Who or what is "Tharizdun?" A look at the etymology of the name provides some possible answers and some perhaps unexpected associations. Tharizdun, it seems, may be but a single manifestation of a more encompassing evil that transcends Oerth's cosmology.
This article provides an etymological inquiry into the name "Tharizdun," an examination of associated antecedent and successor entities suggested by the etymology and suggestions for how DMs can utilize this information.
The Etymology of Tharizdun
by Glenn Vincent Dammerung aka GVDammerung. All rights reverved. Not to be reprinted or published without the consent of the author and full attribution.
Who or what, precisely, is Tharizdun? The etymology of the name offers some
interesting suggestions and associations.
Tharizdun consists of three roots - thar-iz-dun – each of
which can be traced etymologically.
“Thar” in Old English means “need.” “Dun” similarly implies “dark.” “Iz” is the most difficult root to trace but
can mean either a corrupted (fittingly) form of “its” or can mean “essence.”
Tharizdun, literally translated from its etymological roots,
could thus mean:
“Dark Need” or “The
Dark Need” – with “iz” signaling only a personification
“Its Dark Need” – more literally and suggesting Tharizdun
may be merely a manifestation of a greater or universal “dark need”
“The Essence of Dark Needs” – again suggesting a
personification but also a universality
“The Dark Need for Essence” – reversed from above and
suggesting a dark “hunger” for being or existence
Other transliterations, particularly with respect to “essence,”
are certainly possible but a certain picture emerges. “Dark” signals woe more than any “weal.” “Need” suggests a “drive” or “hunger.” Together any reading of “Tharizdun” is not a
hopeful one. “Iz,” once more, is the
most problematic element and, together with the reading of “-dun” can turn the
reading of “Tharizdun” from the merely unsettling, to the terrifying.
In the seminal “Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun,” the god is
given the epithet “He of Eternal Darkness.”
This in-line with the above with “iz” transliterated as “he,” “Thar”
transliterated as “darkness,” and “dun” transliterated as “eternal,” an
arguable conceptualization of “essence.”
At this point, it is well to stop and consider. The above looks solely at the etymology of
the word “Tharizdun” as presented in “The Forgotten Temple of Tharizdun.” More might be said, beyond the etymological,
by looking at the physical details associated with Tharizdun’s forgotten
temple. Similarly, as he appears in the
Gord the Rogue series, Tharizdun may be more, or even less, than his etymology. Finally, Tharizdun has arguably suffered from
overexposure in a number of other sources written by other than E. Gary Gygax –
interpreting these along with the Gygaxian sources to reach a consistent
picture of Tharizdun is beyond the scope of this etymological foray.
Any look at the etymology of “Tharizdun” is not complete merely
by identifying and analyzing the roots of the word. There are both antecedent and subsequent
homophones to be considered.
Clark Ashton Smith, of pulp fame, created the dark god and “archfiend”
Thasaidon in the short story “The Dark Eidolon,” set in the world of Zothique. Thasaidon is more than similar to Tharizdun
in name and suggests where Gygax may have drawn inspiration, at least in part. As described by Smith, Thasaidon is more akin
to an archdevil such as Asmodeus than Greyhawk’s Tharizdun. More likely, Gygax, aware of Thasaidon,
created a similarly sounding name with Old English roots, something eminently
possible for a person with knowledge of the pulps and a passing familiarity
with Old English.
If Thasaidon may be said to be Tharizdun’s literary
antecedent, Thasmudyan may be both Tharizdun’s and Thasaidon’s successor in
roleplaying games. Created by Steve
Kurtz for the al-Qadim AD&D setting, Thasmudyan is an evil god associated
with death and madness. While both Kurtz
and Wolfgang Bauer, a friend of Kurtz’, have confirmed the influence of Clark
Ashton Smith on the later, particularly as relates to the AD&D The Complete Book of Necromancers, Thasmudyan is largely similar to Thasaidon in name
only. As he appears in al-Qadim,
Thasmudyan bears at least as much, if not more, resemblance to Tharizdun. And, of course, Thasmudyan and Tharizdun are
For the DM
The foregoing offers a DM a great deal to work with when
incorporating Tharizdun into an adventure or campaign. The etymology can be used to inspire or as a
way to make more “real” investigations by PCs into the identity or nature of Tharizdun,
who despite being overexposed in print is virtually unknown to inhabitants of
the Flanaess and hence any PCs. At the same time, Thasaidon and Thasmudyan can
be introduced to further complicate the PCs investigations, as red herrings, or
as alternate versions of Tharizdun. The
Thasmuydan association with al-Qadim appears particularly conducive to such
treatment as relates to the Baklunish. Thasaidon
could be attributed, in parallel, to the Suel, substituting that empire for
Zothique or as some wholly ancient or alien version of Tharizdun.
Because Tharizdun has been overexposed in print there is
some need to reclaim his “coolness” in any Greyhawk campaign. His etymology and the homophonic association
with Thasaidon and Thasmuydon offer several avenues that might be profitably
explored by enterprising DMs to this end.
“The Dark Eidolon” by Clark Ashton Smith
“The Complete Book of Necromancers” by Steve Kurtz