The Etymology of Tharizdun
Date: Thu, August 06, 2009
Topic: Gods & Followers

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 virtual homophones.

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

This article comes from Canonfire!

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