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(Pop Matters)   The unintended religious legacy of H.P. Lovecraft   (popmatters.com) divider line 151
    More: Strange, H.P. Lovecraft, religious rituals, cults, Terry Pratchett, Robert Heinlein, cthulhu, Catholic Mass, Poe  
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2010-08-21 01:02:36 AM
The Dread Page Of Azathoth
©1991 John Tynes
[The following column generated some interesting comments from readers, both positive and negative. It was my first attempt at formulating and expressing the philosophy that guides the magazine, the same philosophy (more or less) that guided HPL's writing. It may seem strange to speak of a philosophy guiding the content of a gaming magazine, but Call of Cthulhu is a strange game.]
"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 of 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."
The above lines constitute the opening paragraph of "The Call of Cthulhu," a short story by Howard Phillips Lovecraft. I fully believe that it is one of the most striking and significant pieces of fiction to appear in this century.
Lovecraft was not the best of writers, certainly not from a modern appraisal. His writing, though endearingly archaic, is nonetheless often overblown and a trifle hard to accept. The `horrors' of the Cthulhu Mythos are, in truth, more than a little shopworn. They often speak more of the racial and national xenophobia of Lovecraft's time than they do of the otherworldly terrors they claim to represent.
With this in mind, let's try a little experiment.
From the Koran, chapter 25, verse 29: "For mankind, Satan is Khadhulu." What's that? Cthulhu?
From The Golden Bough, by James G. Frazier (the original two-volume edition): "Similar priestly or rather divine kings are found ... on the west coast of Africa. At Shark Point near Cape Padron, in Lower Guinea, lives the priestly king Kukulu, alone in a wood. He may not touch a woman nor leave his house; indeed he may not even quit his chair, in which he is obliged to sleep sitting..." Yes, The Golden Bough does exist (you can probably find it or order it from any large university bookstore) and it does indeed contain the above reference, curiously similar to Lord Cthulhu, dreaming in his house of R'lyeh.
Something wrong? Perhaps you hadn't expected this. I regret to say it doesn't end there.
From The Highest Altar, by Patrick Tierney (Viking Press, 1989): "According to Jose Huintrilaf, the cause of his withered leg is `a water creature,' a type of snake called Chunufilu ... Chunufilu means `Basket,' and the vision of this creature reveals a multitude of snake heads all woven together like strands in a wicker basket. It's a multi-headed snake monster, horrible to look at, a sort of Mapuche Medusa." The Highest Altar, a book on human sacrifice in South America, makes only this brief mention. But it's enough, isn't it? Can't you feel it now, the shivery uncertainty brought on by "the piecing together of dissociated knowledge?"
Well, you shouldn't. Because it's all bunk.
The Cthulhu Mythos is real only in the reader's mind. Cthulhu and his ilk don't exist; the above only represent phonetic coincidences, or more likely a demonstration of the common origins that languages and speech share.
The reason for my belief in the significance of "The Call of Cthulhu" lies not in the cheap spook-house horrors experienced by Lovecraft's trembling academics. Let's piece a few more things together, shall we?
I remember an afternoon spent with a friend of mine when I was a child. On the sidewalk in front of his home we found a baby bird, lacking feathers, lacking definition. It was a pink fleshy thing, its dark eyes clashing with the soft form they were joined to. It still lived, though apparently it had been injured in its fall from the tree. We debated over what we should do, and finally Ben reached a solution. He got on his bike and crushed the bird under its tires.
In Sunday school, there were two brothers I knew and played with during recess. One day the younger of the two told me how he and his cousins would spread hot sticky pitch on old planks of wood. They would then take stray cats they'd nabbed and press them up to the pitch where they'd get stuck helplessly. Then, he and his cousins would set the whole assembly on fire. The fur of the cats would catch flame quickly, and the cats would twist and jerk spastically as the fire burned down to their flesh, trapped by the sticky tar. Eventually - after a stretch of time - the cats would die. I asked him why they did it, and he said "because it's fun."
One of my housemates, Prima Wagan, has a friend who is a nurse at a local hospital. She described the case of a homeless man who was brought in suffering from exposure and a fever during one long cold night. Unbeknownst to the doctors, flies had lain their eggs in the man's nose while he lay unconscious in a wrapping of dirty newspapers. The eggs hatched, and the larvae crawled into the man's nasal cavity for warmth. As the man lay in bed, Prima's friend realized that there were maggots crawling out of the man's tear ducts. She was momentarily confused; when first glimpsed from the open doorway, they looked like tears.
Do you understand now? Do you understand the significance of Lovecraft's story? HPL, a gentle nihilist at heart, recognized quite clearly and perceptively that humanity's greatest threat was inhumanity, presented in his fiction as the great alien forces of the Mythos. Humans would not suffer from neglecting their prayers every night, nor from missing church for a few Sundays. Our eventual end - and Lovecraft refused to see it as anything other than inevitable and absolute - will be due to our own disregard for who and what we are. Ultimately, when we have lost sight of ourselves, we will be as one with Cthulhu and his minions in their writhing inhumanity. Lacking `Elder Signs' of conscience and self-respect, we shall pass beyond the dark age we now live in and pass into the dead sea of non-existence. Expressing this in fictional terms is Lovecraft's supreme accomplishment, bitter though it may be.
"Who knows the end? What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men. A time will come - but I must not and cannot think! Let me pray that, if I do not survive this manuscript, my executors may put caution before audacity and see that it meets no other eye." - H. P. Lovecraft, "The Call of Cthulhu"
 
