Cthulhu Mythos

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A sketch of the fictional character Cthulhu, drawn by his creator, H. P. Lovecraft, May 11, 1934
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.

The Cthulhu Mythos is a shared fictional universe, based on the work of American horror writer H. P. Lovecraft. The term was coined by August Derleth, a contemporary correspondent of Lovecraft, to identify the system of lore employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors. The name Cthulhu derives from a central creature in Lovecraft literature[1][full citation needed] from the short story "The Call of Cthulhu," which was first published in pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. The writer Richard L. Tierney later applied the term "Derleth Mythos" to distinguish between Lovecraft's works and Derleth's later stories.[2]

Authors of Lovecraftian horror use elements of the Cthulhu Mythos in an ongoing expansion of the fictional universe.[3]:viii-ix


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,[4]:8 attempted to categorize and expand the Mythos.[5]: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.[citation needed] Lovecraft made frequent references to the "Great Old Ones": a loose pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth and who have since fallen into a deathlike sleep.[3]:viii While these 'Gods'have been present in all of Lovecraft's published work (his published work Dagon (short story) is considered the start of the mythos]] the first story to really expand the Pantheon and its themes is The Call of Cthulhu published in 1928. Lovecraft broke with other pulp writers of the time by having his main charters minds deteriorate when afforded a glimpse of what exists outside their perceived reality. He emphasised 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."[6]

Writer Dirk W. Mosig notes that Lovecraft was a "mechanistic materialist" who embraced the philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. Lovecraft believed in a purposeless, mechanical, and uncaring universe. Human beings, with their limited faculties, could never fully understand this universe, and the cognitive dissonance caused by this revelation leads to insanity. Lovecraft's viewpoint 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.[7][8]: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 apparently 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).[9]

David E. Schultz, however, believes Lovecraft never meant to create a canonical Mythos but rather intended his imaginary pantheon to merely serve as a background element.[10] 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[11][12]). At times, Lovecraft had to remind readers that his mythos creations were entirely fictional.[8]:33–34

The view that there was no rigid structure is reinforced by S. T. Joshi, who stated "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... [T]here was never a rigid system that might be posthumously appropriated... [T]he 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."[13]

Price, however, believed that Lovecraft's writings could at least be divided into categories and identified three distinct themes: the "Dunsanian" (written in the vein of Lord Dunsany), "Arkham" (occurring in Lovecraft's fictionalized New England setting), and "Cthulhu" (the cosmic tales) cycles.[5]: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.[14][ISBN missing]

Although not formalized and acknowledged as a mythos per se, Lovecraft did correspond with contemporary writers 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" – and shared story elements:[15][page needed][16][page needed] 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).[5]:6–7 Many of Howard's original unedited Conan stories also form part of the Cthulhu Mythos.[17]

Second stage

Price's dichotomy dictates the second stage commenced with August Derleth. The principal difference between Lovecraft and Derleth being the latter's use of hope and that the Cthulhu mythos essentially represented a struggle between good and evil.[4]: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... [T]hese 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...
—August Derleth, "The Cthulhu Mythos"[18]

Price suggests that the basis of Derleth's systematization is found in Lovecraft, stating: "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 we find the history of a conflict between two interstellar races (among others): the Elder Ones and the Cthulhu-spawn."[19] Derleth himself believed that Lovecraft wished for other authors to actively write about the myth-cycle as opposed to it being a discrete plot device.[10]: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.[5]:9–10

Derleth also attempted to connect the deities of the Mythos to the four elements (air, earth, fire, and water), but was forced to adopt artistic license and create beings to represent certain elements (air and fire) to legitimize his system of classification.[note 1] In applying the elemental theory to beings that function on a cosmic scale (e.g. Yog-Sothoth) some authors created a separate category termed aethyr.[citation needed]

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

See also


  1. Derleth created "Cthugha" when fan Francis Towner Laney claim Derleth had neglected to include a fire elemental 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). (Robert M. Price, "Editorial Shards", Crypt of Cthulhu #32, p. 2.) Laney's essay ("The Cthulhu Mythos") was later republished in Crypt of Cthulhu #32 (1985).


