Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Cthulhu fhtagn!?

I've recently had a chance to fill in a huge, yawning gap in my geek cred.  Up until this past month, I'd never actually read any H. P. Lovecraft.

I've always known the tropes... In the 1980s, I practically memorized the "Cthulhu Mythos" section of the original D&D Deities & Demigods book.  I got the joke about "Uhluhtc" (oo-loo-tec) in the original Heavy Metal movie.  Heck, I own the game Call of Cthulhu, and I even consulted on a supplement for CoC back in the 1990s!

Artist: Erol Otus.  I'm trying to illustrate this post without any tentacles.

So shame on me for taking this long, for sure.  What spurred me to start reading wasn't Lovecraft himself, but rather a short story from 2014 by Ruthanna Emrys called "The Litany of Earth."  (Online in full here.)  It's powerful and very well-written.  I resist saying too much more about it because I'd like people to read it without preconceptions, as I did.  Suffice to say that it provides a new perspective on the Lovecraftian world that genuinely surprised and charmed me.

This story also got me to seek out more information about cosmicism, a (sorta kinda) real-world attempt to broaden Lovecraft's ideas into a coherent and satisfying belief system.  Despite its stereotypical veneer of bleakness and existential nihilism, there seems to be some raw material for a more positive and optimistic path; see here, for example.  I was already familiar with Kenneth Grant's mind-bending attempts to do something vaguely similar, but it was nice to see a few more modern, less occultish, perspectives on it all.

Virgil Finlay

However, the rub:

Nearly all of the ideas that fascinated me -- both from Emrys' story and from the cosmicistical writings I found on the web -- were extrapolations from Lovecraft... not really taken directly from what he says on the page.  His stories are powerful and interesting -- and I do intend on reading more of them to complete my education.  But after reading a handful, I'm learning that Lovecraft's well-known reputation for bleakness and terror is well justified.

I'm hoping to find some small kernels of hope in the remaining HPL stories in my queue.  I might give Derleth a try, too.  But I'm starting to suspect that Lovecraft may be a bit like another early 20th century thinker who ushered in some scary new ideas: Aleister Crowley.  Both kind of serve as anti-prophets -- i.e., conveyers of wild thoughts that spurred on others in unique ways, but who ought not to be "followed" too slavishly or literally.  That way lies, well, the mountains of madness.

Back to Erol Otus


  1. Andrew Leon, over at StrangePegs has been reading and reviewing a lot of Lovecraft's books recently. I've never read any of his work but I am fascinated that he is suddenly in vogue.

    1. Thanks for the pointer... I'll check that out. I have seen more Lovecraftian marketing (T-shirts, plush toys, etc) in the air lately. Maybe it's time for his 15 minutes of fame?