Cthulhu is perhaps the best-known figure from the stories of H.P. Lovecraft. Indeed his friend August Derleth even used the name to refer to the world and stories collectively, calling them the “Cthulhu Mythos” a term which is now widely used by fans of Lovecraft’s fiction. According to the story “The Call of Cthulhu”, it lies dead but dreaming somewhere deep beneath the waters of the Pacific in the sunken corpse-city of R’lyeh, and is both high priest and cousin to the Great Old Ones. Though dead, as the couplet says “That is not dead which may dreaming lie, and with strange aeons even death may die” and so Cthulhu waits in his/its sunken city for the stars to be right, at which point it will rise again, bringing terror and madness to all of mankind.
Weirdly, I was having trouble coming up with a subject for my letter C post, until the obvious hit me. Its particularly strange given that a plush representation of Great Cthulhu is sitting on a shelf above my head even now. Cthulhu has become not only the most prominent symbol of and mascot for the works of H.P. Lovecraft but also an icon for fans of speculative and fantastic fiction in general and its darker, weirder more cosmic forms in particular. Indeed he/it has taken on the status of nearly a general counter-culture eidolon, being used in all manner of cultural satire such as the “Campus Crusade for Cthulhu” and various “Cthulhu for president” websites and merchandise, skewering religious evangelism and political foolishness respectively. Straight-up Cthulhu humor is also not uncommon, particularly involving Cthulhu transposed into various cute Japanese products and series such as “Hello Cthulhu” based on “Hello Kitty” or a Southpark episode featuring a Cthulhu based takeoff on “My Neighbor Totoro.”
Though I don’t know if it was consciously intended by Lovecraft or not, Cthulhu’s nature and circumstances echoes what seems to be a near-universal cultural theme of some sort of primordial and/or apocalyptic being residing beneath the sea who either will rise at the End of the World or who was present before it’s making. Other examples include Tiamat, the Kraken, the Beast of Revelations and the Midgard Serpent. Some have also identified Cthulhu with “the Bloop”, an unidentified sound detected by hydrophones in the late 90s and matching the profile of a sound from a living creature, yet many times louder than even the sounds of a blue whale. However, although located in the Pacific, the sight of the Bloop sound is some distance away from the probable location of R’lyeh as described in “The Call of Cthulhu.”
Cthulhu stands (or perhaps lumbers) as one of the great mythic figures of weird fiction and a memorable creation of the imagination of one of the greatest creative minds in literary history. It is both disturbing and bleakly comforting to imagine Great Cthulhu dreaming in R’lyeh, sending out telepathic visions of madness and wonder to all those who are receptive.
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