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A modern staple of fantasy legends, the Slime Monster is an amorphous, shapeless, gooey creature best represented by the original Dragon Quest Slime. They are typically weak, but certain slimes, such as massive ones, ones made of special materials, or ones that are immune to damage, can be quite dangerous and deadly. Its usual attack is to engulf its prey.

The Slime is an iconic creature from Dragon Quest, but the existence of slime monsters dates back at least as far as Dungeons and Dragons, to the Gelatinous Cube. Which is suggested to be an invention of Gary Gygax.

The gelatinous cube is an invention of Gary Gygax, and first appeared in the Monster Manual (1977), rather than being lifted from outside sources and adapted to a roleplaying setting, as were many mythological monsters like the minotaur and dryad.

However, similar blob-like monsters date as far back as the year 1958, from the cult classic flim "The Blob".

Unfortunately, I can find no reference to what might have inspired The Blob OR Gary Gygax's Gelatinous Cube.

So I ask - what work of Fantasy/SciFi first introduced the concept of a monster that:

  • Is made of slime/goo
  • Is shapeless/formless
  • Attacks by engulfing its prey
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    I've read some articles about the Gelatinous Cube's history, I believe it's creation was probably a combination of previous blob ideas mixed with a satirical look at rpg monsters of the time. The cube literally sweeps a dungeon clean so there's no need for basic trash maintenance. Also why are all the dungeons so cubic in shape that a cube shaped monster could easily slide down its hallways. Mar 17, 2015 at 19:26
  • HP Lovecraft is the first author that comes to mind, though a quick search doesn't seem to reveal anything specific. Mar 17, 2015 at 19:31
  • @MattGutting I was thinking of the Shoggoths, but I don't remember anything about them absorbing prey Mar 17, 2015 at 19:31
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    @MattGutting I was thinking something Lovecraftian might be the key, but my own knowledge of that genre is woefully lacking.
    – Zibbobz
    Mar 17, 2015 at 19:32
  • @JasonBaker I wonder if the idea of "absorbing" might be calqued from another type of story; I'm thinking of A Voyage to Arcturus by David Lindsay. Mar 17, 2015 at 19:40

3 Answers 3

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Here are the two earliest examples I could find in Science Fiction: The Early Years by Everett F. Bleiler. Bleiler's reviews are quoted below.

Charles Edmonds Walk, "The Odyle", Blue Book, June 1907:

Nouvelle. * San Francisco, just before the earthquake. The story, which is presented in a confused involved manner, is told by a family friend of Dr. Barton, the biologist. Mysterious events take place. Servants disappear, the end of Professor Barton's laboratory is torn off as if by an explosion, and Stephen Hayes's house is completely destroyed. The narrator follows tracks out into the wilderness, coming upon a small valley that seems to be filled with a strange churning thing. Up above, Barton is pouring acid from a carboy onto it. * Barton tells his story. After much experimentation he created a living cell out of chemicals. The cell multiplied and continued to grow until it was sizable. Oddly enough, besides physical life, it seemed to have some sort of mentality, for it responded to Barton and seemed to give off a vague psychic emanation. Eventually, though, it grew large and vicious and no longer responded to Barton's control. Assuming independence, it burst out of the house and roamed the countryside, creating a swath of death and destruction. Barton has caught up with it and is destroying it. * Despite the complicated narrative, obviously similar to H. P. Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror" and "The Shunned House," but without the supernatural aspects. Otherwise, a very early story about an amoeboid run wild.

Otis Adelbert Kline, "The Malignant Entity", Weird Tales, May-June-July 1924 (available at the Internet Archive):

Short story. * Mystery situation. * Professor Townsend, hale and hearty the day before, is now a desiccated skeleton in his laboratory. A policeman left to guard the remains is similarly reduced to bones. Dr. Dorp, who is helping Police Chief McGraw on the mysterious case, checks into Townsend's projects and decides that he must have achieved his goal—creating life. In a sixty-gallon tank resides the culprit, an amoeboid creature that can pop out as quick as a flash and eat boned humans at a gulp. The police pour sulfuric acid on it, but the nucleus escapes. When captured and burned, it briefly takes the head form of a criminal who had disappeared a few days earlier. Presumably a burglar entered the house and was eaten by the malignant entity, which thereupon retained some of his vicious personality. * Clumsy and amateurish.

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Matching two of your criteria are the shoggoths from the writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The definitive description of them is taken from his 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness (emphasis mine):

It was a terrible, indescribable thing vaster than any subway train — a shapeless congeries1 of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming as pustules of greenish light all over the tunnel-filling front that bore down upon us, crushing the frantic penguins and slithering over the glistening floor that it and its kind had swept so evilly free of all litter.

There's a picture of a shoggoth on the cover of Astounding Stories, the pulp magazine where this novella was published in 1936:

Cover of Astounding Stories featuring unnaturally destructive creatures, and a shoggoth

The one criteria that the shoggoths don't appear to satisfy is absorbing their prey. The quote above specifically notes that they crush rather than absorb the penguins in their path.


1 Collection. Basically a shoggoth is a loosely-connected mound of smaller slime bubbles

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    There are some other early examples in the "literature" section of the TV Tropes "Blob Monster" article, including one by Stanley Weinbaum published in 1935--At the Mountains of Madness wasn't published until 1936, but it was written in 1931, so there's a good chance Lovecraft wrote his story before Weinbaum did.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 17, 2015 at 20:07
  • @Hypnosifl You should post that as an answer; Weinbaum's Doughpots fit the OP's criteria better than the shoggoths do Mar 17, 2015 at 20:10
  • I would have, but I see user14111 just posted some even earlier good examples.
    – Hypnosifl
    Mar 17, 2015 at 21:03
  • Looks like the Ghostbusters and Slimer.
    – DickieBoy
    Mar 18, 2015 at 10:23
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"Ooze" by Anthony M. Rud published in Weird Tales in 1923 (I believe it was the first issue). I will add the synopsis here:

A wealthy scientist living in the Alabama backwoods discovers a way to allow amoeba to grow to any size. When a specimen grows to the size of a cow's liver, he instructs his son to destroy it. The son, seeing an opportunity to increase his father's fame, does not destroy the creature, and instead pays a local to bring meat to feed it. However, the amoeba grows too large and hungry, and devours the son and daughter-in-law. The father succeeds in burning the creature to death, but is driven insane with grief.

As I recall the story, the father did not burn the monster; he fed himself to it in his insane grief, leaving the giant amoeba to starve and rot in its enclosure.

I have also heard that H. P. Lovecraft was impressed by this tale.

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  • Where did the quote come from?
    – FreeMan
    Oct 21, 2022 at 16:28
  • The synopsis in my answer is from the H. P. Lovecraft Wiki. Oct 21, 2022 at 17:22

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