It takes a special kind of person to create an alternate universe populated by malevolent sea-creature gods. It takes even more special people to canonize and expand upon that world. For his highly imaginative and horrifying writings, Howard Phillips Lovecraft will forever hold a special place in the hearts and minds of geeks everywhere.
It’s been nearly 12 years since the release of The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, a terrific omnibus collection of writings by H.P. Lovecraft, featuring some of his best known horror stories, including “At the Mountain of Madness,” “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward” and “The Dunwich Horror.”
Although he died in poverty, Lovecraft is now heralded as one of the greatest horror and fantasy writers of his time. He first gained recognition in the 1920s for his contributions to Weird Tales, a pulp magazine which was also publishing authors like Robert E. Howard (who created Conan the Barbarian) and Robert Bloch (who wrote Psycho).
His fans frequently speak of “The Cthulhu Mythos,” which is a name coined by August Derleth, who was the first to publish Lovecraft’s work, and the founder of Arkham House Publishing. The Cthulhu Mythos is sort of like a self-contained literary universe ruled by a pantheon of fearsome deities, many of whom resemble insects or aquatic life.
The name is derived from Lovecraft’s character Cthulhu, who is the subject of his story “The Call of Cthulhu” which was first published in Weird Tales in 1926. In the story, Cthulhu is described as a composite of an “octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature…. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings.” He is described as a god who slumbers in the sea, with humanity living in constant fear that he’ll awaken.
Scholars and fans of Lovecraft’s work have attempted to subcategorize the gods within the Cthulhu Mythos. Phillip A. Schreffler , who wrote the H.P. Lovecraft Companion, divided the gods from the mythos into two basic categories: there are the “Outer Ones” who dwell in the center of the fictional universe and are thus unreachable, and then there are the “Great Old Ones” such as Cthulhu himself, who lives as a prisoner in the city of R’lyeh on Earth. And while the mythos originates with the work of Lovecraft himself, other authors have contributed to developing and expanding the mythos., including Robert Bloch, and August Derleth himself.
All of these gods predate humanity, and they have no reverence for human life. Many of “The Great Old Ones” are imprisoned on various planets. Human emotion and anxiety is depicted as being ultimately inconsequential in the grand scheme of Lovecraft’s bleak world. There is some question now about how rigidly Lovecraft constructed this world as a cohesive universe. Some suggest that Lovecraft had fully fleshed out his alternate world prior to writing. Others insist that his universe formed somewhat organically, and that he wasn’t concerned with there being perfect continuity and consistency, as he merely expanded upon his universe with each piece of writing.
Regardless, Lovecraft’s writing is evocative, and descriptions of the monsters is always amazingly evocative. The other writers who have sought to expand Lovecraft’s universe have made meaningful contributions, too! Here are a look at 10 notable deities within the Cthulhu Mythos.
Nodens made his first appearance in Lovecraft’s short story “The Strange High House in the Mist”, published in 1926. The character is based on a Celtic god, also named Nodens, who was actually worshipped in ancient Britain. The god looks like a fierce, old man with gray hair and a long beard. He is said to ride in chariot constructed out of a gigantic seashell, and the whole thing is pulled by mythical beasts. He also appears in the story “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath.”
Nyarlathotep (aka Crawling Chaos) is an evil shape-shifting god, who is said to be capable of assuming 1,000 unique forms. The character was introduced in Lovecraft’s poem Nyarlathotep, published in 1920. He also appeared in the stories “The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath,” “Fungi from Yuggoth,” and “The Dreams in the Witch House.”
Like virtually every other beast within the Cthulhu Mythos, Nyarlathotep is so frightening that the very sight of him is enough to drive a human onlooker insane. What makes this guy particularly dangerous is that he can, and frequently does, assume the form of a human – an Egyptian Pharaoh, to boot. He loves to lie, and is acutely conscious of human folly and knows how to manipulate the mass media all-too-easily to meet his own sinister ends.
Azathoth (aka The Blind Idiot God or Nuclear Chaos) is an extremely powerful but intellectually limited cosmic entity, whose first appearance in a published Lovecraft story was in “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath,” and is also referenced in the stories “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Haunter of the Dark.”
Azathoth is said to float in the center of the universe, perpetually kept in a state of slumber. Less powerful gods lull Azathoth to sleep with cosmic drums and flutes. The deity resembles a sort of demonic cloud formation. It is said that if Azathoth were to awaken for merely a moment, he could potentially destroy the human race.
Yibb-Tsll is described a large humanoid creature with the wings of a bat and eyes which are detached from its head, and its perpetually suckling it cosmic vampire babies – which makes the character somewhat androgynous. The character is said to be able to see everything in the universe at any given moment, and can easily see through time and space. It can even use its black alien blood to suffocate people!
Yomagn’tho (aka The Feaster from the Stars) is an extremely cruel deity, hell-bent on destroying the human race. He is said to resemble a small ball of fire when he is summoned to earth, and is worshipped as a god by the reptilian creatures of another planet.
Sound sort of like David Icke’s theories of alternate reptilian races controlling the universe?
Y’golonac (the Defiler) was created by Ramsey Campbell and made his first appearance in the story “Cold Print”, published in 1969. Y’golonac is like the Marquis de Sade of the Cthulhu Mythos. He is the god of perversions and sinister impulses.
Like Voldemort, sometimes Y’golonac is summoned by the mere utterance of his name. He is similar to Nyarlathotep in that he can shift shape and live amongst humans, but he’s different in that he’s wayyyy more evil. He often appears as a fat man with neither head nor neck, and mouths in the palms of his hands.
Glaaki is said to resemble a large slug with long metallic spines. Glaaki also has eyes at the end of long tentacles, which function sort of telescopes on a submarine. The character was created by Ramsey Campbell, and appears in the story “The Inhabitant of the Lake” (1964).
According to legend, Glaaki first traveled to earth inside a meteor. He’s extremely dangerous — he can kill victims with a highly toxic fluid that he can inject with his spines. The fluid is so powerful that it’s capable of turning the victim into a zombie slave.
Lu-Kthu (aka Birth-womb of the Great Old Ones, or Lew-Kthew) is a globe of guts and entrails that is said to be the size of a planet. It is said to appear wet, and covered in warts and pustules, with every pustule supposedly containing an infantile larva of a “Great Old One.” The character was created by James Ambuehl, and is written about extensively in Ambuehl’s story Correlated Contents.
(There’s no picture for this one, because, seriously, who wants to look at a slimy pustule-covered lump? Not me.)
Mordiggian was created by Clark Ashton Smith and first appeared in the story “The Charnel God” (1934). Mordiggian is a sort of vacuumus, amorphous entity who sucks in all of the heat and energy surrounding him, thus drastically lowering the temperature of wherever he is at a given time. He is worshiped by ghouls.
Mordiggian attacks his victims by swallowing their energy, and physically dissolving their bodies – sort of like a cross between Kirby and a komodo dragon.
Yig (Father of Serpents) appears as either a snake-man hybrid, or a serpent with bat-like wings, or as a giant snake. Yig made his first appearance in the story “The Curse of Yig,” which was originally created by Zealie Bishop and then written again by Lovecraft himself. He’s a nice enough guy, until you cross him – at which point you have to answer to his children, who are his army of serpent minions.
Kate Voss is an entertainment blogger with GetDirectTV.org. She is a voracious reader, with a keen interest in early 20th century pulp, especially the writings of Raymond Chandler and H.P. Lovecraft.
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