Cthulhu Mythos Explained – By Michael Barnett
Origins of Cthulhu
Cthulhu is probably the most recognized name within the works of H.P. Lovecraft. He is considered to be one of the Great Old Ones. He is very important to the greater mythos. His name has been used to describe the set of gods created by H.P. Lovecraft. The stories of these gods are known as The Cthulhu Mythos by many scholars and readers.
Cthulhu first appeared in the short story by H.P. Lovecraft entitled “The Call Of Cthulhu”. In “The Call Of Cthulhu”, a man attempts to decipher a chain of events which led to the death of his uncle. He searchs for these answers through his uncle’s notes and also by questioning some of the people who saw his uncle in his last days. What this man uncovers becomes the basis of future writings by Lovecraft. Cthulhu has also been incorporated into the stories of many other writers in the years leading up to and after Lovecraft’s death in 1937.
Madness and Cthulhu
The mere sight of Cthulhu is enough to drive a man completely mad. For this reason, many of the witnesses can be considered insane by authorities. The testimony of the insane is not good for the weighing of evidence. So, many of these witnesses are regarded as mad and their evidence considered tainted. This gives Cthulhu the ability to show himself occasionally without being discovered by the bulk of humanity.
Often, the discovering of Cthulhu takes place in locations far out to sea, usually in the southern hemisphere and the Pacific Ocean. In “The Call Of Cthulhu” the narrator finds the documentation of a witness to Cthulhu. This man had the misfortune of veering off course at sea. Floating through the Pacific Ocean, he comes upon a land with a massive stone monolith. The ship’s crew inspects the monolith. The material appears to be from some other planet, as it is not native to Earth. Awakening Cthulhu, three of the sailors are eaten by him. The last two survivors return to their ship attempting to make for Auckland, New Zealand. But, Cthulhu gives chase. They turn the ship on Cthulhu and hit him full force. Cthulhu explodes into an ooze when hit. The sailors make their escape but one dies on the journey and the other goes mad.
Cthulhu is presumably the sea-creature discovered in the story ‘Dagon’. In ‘Dagon’ a man finds himself lost at sea in the Pacific Ocean, below the equator. He falls asleep as his ship is adrift and makes landfall during his slumber. He awakens in what is described as a hellish black mire (swampy or boggy ground). He travels toward a large mound in the distance. On the opposing side of this mound he finds a massive monolith across a body of water. The monolith is very similar in detail to the one in “The Call Of Cthulhu”. The sailor attempts a closer inspection of the monolith. As he nears the water, he sees what appears to be Cthulhu.
Nyarlathotep had many different forms. However, Cthulhu seems to be often seen in only one form. He is massive, described as the size of the cyclops Polyphemus. He has scaly arms and legs. His hands and feet are webbed. His head is tentacled, as if an octopus is perched upon his neck. The scaly body has wings protruding from its backside. This combination of features make it so that he can be described as an octopus, a dragon, or a humanoid, depending on the conditions and mindset of the viewer. He drives his beholders mad, so it is hard to discern the actual appearance of Cthulhu.
The City of R’lyeh
Cthulhu is believed to be imprisoned beneath the sunken city of R’lyeh. R’lyeh is beneath the southern Pacific Ocean. The city has occasionally risen to the surface. During these times it is able to be witnessed by humans. It is described in much better detail in ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ than in ‘Dagon’. ‘Dagon’ speaks only of a land mass which is swampy with a mountainous area to its western side. Near this mountain lies a deep black void, filled with water, in which Cthulhu resides. In ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’ there is also a massive stone monolith protruding from the surface. But, there are walkways and architecture which make no sense to the human mind. The geometry is described as abnormal and beyond the understanding of humanity. The ill-fated sailors of “The Call Of Cthulhu” make the mistake of releasing Cthulhu from his imprisonment beneath R’lyeh. After a short period, Cthulhu is believed to have returned to his imprisonment and slumber. Whenever witnesses of R’lyeh attempt to describe its location they are considered mad and told that there is no such thing in that part of the Pacific Ocean. Therefore, it retains its mystery and hidden location.
Cthulhu is not only an important character in these two stories of ‘Dagon’ and ‘The Call Of Cthulhu’. He has since been featured in more of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. He has also been adopted for use by many who followed in Lovecraft’s footsteps. Many writers have since used Cthulhu as the main god of the so called Cthulhu Mythos. The Cthulhu Mythos to this day plays an important role in alternative culture. He is featured in videogames, movies, and music by artists all across the globe.
Recommended further reading:
– “The Call Of Cthulhu” by H.P. Lovecraft
– “Dagon” by H.P. Lovecraft
– “The Mask Of Cthulhu” by August Derleth
– “The King In Yellow” by Robert W. Chambers
– “Heritage Of Horror” by Robert Bloch