“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age. ”
― H. P. Lovecraft, The Call of Cthulhu
So if you have never heard of the author known as H.P. Lovecraft(1890-1937), the above quote gives you a glimpse of his though process. Lovecraft is a horror science fiction writer that is world famous due to his prolific weird fiction. In today’s world he is a prominent inspiration for many authors still to this day and even has a genre named after him, Lovecraftian horror.
The most famous cosmic entity in his fiction is Cthulhu, even though this story The Call of Cthulhu, is the only story in the mythos to firmly reference him. The story begins with a man named Francis Wayland Thurston recounting his experience of discovering notes left behind by his great uncle George Angell, a prominent professor of Semitic languages at Brown University. Angell was killed by a sailor in the winter of 1926, who will be mentioned later.
The first chapter is named The Horror in Clay, Thurston finds a clay sculpture that is described like this,
“My somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings”.
and finds that the sculptor is a student by the name of Henry Anthony Wilcox from a prominent school of design who made the work by recounting his delirious and sinister dreams of
“great Cyclopean cities of titanic blocks and sky-flung monoliths, all dripping with green ooze and sinister with latent horror”.
In letters from George Angell’s inquiry into the situation finds out that at the same time of Wilcox’s delirium many people around the world suffered the same bouts of madness and mental illness.
In the second chapter titled, The Tale of Inspector Legrasse, entails the first time Professor Angell heard the name of Cthulhu. While at a meeting of the American Archaeological Society, a police official from New Orleans named John Raymond Legrasse asks the society if they could identify a statue acquired during a raid in the Louisiana bayou. Angell is intrigued to find that the statue looks exactly like the one sculpted by Wilcox many years before, a
“…thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters”.
and learns that Legrasse raided a voodoo cult that was being investigated for the disappearances of women and children in 1907. What they found at the ritual site was covered in the “oddly marred” bodies of the victims with 100 men dancing and repeating a chant. The police led by Legrassse kill five members and arrest fourty-seven of the men and interrogate them to learn there abhorrent faith as being.
“They worshipped, so they said, the Great Old Ones who lived ages before there were any men…and…formed a cult which had never died…hidden in distant wastes and dark places all over the world until the time when the great priest Cthulhu, from his dark house in the mighty city of R’lyeh under the waters, should rise and bring the earth again beneath his sway. Some day he would call, when the stars were ready, and the secret cult would always be waiting to liberate him.”
The cultists identify the statue as Cthulhu himself and wait for his return and translate the phrase to, “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”. The main talkative cult member named “Old Castro” refers to another one of Lovecraft’s creation known as the Necronomicon stating “That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die”.
Thurston travels to New Zealand himself and then Australia, where at a Museum he views a statue retrieved from the Alert with a “cuttlefish head, dragon body, scaly wings, and hieroglyphic pedestal”. While in Oslo, Thurston learns that Johansen died suddenly during an encounter with two men off the coast of Norway. Johansen’s widow provides Thurston with a manuscript written by her late husband, which reveals the fate of everyone aboard the Emma. The uncharted island is described as “a coastline of mingled mud, ooze, and weedy Cyclopean masonry which can be nothing less than the tangible substance of earth’s supreme terror—the nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh”. The crew struggle in comprehending the otherworldly geometry of their surroundings. They accidently open a “monstrously carven portal” that unleashes Cthulu himself.
In the third chapter named, The Madness from The Sea, recounts Thurston’s discovery of an article dated April 18, 1925, from the Sydney Bulletin, an Australian newspaper. The article reported the discovery of a derelict ship in the Pacific Ocean with only one survivor—a Norwegian sailor named Gustaf Johansen, second mate onboard the Emma, a schooner which originally sailed from New Zealand. On March 22, the Emma encountered a heavily-armed yacht, the Alert, crewed by “a queer and evil-looking crew of Kanakas and half-castes” from Dunedin. After being attacked by the Alert without provocation, the crew of the Emma killed everyone aboard, but lost their own ship in the battle. Commandeering their opponent’s vessel, the surviving crewmembers travel on and arrive at an uncharted island. With the exception of Johansen and a fellow sailor, the remaining crewmembers perish on the island. Johansen never revealed the cause of their death.
“It lumbered slobberingly into sight and gropingly squeezed Its gelatinous green immensity through the black doorway…. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintilions of years, Great Cthulhu was loose again and ravening for delight”.
,the Alert escapes from R’lyeh, with Briden having gone insane and dying soon afterwards. After finishing the manuscript, Thurston realizes he’s now a possible target, thinking: “I know too much, and the cult still lives”.
Lovecraft lived during a time where technology was not particularly advanced and that it was possible for an intellectual like Lovecraft to think long and hard about our own humanity. His stories are focused on characters coming across things beyond their understanding and coming to terms with the vast meaningless of everyday life. Existential dread and paranoia are interwoven into these stories and are the keystone to great stories about the fragility of our own humanities. The complexity of his stories are concepts that have been hard to put onto screens, especially in our modern world, a movie like Annihilation is a fantastic example of cosmic horror being attempted to be visualized, but a rare glimpse into what Lovecraft has put into the minds of contemporary science fiction writers.
The thought of something being out there beyond my understanding does keep me up at night, but it is hard to imagine such things when I am not able to abstractly think of something beyond my own comprehension. Entities with goals and secrets nothing like my own just waiting to reveal a dark reality to us. Perhaps there is a deeper truth out there that is waiting to be discovered, something that will change everything, maybe it is a deformed god like Lovecraft’s Old One’s. These stories are not for everyone, and I have come to terms with that, but even though Lovecraft is old fiction, it is still fantastic to read and contemplate afterwards. Us questioning the depths and limits of our own made up realities is what the king of horror would have wanted.
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