Cthulhu Mythos

The Cthulhu Mythos is a shared fictional universe, originating in the works of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The term was coined by August Derleth, a contemporary correspondent and protégé of Lovecraft, to identify the settings, tropes, and lore that were employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors. The name Cthulhu derives from the central creature in Lovecraft's seminal short story, "The Call of Cthulhu", first published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928.[1]

Richard L. Tierney, a writer who also wrote Mythos tales, later applied the term "Derleth Mythos" to distinguish Lovecraft's works from Derleth's later stories, which modify key tenets of the Mythos.[2][3] Authors of Lovecraftian horror in particular frequently use elements of the Cthulhu Mythos.[4]:viii-ix

Cthulhu sketch by Lovecraft
A sketch of Cthulhu drawn by Lovecraft, May 11, 1934
Weird Tales March 1944
Cover of the pulp magazine Weird Tales (March 1944, vol. 37, no. 4) featuring "The Trail of Cthulhu" by August Derleth. Cover art by John Giunta.


In his essay "H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos", Robert M. Price described two stages in the development of the Cthulhu Mythos. Price called the first stage the "Cthulhu Mythos proper." This stage was formulated during Lovecraft's lifetime and was subject to his guidance. The second stage was guided by August Derleth who, in addition to publishing Lovecraft's stories after his death, attempted to categorize and expand the Mythos.[5]:8[6]:5

First stage

An ongoing theme in Lovecraft's work is the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that apparently exist in the universe. Lovecraft made frequent references to the "Great Old Ones", a loose pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth and have since fallen into a deathlike sleep.[4]:viii While these monstrous deities have been present in almost all of Lovecraft's published work (his second short story "Dagon," published in 1919, is considered the start of the mythos), the first story to really expand the pantheon of Great Old Ones and its themes is "The Call of Cthulhu," which was published in 1928.

Lovecraft broke with other pulp writers of the time by having his main characters' minds deteriorate when afforded a glimpse of what exists outside their perceived reality. He emphasized the point by stating in the opening sentence of the story that "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."[7]

Writer Dirk W. Mosig notes that Lovecraft was a "mechanistic materialist" who embraced the philosophy of cosmic indifference. Lovecraft believed in a purposeless, mechanical, and uncaring universe. Human beings, with their limited faculties, can never fully understand this universe, and the cognitive dissonance caused by this revelation leads to insanity, in his view. This perspective made no allowance for religious belief which could not be supported scientifically, with the incomprehensible, cosmic forces of his tales having as little regard for humanity as humans have for insects.[8][9]:22

There have been attempts at categorizing this fictional group of beings. Phillip A. Schreffler argues that by carefully scrutinizing Lovecraft's writings, a workable framework emerges that outlines the entire "pantheon"—from the unreachable "Outer Ones" (e.g. Azathoth, who occupies the centre of the universe) and "Great Old Ones" (e.g. Cthulhu, imprisoned on Earth in the sunken city of R'lyeh) to the lesser castes (the lowly slave shoggoths and the Mi-go).[10]

David E. Schultz, however, believes that Lovecraft never meant to create a canonical Mythos but rather intended his imaginary pantheon to merely serve as a background element.[11]:46, 54 Lovecraft himself humorously referred to his Mythos as "Yog Sothothery" (Dirk W. Mosig coincidentally suggested the term Yog-Sothoth Cycle of Myth be substituted for Cthulhu Mythos).[12][13] At times, Lovecraft even had to remind his readers that his Mythos creations were entirely fictional.[9]:33–34

The view that there was no rigid structure is expounded upon by S. T. Joshi, who said "Lovecraft's imaginary cosmogony was never a static system but rather a sort of aesthetic construct that remained ever adaptable to its creator's developing personality and altering interests. . . . There was never a rigid system that might be posthumously appropriated. . . . The essence of the mythos lies not in a pantheon of imaginary deities nor in a cobwebby collection of forgotten tomes, but rather in a certain convincing cosmic attitude."[14]

