"I, Cthulhu" is a short humorous story by fantasy author Neil Gaiman featuring H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu who is dictating an autobiography to a human slave, Whateley. The story reveals much about Cthulhu's 'birth' and early life.
Narrated to his dedicated servant Whateley, Cthulhu tells the story of his birth on the planet Khhaa'yngnaiih ("No, of course I don't know how to spell it. Write it as it sounds.") to a father who was eaten by his mother and a mother who was subsequently eaten by Cthulhu himself. For a few thousand years, young Cthulhu, "the colour of a young trout and about four of your feet long", slunk through the swamps of his home planet, eating and avoiding being eaten.
Not long thereafter, Cthulhu's uncle, Hastur, suggests that they and "the boys" (fellow nameless, nightmarish horrors from the Cthulhu Mythos) go out, explore the cosmos, and have some fun. After a long argument, a plane of existence is decided upon.
After a short stint in Carcosa, Cthulhu is directed by The King in Yellow towards Earth in his search for a patch of the cosmos to rule over. Finding Earth to be rich in both swamps and cultists, Cthulhu makes himself comfortable - until the arrival of the Old Ones ("Banal little bureaucruds") enforcing some kind of cosmic law, which requires Cthulhu and his followers to leave the seas and move onto land.
There, the cult of Cthulhu built monuments to their be-tentacled god, threw a planet-wide barbecue that decimated the dinosaurs, and, in spite, forced the Old Ones further and further towards the Antarctic. Hating the cold, the Old Ones retaliated by bringing Earth closer to the sun, once again submerging Cthulhu and his monolithic city of R'lyeh beneath the sea.
This brings Cthulhu to the present day, explaining to Whateley that while he is technically "dead and dreaming" beneath the waves, watching humanity in its endless chaos, he is waiting. Waiting for the day when the stars align and he is awakened to rule over Earth once more, and once it is destroyed, he will return to his home planet. There he will mate and he will die as his own parents died, bringing forth new unspeakable horrors into the cosmos.
"I, Cthulhu" not only directly references H. P. Lovecraft's writings, but also incorporates other creations of the shared fictional universe surrounding Lovecraft's work, the Cthulhu Mythos. A full list of the various references are below:
- Azathoth: One of "the boys", a deity created by H. P. Lovecraft and first seen in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
- Carcosa: An ancient mysterious, and fictional city from the Ambrose Bierce short story "An Inhabitant of Carcosa", later incorporated into the work of Robert W. Chambers and H. P. Lovecraft. Cthulhu's first waypoint on his way to Earth.
- Dagon: Encountered by Cthulhu on Earth, his ally in world domination, another deity created by Lovecraft and first mentioned in the short story "Dagon".
- De Vermis Mysteriis: A fictional grimoire created by Robert Bloch and supposedly written by "alchemist, necromancer, [and] reputed mage", Ludwig Prinn. First mentioned in the short story "The Shambler from the Stars", and referenced in Lovecraft's own writings.
- Hastur: A cosmic entity/god created by Ambrose Bierce and first mentioned in his short story "Haïta the Shepherd". The name was later used both by Chamber and Lovecraft in their writings, and then by Gaiman himself in his novel Good Omens. Cthulhu's uncle, according to the narrative.
- The King in Yellow: A mysterious and malevolent supernatural entity from Robert W. Chambers' book of short stories The King in Yellow. In "I, Cthulhu", he is a friend and ally of Cthulhu, pointing him towards Earth as a worthwhile place to conquer and rule.
- Nyarlathotep: One of "the boys", a deity created by H. P. Lovecraft and first seen in the short story "Nyarlathotep".
- Shub-Niggurath: One of "the boys" (despite being gendered female in many Cthulhu Mythos writings), a deity created by H. P. Lovecraft and first mentioned in the short story "The Last Test" (1928).
- Tsathoggua: One of "the boys", a supernatural entity created by Clark Ashton Smith, found in the short story "The Tale of Satampra Zeiros".
- Yog-Sothoth: One of "the boys", a deity created by H. P. Lovecraft and first encountered in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
- Yuggoth: One of "the boys". Yuggoth is, according to Lovecraft's work, a planet, but Gaiman has instead favored the interpretation of writer Alan Moore who suggests in The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen that Yuggoth is, in fact, a sentient being.
- Shoggoth: A creature that Cthulhu constantly reminds Whateley that must be fed.