H. P. Lovecraft
Call of Cthulhu
Cthulhu is one of the primary Great Old Ones of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos, a race of alien deities that are comparable to cosmic beings and archdemons in other works of fantasy. Cthulhu is infamously known for his grotesque appearance and gigantic size, as well as his ability to drive any human that gazes upon his form to insanity.
Cthulhu is a creation of the famed horror author H.P. Lovecraft, who serves as the titiular character and a major antagonist of his fictional universe, the Cthulhu Mythos, first appearing as the main antagonist in the 1928 story, The Call of Cthulhu.
While he is not the most powerful of Lovecraft’s creations (dwarfed by Outer Gods like Yog-Sothoth and Azathoth), he is easily the most famous, and his name has become associated with evil and Lovecraftian horror ever since the creature was first brought to public attention in the 1920s.
Cthulhu was born on the planet Vhoorl, located in the 23rd nebula. He traveled to the star Zoth where he spawned his offspring. Along with his children and the Star Spawn of Cthulhu, Cthulhu travelled to Saturn and then to Earth. They landed on a continent in the Pacific Ocean and built the city, R’lyeh. Cthulhu received resistance from the Elder Things who also lived on the planet. They waged war for the planet Earth until a truce was made. Cthulhu then went into a deep hibernation within R’lyeh. Humanity then evolved on Earth and Cthulhu communicated with several through dreams, resulting in the Cult of Cthulhu. Disaster then struck R’lyeh, sinking it into the ocean. R’lyeh has risen from the ocean for brief amounts of time. However, it is fated that R’lyeh will rise from the ocean permanently and Cthulhu will retake the world.
Cthulhu’s appearance can change from story to story, but he is most often portrayed as a monster of vaguely humanoid shape with a squid-like face and wings. He is also considered terrifyingly large and apocalyptic, being the size of a mountain (or bigger in some accounts). Most descriptions of him stem from statuettes found in the possession of cult members; they are usually around a foot high and depict Cthulhu in a crouching position.
Cthulhu is said to have a worldwide doomsday cult centered in Arabia, with followers stretching everywhere in the entire world. The supposedly immortal leaders of Cthulhu’s cult are said to reside in the mountains of China. This cult is nihilistic in nature and seeks to awaken the Old Ones and bring about an apocalyptic age of darkness in which, according to some stories, men would be reduced to shouting and killing each other in fits of madness. Cthulhu is also worshipped by the horrific Deep Ones and the Mi-go, other alien beings in Lovecraft’s world.
Cthulhu also has numerous “star-spawn” at his disposal; these creatures seem to share his general appearance but are much smaller and less powerful, though the nature of the “star-spawn” and their relationship with Cthulhu is widely unknown.
HE WAITS DREAMING…
In most of the stories, Cthulhu lays dormant deep under the ocean within the sunken city of R’lyeh, but can still influence the world via many telepathic powers and, of course, his many cults and otherworldly minions. It is said that once Cthulhu is fully awakened, he shall rise from the depths and end the world; thankfully for humanity, Cthulhu has yet to do so. However, he came close in the 1920s when a group of sailors came across his sunken city of R’lyeh, which had been brought to the surface by the alignment of the stars.
They opened up one of the strange buildings, only for Cthulhu to exit it and attack them. The creature only halted its attack when the sailors used their ship to cut him in half. As they sailed away, they could see Cthulhu reforming into a whole being again. The world would have ended then but for the fact that R’lyeh suddenly sunk as the stars moved out of position. The resulting powerful current not only dragged Cthulhu into the building he had been trapped in, but also closed the door behind him, thus trapping him yet again.
“The nightmare corpse-city of R’lyeh […] was built in measureless eons behind history by the vast, loathsome shapes that seeped down from the dark stars. There lay great Cthulhu and his hordes, hidden in green slimy vaults […] until the end.„
~ H. P. Lovecraft, “The Call of Cthulhu”.
R’lyeh (pronounced /ˈɹu.li.a/ or /ɹɪl.ˈai.ɛ/) is a nightmarish supernatural city featured in the Cthulhu Mythos by author H. P. Lovecraft, which makes its first appearance in the 1928 short story “The Call of Cthulhu”. R’lyeh is also referred to in Lovecraft’s “The Mound” as “Relex”. R’lyeh is a sunken city located deep under the Pacific Ocean and is where the godlike being Cthulhu of the immortal Great Old Ones is buried. R’lyeh’s bizarre architecture is characterized by its non-Euclidean geometry.
When R’lyeh rises in Lovecraft’s short story “The Call of Cthulhu”, the only portion of the city that emerges is a single “hideous monolith-crowned citadel” in which Cthulhu is entombed. The human onlookers are awed by the sheer immensity of the city and by the frightening suggestion of the gargantuan statues and bas-reliefs.
The city is a panorama of “vast angles and stone surfaces […] too great to belong to anything right and proper for this earth, and impious with horrible images and disturbing hieroglyphs”. The geometry of R’lyeh is “abnormal, non-Euclidean, and loathsomely redolent of spheres and dimensions apart from ours”.
In Lovecraft’s stories, R’lyeh is sometimes referred to in the ritualistic phrase “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn”, which roughly translates to “In his house at R’lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.”.
Lovecraft said that R’lyeh is located at 47°9’S 126°43’W in the southern Pacific Ocean. August Derleth, however, placed R’lyeh at 49°51’S 128°34’W in his own writings. Both locations are close to the Pacific oceanic pole of inaccessibility (48°52.6’S 123°23.6’W), the point in the ocean farthest from any land. Derleth’s coordinates place the city approximately 5,100 nautical miles (5,900 statute miles or 9,500 kilometers), or about ten days journey for a fast ship, from the real island of Pohnpei (Ponape). Ponape also plays a part in the Cthulhu Mythos as the place where the “Ponape Scripture”, a text describing Cthulhu, was found.
Charles Stross’s novella A Colder War implicitly locates R’lyeh in the Baltic sea, describing Cthulhu as being “scraped from a nest in the drowned wreckage of a city on the Baltic floor.”. In Nick Mamatas’ novel Move Under Ground, it is located off the coast of California.
POWERS AND ABILITIES
While not as powerful as many other Great Old Ones and being dwarfed in scale by the Outer Gods that he serves, Cthulhu is still a very powerful entity. Being near god-like to humans, Cthulhu is immortal and has great strength and can endure great amounts of damage and can only be killed by a near-omnipotent power. Using his wings, he is capable of true flight. He possesses vast intelligence and awareness, as he knows all that is occurring in the Universe at once and he has great psychic abilities as he can communicate telepathically.
Arguably Cthulhu’s most notable trait is the fact that he, alongside the rest of his kin, cannot be comprehended by humans; when a human so much as looks at Cthulhu, they will almost certainly be driven mad by his visage. Cthulhu was also able to create a city out of nowhere.
CTHULHU’S FAMILY TREE