Price, however, believed that Lovecraft's writings could at least be divided into categories and identified three distinct themes: the "Dunsanian" (written a similar style as Lord Dunsany), "Arkham" (occurring in Lovecraft's fictionalized New England setting), and "Cthulhu" (the cosmic tales) cycles.[6]:9 Writer Will Murray noted that while Lovecraft often used his fictional pantheon in the stories he ghostwrote for other authors, he reserved Arkham and its environs exclusively for those tales he wrote under his own name.[15]

Although the Mythos was not formalized or acknowledged between them, Lovecraft did correspond and share story elements with other contemporary writers including Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, Frank Belknap Long, Henry Kuttner, Henry S. Whitehead, and Fritz Leiber—a group referred to as the "Lovecraft Circle."[16][17]

For example, Robert E. Howard's character Friedrich Von Junzt reads Lovecraft's Necronomicon in the short story "The Children of the Night" (1931), and in turn Lovecraft mentions Howard's Unaussprechlichen Kulten in the stories "Out of the Aeons" (1935) and "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936).[6]:6–7 Many of Howard's original unedited Conan stories also involve parts of the Cthulhu Mythos.[18]

Second stage

Price denotes the second stage's commencement with August Derleth. The principal difference between Lovecraft and Derleth being Derleth's use of hope and development of the idea that the Cthulhu mythos essentially represented a struggle between good and evil.[5]:9 Derleth is credited with creating the "Elder Gods." He stated:

As Lovecraft conceived the deities or forces of his mythos, there were, initially, the Elder Gods . . . These Elder Gods were benign deities, representing the forces of good, and existed peacefully . . . very rarely stirring forth to intervene in the unceasing struggle between the powers of evil and the races of Earth. These powers of evil were variously known as the Great Old Ones or the Ancient Ones...[19]

Price believes that the basis for Derleth's system is found in Lovecraft: "Was Derleth's use of the rubric 'Elder Gods' so alien to Lovecraft's in At the Mountains of Madness? Perhaps not. In fact, this very story, along with some hints from "The Shadow over Innsmouth", provides the key to the origin of the 'Derleth Mythos'. For in At the Mountains of Madness is shown the history of a conflict between interstellar races, first among them the Elder Ones and the Cthulhu-spawn.[20]

Derleth himself believed that Lovecraft wished for other authors to actively write about the Mythos as opposed to it being a discrete plot device within Lovecraft's own stories.[11]:46–7 Derleth expanded the boundaries of the Mythos by including any passing reference to another author's story elements by Lovecraft as part of the genre. Just as Lovecraft made passing reference to Clark Ashton Smith's Book of Eibon, Derleth in turn added Smith's Ubbo-Sathla to the Mythos.[6]:9–10

Derleth also attempted to connect the deities of the Mythos to the four elements ("air", "earth", "fire", and "water"), creating new beings representative of certain elements in order to legitimize his system of classification. Derleth created "Cthugha" as a sort of fire elemental when a fan, Francis Towner Laney, complained that he had neglected to include the element in his schema. Laney, the editor of The Acolyte, had categorized the Mythos in an essay that first appeared in the Winter 1942 issue of the magazine.

Impressed by the glossary, Derleth asked Laney to rewrite it for publication in the Arkham House collection Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943).[21] Laney's essay ("The Cthulhu Mythos") was later republished in Crypt of Cthulhu #32 (1985). In applying the elemental theory to beings that function on a cosmic scale (e.g. Yog-Sothoth) some authors created a fifth element that they termed aethyr.

Derleth's elemental classifications
Air Earth Fire Water
Zhar and Lloigor*
Mother Hydra
* Deity created by Derleth.