2010-08-21 01:17:54 AM
You mean the FSM was known to the Old Ones?
 
2010-08-21 02:31:21 AM
I just ordered this great sounding documentary on Lovecraft and then this thread pops up. Seems like the stars are tight for Cthulhu.
 
2010-08-21 04:14:18 AM
I've never been a huge fan of Lovecraft's writing, but the fact that he was a fairly modern author who wrote in the style of people who were dead long before he was born should have been a clue he wasn't exactly being serious.
 
2010-08-21 05:30:44 AM
Oh, Christ. Some days, Fark makes me want to vomit. You idiots take this crap seriously, but you laugh at actual religions?! Or are you not being serious? It's hard to tell. Is this a case of ironic fandom? Is it a so-bad-it's-good thing? I DON'T GET IT!
 
2010-08-21 05:32:52 AM
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn and pass the ammunition.
 
2010-08-21 05:46:22 AM
SnakeMan: Oh, Christ. Some days, Fark makes me want to vomit. You idiots take this crap seriously, but you laugh at actual religions?! Or are you not being serious? It's hard to tell. Is this a case of ironic fandom? Is it a so-bad-it's-good thing? I DON'T GET IT!

Go ahead, prove that Cthulhu doesn't exist!
 
2010-08-21 05:46:26 AM
SnakeMan: Oh, Christ. Some days, Fark makes me want to vomit. You idiots take this crap seriously, but you laugh at actual religions?! Or are you not being serious? It's hard to tell. Is this a case of ironic fandom? Is it a so-bad-it's-good thing? I DON'T GET IT!

WTF are you even TALKING about?
 
2010-08-21 05:57:10 AM
Relatively Obscure: SnakeMan: Oh, Christ. Some days, Fark makes me want to vomit. You idiots take this crap seriously, but you laugh at actual religions?! Or are you not being serious? It's hard to tell. Is this a case of ironic fandom? Is it a so-bad-it's-good thing? I DON'T GET IT!

WTF are you even TALKING about?


I'm talking about all the farking Cthulhu/Lovecraft worship that goes on around here. I mean, this stuff is as bad as any mumbo jumbo spewed by L. Ron Hubbard, yet you people slobber all over it. What IS the difference?!
 
2010-08-21 06:00:14 AM
SnakeMan: I'm talking about all the farking Cthulhu/Lovecraft worship that goes on around here. I mean, this stuff is as bad as any mumbo jumbo spewed by L. Ron Hubbard, yet you people slobber all over it. What IS the difference?!

I have not experienced this "Cthulhu/Lovecraft worship." I'm reasonably sure most of us (and by most of us I mean that I don't know of ANY exception) are quite aware that he was writing fiction. Some people find it to be good fiction. So why the fark are you going on about "actual religions" and (I think) Scientology?
 
