The Pnakotic Manuscripts (or Pnakotic Fragments) is a fictional manuscript in the Cthulhu Mythos. The tome was created by H. P. Lovecraft and first appeared in his short story "Polaris" (1918). They are mentioned in many of Lovecraft's stories, including "The Other Gods" (1933), The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (1926), The Whisperer in Darkness, At the Mountains of Madness (1936), "Through the Gates of the Silver Key", The Shadow Out of Time (1936) and "The Haunter of the Dark". The manuscripts are also referred to by other Mythos authors, such as Lin Carter and Brian Lumley.
The Pnakotic Manuscripts are noteworthy for being the first of Lovecraft's fictional arcane books. More Lovecraft stories mention the Pnakotic Manuscripts than any other fictitious "forbidden book" -- including the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan, the Book of Eibon (a.k.a. Liber Ivonis), Comte d'Erlotte's Cultes des Goules and von Juntz's Unassprechenlichen Kulten -- except the fabled Necronomicon.
Lovecraft's protagonist in At the Mountains of Madness mentions that the Pnakotic Manuscripts predate the origin of man and observes that "a few daring mystics have hinted at a pre-Pleistocene origin for the fragmentary Pnakotic Manuscripts." Yet, to keep the text's age in perspective, the narrator of The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath suggests there exist even older scrolls that set forth "the rhythms of the Great Ones."
According to Lovecraft's story "The Other Gods," the Pnakotic Manuscripts originated in "frozen Lomar", a region in the Dreamlands. The history of the forbidden text continues in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath where, according to an ancient zoog (a creature of the Dreamlands), the manuscripts were "made by waking men in forgotten boreal kingdoms and borne into the land of dreams when the hairy cannibal Gnophkehs overcame many-templed Olathoë and slew all the heroes of the land of Lomar." The zoog told Randolph Carter that he believed the last extant copy of the Pnakotic Manuscripts to be in Ulthar (a city in the Dreamlands).
The original manuscripts in scroll form were passed down through the ages, eventually falling into the hands of secretive cults. The Great Race of Yith is believed to have produced the first five chapters of the Manuscripts, which, among other things, contain a detailed chronicle of the race's history. However, others attribute them to the Elder Things, because of certain similarities to the Eltdown Shards.
The Pnakotic Manuscripts were kept in the Great Race's library city of Pnakotus (hence the name). They cover a variety of subjects, including descriptions of Chaugnar Faugn and Yibb-Tstll, the location of Xiurhn, Rhan-Tegoth's rituals, and others.
The Manuscripts in human history
The Pnakotic Manuscripts were originally held by the people of Lomar, who studied them diligently. Later, they were passed to Hyperborea and translated into the language of that land. Here the manuscripts were added to by the Voormi. Another addition is known to have been made in earlier times by a scribe in Zobna.
The Manuscripts survived into historical times, protected by a secretive cult known as the Pnakotic Brotherhood, and are thought to have been translated into Greek in a version known as the Pnakotica. Rumors say that an English translation was made in the 15th century by an unknown scribe, but the consensus is that they exist only in manuscript form. The original scrolls of the Pnakotic Manuscripts are believed to be lost (nevertheless, a copy may still exist in the Temple of the Elder Ones in Ulthar).
Contents of the Pnakotic Manuscripts (as can be determined from Lovecraft's works)
Lovecraft did not provide great detail regarding the contents of the Pnakotic Manuscripts, but they seems to be complementary to the Seven Cryptical Books of Hsan as a source of arcane lore, for the two works are mentioned together in Lovecraft's "The Other Gods" and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath. The former tells us that an inhabitant of the Dreamlands who once scaled the mountain Hatheg-Kla, the priest Sansu, "is written of with fright in the mouldy Pnakotic Manuscripts." The latter confirms this (fictitious) fact; in it, an ancient zoog (a race inhabiting the Dreamlands) relayed to Randolph Carter (the story's protagonist) that the Pnakotic Manuscripts "told much of the gods, and even one priest who had scaled a great mountain to behold them dancing by moonlight." It is likely that the "gods" mentioned in this passage are the Gods of Earth (a.k.a. the Great Ones), who lived atop Hlatheg-Kla in Sansu's time.
A passage in "The Other Gods" states: "Now it is told in the mouldy Pnakotic Manuscripts that Sansu found naught but wordless ice and rock when he climbed Hatheg-Kla in the youth of the world." Thus, Sansu did not see any of the gods described in the manuscripts atop the mountain. The passage goes on:
"Yet when the men of Ulthar and Nir and Hatheg crushed their fears and scaled that haunted steep by day in search of Barzai the Wise, thet found graven in the naked stone of the summit a curious and Cyclopean symbol fifty cubits wide, as if the rock had been riven by some titanic chisel. And the symbol was like to one that learned men have discerned in those frightful parts of the Pnakotic Manuscripts which are too ancient to be read. This they found."
