Say: KTH-OOL-HOO. Or KA-THOO-LOO. But don't say it too loudly or It might hear.
Derived from the title of a short story by (who else?) H.P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu, and the name of an insane deity from beyond space and time. CTHULHU is the not the only god in the Lovecraftian pantheon, but has considerable cult status. It can be said to be tthe "celebrity" within the Mythos.
In the eponymous story and later works, Lovecraft reveals CTHULHU is a monstrous deity exiled to Earth from its place amongst the Elder Gods. CTHULHU has dwelt for ages in a tomb within the corpse-city of RL'YEH, somewhere beneath the waves of the Pacific Ocean. While technically dead, its remains do not wither under the ravages of aeons, whence comes the infamous couplet:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie / After strange aeons even death may die."
CTHULHU's caretakers are the reptilian demigods DAGON and HYDRA, whose children, the Deep Ones, take human mates to further a breeding program intended to manage the human race for CTHULHU's purposes.
Shreds of mighty CTHULHU's consciousness still cling to its corpse and influence the dreams of lesser beings such as mankind. Its nightmares have been known to drive the dreamer to madness. It is said that when the stars are right, CTHULHU's soul will be returned to its body, RL'YEH will surface from beneath the waves, and the Great Old One will rise again to devour the souls of all life on Earth. Many ills have been attributed to the influence of CTHULHU on man's dreams: Nazism, Satanism, the Process Church, Jonestown, Branch Davidianism, Madison Avenue, trailer homes, televangelists, infomercials, "Three's Company" re-runs, spam...
Interestingly, translations of Sumerian tablets dealing with sorcery and magic recovered from sites in Mesopotamia make reference to a subaquatic deity or power known as "KTULU". Coincidence?
The Mythos has gained a great deal of popularity over the decades it has existed. Lovecraft intended his stories to be his gift to humanity. He instructed August Derleth, executor of his literary estate, to place his stories -- particularly those surrounding the Mythos -- into the public domain. Since then, hundreds if not thousands of stories have been churned out, music written, movies made. CTHULHU and other Mythos deities (albeit to a lesser extent) have become underground pop-culture phenomena. "Cthulhiana" is rampant; a Google image search on "CTHULHU" turns up thousands of works of art, both commercial and personal.
Early albums from the heavy metal band "Metallica" made frequent references to Lovecraft mythos. Songs like "The Thing That Should Not Be" and "The Call of Ktulu" continue to be some of their most popular. "Black Sabbath" also made reference to Mythos material, as do modern sub-branches of the metal genre.
Games have been based on the Mythos. The now-defunct software firm Infocom published an interactive-fiction computer game called "The Lurking Horror" in 1987. Chaosium, Inc. has published a roleplaying game based on the Mythos for the past thirty years. Called "Call of Cthulhu", it is one of the best-selling roleplaying games of all time. Chaosium recently partnered with Bethesda Softworks to produce a bestselling computer game with the same title. Chaosium has also turned out two different takes on a Mythos-based Collectible Card Game (something akin to "Magic the Gathering"). These are "Mythos" and "Call of Cthulhu".
Using the Mythos to satirize society is another common phenomenon. "The Campus Crusade for Cthulhu" is used to satirize the "Campus Crusade for Christ", while the "Cthulhu for President" campaign is used to satirize the futility of elections in general. Japanese animé is also frequently satirized: "Hello Cthulhu" versus "Hello Kitty", "My Neighbor Cthulhu" versus "My Neighbor Totoro", etc.
While CTHULHU can perhaps be considered the "celebrity" of the Lovecraft Mythos, the deities are manifold and vary in power and importance. Listed here are the Lovecraftian deities of importance to the story in "Summer of Lovecraft".
The blind, idiot sultan of the Outer Gods; beyond the space and time. AZATHOTH is an amorphous nuclear chaos whose mindless squirming (dancing?) is both creation and destruction. Little is known about AZATHOTH other than it is the chief god within the pantheon and has existed from the beginning of the universe. AZATHOTH's will, such as it is, is fulfilled by its soul-keeper and majordomo NYARLATHOTEP.
Father DAGON and Mother HYDRA are demigods whose function is to safeguard the corpse-city of RL'YEH and the corpse of mighty CTHULHU. DAGON and HYDRA are roughly anthropomorphic amphibians of great size. These creatures dwell deep beneath the ocean and can be summoned to the surface via rituals and blood sacrifices. The children of DAGON and HYDRA are known as "Deep Ones", and are essentially human-sized versions versions of their parents.
Deep Ones, like their parents, are immortal unless killed. They have been known to come ashore and take human mates, often against their will though this is not always the case. The resulting hybrids are immortal as well, but are afflicted with mutations throughout their lives. Eventually they return to the ocean to live with their parents-- though before doing so they spread chaos and work the will of the Elder Gods amongst human society. Human/Hybrid offspring lose the gift of immortality but are possessed of sorcerous power and have a penchant for creating chaos. They also frequently suffer bouts of insanity.
NYARLATHOTEP, The Crawling Chaos, God of 1,000 forms, is both a god and a keeper of the souls of the Elder Gods. It also serves as herald of and servant to AZATHOTH. The personification of entropy, NYARLATHOTEP brings chaos wherever it goes. Its arrival heralds the fall of a civilization of the destruction of a world. The word "
NYARLATHOTEP" itself is a corruption of an ancient Egyptian phrase ni har rut ho tep, meaning "there is no safety at the gate". This can be inferred to mean the city said gate protects will be destroyed from within.
NYARLATHOTEP bears many names: Loki, Anansi, Shiva, Coyote, Tezcatlipoca, Flagg, Gozer and many others. It is referred to as "The Traveler", "The Trickster", "The Destroyer"-- or any number of other epithets in every imaginable language. Satan and his manifold aspects are believed to be one and the same with this deity. Although it can take any form it wishes, when it walks the Earth it frequently takes the form of a human. This form is referred to as an "avatar" and can be killed (albeit with much difficulty!). In this way NYARLATHOTEP can be banished from the material plane, at least until it can re-form or re-inhabit another avatar.
An amorphous entity that is neither benign nor malevolent; it simply "is". It exists outside space and time and is referred to as "The All-in-One", or "The Gatekeeper". YOG-SOTHOTH is omnipotent and omnipresent. It can be called upon by mortals to impart knowledge and sorcerous power, though this is not recommended and frequently drives the caller insane. Its name is also used in spells to re-animate the dead, with often disastrous results (as can be expected). When appearing on the material plane, YOG-SOTHOTH takes the form of an amorphous collection of bubbles of varying sizes.
An artist's impression of CTHULHU rising from its tomb in RL'YEH
Another artist's rendition of CTHULHU rising from RL'YEH
CTHULHU, as represented by Chaosium's Call of Cthulhu CCG
An early picture of the Great Old One, circa 1930.
(click images to view original source)
Cute. Cuddly. Source of ultimate cosmic evil
Wonderful spoof on the old Chick Publications pamphlets. Click at the risk of your own sanity...