2010-08-21 06:07:59 AM
Relatively Obscure: SnakeMan: I'm talking about all the farking Cthulhu/Lovecraft worship that goes on around here. I mean, this stuff is as bad as any mumbo jumbo spewed by L. Ron Hubbard, yet you people slobber all over it. What IS the difference?!

I have not experienced this "Cthulhu/Lovecraft worship." I'm reasonably sure most of us (and by most of us I mean that I don't know of ANY exception) are quite aware that he was writing fiction. Some people find it to be good fiction. So why the fark are you going on about "actual religions" and (I think) Scientology?


Why is it taken so SERIOUSLY, like it's some magnificent work of art? IT'S A STUPID MOSNTER, what does it have to do with real life?! And really, you don't see the parallels with the sci-fi/fantasy that Scientology likes to employ?? It's like you people are aware of how bad religion and unreason are, how cults destroy the mind, yet you like to PRETEND you're part of a mind-destroying cult. So, like, it's a bad thing to be in a cult or religion FOR REAL, but it's cool and hip to pretend to be part of one, even if it's a cult that worships a blood-lusting space alien thing.

The line between reality and pretend is very blurry here.
 
2010-08-21 06:07:59 AM
SnakeMan: I'm talking about all the farking Cthulhu/Lovecraft worship that goes on around here. I mean, this stuff is as bad as any mumbo jumbo spewed by L. Ron Hubbard, yet you people slobber all over it. What IS the difference?!

Um, you were the fifth posting in the thread, and I didn't see the four of us before you fawning over Lovecraft.

WTF ARE you talking about?
 
2010-08-21 06:08:53 AM
Ok, maybe that first guy, but that was too long to read.

But WTF are you talking about? How drunk ARE you?
 
2010-08-21 06:10:23 AM
SnakeMan: So, like, it's a bad thing to be in a cult or religion FOR REAL, but it's cool and hip to pretend to be part of one, even if it's a cult that worships a blood-lusting space alien thing.

And yeah, I'd agree with that statement, although I'm far from cool and hip. When you start treating fictional fairy tales FOR REAL, alarm bells go off around sane people.
 
2010-08-21 06:11:45 AM
And Lovecraft strikes me as a religious cock who worshiped unreason and trembled in fear at science. Just look at how he writes about "piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality". Oooh, scary! Science is EVIL, it's BLASPHEMY!
 
2010-08-21 06:14:12 AM
So you don't like Lovecraft very much, huh SnakeMan? I've never been too enthralled with his writing either but he could make up some nifty imagery. Still, you usually had to slog through page after page of dull exposition to get there.

But I guess he doesn't get me as worked up as he does you.
 
2010-08-21 06:19:42 AM
I'm thinking it's not alcohol, SnakeMan has been out of cocaine for about 90 minutes now.
 
2010-08-21 06:20:06 AM
SnakeMan: Why is it taken so SERIOUSLY, like it's some magnificent work of art? IT'S A STUPID MOSNTER, what does it have to do with real life?! And really, you don't see the parallels with the sci-fi/fantasy that Scientology likes to employ??

I got troll'd. :'(
 
2010-08-21 06:20:15 AM
Confabulat: So you don't like Lovecraft very much, huh SnakeMan? I've never been too enthralled with his writing either but he could make up some nifty imagery. Still, you usually had to slog through page after page of dull exposition to get there.

But I guess he doesn't get me as worked up as he does you.


Have you ever been told, either directly or indirectly, by many people that this or that piece of artwork is the "GREATEST THING EVAR" (in so many words), and you don't understand what's so great about it, and as a result you hate it and its fans way more than you should?

And if you haven't noticed all the Lovecraft fanboys around here, you apparently haven't read any threads that involve doctored Family Circus cartoons.
 
2010-08-21 06:21:43 AM
Confabulat: I'm thinking it's not alcohol, SnakeMan has been out of cocaine for about 90 minutes now.

It's real late for me, is all. I'm also typing on a really high-res screen and it's hurting my ability to proofread. Maybe not such a good idea.
 
2010-08-21 06:23:44 AM
SnakeMan: Have you ever been told, either directly or indirectly, by many people that this or that piece of artwork is the "GREATEST THING EVAR" (in so many words), and you don't understand what's so great about it, and as a result you hate it and its fans way more than you should?

No, not really.
 
2010-08-21 06:24:23 AM
Oh, maybe Rocky Horror Picture Show when I was 18.

