Dreaming Cthulhu

Dreaming Cthulhu

We take an in-depth look at the origin of Cthulhu, the Old God, H.P. Lovecraft's iconic horror creation.

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Hmmm, Cthulhu Mythos scholar Robert M. Price, bet he has a low a san score by now.

Which version of The Necronomicon are you going to be using? Several people have published versions of a "translation" for fun over the years. It's funny you mention this now as I'm currently reading a version by Donald Tyson (Necronomicon, The Wanderings of Alhazred) who is apparently an occult non-fiction writer who took up this project for fun. His version however does contradict itself at times (but then again I'm be surprised if it didn't) and other similar projects and various stories over the years. For example I think he has some aspects of The Elder Things and The Great Race Of Yith mixed up, he mentions both at various times (of course).

One important thing to sort of understand about Cthulhu which most people get wrong is that he's not a god, he's at best a demi-power, though us poor misguided humans treat him as once. Part of the "horror" is that as powerful as Cthulhu is, the real threat he represents is that if awoken the first thing he'll do is throw open the gates to allow his masters who are the real "Great Old Ones" to return. The basic idea is that the various true "Elder Gods" had the stars literally conspire against them, and they moved into a position where they released radiation that was destructive to them and forced them to retreat from this world of face their end. Cthulhu himself is vulnerable to this, but remained behind with the intention of opening the gates then the stars were forced to resume their original patterns over millions of years and it would be safe for his masters to return. Unfortunatly for Cthulhu when he came to earth as a conquerer the races here objected, then depending on who is writing, he was basically defeated by either The Great Race Of Yith OR The Elder Things, traditionally The Elder Things get credit for it which is why "The Elder Sign" is such a powerful ward, though the Yithians do get credit for having done the same thing from time to time before being forced to return their minds back to their own time when the flying polyps arrived. At any rate when Ry'leth was sunk Cthilhu was forced into a state called fgthan (I can't remember the spelling or pronounciation despite having just read it) which has no moral equivalent but it's a state of unlife that can also coorespond loosely to sleep, meditation, or deep dreaming. In this way Cthulhu was safe from his enemies but through his dreams could contact and seduce mortals with his mind, ultimately leading them to find a way to restore Ry'leth from the sea, and then when the stars are right allow him to open the gates to call his own masters back to our plane.

More confusing is when you get into "what the heck are humans" in the most recent version of the mythology I'm reading Humans were a servitor race created and abandoned by The Elder Things for lulz when they were on our planet (they since returned to their own), in other versions such as the expansions done by Robert E. Howard in "The Mound" humans were a slave race of Cthulhu, brought from his original home world, and this is one of the reasons why he is able to contact humans in his current state and guide things, though being trapped at the floor of the ocean his ability to make contact is greatly limited. The name "Tulu" is largely from "The Mound" if I recall. In that story it's mentioned that humans at one point had access to both very advanced technology, including necromantic devices. Humans also possessed the ability to make themselves and other intangible, and limited psychic powers allowing telepathic communication and mind invasion through eye to eye contact, the humans under The Mound retained some degree of these powers although they were a mere shadow of what they once were, and while that isn't Lovecraft (though Howard apparently cooresponded with him) it did make a certain amount of sense in explaining the relationship between humans and the mythos, basically humans were at one time far more powerful and useful creatures but without Cthulhu's patronage we ourselves have degenerated, losing access to our granted powers, and with our current innovations being a mere shadow of the technology we once had as favored servants.

Ah well, I'm rambling. It will be interesting to see what version shows up here. You also have the Chaosium stuff which drew on a lot of increasingly divergent stuff, while creating it's own, as well, and arguably presents the best developed and internally consistent version if you look, but also arguably has among the least amount of input from the original creator in the end.

You messed up your link for Stephen King on the second page.

Aside from that, I quite enjoy this series of articles. I've never read anything from Lovecraft, but I kinda like the style and the ideas, I might try to explore the Cthulu Mythos a bit more.

Awesome stuff.

Though the article is a bit incorrect in that "Death May Die" is coming out in Summer of *2016*, not this summer. My urban fantasy book "Esoterrorism" is coming out in Summer of 2015 as is my superhero novel, "The Rules of Supervillainy."

I grew up with Cthulhu both in terms of the role-playing game from Chaosium (which I've done a short story for) and the short-stories. Lovecraft is, appropriately enough, controversial for a lot of his policies but he's the first guy I think to ever REALLY combine science-fiction with mythology and horror fiction. We wouldn't have things like Ghostbusters, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, or countless monsters in comic books if not for the Mythos.

Cthulhu is a big scary squid monster which will NEVER die or be not scary.

I am really digging these posts, man.

For those who would like to read some more modern horror inspired by Lovecraft's work, I would recommend everything published by T.E.D.Klein. He wrote Dark Gods, a collection of four shorts ( Black Man With a Horn, Nadelman's God, Petey and Children of The Kingdomloosely based on the Cthulhu Mythos, and a novel called The Ceremonies, which is more of his own creation, but still excellent horror.

Good article, looking forward to the one about the Cryptonomicon.

One question, though, for Devan and any other Lovecraft fans who might help me out here.
The thing is, I really like Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. Great stories, information in Wikis around the web and all such.
But somehow I did only read single stories from Lovecraft here and there when they crossed my path.
Until recently when I bought a "complete Lovecraft works" as ebook and binged through all of it, much of it read before, to learn more about the original source.
And I have to say, I didn't find too much about the thing the "Cthulhu mythos" is nowadays in the original works...
Yes, the origins are there, the main traits that make up the idea of Lovecraftian Horror, the roleplaying game and so on.
But I didn't feel that I found very much of how we (broadly) perceive the Cthulhu mythos nowadays.
Did I miss something obvious, did the collection not include important works (maybe works from Lovecraft under different name) or ist that just how it is, the "whole thing" worked out by later artists, like August Derleth?
"The Elder Gods are a later creation of writers such as August Derleth, who is credited with formalising the Cthulhu Mythos."
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu_Mythos_deities

Yeshe:
Good article, looking forward to the one about the Cryptonomicon.

One question, though, for Devan and any other Lovecraft fans who might help me out here.
The thing is, I really like Lovecraft and the Cthulhu mythos. Great stories, information in Wikis around the web and all such.
But somehow I did only read single stories from Lovecraft here and there when they crossed my path.
Until recently when I bought a "complete Lovecraft works" as ebook and binged through all of it, much of it read before, to learn more about the original source.
And I have to say, I didn't find too much about the thing the "Cthulhu mythos" is nowadays in the original works...
Yes, the origins are there, the main traits that make up the idea of Lovecraftian Horror, the roleplaying game and so on.
But I didn't feel that I found very much of how we (broadly) perceive the Cthulhu mythos nowadays.
Did I miss something obvious, did the collection not include important works (maybe works from Lovecraft under different name) or ist that just how it is, the "whole thing" worked out by later artists, like August Derleth?
"The Elder Gods are a later creation of writers such as August Derleth, who is credited with formalising the Cthulhu Mythos."
en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cthulhu_Mythos_deities

Hello!

I'm no expert, but from what I've read, it is the combined efforts born from Lovecraft's encouragement- a lot inspiration from his contemporaries and peers, like Robert Chambers, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith, Frank Belknap Long, Algernon Blackwood, Robert E. Howard, and continued by writers inspired after them, like Robert Bloch, Stephen King, and many, many others.

Basically, Lovecraft encouraged other writers to adopt his themes, and inspired them (I'm aware that Lovecraft was not in communication with some of the writers I have listed- they were just contemporaries).

Newage:
You messed up your link for Stephen King on the second page.

Aside from that, I quite enjoy this series of articles. I've never read anything from Lovecraft, but I kinda like the style and the ideas, I might try to explore the Cthulu Mythos a bit more.

The original works have aged okay, but one thing I will warn you about is that Lovecraft is not a great writer, he's mostly famous for his ideas. His stuff is relatively easy to find and I believe a good amount of it is actually public domain despite it being re-printed with some regularity. As a general rule I recommend starting with his stuff and anything you can find by Robert E. Howard within the subject (the guy who wrote Conan who also wrote within Lovecraft's mythology). Most of the big name authors today mostly just drop a few references here and there for people who "get it", for example in "Needful Things" there is one brief moment where someone is sent to recover an old car for the story's main villain, and he feels things are getting surreal where he picks it up and spots graffiti saying "Yog Sothoth" rules and then dismisses it since it's probably "some Jamaican rapper with 20 pounds of filthy dreadlocks" and then drives off with nothing else on the subject mentioned.

An extreme horror writer does a really great Lovecraft satire (of sorts), his name is Edward Lee and he's written things like "A Dunwich Romance", "Pages Torn From A Travel Journal", "Lucifer's Lottery", "Trolley No. 1852", and "Innswich Horror". In a couple of them he's basically doing a (usually gross) porno parody, in a couple of them H.P. Lovecraft is actually the protagonist and he does a pretty good imitation of Lovecraft's occasionally eye rolling writing style (having read his stuff makes this even funnier). I believe this is the case with both "Pages Torn From a Travel Journal" (it's HP Lovecraft's journal) and "Innswich" which details events on which he based one of his stories if I remember. He acts as a guide to hell of a sort ala Virgil in "Lucifer's Lottery". I find this stuff greatly entertaining but it's very "adult" and make sure you have a strong gag reflex.

The various Cthulhu RPG supplements also have a lot of good information even if you don't play the game, and earlier printings can be very cheap. That said Chaosium's stuff and material from "The Unspeakable Oath" tends to be better than the versions like "Trail Of Cthulhu".

There are also a few versions of "The Necronomicon" novelty books purporting to be "Exact translations of the legendary text". I mentioned the Donald Tyson version earlier, but there are others. That said this is mostly cool to read if you already have a foundation in the material on which it's based, much like Edward Lee's stuff which is best appreciated (even the non-humorous stuff) by a fan.

the December King:

I'm no expert, but from what I've read, it is the combined efforts born from Lovecraft's encouragement- a lot inspiration from his contemporaries and peers, like ...

Thanks for confirming my impression ^_^

In this way Cthulhu was safe from his enemies but through his dreams could contact and seduce mortals with his mind, ultimately leading them to find a way to restore Ry'leth from the sea, and then when the stars are right allow him to open the gates to call his own masters back to our plane.

So in order to prevent Ry'leth from being raised and Cthulhu waking up and killing all the humans, we just need to kill all the humans. Got it.

kris40k:

In this way Cthulhu was safe from his enemies but through his dreams could contact and seduce mortals with his mind, ultimately leading them to find a way to restore Ry'leth from the sea, and then when the stars are right allow him to open the gates to call his own masters back to our plane.

So in order to prevent Ry'leth from being raised and Cthulhu waking up and killing all the humans, we just need to kill all the humans. Got it.

There's a good argument, one I explored on my website, that Cthulhu is actually Lovecraft's interpretation of Jesus and Christianity.

Lovecraft, after all, was a big atheist with a perverse sense of humor.

* It's worshiped by all ethnicities, social classes, and peoples.
* It's older than the modern world.
* It's apocalyptic.
* It's cultists actually WANT the end of the world to happen.
* And it's debatable whether any of their rites actually do anything.

In the original story's case, Cthulhu is going to rise no matter what and the cultists are just venerating him. It's later adaptations that make Cthulhu summoned like a Pokemon with the right magical words.

Cthulhu in the original works arises when the stars are right and there's nothing mankind can do about that.

Yeshe:
But somehow I did only read single stories from Lovecraft here and there when they crossed my path.
Until recently when I bought a "complete Lovecraft works" as ebook and binged through all of it, much of it read before, to learn more about the original source.
And I have to say, I didn't find too much about the thing the "Cthulhu mythos" is nowadays in the original works...
Yes, the origins are there, the main traits that make up the idea of Lovecraftian Horror, the roleplaying game and so on.
But I didn't feel that I found very much of how we (broadly) perceive the Cthulhu mythos nowadays.
Did I miss something obvious, did the collection not include important works (maybe works from Lovecraft under different name) or ist that just how it is, the "whole thing" worked out by later artists, like August Derleth?

No, you didn't miss anything. One of the things I find most interesting about the whole "Cthulhu mythos" thing is how little it actually has to do with Lovecraft's work. Most of the best known parts were actually invented later by other people, usually based around vague hints at larger things that intentionally never went anywhere. Even the idea of a single coherent mythos was never there. Despite all the arguments you get these days about the exact status and relationships between the various cosmic beings, Lovecraft himself didn't even try to keep any continuity or coherency between stories until the very end of his career.

Of course, the lack of a single consistent canon and the variety of additions and interpretations by others is entirely in keeping with the general themes of madness and the inability of humans to actually understand it all. I think that makes it work a lot better than it would with most other constructed universes in which there is an expectation of consistency. With something like Star Wars, you can't get away with writing a load of nonsense that disagrees with everything that's come before because the universe is supposed to work a certain way and a lack of consistency screws things up; hence all the arguments about what should be considered canon. But with the Cthulhu mythos, any disagreements can simply be explained away as unreliable narrators, insanity, and the impossibility of understanding what the hell is going on. Far from being an ass-pull, that explanation is actually more in keeping with the setting than consistency would be.

That said, I do always find it amusing just how much prominence Cthulhu is given. Not only do the later and longer novels that give more details on the universe not actually say much about him at all, but in his first appearance he was accidentally run over and killed by a small boat. All the fuss about Cthulhu one day rising seems a bit silly when he already did rise and was put straight back to sleep without anyone actually noticing.

One small nitpick would be that Lovecraft never considered any of his "Gods" to be evil, he rather considered them so powerful compared to humanity that even the brightest humans could never comprehend their morality, motivations or desires. Cthulhu driving people mad was not due to maliciousness or some inherent evil, it was simply a side effect of his immense power compared to humans. If Cthulhu was to wake up and destroy humanity it would not be out of spite or malice, at least no more than a human who destroys an ant colony in his yard.

It was August Derleth, self-appointed keeper of (and inventor of both the name and the unified theory) Cthulhu Mythos that would eventually classify Cthulhu as evil when he was creating the dichotomy of good and evil Gods in the Mythos (Elder Gods and Ancient Ones, respectively). Derleth was arguably going against Lovecraft's intentions when he classifed Cthulhu as evil, which is why many "purists" disregards any lore changes made by Derleth, especially those regarding classification of the Gods of the mythos.

Kahani:

That said, I do always find it amusing just how much prominence Cthulhu is given. Not only do the later and longer novels that give more details on the universe not actually say much about him at all, but in his first appearance he was accidentally run over and killed by a small boat. All the fuss about Cthulhu one day rising seems a bit silly when he already did rise and was put straight back to sleep without anyone actually noticing.

I don't think killed is the right word, rather he went back to sleep. Whatever it was because he suffered serious trauma, didn't have enough energy or some other reason compelled him is not made clear in the novel, only that he isn't dead and will one day rise again.

kris40k:

In this way Cthulhu was safe from his enemies but through his dreams could contact and seduce mortals with his mind, ultimately leading them to find a way to restore Ry'leth from the sea, and then when the stars are right allow him to open the gates to call his own masters back to our plane.

So in order to prevent Ry'leth from being raised and Cthulhu waking up and killing all the humans, we just need to kill all the humans. Got it.

Sounds like the end of Mass Effect 3 ;)

Seriously, though, I'm enjoying the articles. I also agree with the previous poster regarding Derleth's assigning of human morality to the Old Ones. In Lovecraft's hand's humanity was simply irrelevant and beneath notice.

 

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