See also


  1. ^ Lovecraft, H.P. (2005). Tales (2nd ed.). New York: Library of America. ISBN 1931082723. Retrieved December 6, 2017.
  2. ^ Price, Robert M. (November 1982). "Cthulhu Elsewhere in Lovecraft". Crypt of Cthulhu (9). Retrieved 5 July 2017.
  3. ^ Schweitzer, Darrell (2001). Discovering H. P. Lovecraft (Revised ed.). Holicong, Pennsylvania: Wildside Press. p. 52. ISBN 9781587154713.
  4. ^ a b Harms, Daniel (1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.). Oakland, California: Chaosium, Inc. ISBN 9781568821191.
  5. ^ a b Lovecraft, H. P.; Bloch, Robert (1987). The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (1st ed.). New York: Ballantine Pub. Group. ISBN 0345350804.
  6. ^ a b c d Price, Robert M. (1990). H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Mercer Island, Washington: Starmont House. ISBN 1557421528.
  7. ^ Lovecraft, H. P. (2014). The Call of Cuthulhu. Lanham: Start Publishing LLC. ISBN 1609772695.
  8. ^ Mosig, Yozan Dirk W. "Lovecraft: The Dissonance Factor in imaginary Literature" (1979).
  9. ^ a b Mariconda, Steven J. (1995). On the Emergence of "Cthulhu" & Other Observations. West Warwick, Rhode Island: Necronomicon Press. ISBN 9780940884816.
  10. ^ Shreffler, Philip A. (1977). The H. P. Lovecraft Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 156–57. ISBN 9780837194820.
  11. ^ a b Connors, Scott (2002). A Century Less a Dream: Selected Criticism on H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Holikong, Pennsylvania: Wildside Press. ISBN 9781587152153.
  12. ^ Mosig, Yōzan Dirk W. (1997). Mosig at Last: A Psychologist looks at H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). West Warwick, Rhode Island: Necronomicon Press. p. 28. ISBN 9780940884908.
  13. ^ "Yog-Sothothery". Timpratt.org. Retrieved 28 November 2012.
  14. ^ Joshi, S.T. (1995). Miscellaneous Writings (1st ed.). Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House Publishers. pp. 165–66. ISBN 9780870541681.
  15. ^ Van Hise, James (1999). The Fantastic Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Yucca Valley, California: James Van Hise. pp. 105–07.
  16. ^ Joshi, S. T. (1980). H.P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821405772.
  17. ^ Schweitzer, Darrell (1996). Discovering Classic Fantasy Fiction: Essays on the Antecedents of Fantastic Literature. Gillette, New Jersey: Wildside Press. ISBN 9781587150043.
  18. ^ Howard, Robert E.; Schultz, Mark (2003). The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (1st ed.). New York: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. p. 436. ISBN 0345461517.
  19. ^ Derleth, August (1997). The Cthulhu Mythos. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. vii. ISBN 0760702535.
  20. ^ "Lovecraft-Derleth Connection". Crypt-of-cthulhu.com. Archived from the original on 2013-02-17. Retrieved 2012-11-28.
  21. ^ Robert M. Price, "Editorial Shards", Crypt of Cthulhu #32, p. 2.)

Further reading

  • Bloch, Robert (1978). Strange Eons. Whispers Press. ISBN 0918372291.
  • Burleson, Donald R. (1979). "The Lovecraft Mythos". In Frank N. Magill. Survey of Science Fiction Literature. Vol. 3. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press. pp. 1284–8. ISBN 978-0-89356-197-0.
  • Jens, Tina, ed. (1999). Cthulhu and the Coeds: Kids and Squids. Chicago, Illinois: Twilight Tales.
  • Joshi, S. T. (1982). H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House. ISBN 978-0-916732-36-3.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) [1928]. "The Call of Cthulhu". In S. T. Joshi. The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. London, UK; New York, NY: Penguin Books. Archived from the original on 2007-12-14.
  • Price, Robert M. (1996). "Introduction". In Robert M. Price. The New Lovecraft Circle. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0-345-44406-6.
  • Price, Robert M. (1991). "Lovecraft's 'Artificial Mythology'". In David E. Schultz; S. T. Joshi. An Epicure in the Terrible: a centennial anthology of essays in honor of H. P. Lovecraft. Rutherford, NJ and Cranbury, NJ: Fairleigh Dickinson University Press and Associated University Presses. ISBN 978-0-8386-3415-8.
  • Turner, James (1998). "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!". Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1st ed.). Random House. ISBN 978-0-345-42204-0.
  • Thomas, Frank Walter (2005). Watchers of the Light (1st printing ed.). Lake Forest Park, WA: Lake Forest Park Books. ISBN 978-0-9774464-0-7.
  • August, Derleth (Lammas 1996) [1937]. "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". Crypt of Cthulhu. 15 (3). Check date values in: |year= (help) Robert M. Price, West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. Original publication: Derleth (June 1937). "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". River. 1 (3).
  • Dziemianowicz, Stefan (Eastertide 1992). "Divers Hands". Crypt of Cthulhu. 11 (2). Check date values in: |year= (help) Robert M. Price, West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press.
  • Dziemianowicz, Stefan. "The Cthulhu Mythos: Chronicle of a Controversy". In The Lovecraft Society of New England (ed) Necronomicon: The Cthulhu Mythos Convention 1993 (convention book). Boston, MA: NecronomiCon, 1993, pp. 25–31
  • Carter, Lin (1972). Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos. New York, NY: Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-02427-3.

