Why Is Cthulhu So Popular?
In his home of dead R'lyeh, Cthulhu dreams and waits.
The Cthulhu myth is undoubtedly one of the most popular and complex myths of the 20th century. Born in the 1920s from the imagination of American novelist H.P. Lovecraft, it quickly became famous for its stories, some of which have been adapted for the cinema.
Who is Cthulhu, the giant tentacled monster created by Lovecraft? Let's find out. We will also ask ourselves the question: "Why is Cthulhu so popular?"
Who is Cthulhu?
Cthulhu is the main antagonist of The Myth of Cthulhu, by horror author H. P. Lovecraft. He first appears in the 1928 story The Call of Cthulhu. He is one of the Great Old Ones, an ancient race of deities comparable to cosmic beings and archdemons in other fantasy works. Cthulhu is famous for his grotesque appearance and gigantic size, as well as for his ability to drive any human contemplating him mad.
Although not the most powerful of Lovecraft's other creations (overshadowed by external gods such as Yog-Sothoth, Nyarlathotep and Azathoth), he is nonetheless the most famous, and his name has been associated with Lovecraftian evil and horror ever since the creature first came to public attention in the 1920s.
How do you pronounce Cthulhu?
First, a note on the pronunciation of Cthulhu: Lovecraft himself gave several different pronunciations of the creature's name throughout his life, including "Kllulluh", with a heavily guttural first syllable. However, the most common pronunciation of Cthulhu, and also the most popular, is "Ka-thulu".
The truth is, it's an alien name and has to be pronounced in an alien language, so no answer is really right. As "Ka-thulu" is the most common pronunciation, it's the commonly accepted one.
Cthulhu, priest of the Great Old Ones
Cthulhu is considered the priest of the Great old ones, a species that came to Earth from the stars before the appearance of human life. The Great Old Ones became dormant and their city slipped beneath the earth's crust, under the Pacific Ocean.
The Great Old Ones communicated with humans telepathically and, in hidden corners of the world, uncivilized people remembered Cthulhu and worshipped him according to rites described as repugnant. These groups possessed statues of Cthulhu, seemingly made of materials unavailable on Earth, and chanted the phrase "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn", which means: In his home in R'lyeh, the dead Cthulhu waits, dreaming.
When the conditions are right, the city will rise up and, with the help of the eternal cult of Cthulhu, Cthulhu will awaken and rule the world once again.
What does Cthulhu look like?
The most detailed descriptions of Cthulhu are based on statues of the creature. One of these, built by an artist after a series of evil dreams, is said to have "produced simultaneous images of an octopus, a dragon and a human caricature: 'A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque, scaly body endowed with rudimentary wings'".
Another, recovered by police during a raid on a murder cult, "depicted a monster vaguely anthropoid in outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery body, prodigious claws on the hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind."
Castro, a follower of the Cthulhu cult, reports that the Great Old Ones, including Cthulhu, are telepathic and know everything that's going on in the universe. They were able to communicate with early humans by modeling their dreams, thus establishing the cult of Cthulhu.
The cult of Cthulhu
Cthulhu has a cult dedicated entirely to him, with followers all over the world. The supposedly immortal leaders of the Cthulhu cult are said to reside in the mountains of China. Nihilistic in nature, the cult seeks to awaken the Great Old Ones and bring about an apocalyptic age of darkness in which mankind is reduced to screaming and killing each other in fits of madness. Cthulhu is also revered by the Deep Ones and the Mi-go, other extraterrestrial beings from Lovecraft's world.
Cthulhu also has numerous stellar offspring at his disposal; these creatures seem to share his general appearance, but are much smaller and less powerful, although their nature and relationship to Cthulhu are largely unknown.
When did Cthulhu first appear in HP Lovecraft's books?
Cthulhu first appears in "The whisperer in darkness" and "At the mountains of madness". In the 1931 short story the whisperer in darkness, the protagonist, Albert N. Wilmarth, a professor of literature, learns of the existence of the "Great Old Ones", a race of cosmic beings from the depths of space.
It is revealed here that Cthulhu is one of these Great Old Ones, who constitute all the cosmic beings of Lovecraftian myth. While references are made to a war in the depths of space, at the mountains of madness makes it clear that Cthulhu and the Great Old Ones are at war with each other. Cthulhu landed on Earth, creating the city of R'lyeh out of nowhere before entering hibernation, taking the city with him into the depths of the ocean.
This is where Call of Cthulhu comes in. This 1926 short story introduced readers to the creature, described in greater detail and playing a central role in the story's ending.
Why is Cthulhu so popular?
An interesting fact to note about Cthulhu is that he's not the most powerful being in Lovecraft's universe - that's Azathoth, the center of the universe and leader of the cosmic deities. In fact, in the grand scheme of things, Cthulhu is just a footnote in Lovecraft's work. So why is Cthulhu so popular?
I see two reasons for its success in popular culture. The first and most important is the very image of Cthulhu. Cthulhu is instantly recognizable in the vast majority of its artistic representations because it's a very concrete form.
The representation of Cthulhu
He's almost always depicted as vaguely anthropoid, with an octopus head, a mass of tentacles in his facial claws, wings... and lots of green. The other entities of the Cthulhu mythos are a little harder to describe and vary from author to author.
Yog-Sothoth, Shub-Niggurath and Azathoth are often described as simple masses of bubbles, tentacles, flesh, mouths, teeth and other vague appendages. When you look at a Cthulhu image, you usually know exactly what you're looking at.
This has helped a lot with recognition, but it also helps that Cthulhu is often well regarded for its image. Whether the representation is meant to be cool, scary or adorable, Cthulhu can cover a lot of ground.
The fear of Cthulhu
Secondly, Cthulhu represents a very real and tangible fear. Lovecraft drew on his fear of water and the ocean when he created Cthulhu, and it's a common fear among people.
Of course, thinking about our existence and our place in the grand scheme of the cosmos can certainly be frightening, but the dark depths of water are much closer and more real fears for most people. Combining the unknown aspect of the ocean's depths with the monstrosity of a giant alien slumbering beneath our feet is a very effective way of getting into people's heads.
A less important reason is perhaps a bit of a snowball effect, because of the other two reasons. Cthulhu has appeared in many, many different media, from books to films, video games, board games, and on the Internet in many different forms.
Although Lovecraft didn't live to see the success of his work, in the decades following his death, other authors began writing stories about the Cthulhu Mythos. Among them Robert Bloch, Stephen King, Neil Gaiman and Alan Moore, making Cthulhu a creature to be reckoned with.
By the turn of the 21st century, the Cthulhu Mythos had become a cultural phenomenon. In addition to metafiction, the myth has inspired music (much of it instrumental), horror films and, above all, games, including board games, card games, tabletop role-playing games and video and online games.
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