  1. "Cthulhu Elsewhere in Lovecraft," Crypt of Cthulhu #9
  2. Schweitzer, Darrell (2001). Discovering H. P. Lovecraft (Revised ed.). Holicong, Pennsylvania: Wildside Press. p. 52. ISBN 9781587154713.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  3. 3.0 3.1 Harms, Daniel (1998). The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.). Oakland, California: Chaosium, Inc. ISBN 9781568821191.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  4. 4.0 4.1 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. 5.0 5.1 5.2 5.3 Price, Robert M. (1990). H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos. Mercer Island, Washington: Starmont House. ISBN 1557421528.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Lovecraft, H.P. (2014). The Call of Cuthulhu. Lanham: Start Publishing LLC. ISBN 1609772695.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  7. Mosig, Yozan Dirk W. "Lovecraft: The Dissonance Factor in imaginary Literature" (1979).
  8. 8.0 8.1 Mariconda, Steven J. (1995). On the Emergence of "Cthulhu" & Other Observations. West Warwick, Rhode Island: Necronomicon Press. ISBN 9780940884816.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  9. Shreffler, Philip A. (1977). The H. P. Lovecraft Companion. Westport, Connecticut: Greenwood Press. pp. 156–157. ISBN 9780837194820.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  10. 10.0 10.1 Connors, Scott (2002). A Century Less a Dream: Selected Criticism on H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Holikong, Pennsylvania: Wildside Press. pp. 46, 54. ISBN 9781587152153.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  11. 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  12. "Yog-Sothothery". Timpratt.org. Retrieved 2012-11-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  13. Joshi, S.T. (1995). Miscellaneous Writings (1st ed.). Sauk City, Wisconsin: Arkham House Publishers. pp. 165–166. ISBN 9780870541681.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  14. Van Hise, James (1999). The Fantastic Worlds of H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Yucca Valley, California: James Van Hise. pp. 105, 107.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  15. Joshi, S. T. (1980). H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism. Athens, Ohio: Ohio University Press. ISBN 9780821405772.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  16. Schweitzer, Darrell (1996). Discovering Classic Fantasy Fiction: Essays on the Antecedents of Fantastic Literature. Gillette, New Jersey: Wildside Press. ISBN 9781587150043.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  17. Howard, Robert E.; Schultz, Mark (2003). The Coming of Conan the Cimmerian (1st ed.). New York: Del Rey/Ballantine Books. p. 436. ISBN 0345461517.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  18. Derleth, August (1997). The Cthulhu Mythos. New York: Barnes & Noble Books. p. vii. ISBN 0760702535.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  19. "Lovecraft-Derleth Connection". Crypt-of-cthulhu.com. Retrieved 2012-11-28.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

Further reading

  • Bloch, Robert. Strange Eons. Whispers Press.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Burleson, Donald R. (1979). "The Lovecraft Mythos". In Frank N. Magill (ed.). Survey of Science Fiction Literature (Vol. 3 ed.). Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Salem Press. pp. 1284–8. ISBN 978-0-89356-197-0. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Jens (ed.), Tina (1999). Cthulhu and the Coeds: Kids and Squids. Chicago, Illinois: Twilight Tales. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Joshi, S. T. (1982). H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). Mercer Island, WA: Starmont House. ISBN 978-0-916732-36-3.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) [1928]. "The Call of Cthulhu". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. London, UK; New York, NY: Penguin Books. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Price, Robert M. (1996). "Introduction". In Robert M. Price (ed.). The New Lovecraft Circle. New York, NY: Random House, Inc. ISBN 978-0-345-44406-6. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Price, Robert M. (1991). "Lovecraft's 'Artificial Mythology'". In David E. Schultz and S. T. Joshi (ed.). 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. <templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Turner, James (1998). "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu Fhtagn!". Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1st ed.). Random House. ISBN 978-0-345-42204-0.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • August, Derleth (Lammas 1996) [1937]. "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". Crypt of Cthulhu. 15 (3). Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Robert M. Price (ed.), West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. Original publication: Derleth (June 1937). "H. P. Lovecraft—Outsider". River. 1 (3).<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Dziemianowicz, Stefan (Eastertide 1992). "Divers Hands". Crypt of Cthulhu. 11 (2). Check date values in: |year= (help)<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles> Robert M. Price (ed.), 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.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links