External links

Alan Moore's The Courtyard

Alan Moore's The Courtyard is a two-issue comic book mini-series published in 2003 by Avatar Press. The comic was adapted by Antony Johnston with artwork by Jacen Burrows from a 1994 prose story by Alan Moore (credited as "consulting editor").

All-Consuming Fire

All-Consuming Fire is an original novel written by Andy Lane and based on the long-running British science fiction television series Doctor Who. The novel is a crossover with Arthur Conan Doyle's fictional detective Sherlock Holmes featuring the characters of both Holmes and Doctor Watson, and also with H. P. Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos. A prelude to the novel, also penned by Lane, appeared in Doctor Who Magazine issue 213.

Books in the Cthulhu Mythos

Many fictional works of arcane literature appear in H.P. Lovecraft's cycle of interconnected works often known as the Cthulhu Mythos. The main literary purpose of these works is to explain how characters within the tales come by occult or esoterica (knowledge that is unknown to the general populace). However, in some cases the works themselves serve as an important plot device. Thus, in Robert Bloch's tale "The Shambler from the Stars", a weird fiction writer seals his doom by casting a spell from the arcane book De Vermis Mysteriis.

Another purpose of these tomes was to give members of the Lovecraft Circle a means to pay homage to one another. Consequently, Clark Ashton Smith used Lovecraft's Necronomicon (his most prominent creation) in Smith's tale "Ubbo-Sathla". Likewise, Lovecraft used Robert E. Howard's Nameless Cults in his tale "Out of the Aeons". Thereafter, these texts and others appear in the works of numerous other Mythos authors (some of whom have added their own grimoires to the literary arcana), including August Derleth, Lin Carter, Brian Lumley, Jonathan L. Howard, and Ramsey Campbell.

Cthulhu Mythos anthology

A Cthulhu Mythos anthology is a type of short story collection that contains stories written in or related to the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror fiction launched by H. P. Lovecraft. Such anthologies have helped to define and popularize the genre.

Cthulhu Mythos deities

H. P. Lovecraft created a number of deities throughout the course of his literary career, including the "Great Old Ones" and aliens, such as the "Elder Things", with sporadic references to other miscellaneous deities (e.g. Nodens) whereas the "Outer Gods" are a later creation of other prolific writers such as August Derleth, who was credited with formalizing the Cthulhu Mythos.

Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture

This article provides a list of cultural references to the work of author H. P. Lovecraft. These references are collectively known as the Cthulhu Mythos. For works that are stylistically Lovecraftian, including comics and film adaptations influenced by Lovecraft, see Lovecraftian horror.

Deep One

The Deep Ones are creatures in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. The beings first appeared in Lovecraft's novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth (1931), but were already hinted at in the early short story "Dagon". The Deep Ones are a race of intelligent ocean-dwelling creatures, approximately human-shaped but with a fishy, froggy appearance. They regularly mate with humans along the coast, creating societies of hybrids.

Numerous Mythos elements are associated with the Deep Ones, including the legendary town of Innsmouth, the undersea city of Y'ha-nthlei, the Esoteric Order of Dagon, and the beings known as Father Dagon and Mother Hydra. After their debut in Lovecraft's tale, the sea-dwelling creatures resurfaced in the works of other authors, especially August Derleth.

Dunwich (Lovecraft)

Dunwich is a fictional village that appeared in the H. P. Lovecraft novella "The Dunwich Horror" (1929). Dunwich is found in the Miskatonic River Valley of Massachusetts, part of the region sometimes called Lovecraft Country. The inhabitants are depicted as inbred, uneducated, and very superstitious, while the town itself is described as economically poor with many decrepit and abandoned buildings.

