If the Cthulhu Mythos sounds like something out of a horror novel, it is. It can even lay claim to being it’s own genre within horror literature. The mythos are much like folklore except they are fictional myths written of a vast universe where alien races reside. These myths were built layer upon layer from the works of many different authors over the years but they originated from the writings of H. P. Lovecraft.
Lovecraft was a pulp-fiction writer and now legendary author in the early half of the 20th century. Historically, his works were published in a category called weird fiction. Similar writings today might be called slipstream fiction for combining horror, science fiction, and fantasy in one package. For decades, Lovecraft was shunned by the literary critics and scholars but his works have since been redeemed as valuable and are currently being studied in some academic settings.
As a writer of weird fiction, Lovecraft told of cosmic beings beyond the imagination of mortal man. Man was an insignificant speck of dust in his own universe. It’s this theme plus many other common threads that lead to the Cthulhu Mythos. The Great Old Ones, the town of Arkham, Miskatonic University, Azathoth, and Shoggoths are all names or terms that began with Lovecraft. The Necronomicon (a fictional book of magic containing the history of the old ones, among other things) deserves special mention. Many people believed it to be real, unaware that the original title belonged to an author of weird fiction. This imaginary book has taken on a life of its own outside of The Cthulhu Mythos.
Lovecraft often used imaginary settings in New England and writers who followed in his footsteps borrowed the names, places, people, traditions, and cults from these imaginary settings. They also borrowed from the alien races, concepts and themes found in his tales. The entirety of these borrowings make up the Cthulhu Mythos. Different people have differing criteria for what belongs in the Mythos and what doesn’t. There will always be debate found on the issue. Because of the controversy, a reader should decide for himself whether a work belongs or doesn’t belong.
Lovecraft never used the term Cthulhu Mythos although the name came from his short story “The Call of the Cthulhu”. What he did as a prolific letter writer (what would now be called a social networker) was encourage a group of friends and fellow authors to share elements of his stories in their own writing. The original group is termed The Lovecraft Circle. This tradition of sharing the elements of his tales continued after his death when a friend, August Derleth, wrote a number of stories based on bits and pieces of Lovecraft’s leftover work. Derleth coined the term Cthulhu Mythos. He was also largely responsible for keeping H.P. Lovecraft’s name alive by starting his own publishing company to print and share Lovecraft’s work.
There are many fans of H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. They seem to belong to a cult of their own but the mythos are ever expanding into mainstream popular culture. They have slipped into role-playing games, card games, dice games, computer games, comics, books, celebrity quotes, t-shirts, toys, music, and movies. The most famous of the alien beings are slimy, tentacled, and possibly dormant beneath the sea. Personally I believe Lovecraft to be the dormant founder of the Church of the Flying Spaghetti Monster but the cult members will never admit to it.
There are many writings and books describing and cataloging the Cthulhu Mythos. I find it fascinating to find a universe, however disjointed and out of synch it may be, inspiring such a wide variety of authors and culture. I hope you enjoy finding out more on the Cthulhu Mythos and will visit the forum to share your finds.
The best reference book I can find for the Mythos is The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia which fans and writers seem to appreciate. It details names and terms used in the mythos although it doesn’t catalog all the books written. I have it on my Amazon wish list since I am fascinated by Lovecraftian lore. Maybe soon we’ll see The Cthulhu Mythos for Dummies on bookshelves everywhere.
If you want to share in the fun of The Cthulhu Mythos, CafePress has a Miskatonic University Parking Permit to stick on your car. I bought one for myself to show my school spirit.
Miskatonic University Parking Pass