The Cthulhu Thing

The Cthulhu Mythos wasn’t the first invented/literary mythology (HPL himself made no secret of his debt to Lord Dunsany) nor the last but, unless you count less theological “universe” franchises like Star Trek and corporate comic book worlds, it’s been the most widely adopted. The HPL/Cthulhu cult is vast and old; I have been a member since high school. New Cthulhu Mythos anthologies come out every few months (plus fewer novels and non-fiction works) as well as a steady stream of adaptations, homages and rip-offs in every imaginable medium from tattoos to television. Strangely, I’ve seen almost no attempt to answer the obvious question, “Why?”

Speaking strictly for my own – admittedly mostly atypical self – I think the Mythos satisfies an odd need to be actively involved in the creation of my own religion. My earliest exposure to HPL and his cult was largely, in fact, in church. When I was in Jr. high school, my parents compelled me to suffer through Sunday services with them. My entry to Lovecraftism was via Harry O. Morris’ magnificent cthulhuzine, “Nyctalops,” and I still remember quite clearly excusing myself from the sermon to “go to the bathroom,” where I devoured a long article summarizing several Mythos tales (and, shortly thereafter, the tales themselves).

Around the same tyme, I got deeply involved with a silly science fiction fan hoax religion called “Herbangelism,” based on the idea that the universe was created by Herbie Popnecker, the rotund child protagonist of the long extinct, fabulously obscure “Herbie” comic book. Later, I was swept up into the Church of the SubGenius (Google it), a huge and elaborate invented religion peopled by a lot of artists, creative misfits and oddballs with an incredible sense of humour. (There have been four SubGenius books in regular bookstores, as well as several Sub radio shows and a vast library of “underground” tapes and videos.) The C of S actively encourages members to add their own myths and heresies to the sprawling canon, which includes a superior, pre-human origin for true SubGenii, an immanent doomsday, an underlying philosophy (based around the quest for “slack” and the unknowing “Conspiracy” that maintains the mundane status quo) which actually has some real-world validity and more.

The ancient Gnostic cults, I was very impressed to learn, encouraged their members to create their own gospels, believing that we all have a direct link to the divine and there was a “higher” truth to even a completely made-up account of the Messiah. (That’s a very, very rough summary of gnosticism, but close enough to accurate, I think.) The Gnostics are long gone, but appealed and made sense to me on a very profound level.

The appeal of Lovecraft’s work is self-evident (to those of us it DOES appeal to); that of the Mythos is less so. (Why, for instance, is octopus-headed Cthulhu Himself so popular? In comparison, we see or hear almost nothing about the likes of Nyarlathotep or Shub-Niggurath.) The earliest Mythos stories by Lovecraft’s friends and disciples were pastiches/homages, but, in recent decades, a vast number of other writers have revisited or extended the mythology in their own personal styles and a variety of genres.

My theory is that the endurance and spread of the Mythos is based on two things:
1) HPL unknowingly tapped into some primal archetype that a certain subset of the species relates to one the same primal level that official religions and perhaps iconic characters like Dracula and Sherlock Holmes resonate on. Some of his writing hits closer to the bone than others: the image of Cthulhu Himself, for some reason, is particularly profound as is the general idea of the Ancient Ones, sleeping or trapped in the space between spaces until their return when the Stars Are Right. Other concepts – Dreamland and the meeping ghouls, say – much less so.
2) A certain type of personality is attracted to that gnostic concept. There’s a related impulse to participate in a shared mythology (as in the vast bodies of “Star Trek,” “Xena” et.al. fanfic) which the better &/or professional writers largely stay away from, except for money. The difference with the Mythos, I’d argue, is its (pseudo) religious context. Where writing further adventures of Luke Skywalker might seem like imitation rather than imagination to a creative personality, expanding a tradition of gods of demons allows a writer to tap into that part of the subconscious where religious impulses dwell and is, therefore, a more deep and meaningful version of the sincerest form of flattery.

Or so goes my theory.

I love HPL & the Mythos, and am deeply frustrated by the absence of anyone in my life to discuss such things with. I’d love to hear from any fellow cultists.
Tainic Tainic
51-55, M
1 Response Dec 15, 2012

You have at least one potential soulmate in Your's Truly — I'm a staunch skeptic, while also being a Discordian pope, a Mythos-influenced sci-fi-writer, a closet Gnostic and a connoisseur of all manner of eldritch mysteries (like evolutionary roots of religion, Jungian archetypes, Philip K. Dickean thought-games on the fragile nature of reality, eschatological traditions and philosophies everywhere, everytime).

You are not alone in your "atypical" hobbies. Iä!