Today as apart of 2017's 'Month of Horror' we're looking at a being comprised solely of evil. In February 1928 in the pulp magazine Weird Tales a short story by a little known author called H.P. Lovecraft. In The Call of Cthulhu the world was introduced to a cosmic entity described as resembling a hybrid of an octopus, dragon, and human. Sleeping for centuries the anxiety which humans have is due to a general collective fear of when he wakes again; Lovecraft himself suffered from anxiety so this may be a way for him to cope with it. Out of all the entities to come from Lovecraft's mind Cthulhu has become the most famous inspiring or appearing in a whole range of media. Today we'll look at the being who to look upon causes insanity.
The Call of Cthulhu
We first shall look at the story which brought Cthulhu into the world. The Call of Cthulhu is told through a series of manuscripts of the recently deceased Francis Wayland Thurston, recounting the notes of his grand-uncle Professor George Gammell Angell. Angell had been killed in the winter of 1926-7 after being assaulted by a mysterious man. While looking through the notes of his grand-uncle Thurston discovers a clay, bas-relief of a crouching humanoid with an octopus head and wings of a dragon. Thurston discovers that a student at the Rode Island School of Design named Henry Anthony Wilcox, a student who had been experiencing horrific nightmares and deliriums. In these deliriums two words constantly crop up: Cthulhu and R'lyeh. Pouring through Angell's notes Thurston discovers that Wilcox's deliriums coincided with worldwide deliriums. People as far apart as London, Haiti, India, South America; a mob of 'hysterical Levantines' attacked the police and a mysterious Theosophist cult in California adopt white robs awaiting a 'glorious fulfillment.'
Looking through his grand-uncle's notes Thurston discovers that Angell had found the word Cthulhu almost twenty years prior. At a meeting of the American Archaeological Society in 1908 a police officer from New Orleans, John Raymond Legrasse, had wanted a bas-relief identified. A year prior he had raided a 'supposed voodoo meeting' in search of several women and children who had vanished from a squatter community. The cultists had been chanting 'Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'yleh wgah'nagl fhtagn.' Interrogating the cultists he found out about the cult:
They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men, and who came to the young world out of the sky. Those Old Ones were gone now, inside the earth and under the sea; but their dead bodies had told their secrets in dreams to the first men, who formed a cult which had never died [...] hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R'lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.
The phrase when translated meant: In his house at R'yleh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming. The leader of the cultists, Castro, leads the inspector to a passage in the insidious book the Necronomicon which reads: That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die. One of the archaeologists, William Channing Webb, declared that in 1860 he too had seen the cult, but in Greenland. After reading this Thurston decides to investigate the Cthulhu cult himself.
By chance he discovered an article in the Sydney Bulletin from April 18 1925. It detailed the story of Norwegian sailor Gustaf Johansen, the second-mate on the schooner Emma, which had been attacked by a yacht named the Alert. After killing the crew of the Alert they discover an uncharted island in the area of 47° 9' S, 126° 43' W. However, the entire crew bar Johansen is slaughtered. Thurston travels to Australia with a hunch which is confirmed when he sees what was recovered from the Alert: a Cthulhu statuette. Travelling to Oslo to speak with Johansen he finds out that the sailor had been murdered by two mysterious sailors, however, his widow hands him a manuscript written by Johansen. Reading the manuscript he learns of what the crew discovered on the island. The island itself was 'abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours.' Exploring a cavern they discover something horrific: Cthulhu has woken. Johansen is left virtually insane upon seeing the being and says that 'The Thing cannot be described.' He does attempt to do so saying it is 'the green sticky spawn of the stars' with 'flabby claws' and an 'awful squid-head with writhing feelers,' with it being the size of 'a mountain.' Only Johansen and one other shipmate manages to not immediately sent insane as Cthulhu sets off after them. On the yacht Johansen crashed the Alert into Cthulhu's head which starts reforming.
Thurston ends his manuscript commenting that humanity has been briefly spared by Johansen. The beast will slumber some more as its head reforms giving humanity some time to breathe. However, he knows his time as come. Cthulhu in its 'Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.' waiting to return and 'I know too much, and the cult still lives.' Like so many others the cult will be coming after him, and eventually Cthulhu will reawaken.
|A sketch of Cthulhu by Lovecraft|
The being known as Cthulhu was born eons ago. Before humans, before civilization, perhaps even before the Earth itself. Chtulhu was born on the distant planet Vhoorl descending from Yog-Sothoth, one of the cosmic entities known as the Outer Gods. Instead of being an Outer God Cthulhu is really a Great Old One (or perhaps a cousin of them), one of the malignant beings who once ruled over the Earth and were worshiped long before humans evolved. Cthulhu arrived on the Earth centuries ago, long before humans appeared, building a great city called R'yleh on the now lost continent of Mu. Here he was worshiped by various ancient races, quite possibly by the Mi-go from the planet Yuggoth. A great war erupted between the ancient beings and entities over the Earth which resulted in the Earth being divided between them. Eventually Mu was sunken and R'yleh vanished. Cthulhu went to sleep waiting to return but in the meantime his legacy would create a cult readying the world for his eventual return. Meanwhile, humanity would subconsciously fear his return. Our depressions, our anxieties, our unexplained anger are all because of Cthulhu. Humanity collectively fears Cthulhu waking up again.
|A depiction of Yog-Sothoth|
|A fan version of the Necronomicon|
There is a book named the Necronomicon, or as it was originally called the Kitab al Azif. Written in the eighth-century by Abdul Alhazred, 'The Mad Arab,' (Lovecraft was very racist) it details the horrors of time immemorial. Although the book doesn't actually exist you can get fan versions and some collections of Lovecraft's stories are collected under the title 'The Necronomicon.' Among the information contained in the Necronomicon includes how to summon Yog-Sothoth, information on the ancient beings who once inhabited Antarctica, and even a passage how to resurrect the dead. The chant of the Cthulhu Cult is written in the Necronomicon: That is not dead which can eternal lie.'
And with strange aeons even death may die.
Thank you for reading. For future blog posts please see our Facebook page or follow me on Twitter @LewisTwiby. Also, those interested in history, classics and archaeology will be interested in the Retrospect Journal. This is the journal for the University of Edinburgh's History, Classics and Archaeology department which I am very privileged to be one of the editors for it. If you're interested in History, Classics and Archaeology, (or even writing for it), feel free to check it out. Thanks and next week will be the last week of 2017's Month of Horror.