Cthulhu Mythos

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A sketch of Cthulhu drawn by Lovecraft, May 11, 1934 Cthulhu3.jpg
A sketch of Cthulhu drawn by Lovecraft, May 11, 1934

The Cthulhu Mythos is a mythopoeia and a shared fictional universe, originating in the works of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The term was coined by August Derleth, a contemporary correspondent and protégé of Lovecraft, to identify the settings, tropes, and lore that were employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors. The name "Cthulhu" derives from the central creature in Lovecraft's seminal short story "The Call of Cthulhu", first published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. [1]


Richard L. Tierney, a writer who also wrote Mythos tales, later applied the term "Derleth Mythos" to distinguish Lovecraft's works from Derleth's later stories, which modify key tenets of the Mythos. [2] [3] Authors of Lovecraftian horror in particular frequently use elements of the Cthulhu Mythos. [4] :viii–ix


H. P. Lovecraft, the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos H. P. Lovecraft in DeLand Florida, June 1934.png
H. P. Lovecraft, the creator of the Cthulhu Mythos

In his essay "H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos", Robert M. Price described two stages in the development of the Cthulhu Mythos. Price called the first stage the "Cthulhu Mythos proper". This stage was formulated during Lovecraft's lifetime and was subject to his guidance. The second stage was guided by August Derleth who, in addition to publishing Lovecraft's stories after his death, attempted to categorize and expand the Mythos. [5] :8 [6] :5

First stage

An ongoing theme in Lovecraft's work is the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that apparently exist in the universe. Lovecraft made frequent references to the "Great Old Ones", a loose pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth and have since fallen into a deathlike sleep. [4] :viii While these monstrous deities were present in almost all of Lovecraft's published work (his second short story "Dagon", published in 1919, is considered the start of the Mythos), the first story to really expand the pantheon of Great Old Ones and its themes is "The Call of Cthulhu", which was published in 1928.

Lovecraft broke with other pulp writers of the time by having his main characters' minds deteriorate when afforded a glimpse of what exists outside their perceived reality. He emphasized the point by stating in the opening sentence of the story that "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents." [7]

Writer Dirk W. Mosig noted that Lovecraft was a "mechanistic materialist" who embraced the philosophy of cosmic indifferentism and believed in a purposeless, mechanical, and uncaring universe. Human beings, with their limited faculties, can never fully understand this universe, and the cognitive dissonance caused by this revelation leads to insanity, in his view. [8] [9]

There have been attempts at categorizing this fictional group of beings. Phillip A. Schreffler argues that by carefully scrutinizing Lovecraft's writings, a workable framework emerges that outlines the entire "pantheon"from the unreachable "Outer Ones" (e.g., Azathoth, who occupies the centre of the universe) and "Great Old Ones" (e.g., Cthulhu, imprisoned on Earth in the sunken city of R'lyeh) to the lesser castes (the lowly slave shoggoths and the Mi-Go). [10]

David E. Schultz said Lovecraft never meant to create a canonical Mythos but rather intended his imaginary pantheon to serve merely as a background element. [11] :46,54 Lovecraft himself humorously referred to his Mythos as "Yog Sothothery" (Dirk W. Mosig coincidentally suggested the term Yog-Sothoth Cycle of Myth be substituted for Cthulhu Mythos). [12] [13] At times, Lovecraft even had to remind his readers that his Mythos creations were entirely fictional. [9] :33–34

The view that there was no rigid structure is expounded upon by S. T. Joshi, who said

"Lovecraft's imaginary cosmogony was never a static system but rather a sort of aesthetic construct that remained ever adaptable to its creator's developing personality and altering interests…. There was never a rigid system that might be posthumously appropriated.…. The essence of the mythos lies not in a pantheon of imaginary deities nor in a cobwebby collection of forgotten tomes, but rather in a certain convincing cosmic attitude." [14]

Price said Lovecraft's writings could at least be divided into categories and identified three distinct themes: the "Dunsanian" (written in a similar style as Lord Dunsany), "Arkham" (occurring in Lovecraft's fictionalized New England setting), and "Cthulhu" (the cosmic tales) cycles. [6] :9 Writer Will Murray noted that while Lovecraft often used his fictional pantheon in the stories he ghostwrote for other authors, he reserved Arkham and its environs exclusively for those tales he wrote under his own name. [15]

Although the Mythos was not formalized or acknowledged between them, Lovecraft did correspond and share story elements with other contemporary writers including Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long, Henry Kuttner, Henry S. Whitehead, and Fritz Leiber a group referred to as the "Lovecraft Circle." [16] [ page needed ] [17] [ page needed ]

For example, Robert E. Howard's character Friedrich Von Junzt reads Lovecraft's Necronomicon in the short story "The Children of the Night" (1931), and in turn Lovecraft mentions Howard's Unaussprechlichen Kulten in the stories "Out of the Aeons" (1935) and "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936). [6] :6–7 Many of Howard's original unedited Conan stories also involve parts of the Cthulhu Mythos. [18]