I got over it though.
 
2010-08-21 06:25:41 AM
Confabulat: SnakeMan: Have you ever been told, either directly or indirectly, by many people that this or that piece of artwork is the "GREATEST THING EVAR" (in so many words), and you don't understand what's so great about it, and as a result you hate it and its fans way more than you should?

No, not really.


REALLY? You're kidding me, right? That's happened to me countless times. No, really, you're bullshiatting me. You've never encountered anything in your life that had obsessive fans who went on and on about how great it was? You liar.
 
2010-08-21 06:26:36 AM
No I haven't. Rocky Horror Picture Show sucks and always has, and its fans are annoying.

Point is yours, SnakeMan
 
2010-08-21 06:29:08 AM
Confabulat: No I haven't. Rocky Horror Picture Show sucks and always has, and its fans are annoying.

Point is yours, SnakeMan


Everything in your post fits except this part. Sounds like you're making my point, and that should read, "Yes, I have."
 
2010-08-21 06:31:23 AM
SnakeMan: That's happened to me countless times.

Other than Rocky Horror Show, can't think of a time though. If something has a solid fanbase and I think I might like it, I check it out. If I like it, yay. If not, no harm.

In the internet era EVERYTHING has a rabid fan base. There's no reason to get upset about it.

Oh wait. I remember in the early '90s when Hootie & the Blowfish became popular among certain members of my peer group.

Ok, that's TWO times.
 
2010-08-21 06:31:58 AM
SnakeMan: Confabulat: No I haven't. Rocky Horror Picture Show sucks and always has, and its fans are annoying.

Point is yours, SnakeMan

Everything in your post fits except this part. Sounds like you're making my point, and that should read, "Yes, I have."


Oh I was replying to myself and your post got in the way.
 
2010-08-21 06:34:20 AM
But anyway, back on your original drunken point, no one on Fark thinks Lovecraft is real, you know?
 
2010-08-21 06:38:05 AM
Confabulat: But anyway, back on your original drunken point, no one on Fark thinks Lovecraft is real, you know?

Wasn't my point. Cthulhu is just a metaphor for anguish about the scientific age, or something like that. Lovecraft is basically an irrationalist at heart, expressing a paranoid fear of science. Anyone who's serious about reason and science should shun his view of the world.
 
2010-08-21 06:38:12 AM
Confabulat: But anyway, back on your original drunken point, no one on Fark thinks Lovecraft is real, you know?

Well, he's real (or was). His writings, on the other hand, were of course fiction.
 
2010-08-21 06:42:36 AM
SnakeMan: Cthulhu is just a metaphor for anguish about the scientific age, or something like that.

Well, can't argue with that sort of brilliant literary analysis.
 
2010-08-21 06:44:51 AM
Confabulat: SnakeMan: Cthulhu is just a metaphor for anguish about the scientific age, or something like that.

Well, can't argue with that sort of brilliant literary analysis.


Oh, FFS, stop being an obtuse cock and read the Boobies of this thread for a perfect example, straight from the horse's mouth. It's all about dreading reason and the modern age of science. It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal, you asshole!
 
2010-08-21 06:46:01 AM
I want to play devil's advocate.

What makes worshiping Cthulhu less valid than worshiping Jesus?

We can't prove that either of them exist, all we have about either is some books.

(Again, playing devil's advocate.)
 
2010-08-21 06:46:19 AM
GRRRR! Goddamn piece of shiat filter, you farking asshole farkface cocksucking motherfarker!!!!
 
2010-08-21 06:48:25 AM
ViciousXero: I want to play devil's advocate.

What makes worshiping Cthulhu less valid than worshiping Jesus?

We can't prove that either of them exist, all we have about either is some books.

(Again, playing devil's advocate.)


That's my POINT. We know religion and cults are bad, bad, bad. So why is it hip to PRETEND to be in a mindless cult?! It's like understanding that rape is wrong, then thinking that it's hip to pretend to be a rapist. It's so STUPID!
 
2010-08-21 06:48:35 AM
ViciousXero: What makes worshiping Cthulhu less valid than worshiping Jesus?

Only that the Cthulhu mythos was definitively labeled by the author as a work of fiction right from the start, and that it didn't have a generations-long head start.

