A sketch of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft in 1934.
|First appearance||"The Call of Cthulhu" (1928)|
|Created by||H. P. Lovecraft|
||This article's lead section may not adequately summarize key points of its contents. (May 2013)|
Cthulhu is a fictional cosmic entity who first appeared in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu", published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. The character was created by writer H. P. Lovecraft.
Spelling and pronunciation
Lovecraft transcribed the pronunciation of Cthulhu as "Kthûl'hu" (IPA: [ˈχɬʊl.ɬuː] ?). S. T. Joshi points out, however, that Lovecraft gave several differing pronunciations on different occasions. According to Lovecraft, this is merely the closest that the human vocal apparatus can come to reproducing the syllables of an alien language. Long after Lovecraft's death, the pronunciation // kə-thoo-lu became common, and the role-playing game Call of Cthulhu endorsed it.
In "The Call of Cthulhu", H. P. Lovecraft describes Cthulhu as "A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind." Cthulhu has been described as a mix between a giant human, an octopus, and a dragon, and is depicted as being hundreds of meters tall, with human-looking arms and legs and a pair of rudimentary wings on its back. Cthulhu's head is depicted as similar to the entirety of a giant octopus, with an unknown number of tentacles surrounding its supposed mouth. Cthulhu is described as being able to change the shape of its body at will, extending and retracting limbs and tentacles as it sees fit.
H. P. Lovecraft's initial short story, "The Call of Cthulhu", was published in Weird Tales in 1928 and established the character as a malevolent entity hibernating within an underwater city in the South Pacific called R'lyeh. The imprisoned Cthulhu is apparently the source of constant anxiety for mankind at a subconscious level, and also the subject of worship by a number of human religions (located several places worldwide, including New Zealand, Greenland, Louisiana, and the Chinese mountains) and other Lovecraftian monsters (called Deep Ones and Mi-Go). The short story asserts the premise that, while currently trapped, Cthulhu will eventually return. His worshippers chant "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" ("In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.")
Lovecraft conceived a detailed genealogy for Cthulhu (published as "Letter 617" in Selected Letters) and made the character a central figure in corresponding literature. The short story "The Dunwich Horror" (1928) refers to Cthulhu, while "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1930) hints that one of his characters knows the creature's origins ("I learned whence Cthulhu first came, and why half the great temporary stars of history had flared forth."). The 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness refers to the "star-spawn of Cthulhu", who warred with another race called the Elder Things before the dawn of man.
August Derleth, a correspondent of Lovecraft, used the creature's name to identify the system of lore employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors: the Cthulhu Mythos. In 1937, Derleth wrote the short story "The Return of Hastur", and proposed two groups of opposed cosmic entities:
... the Old or Ancient Ones, the Elder Gods, of cosmic good, and those of cosmic evil, bearing many names, and themselves of different groups, as if associated with the elements and yet transcending them: for there are the Water Beings, hidden in the depths; those of Air that are the primal lurkers beyond time; those of Earth, horrible animate survivors of distant eons.
According to Derleth's scheme, "Great Cthulhu is one of the Water Beings" and was engaged in an age-old arch-rivalry with a designated Air elemental, Hastur the Unspeakable, described as Cthulhu's "half-brother". Based on this framework, Derleth wrote a series of short stories published in Weird Tales 1944–1952 and collected as The Trail of Cthulhu, depicting the struggle of a Dr. Laban Shrewsbury and his associates against Cthulhu and his minions.
Derleth's interpretations have been criticized by Lovecraft enthusiast Michel Houellebecq. Houellebecq's H P Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (2005) decries Derleth for attempting to reshape Lovecraft's strictly amoral continuity into a stereotypical conflict between forces of objective good and evil.
The character's influence also extended into recreational literature: games company TSR included an entire chapter on the Cthulhu mythos (including statistics for the character) in the first printing of Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook Deities & Demigods (1980). TSR, however, were unaware that Arkham House, who asserted copyright on almost all Lovecraft literature, had already licensed the Cthulhu property to the game company Chaosium. Although Chaosium stipulated that TSR could continue to use the material if each future edition featured a published credit to Chaosium, TSR refused and the material was removed from all subsequent editions.
Two microorganisms that assist in the digestion of wood by termites have been named after Cthulhu and Cthulhu's "daughter" Cthylla: Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque, respectively.
- The u is similar to that in full; with the first syllable not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness (H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters V, pp. 10 – 11.). According to Lovecraft, this is the closest that the human vocals can come to reproducing the syllables of an alien language ("Cthul-Who?: How Do You Pronounce 'Cthulhu'?", Crypt of Cthulhu #9). It has been noted, however, that Lovecraft provided several different pronunciations,(S. T. Joshi, note 9 to "The Call of Cthulhu", The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories) with many variations in spelling also existing (Harms, "Cthulhu," "PanChulhu," The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana, p. 64.).
- Lovecraft said that "the first syllable [of Kthûl'-hloo is] pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike ktul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness." H. P. Lovecraft, Selected Letters V, pp. 10 – 11.
- S. T. Joshi, note 9 to "The Call of Cthulhu", The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories
- "Cthul-Who?: How Do You Pronounce 'Cthulhu'?", Crypt of Cthulhu #9
- Lovecraft, H.P. "The Call of Cthulhu". Wikisource. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- Lovecraft, H. P. "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". Wikisource. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- Lovecraft, H.P. "The Whisperer in Darkness". Wikisource. Retrieved 5 June 2012.
- Lovecraft, H. P. (1967). Selected Letters of H. P. Lovecraft IV (1932–1934). Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House. "Letter 617". ISBN 0-87054-035-1.
- Angell, George Gammell (1982). "Cthulhu Elsewhere in Lovecraft". In [Robert M.]. Crypt of Cthulhu #9 2 (1). ISSN 1077-8179.
- Lovecraft, H.P. "The Whisperer in Darkness". Wikisource. Retrieved 6 June 2012.
- Lovecraft, At the Mountains of Madness, in At the Mountains of Madness, p. 66.
- August Derleth, "The Return of Hastur", The Hastur Cycle, Robert M. Price, ed., p. 256.
- Derleth, "The Return of Hastur", pp. 256, 266.
- Bloch, Robert, "Heritage of Horror", The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre.
- "Deities & Demigods, Legends & Lore". The Acaeum. Retrieved 2010-05-10.
- Hormiga, G. (1994). "A revision and cladistic analysis of the spider family Pimoidae (Araneoidea: Araneae)". Smithsonian Contributions to Zoology 549. pp. 1–104.
- James, Erick R.; Okamoto, Noriko; Burki, Fabien; Scheffrahn, Rudolf H.; Keeling, Patrick J. (2013-03-18). "Cthulhu Macrofasciculumque n. g., n. sp. and Cthylla Microfasciculumque n. g., n. sp., a Newly Identified Lineage of Parabasalian Termite Symbionts". In Badger, Jonathan H. PLoS ONE 8 (3): e58509. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0058509. PMC 3601090. PMID 23526991.
- Bloch, Robert (1982). "Heritage of Horror". The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (1st ed.). Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-35080-4.
- Burleson, Donald R. (1983). H. P. Lovecraft, A Critical Study. Westport, CT / London, England: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23255-5.
- Burnett, Cathy (1996). Spectrum No. 3:The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. Nevada City, CA, 95959 USA: Underwood Books. ISBN 1-887424-10-5.
- Harms, Daniel (1998). "Cthulhu". The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. pp. 64 – 7. ISBN 1568821190.
- "Idh-yaa", p. 148. Ibid.
- "Star-spawn of Cthulhu", pp. 283 – 4. Ibid.
- Joshi, S. T.; David E. Schultz (2001). An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313315787.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) . "The Call of Cthulhu". In S. T. Joshi. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. London, UK; New York, NY: Penguin Books. Archived from the original on November 26, 2009.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1968). Selected Letters II. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0870540297.
- Lovecraft, Howard P. (1976). Selected Letters V. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 087054036X.
- Marsh, Philip. R'lyehian as a Toy Language – on psycholinguistics. Lehigh Acres, FL 33970-0085 USA: Philip Marsh.
- Mosig, Yozan Dirk W. (1997). Mosig at Last: A Psychologist Looks at H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. ISBN 0940884909.
- Pearsall, Anthony B. (2005). The Lovecraft Lexicon (1st ed.). Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Pub. ISBN 1561841293.
- "Other Lovecraftian Products", The H.P. Lovecraft Archive
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