Second stage

Price denotes the second stage's commencement with August Derleth, with the principal difference between Lovecraft and Derleth being Derleth's use of hope and development of the idea that the Cthulhu Mythos essentially represented a struggle between good and evil. [5] :9 Derleth is credited with creating the "Elder Gods". He stated:

As Lovecraft conceived the deities or forces of his mythos, there were, initially, the Elder Gods…. These Elder Gods were benign deities, representing the forces of good, and existed peacefully…very rarely stirring forth to intervene in the unceasing struggle between the powers of evil and the races of Earth. These powers of evil were variously known as the Great Old Ones or the Ancient Ones.... [19]

Price said the basis for Derleth's system is found in Lovecraft: "Was Derleth's use of the rubric 'Elder Gods' so alien to Lovecraft's in At the Mountains of Madness? Perhaps not. In fact, this very story, along with some hints from "The Shadow over Innsmouth", provides the key to the origin of the 'Derleth Mythos'. For in At the Mountains of Madness is shown the history of a conflict between interstellar races, first among them the Elder Ones and the Cthulhu-spawn. [20]

Derleth said Lovecraft wished for other authors to actively write about the Mythos as opposed to it being a discrete plot device within Lovecraft's own stories. [11] :46–47 Derleth expanded the boundaries of the Mythos by including any passing reference to another author's story elements by Lovecraft as part of the genre. Just as Lovecraft made passing reference to Clark Ashton Smith's Book of Eibon , Derleth in turn added Smith's Ubbo-Sathla to the Mythos. [6] :9–10

Derleth also attempted to connect the deities of the Mythos to the four elements (air, earth, fire, and water), creating new beings representative of certain elements in order to legitimize his system of classification. He created "Cthugha" as a sort of fire elemental when a fan, Francis Towner Laney, complained that he had neglected to include the element in his schema. Laney, the editor of The Acolyte , had categorized the Mythos in an essay that first appeared in the Winter 1942 issue of the magazine.

Impressed by the glossary, Derleth asked Laney to rewrite it for publication in the Arkham House collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943). [21] Laney's essay ("The Cthulhu Mythos") was later republished in Crypt of Cthulhu #32 (1985). In applying the elemental theory to beings that function on a cosmic scale (e.g., Yog-Sothoth) some authors created a fifth element that they termed aethyr.[ citation needed ]

Derleth's elemental classifications
Zhar and Lloigor*
Mother Hydra
* Deity created by Derleth

Fictional cults

A number of fictional cults appear in the Cthulhu Mythos, the loosely connected series of horror stories written by Lovecraft and other writers inspired by his creations. Many of these cults serve the Outer God Nyarlathotep, the Crawling Chaos, a protean creature that appears in myriad guises. Other cults are dedicated to the cause of the Great Old Ones, a group of powerful alien beings currently imprisoned or otherwise resting in a deathlike sleep.[ citation needed ]

See also

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">August Derleth</span> American writer

August William Derleth was an American writer and anthologist. Though best remembered as the first book publisher of the writings of H. P. Lovecraft, and for his own contributions to the Cthulhu Mythos and the cosmic horror genre, as well as his founding of the publisher Arkham House, Derleth was a leading American regional writer of his day, as well as prolific in several other genres, including historical fiction, poetry, detective fiction, science fiction, and biography.

<i>Necronomicon</i> Fictional grimoire in stories by H. P. Lovecraft

The Necronomicon, also referred to as the Book of the Dead, or under a purported original Arabic title of Kitab al-Azif, is a fictional grimoire appearing in stories by the horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and his followers. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1924 short story "The Hound", written in 1922, though its purported author, the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in Lovecraft's "The Nameless City". Among other things, the work contains an account of the Old Ones, their history, and the means for summoning them.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Cthulhu</span> Fictional cosmic entity

Cthulhu is a fictional cosmic entity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was first introduced in his short story "The Call of Cthulhu", published by the American pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities, this creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references. Lovecraft depicts it as a gigantic entity worshipped by cultists, in the shape of a green octopus, dragon, and a caricature of human form. The Lovecraft-inspired universe, the Cthulhu Mythos, where it exists with its fellow entities, is named after it.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Shub-Niggurath</span> Fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos

Shub-Niggurath is a fictional deity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft. She is often associated with the phrase "The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young". The only other name by which Lovecraft referred to her was "Lord of the Wood" in his story The Whisperer in Darkness.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Nyarlathotep</span> Fictional Lovecraftian god

Nyarlathotep is a fictional character created by H. P. Lovecraft. The character is a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos, a shared universe. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem "Nyarlathotep", he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers. Later writers describe him as one of the Outer Gods, an alien pantheon.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Arkham</span> Fictional city in H.P. Lovecrafts works

