Cthulhu: The true history of the cosmic entity

By Jeff Ayers — / Death Wish Coffee Blog

STAR SPAWN AND ELDER ONE

This horrifying creature from the deep has terrorized the imaginations of many since its creation in 1928. The origins of Cthulhu are rooted firmly in the mind of H.P. Lovecraft and permeate his extensive body of work.

Lovecraft had a disturbing dream in 1919 and wrote about in two letters to his friend Rheinhart Kleiner in 1920. In his dream, Lovecraft is trying to sell a sculpture he made to a museum of antiquity. The curator argues with Lovecraft asking how he could try to sell something new to a place that values antiques. 

"Why do you say this thing is new? The dreams of men are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx, or garden-girdled Babylon, and this was fashioned in my dreams." Lovecraft remembers saying in his dream.

Pretty deep and meta, but I suspect the dreams of H.P. Lovecraft were pretty interesting to say the least, considering what he was able to create in his lifetime.

Lovecraft likely drew on many different literary inspirations to create Cthulhu. Alfred Tennyson's 1830 sonnet "The Kraken" and William-Scott Elliot's 1896 "The Story of Atlantis" were both probable influences on the author.

The short story "The Call of Cthulhu" was first published in Weird Tales in 1928, and not only gave birth to the creature but also the shared fictional universe that would make its way into many stories by Lovecraft, later referred to as the Cthulhu Mythos.

Cthulhu rising from a stormy sea

In that original short story, the narrator tells the tale of his great uncle who possessed a strange sculpture that depicted a creature with characteristics of an octopus, a dragon, and a human. The story then uncovers the origins of the Great Old Ones, which Cthulhu is a part of, and the cult that still worships them. 

The cult continuously chants "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" throughout the story which means "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

The story concludes with the narrator learning of a cursed voyage of sailors that actually encountered the lost city of R'lyeh and unwittingly awoke the creature. The first description of Cthulhu compares it to a mountain that walks and the sailors go on to say,

"It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway. ... The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years, Great Cthulhu was loose again and ravening for delight."

This idea of a great cosmic being that when awakened will wreak havoc upon the world, sometimes even ruling the world, is not a new idea. Yet H.P. Lovecraft took this theme and added far more mythos and history to the tale, weaving the Great Old Ones and Cthulhu itself throughout a lot of his work.

Others have taken up the cause to continue the legacy of the Cthulhu Mythos in literature, most notably author and Arkham House Publishing founder August Derleth.

Cthulhu has continued to spark the imagination of people all over the world, and the creature has been featured many times in comic books, horror anthologies, movies, TV Shows, video games, and even music - most notably Metallica's song "The Call of Ktulu" from the album Ride the Lightning.

H.P. Lovecraft was a master of horror and the macabre and proved once again with his story The Call of Cthulhu. He cites his fictional creation the Necronomicon in the story as well asperfectly summing up the true meaning behind Cthulhu itself: "That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”

Check out the recent Sunday Science mini-episode of our podcast: The Science of Sea Monsters!

 

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