This post originally appeared in the November issue of Sanitarium Magazine
There are a lot of reasons that Lovecraft is such a beloved author (thankfully, none of them have to do with the racism). But the thing that has done the most for me is the mythology that he constructed.
This was as ground-breaking as anything else that Lovecraft did, you have to understand. The mentoring and encouragement that he provided was certainly the biggest overall contribution that Lovecraft made, at least to horror: Pretty much every big name in the field today is, in a literary sense, his child or grandchild.
But for direct contributions? The Mythos stands head and shoulders above any other thing that he did. Lord Dunsany’s The Gods of Pegana was the first outright constructed mythology in fiction, but Lovecraft’s was the very first that was set in our world, intended to be taken as authentic.
Today, then, I want to talk about ways that we can work with this mythology of Lovecraft’s and, by turning it over this way and that-a-ways, pulling on one thing and then another, we can create something new.
Because yeah, Cthulhu’s great and all, but Lovecraft didn’t stop reinterpreting his beasties (for that matter, many began as reinterpretations) and neither should we. It’s mistaking the veneer of Lovecraft’s work for the substance, and if you ask me that’s the chief reason that we have some Lovecraft fatigue going on.
These can be used for more than Mythos stories, too. Lovecraft’s mythology is one that you can play off of for your own purposes as easily as werewolves or zombies. You can take Nyarlathotep or the Deep Ones as inspiration for something that totally divorced from their source material, both its content and its themes.
As always, feel free to use these as you wish.
In Practice: Five Takes on Cthulhu
Thool: This one began mostly as a whim, working on a kind of Mythos that drew on birds more than sea creatures and deciding to envision Cthulhu as an eater of the dead. From there I went to the Christian sacrament (“this is my body, take and eat”) and, looking at The Rats in the Walls, decided that Thool was worshiped as a “true image” of God by the inner circle at Exham Priory during its time as a monastery.
They’re going to have some freaky rites, I tell you.
I added an albatross vibe (from Rime of the Ancient Mariner) pretty soon after that: Thool and its servants are not something that you mess with, because bad things happen to those that hurt its servants. Sure, you killed its inhuman messenger but now the town you thought to save is going to slide into a permanent economic depression.
Huitzilopochtli: In Lovecraft’s The Mound we find Cthulhu (Tulu) and Yig closely associated with each other. As we know from The Curse of Yig that Yig was worshiped as Quetzalcoatl, it begs the question if Cthulhu was similarly represented. I chose to represent Cthulhu as Huitzilopochtli for two reasons: (1) he is mentioned in the story The Transition of Juan Romero; and (2) while there is no enmity between snakes and hummingbirds specifically, as a class birds and snakes don’t generally get along.
From Juan Romero we see that Huitzilpochtli is presaged by storms and a throbbing in the ground.
If I made a collection of Bird-centric Mythos stories, I suppose this mask would go just fine following after a story about Thool.
Ku-Tu-Ru: AKA The Bear That Eats Men Alive. I came up with this one by focusing on the “sleeping until present conditions change” bit. So Cthulhu’s a big freaking bear now. Just, game over man. We’re done.
The Ainu are the best-known bear worshipers, so we’ll set Ku-Tu as the original focus of this practice. Sacrifices are made to prolong his hibernation by giving him nourishment. Ku-Tu-Ru will actually wake up whenever, not just when the stars are right, so long as he gets hungry enough. It may not be optimal for him but it’ll be even more non-optimal for us.
The Red King: Cthulhu is asleep, right? Well why not take a cue from Through the Looking Glass: “Why, you’re only a sort of thing in his dream! If that there King was to wake, you’d go out— bang!— just like a candle!”
So Cthulhu is the Red King, either named so by a student of the classics or by Lewis Carrol himself (it is not very hard to suppose that Carrol used Alice’s adventures to encode Secrets Man Was Not Meant to Know). His dreams create the world, or at least the world as we know it, and should Cthulhu awaken he will do so to either an emptiness or a filled world, but one totally unlike the one which we now inhabit, as if we were but a dream-veil draped across the surface of the real world. Obviously, we don’t want him to awaken.
Because of the shared color and monarch motifs, he may be linked to and/or oppose the King in Yellow.
Kith Tar Lu: Cthulhu as worshiped by the cult at Irem, the first city. Kith Tar Lu is probably my most radical reinterpretation of Cthulhu. In the faux scholarly paper that I wrote for Irem, clues were placed to suggest that Kith Tar Lu, as a locust countless mouths and wings, actually predated the image of Cthulhu as an octopus deity.
From the unstoppable and numberless locust swarms we find justification for an eventual (and genuinely factual) association with the hydra with its multiplying heads, and later the hydra becomes associated by the Cthulhu cults with the octopus, another water creature whose many limbs supply another point of similarity with the hydra. Cthulhu as we know him today may have lost his locust origins entirely (unless the wings are some kind of relic) but strong traces of the hydra remain in his dragon-like body.
At Irem, Kith Tar Lu was described with the formulaic “azen, halapatu, niganu” (loosely, “destructive, to be destroyed, & that which is forbidden because of disease”). References to Kith Tar Lu survived into Babylonian times, and he may have provided been the origin for the god Marduk.