Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.
No, it’s not just gibberish. Well, maybe it kind of is. It translates to “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” and is straight from the H.P Lovecraft story “The Call of Cthulhu”. Lovecraft, if you don’t know, was a prolific horror and science fiction writer during the early 1900’s, best known for kickstarting the sub-genre of cosmic horror.
Some seriously scary stuff.
In these stories he highlights mankind’s futility in the grand scheme of the universe, painting humans as insignificant to the horror all around them and just below the surface. Not just the literal surface but of our consciousness as well. The revelation of which induces madness in those unfortunate enough to learn the truth. Themes such as madness, insanity and human frailty all reoccur in many of his tales. And none are more popular than the Cthulhu Mythos.
What would become known as the Cthulhu Mythos began in one of the very first Lovecraft stories; Dagon. Written in 1917, but not published until 1919. In it the protagonist is retelling his encounter of a nightmarish event that occurred during his service during World War I. Adrift in the Pacific, his lifeboat becomes stranded on an area of land that should not be there. A massive “slimy expanse of hellish black mire”. Covered in the decaying remains of marine life, it appears that it is literally the bottom of the ocean raised to the surface.
Terror from the deep.
This would become a staple in future stories from him, and also for the writers who would contribute to the Mythos in the future. Another foundation is the concept of ancient and cosmic creatures here on Earth. Not only pre-dating humanity, but of the Earth itself.
Terror from beyond.
Old gods, almost beyond description, who lurk in the shadows waiting for their time to return. Often with cults of willing adherents to carry out their will. The narrator makes it safely off the island, but the island may not be done with him.
The next entry into the Mythos wouldn’t be published until 1928 and would introduce it’s namesake. The Call of Cthulhu. Here Cthulhu is revealed through nightmares and mass hysteria throughout the world, foreshadowing his return. Cults also reappear, worshipping the old “god” and await his imminent return. He is described as a cross between an octopus and a dragon. Mammoth in size. In the story, it is revealed through events that disappearances at a specific set of coordinates relate to statues of Cthulhu being worshipped around the globe.
Enter the great city of R’lyeh. A massive “nightmare corpse-city” of strange and ethereal construction. Structures like monoliths and “non-Euclidean geometry” would also reappear later. Adding to the Mythos’ cohesion.
Cthulhu is still around today. A truly terrifying and fascinating creature, that stands up there with the best of the horror genre. Still inspiring stories directly and indirectly.
Although certainly the most famous out of the many “old ones”, others would be introduced in future stories.
The Dunwich Horror, which was published in 1929, is the next addition and a truly horrifying one at that. It is a dark and twisted take on immaculate conception. Another of the old ones, Yog-Sothoth, breeds with a mortal and the results are predictably disgusting. This tale would bring more elements to the forefront, such as the Necronomicon and Arkham, Massachusetts. Arkham is a fictional town and is home to Miskatonic University, also fictional. More staples in Lovecraft’s expanding lore.
In The Whisperer in Darkness, more alien beings are added, namely the Mi-Go. More benevolent than others, these extraterrestrial beings are capable of interstellar flight, and have allowed some humans to travel with them. However the method in which humans may traverse the stars is where the horror in this tale lies. At the Mountains of Madness, one of Lovecraft’s most popular stories, talks of beings known as Elder Gods who came to the Earth well before man was here. The unwitting explorers of ancient ruins discovered in Antarctica, learn of the war between them and the mighty Cthulhu.
The isolated sea town of Innsmouth is the location of the next horrifying story; The Shadow Over Innsmouth. There live townsfolk who appear to be “slightly off” as far as physical appearance. The deeper the story goes however, the weirder it gets. Deep Ones, those who live under the sea, have infested the town and the populace is forced to sacrifice for them. And also to breed with them, producing the abominations seen earlier.
The fluidity of time and space and sanity would be central themes to The Shadow Out of Time. In it, beings from long ago attempting to escape their worlds destruction, travel through time and space “swapping” with other races. Trading places essentially. More of Earth’s past is learned, and the countless others who have inhabited it before Man evolved.
The final story from Lovecraft in this mythology is The Haunter of the Dark. The Church of Starry Wisdom summons the dreaded Haunter, avatar of Nyarlathotep to spread chaos over the Earth. Yuggoth, Atlantis, Egypt…this story has it all.
It would be Lovecraft’s last, passing away the very next year in 1936.
The Mythos would live on past him, other authors would brave his cosmic sandbox such as August Derleth. In fact August was the person responsible for coining the term “Cthulhu Mythos” and preserving much of Lovecraft’s work. Although semi popular while alive, his work wouldn’t become as widely loved till long after his death.
The work of H.P Lovecraft can be enjoyed all year round, but with Halloween around the corner, I cant think of a better time to delve into his many stories. There are even a few apps for iOS and Android with his entire collection loaded up for free.
So check them out, but tread wearily. And maybe leave the lights on.