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Cthulhu Mythos character
Cthulhu and R'lyeh.jpg
Illustration of Cthulhu from 2006
First appearance"The Call of Cthulhu" (1928)
Created byH. P. Lovecraft
In-universe information
SpeciesGreat Old One
  • High Priest of the Great Old Ones
  • The Great Dreamer
  • The Sleeper of R'lyeh

Cthulhu is a fictional cosmic entity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft. It was first introduced in his short story "The Call of Cthulhu",[2] published by the American pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities, this creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references. Lovecraft depicts it as a gigantic entity worshipped by cultists, in the shape of a green octopus, dragon, and a caricature of human form. The Lovecraft-inspired universe, the Cthulhu Mythos, where it exists with its fellow entities, is named after it.

Etymology, spelling, and pronunciation[edit]

Invented by Lovecraft in 1928, the name Cthulhu was probably chosen to echo the word chthonic (Ancient Greek "of the earth"), as apparently suggested by Lovecraft himself at the end of his 1923 tale "The Rats in the Walls".[3] The chthonic, or earth-dwelling, spirit has precedents in numerous ancient and medieval mythologies, often guarding mines and precious underground treasures, notably in the Germanic dwarfs and the Greek Chalybes, Telchines, or Dactyls.[4]

Lovecraft transcribed the pronunciation of Cthulhu as Khlûl′-hloo, and said, "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"[5] (see discussion linked below) yielding something akin to /χ(ə)ʟʊʟˈluː/. S. T. Joshi points out, however, that Lovecraft gave different pronunciations on different occasions.[6] According to Lovecraft, this is merely the closest that the human vocal apparatus can come to reproducing the syllables of an alien language.[7] Cthulhu has also been spelled in many other ways, including Tulu, Katulu, and Kutulu.[8] The name is often preceded by the epithet Great, Dead, or Dread.

Long after Lovecraft's death, Chaosium, publishers of the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, influenced modern pronunciation with the statement, "we say it kuh-THOOL-hu", even while noting that Lovecraft said it differently.[9] Others use the pronunciation Katulu or Kutulu or /kəˈtl/[10]


Drawing of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft

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."[11]

Cthulhu is said to resemble a green octopus, 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.[11] Its head is depicted as similar to the entirety of a gigantic octopus, with an unknown number of tentacles surrounding its supposed mouth.

Publication history[edit]

The short story that first mentions Cthulhu, "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 subconscious anxiety for all mankind, and is also the object of worship, both by many human cults (including some within New Zealand, Greenland, Louisiana, and the Chinese mountains) and by other Lovecraftian monsters (called Deep Ones[12] and Mi-Go[13]). 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.")[11]

A photo of H. P. Lovecraft, facing right
H. P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu's creator

Lovecraft conceived a detailed genealogy for Cthulhu (published as "Letter 617" in Selected Letters)[1] and made the character a central reference in his works.[14] The short story "The Dunwich Horror" (1928)[15] 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.")[13] 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.[16]

August Derleth, a correspondent of Lovecraft's, 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.[17]: 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."[17]: 256, 266  Based on this framework, Derleth wrote a series of short stories published in Weird Tales (1944–'52) and collected as The Trail of Cthulhu, depicting the struggle of a Dr. Laban Shrewsbury and his associates against Cthulhu and his minions. In addition, Cthulhu is referenced in Derleth's 1945 novel The Lurker at the Threshold published by Arkham House. The novel can also be found in The Watchers Out of Time and Others, a collection of stories from Derleth's interpretations of Lovecraftian Mythos published by Arkham House in 1974.

