|Cthulhu Mythos character|
A sketch of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft in 1934
|First appearance||"The Call of Cthulhu" (1928)|
|Created by||H. P. Lovecraft|
|Species||Great Old One|
|Title||High Priest of the Great Old Ones
The Great Dreamer
The Sleeper of R'lyeh
Cthulhu (// kə-THOO-loo; for variant pronunciations, see below) is a cosmic entity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft and first introduced in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu", published in the American pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities, the creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references. Lovecraft depicts Cthulhu as a gigantic entity worshipped by cultists. Cthulhu's appearance is described as looking like an octopus, a dragon and a caricature of human form. Its name was given to the Lovecraft-inspired universe where it and its fellow entities existed, the Cthulhu Mythos.
Etymology, spelling and pronunciation
Though invented by Lovecraft in 1928, the name Cthulhu is probably derived from the Classic Greek word chthonic meaning "subterranean", as apparently suggested by Lovecraft himself at the end of his 1923 tale The Rats in the Walls.
Lovecraft transcribed the pronunciation of Cthulhu as Khlûl′-hloo and said that "the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness." (An approximate IPA transcription, based on this description and the non-IPA signs, would be [kʟ̝̊ʊlʔ.ɬuː], with a voiceless velar lateral fricative.) 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. Cthulhu has also been spelled in many other ways, including Tulu, Katulu and Kutulu. The name is often preceded by the epithet Great, Dead, or Dread.
Long after Lovecraft's death, the spelling pronunciation // kə-THOO-loo (alternatively transcribed as kuh-THOO-loo) became common. The role-playing game Call of Cthulhu has used the pronunciations klhul-hoo or tluhluh. (An approximate IPA transcription, based on these descriptions and the non-IPA signs, would be [kʟ̝̊ʊl.ʔuː] for klhul-hoo and [ɬʊʔ.lʊʔ] for tluhluh.)
In "The Call of Cthulhu", H. P. Lovecraft describes a statue of 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 in appearance as resembling an octopus, a dragon and a human caricature, hundreds of meters tall, with webbed 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 gigantic octopus, with an unknown number of tentacles surrounding its supposed mouth.
Simply looking upon the creature drives the viewer insane, a trait shared by many of the Great Old Ones and Outer Gods.
In the mythos
Cthulhu, in the ″mythos″, was probably born on the planet Vhoorl in the 23rd nebula from Nug and Yeb. At some later point he travelled to the green binary star system of Xoth, where he mated with Idh-yaa, and was later worshipped by the shape-shifting starspawn. Idh-yaa later spawned four children: Gthanothoa, Ythogtha, Zoth-ommog and Cthylla. Cthulhu and his family, as well as his starspawn, travelled to Earth where Cthulhu mated with his sister Kassogtha, who spawned Nctosa and Nctolhu. Cthulhu and his spawn then built the great green stone city of R'lyeh on the great sunken continent of Mu, before it was destroyed by Ythogtha. Around this time a great war started between the shoggoths, elder things, Great race of Yith, flying polyps, Mi-go and Cthulhu and his children and starspawn. At the end of the war, they all decided to share the Earth.
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 R'lyeh, an underwater city in the South Pacific. 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.:256
According to Derleth's scheme, "Great Cthulhu is one of the Water Elementals" and was engaged in an age-old arch-rivalry with a designated air elemental, Hastur the Unspeakable, described as Cthulhu's "half-brother".:256, 266 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, among others, 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.
In John Glasby's "A Shadow from the Aeons", Cthulhu is seen by the narrator roaming the riverbank near Dominic Waldron's castle, and roaring. The physical description of the god is totally different from that given as canon by all the other authors.
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.
Cthulhu was once again mentioned in the 5th edition of the Dungeons & Dragons Player's Handbook (2014), after Dagon, another of Lovecraft's fictional creations, featured prominently in the 4th edition of the game rules.
In 2006 Bethesda Softworks together with Ubisoft and 2K Games published a game made by Headfirst Productions called Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth based on the works of Lovecraft. Cthulhu himself does not appear, as the main antagonists of the game are the Deep Ones from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and the sea god Dagon, but his presence is alluded to several times, and a statue depicting him appears in one of the temples that will negatively affect the player's sanity. One of Cthulhu's "chosen", a Star Spawn of Cthulhu, a hideous creature similar in appearance to the abomination himself, also appears as a late-game enemy.
Cthulhu appears as a monster in many video games. Terraria features bosses named after the character, and he appears as main inspiration for the story of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Zombies saga. The massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft have numerous references to Cthulhu and the Mythos, with one of the game's "Old Gods" named N'Zoth resting in a sunken city.
In 2016 Z-Man games released an alternate version of their board game Pandemic. This new adaptation Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu is set in the Cthulhu Mythos and explorers race to save the world before Cthulhu returns.
Cthulhu has appeared as a parody candidate in several elections, including the 2010 Polish presidential election and the 2012/2016 US presidential elections. The faux campaigns usually satirize voters who claim to vote for the "lesser evil".
The Californian spider species Pimoa cthulhu, described by Gustavo Hormiga in 1994, and the New Guinea moth species Speiredonia cthulhui, described by Zilli & Holloway in 2005, are named with reference to Cthulhu.
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.
In 2014, science and technology scholar Donna Haraway gave a talk entitled "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble", in which she proposed the term "Chthulucene" as an alternative for the concept of the Anthropocene era, due to the entangling interconnectedness of all supposedly individual beings. Haraway has denied any indebtedness to Lovecraft's Cthulhu, claiming that her "chthulu" is derived from the Greek khthonios, meaning "of the earth".
In 2015, an elongated, dark region along the equator of Pluto, initially referred to as "the Whale", was proposed to be named "Cthulhu Regio", by the NASA team responsible for the New Horizons mission.
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- Donna Haraway, “Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble”, 5/9/14
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