To be clear, Barzai the Wise himself is not described in the Pnakotic Manuscripts, but was well-versed in its lore before he made a failed attempt to duplicate Sansu's efforts, after which the Other Gods (i.e., Nyarlathotep and possibly Azathoth and/or others; possibly a.k.a. the Outer Gods) inscribed a symbol upon the mountain's summit. From the passage above, one might deduce that the symbol that the Other Gods engraved on the mountain Hlatheg-Kla appears in the Pnakotic Manuscripts in a section that cannot be understood today, perhaps because its language is dead. In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the priest Atal explains to Carter that this symbol is the seal of the Other Gods. In short, an image of the seal of the Other Gods is found in the Pnakotic Manuscripts among other unreadable material.
Lovecraft also pairs the Pnakotic Manuscripts with his most famous forbidden book, the Necronomicon. In At the Mountains of Madness, the protagonist states that the two texts "hint about fiendish elder myths." Other stories in which he did so include The Whisperer in Darkness and "The Haunter of the Dark".
In addition to the story of Sansu and the image of the seal of the Other Gods, we can learn at least two other definite bits of content of the Pnakotic Manuscripts from Lovecraft's works, with as much certainty as the credibility of the source within the story permits:
- In The Whisperer in Darkness, the folkorist Henry Akeley tells the story's protagonist/narrator Albert N. Wilmarth (Esquire) that the Pnakotic Manuscripts mention the Great Old One Tsathoggua, an amorphous toad-like creature.
- The protagonist/narrator of At the Mountains of Madness (a nameless geologist at Miskatonic University) comments, "There may be a very real and very monstrous meaning in the old Pnakotic whispers about Kadath in the Cold Waste." Thus, the text seems to mention certain "fiendish elder myths" regarding Kadath and claim that it is located in the Cold Waste, a region in the northern part of the Dreamlands.
It may be possible to hypothesize other content from other passages in Lovecraft's stories in which a character perform rituals or mentions (fictitious) facts that might be based on information contained in the Pnakotic Manuscripts (but do not directly reference it). For instance, Barzai the Wise and Randolph Carter used the manuscripts to try to find locations within the Dreamlands; thus, one might suspect that they contain at least some of such information. Although, judging from Carter's frustration in using them for this purpose in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the readable information of this sort in the manuscripts might be quite vague, or perhaps, one might wonder, if the manuscripts mention Tsathoggua, whether or not they also discuss other Great Old Ones. Lovecraft left it to the reader to speculate, and for other writers to expand upon.
Appearances in other works
The Pnakotic Manuscripts appear in both "The Collect Call of Cathulhu" (an episode from The Real Ghostbusters), and in the computer game Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth as the Pnakotica. It is also featured in the Lovecraftian visual novel (and later anime series) Demonbane as a living tome. In The Illuminatus! Trilogy, the Manuscripts contain information on the ancient Illuminati. They are also referenced in Daniel A. Rabuzzi's novel The Choir Boats.
Author Lin Carter planned two stories based on The Pnakotic Manuscripts - "The Acolyte of the Flame" (scheduled to appear in Crypt of Cthulhu) and "The Dwellers in the Depths" (this latter story exists only in a draft of the beginning).
They are referenced by the narrator in early versions of the short story "The House of the Worm" by Gary Myers published in New Worlds for Old and The House of the Worm, but excised from his updated version in The Country of the Worm.
A track entitled "Pnakotic Fragments" appears on the record Aussprechen Kulten (presumably a reference to or misspelling of another Cthulhu mythos tome, "Unaussprechlichen Kulten") by music producer Jamie Ball. The record also contains tracks referencing other Lovecraft works and entities, namely "Pickman's Model" and "Ithaqua". 
- Joshi & Schultz, An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia, p. 187.
- Lovecraft referred to the Pnakotic Manuscripts in 11 of his stories—second only to the Necronomicon, which is referred to 18 times. (Loucks, "The Necronomicon and Other Grimoires")
- Harms, Daniel. The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia: A Guide to H. P. Lovecraft's Universe, Updated and Expanded Third Edition. Lake Orion, MI: Elder Sign Press, 2008. (see p. 116)
- Harms, Daniel. The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia: A Guide to H. P. Lovecraft's Universe, Updated and Expanded Third Edition. Lake Orion, MI: Elder Sign Press, 2008. (see p. 216)
- "The Shandler Chronicles Classics". Game Trade Magazine. Retrieved 13 November 2016.
- Carter, Lin (1971). New Worlds for Old. New York City, NY: Ballatine. ISBN 0-345-02365-X.
- Cornford, Laurence J. "A Hyperborean Glossary, M-R". The Eldritch Dark. Retrieved July 25, 2005.
- Harms, Daniel. "Lomar" in The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.), pp. 185–6. Chaosium, Inc., 1998. ISBN 1-56882-119-0.
- —"Pnakotic Manuscripts", pp. 242–3. Ibid.
- Joshi, S. T.; David E. Schultz (2001). An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-31578-7.
- Loucks, Donovan K. "The Necronomicon and Other Grimoires". The H.P. Lovecraft Archive. Retrieved August 20, 2006.
- Myers, Gary (1975). The House of the Worm. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0-87054-071-8.
- Myers, Gary (2013). The Country of the Worm: Excursions Beyond the Wall of Sleep. CreateSpace. ISBN 9781484801970.