a play about the horrors of appetite
'The Humbaba' is a science fiction play about a doomed zoological voyage to the Antarctic. There is an elegiac tone to the exploration of the world at the beginning of the modern, fragmented and tumultuous 20th century. A lovecraftian, existential horror is employed, coupled with a satirical slant to do with the characters
desperately trying to create some sort of profit or acclaim from the unknown creature they uncover. The passage to the ends of the Earth is presented as a journey into the Underworld.
Sketch of Cthulhu by H.P. Lovecraft. Source:
H.P. Lovecraft's writing is a significant influence on the piece. The play can be presented as a radio play or on stage. The character of the Humbaba is unseen and so is suited to radio, but that is not to say that there aren't creative ways of staging this. One of Lovecraft's more profound ideas was to use the medium of the novel to describe something abstract that is incomprehensible to the mind. It is an interesting challenge for a theatre company to think about how this principle could be employed on the stage.
Extract from The Humbaba script with sketches and notations by Hamish Muir, December 2019
A Hunger for Knowledge
A significant inspiration came from the voyages to the Galapagos by Darwin and other ships, like the 1903 passage by the Valdavia. One tall tale suggested that the Galapagos giant tortoise went extinct because the sailors found them so delicious to eat. The transportation of the animals back to the United Kingdom never succeeded because the explorers ate their findings. The idea of an explorer being tempted to eat their discovery was a bizarre, disturbing and darkly humorous idea. It is a story of self-destruction in the service of bodily greed.
Galapagos tortoises held for meat on board the ship Valdavia, 1903. Source:
The exploitation of the natural world in the pursuit of knowledge and conquest is a key element to the play. It is the crusade for understanding at the expense of disturbing nature, which, by being disturbed, becomes abstracted and false. The image of rows of taxidermy leopard and tiger heads shows this weird unnatural, sterile and uncanny shelving of the animal kingdom that can lead to perceiving nature in a way that removes nature from nature.
Source: Photograph: Brennan Linsley/AP from
The play acts as an origin story for a series of works written by Hamish Muir. Each story in the anthology is set in a different time period and covers different subjects but they are all set in a parallel universe where the Humbaba exists and was brought to the Western world - reshaping politics, religion, and culture.
Illustrations from H.P. Lovecraft's At the Mountains of Madness Source: