In the second article on the works of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft, this one is going to focus on what is called the “Cthulhu Mythos.” Right away, most people are familiar with the name Cthulhu and the vague image of an octopus-headed, dragon-bodied, winged alien demon entity. But there is much more to the Cthulhu Mythos than just one monster, and that extends to numerous other entities to the more subtle themes Lovecraft sought to convey.
First off, it is important to point out where the horror of the Cthulhu Mythos stems from. After all, at this point Cthulhu is just as popular as Dracula, so how could a giant alien creature be scary to modern audiences? That would be because the horror did not necessarily stem from the monsters themselves: most of the creatures featured in Lovecraft’s work is almost indescribable, with strange and almost random combinations of animal features. Rather, the true horror is that such creatures can exist, and if they did, they would not conform to human laws or sensibilities.
As Lovecraft said himself,
“Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form-and the local human passions and conditions and standards-are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes.”
Basically, Lovecraft was of the belief that if alien life did exist elsewhere in the universe, then it would only make sense for it to be extremely different from humans because they would have originated and evolved in an environment very different from Earth. Not only that, but notions such as good and evil, and the motives behind such notions, would be totally inapplicable to these aliens because of how different they are. In many stories, just encountering, seeing, or coming to the realization that such entities even exist is enough to drive the characters insane, as is summarized in The Call of Cthulhu:
“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.”
This concept can best be exemplified in the story The Colour Out of Space, as a strange meteor lands near a rural farm. Unlike a normal meteor, scientists all describe it as being different colors while it eventually shrinks and disappears. The meteor then causes strange and horrifying effects to both plants, animals and people before it (intelligently) seems to rise out of the farm’s well and fly into space. While this story focuses on a meteor rather than an entity, it simplifies Lovecraft’s attitude towards space in that anything from a creature to a meteor could exist that would not follow the laws of science established on Earth.
Then there is the recurring themes of how these entities are worshiped by cults around the world. There is a secret, worldwide cult of isolated peoples (such as a group of Eskimos in Greenland and a “mix-blooded” group in the swamps of Louisiana) that worships Cthulhu, there is an apparent group of foreigners that has dealings with the Great Race of Yith, there is a group of people in Tibet who have encountered the Mi-Go, etc. Often times the entities are worshiped as gods by occultists and isolated tribes, then are revealed to be not gods, but rather alien beings who may have nefarious plans for humanity, or not even care about the Earth at all.
Cthulhu needs little description due to his popularity, but just to recap he is an alien entity that is currently sleeping in the underwater city of R’lyeh, located somewhere in the Pacific Ocean. He is able to communicate with his followers through dreams, and the worldwide cult tries to summon him in order to rule the world, while killing those who have stumbled upon the cult’s activities.
Don’t fail to see Nyarlathotep if he comes to Providence. He is horrible- horrible beyond anything you can imagine- but wonderful. He haunts one for hours afterward. I am still shuddering at what he showed.
The rulers of this massive pantheon of entities are Azathoth and Yog-Sothoth. Azathoth, or the “blind idiot god,” is suggested to be the ruler of the universe, yet is currently asleep (similar to Cthulhu) and kept in that state by the playing of a flute. This flute is played by Nyarlathotep, and it is implied that one day Nyarlathotep will one day attempt to destroy the world, either on his own or by ceasing the music that keeps Azathoth asleep. Yog-Sothoth on the other hand is described as knowing all and being very powerful, yet being “outside” of the universe. He is encountered by Randolph Carter when investigating other realms of consciousness, so it is possible that by “outside” it means that Yog-Sothoth is located in the subconscious realm rather than the conscious one.
These are just a few of the many races described by H.P. Lovecraft, as the many alien entities were later expanded upon and detailed by other writers such as August Derleth. In fact, Lovecraft encouraged other writers in the pulp fiction community to share ideas and build on each other, so that many authors contributed to the Cthulhu Mythos, including his friend and author of Conan the Barbarian Robert E. Howard who wrote such stories as The Thing on the Roof.
Like the ancient book the Necronomicon, ancient cities containing long-lost and horrible knowledge are a staple of many of Lovecraft’s stories. In The Nameless City, an explorer finds a city left exposed by the shifting dunes somewhere in the Arabian desert that belonged to an ancient race. In The Shadow Out of Time, the underground ruins of a massive Yith city are uncovered in the Australian desert. In At the Mountains of Madness, a group of explorers find an ancient city of the Elder Things located in Antarctica. And in The Call of Cthulhu, the ancient city of R’lyeh is summoned by cults and risen by tectonic shifting, then accidentally uncovered by the crew of a ship.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.”
If you enjoyed this article but haven’t seen the first part relating to Lovecraft’s Dream Cycle, click here to give it a read. If you enjoyed this article, then follow for more Halloween-themed articles. And as always, thanks for reading.