Arkham is a fictional city situated in Massachusetts. An integral part of the Lovecraft Country setting created by H. P. Lovecraft, Arkham is featured in many of his stories and those of other Cthulhu Mythos writers.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Azathoth</span> Fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos

Azathoth is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of writer H. P. Lovecraft and other authors. He is the ruler of the Outer Gods, and may be seen as a symbol for primordial chaos.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hastur</span> Fictional character

Hastur is an entity of the Cthulhu Mythos.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">The Haunter of the Dark</span> Horror short story by H. P. Lovecraft

"The Haunter of the Dark" is a horror short story by American author H. P. Lovecraft, written between 5–9 November 1935 and published in the December 1936 edition of Weird Tales. It was the last written of the author's known works, and is part of the Cthulhu Mythos. The epigraph to the story is the second stanza of Lovecraft's 1917 poem "Nemesis".

Unaussprechlichen Kulten is a fictional book of arcane literature in the Cthulhu Mythos. The book first appeared in Robert E. Howard's 1931 short stories "The Children of the Night" and "The Black Stone" as Nameless Cults. Like the Necronomicon, it was later mentioned in several stories by H. P. Lovecraft.

The Xothic legend cycle is a series of short stories by American writer Lin Carter that are based on the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft, primarily on Lovecraft's stories "The Call of Cthulhu" and "Out of the Aeons".

A Cthulhu Mythos anthology is a type of short story collection that contains stories written in, or related to, the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror fiction launched by H. P. Lovecraft. Such anthologies have helped to define and popularize the genre.

Necronomicon Press is an American small press publishing house specializing in fiction, poetry and literary criticism relating to the horror and fantasy genres. It is run by Marc A. Michaud.

Richard Louis Tierney was an American writer, poet and scholar of H. P. Lovecraft, probably best known for his heroic fantasy, including his series co-authored of Red Sonja novels, featuring cover art by Boris Vallejo. He lived the latter part of his life in Mason City in the great Corn Steppes of Iowa. Some of his standalone novels utilize the mythology of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. He is also known for his Simon of Gitta series and his Robert E. Howard completions and utilisation of such Howard-invented characters as Cormac Mac Art, Bran Mak Morn and Cormac Fitzgeoffrey.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Dirk W. Mosig</span>

Yōzan Dirk W. Mosig is a psychologist, historian, literary critic and ordained Zen monk noted for his critical work on H. P. Lovecraft. He was born in Germany and lived for several years in Argentina before emigrating to the United States. He received his Ph.D at the University of Florida in 1974.

Crypt of Cthulhu is an American fanzine devoted to the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. It was published as part of the Esoteric Order of Dagon amateur press association for a short time, and was formally established in 1981 by Robert M. Price, who edited it throughout its subsequent run.

American author H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) created a number of fictional deities throughout the course of his literary career. These entities are usually depicted as immensely powerful and utterly indifferent to humans who can barely begin to comprehend them, though some entities are worshipped by humans. These deities include the "Great Old Ones" and extraterrestrials, such as the "Elder Things", with sporadic references to other miscellaneous deities. The "Elder Gods" are a later creation of other prolific writers who expanded on Lovecraft's concepts, such as August Derleth, who was credited with formalizing the Cthulhu Mythos. Most of these deities were Lovecraft's original creations, but he also adapted words or concepts from earlier writers such as Ambrose Bierce, and later writers in turn used Lovecraft's concepts and expanded his fictional universe.

Bibliography of science fiction, fantasy, and nonfiction writer Lin Carter:

This is a list of fictional creatures from the Cthulhu mythos of American writer H. P. Lovecraft and his collaborators.


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  13. "Yog-Sothothery". Timpratt.org. Retrieved November 28, 2012.
  14. Joshi, S.T. (1995). Miscellaneous Writings (1st ed.). Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. pp. 165–166. ISBN   978-0870541681.
  15. Van Hise, James (1999). The Fantastic Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Yucca Valley, CA: James Van Hise. pp. 105–107.[ ISBN missing ]
  16. Joshi, S.T. (1980). H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press. ISBN   978-0821405772.
  17. Schweitzer, Darrell (1996). Discovering Classic Fantasy Fiction: Essays on the Antecedents of Fantastic Literature. Gillette, NJ: Wildside Press. ISBN   978-1587150043.
  18. Howard, Robert E.; Schultz, Mark (2003). The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (1st ed.). New York: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. p.  436. ISBN   0345461517.
  19. Derleth, August (1997). The Cthulhu Mythos. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. vii. ISBN   0760702535.
  20. Price, Robert M. (June 23, 1982). "The Lovecraft-Derleth Connection". Crypt of Cthulhu. No. 6. pp. 3–8. ISSN   1077-8179. Archived from the original on February 17, 2013.
  21. Price, Robert M. (June 23, 1985). "Editorial Shards". Crypt of Cthulhu. No. 32. p. 2. ISSN   1077-8179.

Further reading