Extraterrestrial places in the Cthulhu Mythos

The following fictional celestial bodies figure prominently in the Cthulhu Mythos stories of H. P. Lovecraft and other writers. Many of these astronomical bodies have parallels in the real universe, but are often renamed in the mythos and given fictitious characteristics. In addition to the celestial places created by Lovecraft, the mythos draws from a number of other sources, including the works of August Derleth, Ramsey Campbell, Lin Carter, Brian Lumley, and Clark Ashton Smith.


Name. The name of the celestial body appears first.

Description. A brief description follows.

In the Walls of Eryx

"In the Walls of Eryx" is a short story by American writers H. P. Lovecraft and Kenneth J. Sterling, written in January 1936 and first published in Weird Tales magazine in October 1939. It is unusual among Lovecraft's work, being a standard science fiction story involving space exploration in the near future.

Kingsport (Lovecraft)

Kingsport is a fictional town in the writings of H. P. Lovecraft and used by subsequent writers in his tradition. The town first appeared in Lovecraft's short story "The Terrible Old Man" (1921).

Many-angled ones

The many-angled ones are fictional other-dimensional beings linked to the Cthulhu Mythos. They first appeared in Grant Morrison's story Zenith, which appeared in the British comics anthology 2000 AD. In Zenith, they are known as the Lloigor, a direct reference to creatures from the Cthulhu Mythos. However, they appear somewhat different from the Cthulhu Mythos entities. In the comic, the many-angled ones plan to impose rigid geometrical order on the whole universe, essentially reducing it to clockwork.The many-angled ones exist in a space with more dimensions than our own; hence, they appear to be many angled. As a result, when they manifest in our universe they appear as disconnected floating body parts of some larger beast that is complete in the higher dimension (similar to how a three dimensional being would appear in flatland as its parts pass through the plane of that two-dimensional world).

Miskatonic University

Miskatonic University is a fictional university located in Arkham, a fictional town in Essex County, Massachusetts. It is named after the Miskatonic River (also fictional). After first appearing in H. P. Lovecraft's 1922 story "Herbert West–Reanimator", the school appeared in numerous Cthulhu Mythos stories by Lovecraft and other writers. The story "The Dunwich Horror" implies that Miskatonic University is a highly prestigious university, on par with Harvard University, and that Harvard and Miskatonic are the two most popular schools for the children of the Massachusetts “Old Gentry”. The university also appears in role-playing games and board games based on the mythos.

Mu (lost continent)

Mu is the name of a suggested lost continent whose concept and name were proposed by 19th-century traveler and writer Augustus Le Plongeon, who claimed that several ancient civilizations, such as those of Egypt and Mesoamerica, were created by refugees from Mu—which he stated was located in the Atlantic Ocean. This concept was popularized and expanded by James Churchward, who asserted that Mu was once located in the Pacific.The existence of Mu was already being disputed in Le Plongeon's time. Currently scientists dismiss the concept of Mu (and other alleged lost continents such as Lemuria) as physically impossible, arguing that a continent can neither sink nor be destroyed in the short period of time required by this premise. Mu's existence is considered to have no factual basis.

Nodens (Cthulhu Mythos)

Nodens (Lord of the Great Abyss or Nuada of the Silver Hand) is a fictional character in the Cthulhu Mythos. Based on the Celtic deity, Nodens, he is the creation of H. P. Lovecraft and first appeared in his short story "The Strange High House in the Mist" (1926).


Sarkomand is a fictional city in H.P. Lovecraft's Dream Cycle stories, first mentioned in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.A ruined city on the northern shore of the Cerenerian Sea in the Dreamlands, it is described as being inhabited by the Men of Leng and was supposedly the capital of this race's realm in the distant past before they were conquered by the moon-beasts. The most prominent feature of Sarkomand is the Winged Lions guarding the trapdoor beneath which a spiral staircase descends into the Dark Abyss of the Dreamlands' underworld.

The city's name may have been inspired by Samarkand.

The Nameless City

"The Nameless City" is a horror story written by American writer H. P. Lovecraft in January 1921 and first published in the November 1921 issue of the amateur press journal The Wolverine. It is often considered the first Cthulhu Mythos story.


Yuggoth (or Iukkoth) is a fictional planet in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. It is deemed to be located at the very edge of the Solar System.

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