Thursday, October 13, 2011

The Cave/Dungeon Mouth Motif

We D&Ders see variations of the image above repeated periodically. This one, by Holloway I believe, is from one of the 3.5 Dungeon Crawl Classics (of which I'm a big fan).

A couple questions:

1. I'm assuming this motif stems from mythology and fantasy literature. Do you know of other examples?

2. What do you take from the symbolism? The cave-as-mouth can represent consumption. As if the landscape itself was swallowing the adventurers. D&D art is littered with anthropomorphic landscape. Alternatively, it could mean a subconscious exploration of ourselves. Finally, we also see the cave mouth as vagina. The one that leaps to mind would be the example of the Grendel cave in the movie Beowulf. The feminizing of landscape was a particular motif in the history of European exploration.



  1. Also, the grave.

    "...the thirsty entrance of this soil shall daub her lips with her own children's blood..."

  2. Very cool. Didn't think of that one.

  3. "vagina dentata" in the example shown!

    The gate to Hell is often shown as a literal mouth, the Anglo Saxon Winchester Psalter - here and here shows a couple of examples. The 'hellmouth' is a bit of a theme in Christian art, I think Bosch or one of his followers did one too.

  4. There's a lot of language that is suggestive of death and the underworld having a mouth and associated features: the yawning abyss, the bowels of the earth, etc.
    I'm pretty sure I have seen Hindu and Buddhist art that uses the hellmouth motif as well. Good call on the Christian art, Zhu Bajiee.
    I'd say that the digestive imagery is negative, while womb imagery is positive. (Except, of course, when the vagina has dentata.)

  5. What, that cave isn't *actually* a giant DM "screw you" trick monster?

  6. Just a funny coincidence... I OWN that original Holloway illustration. It's framed in my bedroom.