Slimes and Ooze
In modern RPGs, there are few monsters as iconic as the humble ooze. Enjoying a recent surge in popularity thanks to That Time I got Reincarnated as a Slime, a light-novel and anime of the same name, and their inclusion in dozens of popular titles, slimes have never been more prominent RPG and mainstream culture.
On a recent project, I’ve had the odd privilege to journey down the short rabbit hole of the ooze’s origins. It was a fun journey learning about the myth, history, and culture behind oozes, but the best journeys are shared. I hope you will enjoy The History of Slimes as much as I have enjoyed researching it.
What is a Slime?
The ooze or “slime” (used interchangeably) is usually a weak monster in RPGs. It is characterized by an amorphous, ooze-like form, and is generally of low or non-existent intelligence. It almost exclusively attacks by ingesting its target, swiping with tentacles, or (rarely) using magic.
Slimes are unique in that they do not derive from classical mythologies. They are recent phenomenon in storytelling and one that’s gaining traction at a surprising rate. Before we uncover their origins, let’s take a journey backward through time.
Slimes in Popular culture
Slimes are prolific in popular culture among the RPG crowd. They are featured in dozens of games, including the ever popular titles:
- Dragon Quest
- Dungeons and Dragons
- Mother Series
- Final Fantasy
Not to mention, anime, manga, sci-fi, and fantasy novels.
The modern tradition of dewdrop, almost amicable slimes in RPGs dates back over three decades to the release of Dragon Quest in 1986, where it was so beloved that it became the series’ mascot.
In all likelihood, Dragon Quest borrowed the idea of slimes from other RPGs such as “Wizardry: Proving Grounds of the Mad Overlord” (1981) which was a part of a wave of RPGs inspired by the famous “pen and paper” rpg called “Dungeons and Dragons”.
In 1977, the original Monster Manual hit store shelves and in it was one of the most iconic creatures of Dungeons and Dragons: the “Gelatinous Cube.”
Gary Gygax included this cube-shaped monster was mostly a joke: a transparent cube that fit perfectly into the 5x5x5 hallways of the grid-paper dungeons, travelling along and sweeping up anything in its path. It was a magical, monstrous Roomba, before Roombas even existed.
But Gary Gygax did not conceive of oozes in a vacuum, he had a little help to come up with the idea.
Slimes in Movies
There is no more iconic slime movie than the “The Blob“ a 1958 cult sci-fi horror classic, The Blob tells the story of a mysterious thing that falls from the sky and begins devouring everything it can find. As it eats, it grows. Then a group of plucky and unfortunate youths stumble into its feeding ground while on vacation.
At a runtime of 86 minutes, and with special effects that solidify its place as sci-fi cult classic, it’s well worth a watch.
But even Hollywood wasn’t original enough to invent the idea of a slime monster out of thin air.
Slimes in Sci-Fi
Before the cinema, slimes had a far more literary legacy in science-fiction.
One of the most iconic and disturbing representations of slimes was the Shoggoth from H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos. The Shoggoth first appeared in publication in 1929 and is a disturbing monster with the ability to shift its form, imitate speech, and wield its large strength to crush enemies. Perhaps unique about the Shoggoth, was that it was the first time slimes were presented as beings of higher intelligence than humanity.
Despite being a truly terrifying iteration of the slime, the shoggoth is far from its origins.
As early as 1926, we see the slime appearing as villainous monster in The Malignant Entity, published in the renown pulp magazine Amazing Stories.
During the early 1900s, the slime made a slew of appearance across pulp magazines. In 1923, it even made it to the front cover of Wierd Talesin the story “The Ooze.”
But the earliest recorded usage of slime as an antagonist seems to be in The Odyle a short story published by Charles Edmond Walk in 1907 in The Blue Book magazine.
It’s a story about a scientist who brings life to cells that start growing and just don’t stop.
At last we arrive at the origins of the humble slime: the amoeba.
Born in the early 1900s out of an intersection of rapidly growing medical knowledge and human fear of medical science, the humble slime is the embodiment of human hubris gone awry. It is the crystallization of the fear that we have waded too deep into the unknown waters where only gods and darker things dwell and that we have used that forbidden knowledge to make the device of our own undoing.
At least, that’s what the slime was and what it would still be, had not Gary Gygax and pulp movies from the 1950s taken an otherwise intensely threatening concept and transformed it into the humorous, lovable slime we all know today.
Notably, the slime still appears in its amoebic form in many space sci-fi iterations, including the popular turn-based strategy game series Masters of Orion and an episode of the original Stark Trek series: The Immunity Syndrome.
Unique to the space sci-fi version of the slime (amoeba) is that it is almost always large enough to engulf entire ships and sometimes even pose a threat to planets. It always represents an unending hunger and primitive, malevolent intelligence, such that negotiation is never an option.
The humble slime has enjoyed many interpretations during its short life. From the small, but dangerous amoeba, to adorable animated dew-drops, to dungeon cleaning roombas, the slime has been it all.
Outside of space sci-fi and space fantasy, the modern slime enjoys a whimsical feel due to the representation of the slime in 1950s cinema culture, and then again in the pen and paper game “Dungeons and Dragons” which enshrined its position as an iconic and somewhat silly monster.
How will slimes be in the future?
It’s hard to say, but there is a growing slime presence in modern media which, in the past, has lead to exploration and even humanization of mythic creatures, and the humble slime is no exception. Look for representations of slime that push the boundaries between humanity and ooze in a lovable and relatable way.
Happy sliming to you all!
Do you have additional information about the history of ooze as a monster? Do you have a link to an online-readable version of The Odyle? If so, please leave a comment below.