This weeks prompt: 25. Man visits museum of antiquities—asks that it accept a bas-relief he has just made—old and learned curator laughs and says he cannot accept anything so modern. Man says that ‘dreams are older than brooding Egypt or the contemplative Sphinx or garden-girdled Babylonia’ and that he had fashioned the sculpture in his dreams. Curator bids him shew his product, and when he does so curator shews horror. Asks who the man may be. He tells modern name. “No—before that” says curator. Man does not remember except in dreams. Then curator offers high price, but man fears he means to destroy sculpture. Asks fabulous price—curator will consult directors. Add good development and describe nature of bas-relief.
This prompt gifts us with a rather clear cut outline. I will dwell very rarely on the specific here, however, and entire into something a bit more deep of a dive. For the stars have aligned, my good brothers and sisters. Firstly, we approach the fiftieth post (our twenty fifth story). Secondly, fortuitously, this stands as perhaps the prompt for the most famous story of Mr. Lovecraft. The Call of Cthulhu.
For such an occasion, we cannot simply go without celebration. So, we will be extending both the story and the research into three parts. Here, we shall discuss the great priest of the Old Ones himself, his mythic ties, his modern depictions, and ia ia. Our story will like wise be in three parts, such that in six weeks time our revelry will be done. And then our normalcy will return.
If by some luck you are unfamiliar with the story of the arch-squamous one, I recommend reading it now. It is a delight and a classic of horror, if a bit weighty as most of Lovecraft is. The nature of the tale is (like ours) split into three sections, and runs about a novella long.
Cthulhu stands as an interesting character in horror. He is an odd personality, a monster that stands as an icon now…but is rarely present in his own tale. So vast and huge is the difference between himself and his appearance in the popular mind that establishing where his stands from a myth or arch typical perspective is necessary.
While there are hold outs that attest to his nature as an alien power (The Mountains of Madness confirm this), and originally seems to lack any mystical proprieties, he none the less taps into a mythic mold. Namely, a force of Khaos, defeated and sealed ages back.
By this I mean, Cthulhu is (by all accounts) a thinking entity. He is not human, and thinks in a way alien to us, but he is not himself a gibbering god like Azazoth or a massive and mighty Shoggoth. He is alien and disturbing, but he is not insane. And in myth we have plenty of similar creatures.
We have of course mighty Tiamat, mother of monsters, and her lawgiver Kingu. Both, like Cthulhu, bear a resemblance to aquatic lifeforms, and both bear an association with dragons. And both further are defeated by a younger age of similar entities (the Elder Things and the likes of Marduk). Kingu as a subordinate servant with still great power resembles Cthulhu in particular, with Cthulhu being pontiff and grandson of Yog-Sothoth.
Such creatures also bear Lovecraftian description (many heads) things with all description (containing mineral, animal, and vegetable qualities) or even as Hundun, a Chinese entity who walks like a man with no nose, mouth, or eyes. The primeval entity Leviathan in some midrashic lore likewise predates the current creation, and capable of waging war on the almighty YHWH alone.
In the lore of the Aztecs a great crocodile prevented the current creation, with a mouth on every joint, named Cipactli who devoured the foot of one of the great gods. In Greek myth, the Titans lack a clear oceanic link, but Typhon (a mighty dragon like creature that stands like a man) rose from the deep to make war on Olympus. So tall that the stars were knocked aside by his head, the great last son of earth made war on Zeus, driving all other Olympians to flee before him. If it weren’t for a nearby shepherd saving Zeus’s sinews, he would be driven out. Again like Cthulhu he is a descendant of a mightier set parents (Gaia and Erebus for the record).
All this is to say, fear of the sea and great creatures in it extends past song. The sea is often acknowledge as a primeval lord. Poseidon, the great Greek God of the Sea, unleashes storms and rages against the authority of Zeus in the Illiad. In the Oddessey he fathers monstrous races like the Cyclops and worse. The sea goddess of the Netsilik like wise sends terrors and misery when left unappeased, and is mother of all creatures from the sea as well.
The dragon kings of the sea are mighty enough to earn respect from the Jade Emperor in the Journey to the West. Uncheliga emerges from Lakota myth likewise, She was described at first as having no real shape or form; she had eyes of fire, and a fanged mouth that was shrouded in a smoky or cloudy mass. As time went on further, her form was exposed as being massive, with a long scaly body whose natural armor was almost impenetrable. Her eyes burned with wrathful hunger, her claws were like iron, and her voice raged like thunder rolling in the clouds.
From the sea comes the enemies of the gods, then. And Cthulhu fits this initially in a symbolic sense, at first anyway. He towers as a draconic-squid-man from the sea, who’s rising would end the age of human dominance (which is also the age of the gods). This notion is reinforced with later inventions by August Derleth, who sets the forces led by Cthulhu against as the Elder Gods (yes, yes the naming is a tad confusing). While Derleth’s connections remove some of the horror and utter alien-ness of Cthulhu and sometimes impose a morality, there is an underlining reason.
Cthulhu’s nature, and what sets him apart from all others (and what ties him to this prompt), is his more than active mind. Cthulhu, when he begins to rise, effects and infects other minds with messages. As we’ve said countless times, visions and inspiration from dreams has divine connotations. This makes Cthulhu’s rise more like a volcanic erruption (which is often called the breath of Typhon) than anything else. It should be said that this is an unusual incident. Only at the right time is something so terrible glimpsed.
Cthulhu bears one more trait akin to those older beings: His kin are terrors. Cthulhu bears four known children by his own kind: Cthylla, Ghatanothoa, Ythogtha, and Zoth-Ommog. Each is worshiped in its own right. And then there are his subjects, the alien star spawn who shift shape and size at will like demons or djinn.
Cthulhu’s presence as a divine terror glimpsed in a moment of inspiration ties him to those dread Muses we once discussed, as well as some diabolical tales of musicians making deals with for inspiration. But all that is for another time. For now we will leave the great god below. For now.