Derleth's interpretations have been criticized by Lovecraft enthusiast Michel Houellebecq, among others. 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.[18]

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.[19] The god appears totally different from its depiction by other authors.[citation needed]

The character's influence also extended into gaming literature; games company TSR included an entire chapter on the Cthulhu mythos (including character statistics) in the first printing of Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook Deities & Demigods (1980). TSR, however, were unaware that Arkham House, which asserted copyright on almost all Lovecraft literature, had already licensed the Cthulhu property to 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.[20]



In 1981, Chaosium released their role-playing game Call of Cthulhu.[21] This game may have greatly contributed to making the works of Lovecraft known to a bigger audience. It has now reached its seventh edition with a large amount of supplementary material also available, and has won several major gaming awards. In 1987, Chaosium published the cooperative adventure board game Arkham Horror, based on the same background, which has since been reissued by other publishers.[21] In 1996, they released a collectible card game, Mythos.

In 2004, Fantasy Flight Games began a long-term relationship with Chaosium and released a collectible card game, which has been remarketed in a new format (living card game) in 2008 as Call of Cthulhu: The Card Game. This was the first of a collection of games by this publisher, and the only one in its family that was not co-operative. The company have followed since a fully rebuilt Arkham Horror (2005, 2018), the dice game Elder Sign (2011), the dungeon (or mansion) crawler Mansions of Madness (2011, 2016), a pulp version of Arkham Horror with Eldritch Horror (2013), a storytelling living card game Arkham Horror: The Card Game (2016), and a deduction game Arkham Horror: Final Hour (2019).[22]

In 2006, Bethesda Softworks, Ubisoft, and 2K Games jointly published a game by Headfirst Productions, 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 viewing a statue of him in one of the temples will undermine the player's sanity. Also, one of Cthulhu's Star Spawn, of similar hideous appearance, appears as a late-game enemy.[23]

On March 19, 2007, Steve Jackson Games released an iteration of their card game Munchkin called Munchkin Cthulhu.[24] The game presents Cthulhu and its surrounding mythos with a cartoon-art style and comedic tone, heavily playing upon themes of madness and cultism. Great Cthulhu features as a standalone monster in the deck, alongside various parodies of Lovecraft's creatures.[25] Cthulhu is depicted as an overweight, bright green creature with a large, bulbous head, and a pair of disproportionately small wings.[26]

Cthulhu is the main inspiration for the zombies in the video game Call of Duty: Black Ops 3.[27]

The massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft has numerous references to Cthulhu and the Mythos, including an early raid boss called C'Thun, and more recently, one of the game's "Old Gods" named N'Zoth resting in a sunken city.[28]

In 2013, Treefrog Games released A Study in Emerald, a board game based upon a short story written by Neil Gaiman that blends Cthulhu Mythos and Sherlock Holmes.[29]

In the 2015 video game Bloodborne, game director Hidetaka Miyazaki decided to incorporate ideas and themes from Lovecraft's novels such as creatures based on Lovecraft's Great Old Ones.[30]

In 2016, Z-Man Games released an alternate version of the 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.[31]


Poster from the 2010 Polish presidential election: The caption translates as "Choose the greater evil. Vote Cthulhu."

Cthulhu has appeared as a parody candidate in several elections, including the 2010 Polish presidential election and the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections.[32][33] The faux campaigns usually satirize voters who claim to vote for the "lesser evil". In 2016, the troll account known as "The Dark Lord Cthulhu" submitted an official application to be on the Massachusetts Presidential Ballot. The account also raised over $4000 from fans to fund the campaign through a gofundme.com page. Gofundme removed the campaign page and refunded contributions. The Cthulhu Party[34] (UK), another pseudo-political organisation, claim to be 'Changing Politics for Evil', parodying the Brexit Party's 'Changing Politics for Good'; a member of The Cthulhu Party holds the position of Mayor of Blists Hill. Another organization, Cthulhu for America, ran during the 2016 American presidential election, drawing comparisons with other satirical presidential candidates such as Vermin Supreme.[35] The organization had a platform that included the legalization of human sacrifice, driving all Americans insane, and an end to peace.[36]


The Californian spider species Pimoa cthulhu, described by Gustavo Hormiga in 1994,[37] and the New Guinea moth species Speiredonia cthulhui, described by Alberto Zilli and Jeremy D. Holloway in 2005,[38] are named after 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.[39]

