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A Brief Background of the Cthulhu Mythos

This article was written by Llewellyn
posted under Alhazred

Those of you who may have heard the term Cthulhu Mythos (also simply shortened to Mythos) prior to reading this, I tip my hat to you. As Lovecraft’s influence and inspiration grows, I would expect more people to have a germ of this knowledge, whether this term be read in print or overheard in passing conversation. This term has been in use for the past few decades among the fans and devotees of Lovecraft, and is slowly trickling out into the mainstream.

The Cthulhu Mythos, as I define it for purposes of this book (this definition has also been utilized by other authors in the genre with a very similar meaning and intent), is a moniker used to label any medium that owes its origin to Lovecraft’s writings. This term also applies to any medium that expands that same realm of lore. This book, for example, is considered part of the Mythos, as it is rooted in describing Lovecraft’s monstrous creations, and helps to contribute and expand upon the understanding of and information about Lovecraft’s fictional worlds. While Cthulhu himself may not be present in any of the stories, tales, movies, or other entertainment media, the name is recognizable as being Lovecraft’s in origin. (Lovecraft himself once classified his literary creations with the terms Yog-Sothothery, playing on the word sorcery and on Yog-Sothoth, a fiendish deity described in this primer. Cthulhu, it seems, is more widely held as recognizable, but all these terms are a mouthful to pronounce . . .)

In addition to creating the Dreamlands, a whole world of fantasy and possibilities, Lovecraft also crafted a section of New England, populating the area with towns and people touched by aspects and beings of the Cthulhu Mythos. The most famous town Lovecraft created is Arkham, Massachusetts, said to be just north of Boston. Here, on the banks of the Miskatonic River, lies the famous institution of higher learning, Miskatonic University. Kept in the vaults of the college library is the dreaded and despised Necronomicon, penned by the mad poet/author Abdul Alhazred. (Note the recurring theme of insanity.) Lying outside the city of Arkham are the village of Dunwich and the seaport city of Innsmouth. These two places are home to some of the most memorable monsters in Lovecraft’s litany: the Dunwich Horror and the amphibious deep ones.

Lovecraft himself traded and collaborated on stories with his friends, colleagues, and peers, and this tradition has been carried on through the resulting decades. Because Lovecraft himself did not utilize a complete mythology, only creating a few select pieces of information to further advance the plot of his stories, the Mythos as a whole is (pardon my wordplay) full of holes. Hence, with so many gaps in the lore, writers have created their own additions to the Mythos, shining a proverbial light into the otherwise darkened corners of the Lovecraftian universe.

One of the most intriguing aspects of illuminating this additional cosmology is that this mode mirrors, in many cases, Lovecraft’s own narrative structure: the narrator has bits and pieces of a larger puzzle, and only by learning to connect the pieces does the overall history emerge (often to the horror or doom of the narrator and reader).

The puzzle analogy is very accurate when describing the Mythos. Lovecraft began crafting the puzzle by working on a few well-tooled pieces—i.e., his stories. Other writers incorporated these pieces (stories) into their understanding of the overall puzzle (the Mythos as a whole). Just what this puzzle is supposed to look like is conjecture. Lovecraft’s stories have a basic theme: monsters are here and some of them go away, but sometimes they come back with horrific results (usually when uninvited and no one else is around to help, which compounds the terror). Other writers have attempted to structure and codify the Mythos, arranging the Lovecraftian gods into opposing teams. Some of the teams serve on the side of humanity, while the rest would like to serve humanity as a side dish.

While Lovecraft originally thought of his creations as solely causing despair and madness, with humanity having very few allies, this tag-team philosophy only adds to the overall puzzle that is the Mythos. Since the puzzle is not defined, humans by nature attempt to define the indefinable simply to be able to fathom the mystery. Sometimes the successful comprehension becomes too much to bear, and then the idiom “ignorance is bliss” takes on a deeper level of meaning. Perhaps it would be better to understand the Mythos as a work in progress. More is being added; some is fact, some is theory, but the reader is left to cull and glean the scattered tidbits and determine for oneself what fits.

Have I mentioned that I am certifiably not insane?

While many readers of Lovecraft and the related Mythos contributors form a unified and rational structure to the puzzle of the Mythos itself, to others this may not be the case. Some lone readers may justify select puzzle pieces of the Mythos as being axiomatic, as the disparate pieces become a cohesive whole in the Mythos’ order or structure, which is not readily apparent to most. Sometimes, this solitary person may see or even solve the puzzle of the ill-defined Mythos in such a manner that no one else can understand, and as a result write an idiosyncratic story that contributes to the Mythos. The majority of readers, while seemingly rational, may dismiss this “lone story” as being irrational, illogical, or even insane. Woe to that lone writer who is mocked for having a unique and seemingly contrary view of the Mythos, for that person may find himself fighting an uphill struggle to convince other readers of his own validity as a member of the Mythos culture. To those who attempt to solve the Mythos in their own unique manner, read this primer and remember that sanity is not the province of the majority. A solitary sane person can exist in a society teeming with the insane. And not all solutions have to be sane.

From The Lovecraft Necronomicon Primer, by T. Allan Bilstad.


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