But yeah.
 
2010-08-21 06:49:49 AM
Do people actually make decisions based on the return of the old ones?
 
2010-08-21 06:51:13 AM
SnakeMan: So why is it hip to PRETEND to be in a mindless cult?!

Why do people drink and smoke when they know its killing them slowly?

Why do people sky-dive?

Why does the pope take a shiat in the woods?

Why do people do anything?
 
2010-08-21 06:51:39 AM
SnakeMan: Oh, FFS, stop being an obtuse cock and read the Boobies of this thread for a perfect example, straight from the horse's mouth. It's all about dreading reason and the modern age of science. It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal, you asshole!

I told you, that's too long.
 
2010-08-21 06:53:06 AM
And besides, SnakeMan, do you only read fiction that you agree philosophically with? Do you run your novels through a moral filter?

You still make no sense. Is the dealer arriving soon?
 
2010-08-21 06:55:26 AM
Confabulat: I told you, that's too long.

Shorter:


Do you understand now? Do you understand the significance of Lovecraft's story? HPL, a gentle nihilist at heart, recognized quite clearly and perceptively that humanity's greatest threat was inhumanity, presented in his fiction as the great alien forces of the Mythos. Humans would not suffer from neglecting their prayers every night, nor from missing church for a few Sundays. Our eventual end - and Lovecraft refused to see it as anything other than inevitable and absolute - will be due to our own disregard for who and what we are.


THE HORROR.
 
2010-08-21 06:55:27 AM
I had no idea it was so hip to pretend to be in a Lovecraft cult.

What universe does SnakeMan live in?

Loves when people use the word "hip" when that's about the most unhip word ever
 
2010-08-21 06:55:46 AM
Confabulat: SnakeMan: Oh, FFS, stop being an obtuse cock and read the Boobies of this thread for a perfect example, straight from the horse's mouth. It's all about dreading reason and the modern age of science. It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal, you asshole!

I told you, that's too long.


You only need to read this much:

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 of 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.

"Peace and safety of a new dark age." Let those words sink in. What could be peaceful and safe about an age of unreason and ignorance?! For people like Lovecraft, the peace and safety is supposedly because we wouldn't have spooky science threatening us with CHAAAANGE!
 
2010-08-21 06:56:58 AM
Even shorter:

The Cthulhu Mythos is real only in the reader's mind. Cthulhu and his ilk don't exist; the above only represent phonetic coincidences, or more likely a demonstration of the common origins that languages and speech share.

OH NOES
 
2010-08-21 06:58:23 AM
SnakeMan: Confabulat: SnakeMan: Oh, FFS, stop being an obtuse cock and read the Boobies of this thread for a perfect example, straight from the horse's mouth. It's all about dreading reason and the modern age of science. It's all there, black and white, clear as crystal, you asshole!

I told you, that's too long.

You only need to read this much:

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 of 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.

"Peace and safety of a new dark age." Let those words sink in. What could be peaceful and safe about an age of unreason and ignorance?! For people like Lovecraft, the peace and safety is supposedly because we wouldn't have spooky science threatening us with CHAAAANGE!


Dude, it's fiction. No one follows it. As far as "hip" goes, Lovecraft was popular among geeks when I was in college over 20 years ago. That's not "hip." That's just geek culture.

How many people do you really know that follow the teachings of HP Lovecraft? In real life? And how drunk and/or old ARE you anyway?
 
2010-08-21 06:59:16 AM
See, this is what pisses me off. You guys are supposed to be hardcore atheists and science lovers. You don't see the anti-reason, anti-science mentality that pervades Lovecraft? Am I the only one? Am I mad or something?
 
2010-08-21 07:00:17 AM
SnakeMan: Am I mad or something?

Yes.
 
2010-08-21 07:00:51 AM
Shorter still, because I am THAT bored:

Can't you feel it now, the shivery uncertainty brought on by "the piecing together of dissociated knowledge?"
Well, you shouldn't. Because it's all bunk.


ZOMG
 
2010-08-21 07:00:59 AM
ViciousXero: SnakeMan: Am I mad or something?

Yes.


What he said.
 
2010-08-21 07:02:24 AM
It seems as if the Cthulhu cult has gotten to him.
 
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