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.[40] Haraway has denied any indebtedness to Lovecraft's Cthulhu, claiming that her "chthulu" is derived from Greek khthonios, "of the earth".[41] However, the Lovecraft character is much closer to her coined term than the Greek root, and her description of its meaning coincides with Lovecraft's idea of the apocalyptic, multitentacled threat of Cthulhu to collapse civilization into an endless dark horror: "Chthulucene does not close in on itself; it does not round off; its contact zones are ubiquitous and continuously spin out loopy tendrils."[42]

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.[43] It is now known as "Cthulhu Macula".[44][45]

In April 2019, Imran A. Rahman and a team announced in Proceedings of the Royal Society B the discovery of Sollasina cthulhu, an extinct member of the ophiocistioids group.[46]

Film and TV[edit]

Several films and television programs feature the threat of Cthulhu returning to dominate the universe.


Heavy metal band Metallica referred to Cthulhu in the song "Dream No More" from their 2016 album Hardwired... To Self-Destruct,[54] as well as on the 1984 album Ride the Lightning with the instrumental track "The Call of Ktulu", inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's novella The Shadow over Innsmouth, which was introduced to the rest of the band by Cliff Burton,[55] and on the 1986 album Master of Puppets with the song "The Thing That Should Not Be" (whose lyrics are inspired by The Shadow over Innsmouth and contain partial quotes from "The Call of Cthulhu").[56]

The second album of British steampunk band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing features the song "Margate Fhtagn". The song describes the band's meeting with Cthulhu while on holiday in Margate.[57]

English extreme metal band Cradle of Filth's fourth album, Midian, features a song titled "Cthulhu Dawn",[58] although the lyrics seem to have nothing to do with Lovecraft's sea-monster.

The songs "The Watchman" and "Last Exit for the Lost", by British gothic rock band Fields of the Nephilim, both refer to Cthulhu (or Kthulhu as it is spelled on the album's inner sleeve).[59]

British synthwave band, Gunship, released the song "Cthulhu" in 2019, featuring a quote from Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu and Other Dark Tales[60] narrated by horror-film director, Corin Hardy.[61]


The story[which?] was adapted for the stage by Oregon-based theater company Puppeteers for Fears, who performed "The Call of Cthulhu" as Cthulhu: the Musical! a feature-length rock-and-roll musical comedy performed with puppets, with the Cthulhu puppet being the largest and most complex. The script and songs were written by playwright Josh Gross,[62] and after a successful run in Ashland, Oregon, the production toured the west coast in 2018, including a sold-out run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Of the show, The Portland Mercury wrote, "You haven't truly experienced Lovecraft's madness until you've experienced it in its truest form: As a puppet musical."[63]

The 2019 StarKid Productions horror-comedy musical Black Friday's main antagonist is an entity named Wiggly who takes the form of a plush toy that strongly resembles Cthulhu. The opening number "Wiggly Jingle" features the lyric "He's an underwater creature from outta this world", which is a direct reference to Cthulhu's origins.[64] In the second act, Wiggly is revealed to be a much larger cosmic entity who was using the plush toys and the hysteria they caused to destroy humanity. Wiggly's larger form is a loose-form puppet made out of the set dressing, but still has the recognizable Cthulhu shape.[65] The musical was written by Matt and Nick Lang with lyrics and music by Jeff Blim. Black Friday successfully ran at the Hudson Mainstage Theater in Los Angeles, California from October 31, 2019 to December 8, 2019.


Toy versions of Cthulhu have been released in support of games. A plush Cthulhu has become a kawaii cultural meme.[66]


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Further reading[edit]

  • 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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  • 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.; Schultz, David E. (2001). An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313315787.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) [1928]. "The Call of Cthulhu". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). 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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location (link)
  • 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" Archived 2008-07-23 at the Wayback Machine, The H.P. Lovecraft Archive

External links[edit]