only because of the vampire connection, but because the combination of the beast-body with the female humanoid in lamias is inconsistent (lion? snake? etc.) and could easily accommodate the drider's spiderform. I love the Arachne myth, too, and for me this would especially work if Liloth had two or three personalities, as I was intimating in our three-fold goddess exchange. Good Arachne would fit with Eilistrae...she could be Eiloth or Lithrae or something.

  6. If I was working up a Lloth replacement, I'd keep her as a sister to Lamia and Lilith. 1) I'm not fond of most "split-personality" fictional characters, and b) three treacherous "evil" goddesses allow more versatility than a single triune deity. That's not to say she/they can't be worshiped as a triune goddess. Plus, if I ever finish a cohesive first draft of my Pathfinder-ized ideas for Lamia & her children, "Lilith" and "Lolth" would fit in nicely as sister goddesses.

    Even if I don't particularly like their most defining characteristic as being first wives, thematically it could work. Adam/Abadar/Erastil as husband for Lilith, and Corellon/Calistria? for Lolth/Arachne would bring some interesting depths and plausible explanations for those Golarion deities' current doctrines. Lamia is an easy fit for Lamashtu, who could have been radically altered by her dalliances with Rovagug (at least until he was imprisoned).

  7. I like it! (And that is one my favorite paintings of Lilith too).

    Obviously I like the Lolth/Lilith connection since in my d20Mod games had a "Lolth Fair" Music Fest.

    You have inspired me to go back a do some more with Lolth.

  8. Given Araushnee's ties to the skein of Fate, the tripartite goddesses of the Moirae (Greek myth, a.k.a. the Parcae of the Romans) fit my picture of Araushnee/ Lolth/ Eilistrae quite nicely.

    Eilistrae as the maiden, spinning the thread of life upon her distaff in her generative dance.

    Araushnee (hot Lolth) as the mother, allocating the line of life to her people.

    Lolth (the demon spider) as the crone, choosing followers' final moments and finally plucking them from the web of life.

    Thanks for the references to the Norns! I was unaware of the myth-connection to these other legends. Thanks for the cross-link, Tim - I'll be reading Mythopoeic from here on out.


  9. You are welcome and thanks for your comment, GerallKahla! I look forward to seeing you around.

    I'd love to see an illustration of Lolth as a spidery old crone.

    Tim: Lolth Fair. Heh-heh...