Well, it’s almost that time, the turning of the Ken Writes About Stuff volume year. If you’ve been a subscriber in the past, many thanks for your support. If you’re a subscriber in the future, future thanks — the first issue of KWAS Volume Three is Hideous Creatures: Tcho-Tchos, which you should get by April 1. (The “bonus content” for KWAS Volume Two subscribers, Foul Congeries 2, is coming after we get Dracula properly staked and in his coffin.) I didn’t have the word count in that issue to cover all the possible varietals of Tcho-Tcho, so here’s another shoot from that dubious vine.
In his 1931 novella “The Horror From the Hills,” Frank Belknap Long mentions a tribe of abominable (and amphibian) dwarves who worship Chaugnar Faugn on the hideous Plateau of Tsang in Tibet, implying their descent from the “Miri Nigri,” a black, stunted tribe of the Pyrenees dreamed up (literally!) by H.P. Lovecraft. I believe it was William Barton (in his Call of Cthulhu adventure “The Curse of Chaugnar Faugn”) who decided that Lovecraft and Long’s black, “squinty-eyed” tribe and Derleth’s Tcho-Tchos were one and the same people, at opposite ends of their migration, in a sort of conservation of cannibal pygmies principle.
If we take, for the time being, this insight as useful, what we need to go looking for is some indication of the Tcho-Tchos among the peoples of the Pyrenees. Millennia before Lovecraft’s beloved Indo-Europeans got to the western edge of Europe, those hills were home to the Basques, whose antiquity can be judged by the Basque saying: “God made man out of bones from a Basque graveyard.” And what do we find up in the Pyreneean hills, shunned by even those ancient folk, but an even more obscure people called the Cagots — a word multiply etymologized, often from gahets meaning “lepers,” although I like cas Got or “dogs of the Goths” best, as having that inhuman touch we need for our Tcho-Tchos. The Cagots were shunned and persecuted by their Basque and other neighbors for reasons nobody seemed to be able to articulate (although they were accused of being Cathars 300 years after the fact).
Elizabeth Gaskell of all people wrote an essay on the Cagots, enthrallingly titled “An Accursed Race,” from which we learn wondrous facts like the Cagots’ reputation for sorcery and alarming body heat (even withering apples by their touch), their reputed cannibalism and tainted smell, and the near-universal prohibition on allowing the Cagots to drink from town water supplies or even use the same holy water fonts in the churches — which Cagots had to enter through special, lower doors. They also had to wear a red duck-foot symbol, or even the webbed foot of an actual duck. The laws in some towns forcing the Cagots to remain shod at all times likewise imply their webbed or inhuman feet, and perhaps more Deep One ancestry than Tcho-Tcho, although there’s no reason not to link Cthulhu and Zhar-Lloigor, for instance. As a point in our favor here, I’ll mention that the suggestive Basque word txoko means both “cuttlefish” and “angle,” which gets us not just Cthulhu but Lloigor, the Many-Angled One. Similarly, the Cagots’ cultural role as woodworkers and carpenters might tie them to Shub-Niggurath cultism.
The best thing about the Cagots, from a Tcho-Tcho adventure design utility standpoint anyhow, is that they can infiltrate Basque, Spanish, and French populations and from thence travel to America in the 15th century. (Basque sailors served with Columbus, and Basque fishermen almost certainly found Newfoundland’s Grand Banks by 1475 and just didn’t say anything about it. While I’m inside this parenthesis, Basque whalers traded with the Greenland Inuit in the 17th century, another possible Cthulhuvian cult connection.) You can thus put Cagot-Tcho-Tcho (Tchogot?) clans in Quebec, Boston, and Boise, Idaho (home to the largest Basque population in the U.S.). They’re also pretty unmistakably white (indeed sometimes described as pale compared to their Basque neighbors), which can take some of the sting off the Tcho-Tchos’ “yellow peril” origins.
True, the Cagots are sometimes described as taller than average — although those little doors might indicate otherwise — but I think we can let that pass. They’re also described as red-haired and bristly-haired, as sickly and as stocky, as dark and as grey-eyed, as thin-fingered and as thick-footed. This only shows the Tcho-Tcho tendency to blend in, or the truly amphibian nature of their Miri-Nigri DNA. The only true test of the Cagot (besides the tainted aura and the “invisible leprosy” they carry) is this: Their ears are “differently shaped from those of other people; being round and gristly, without the lobe of flesh into which the ear-ring is inserted.” The Comtes de Bleuville in On Her Majesty’s Secret Service (born without earlobes, as Blofeld discovers) are thus exposed as ancestral Tcho-Tchos — and if Blofeld’s imposture bears even a hint of truth, perhaps the next Tcho-Tcho villain in your campaign can run a network of master criminals from a hidden modernist fortress while petting a white (Saturnian?) cat.