The Cool of Cthulhu

Taking a brief break this week while I’ve landed at the Cthulhu Mythos to speculate about the enduring and highly adaptable nature of the Mythos.

What is it that makes Cthulhu so damned cool? It’s a hard thing to tell. But the notion of huge, blashpemous, insanity-inducing entities whose true horror is not so much their evil as it is their indifference seems to strike a chord with us all.

Possibly it’s because it provides an outlet for us. We are, after all, surrounded by such forces every day of our lives. The terror inspired by the demon lord Azathoth is not so very different from that inspired by, for example, the Economy. In both cases, they are entities we cannot hope to understand or to inflluence. (Both of them also inspire cults comprised of those among our number who are either deluded fools who think they understand them or amoral power-seekers. Or both.) They are huge shambling beasts who might at any moment crush us by rolling over in their sleep. Considered that way, the effect of cosmic horror represents little more than a mind blasted by being forced to realise all those things it knows but does not wish to.

So much for its appeal. It is also possibly the most adaptable of all horror tropes – only the ghost even comes close to being this versatile. The Mythos pops up, either as itself, or in obvious pastiches, nearly everywhere.

It’s not just New England and Antarctica – even in Lovecraft’s day, the Mythos was used in the sword and sorcery stories of Smith and Howard, as well as stories set throughout human history. The Mythos can be found in space (Event Horizon), in the Wild West, in superhero comics (Wein and Wrightson’s Swamp Thing, for example), in conspiracy theory (Illuminatus! or Delta Green), even in modern consumerism (in the charmingly named novel ‘The Mall of Cthulhu’). It’s almost easier to list the genres we haven’t seen it in.

There has not, to my knowledge, been a Mythos romance story, although the idea is intriguing. I can’t help thinking the one genre will overwhelm the other to the point of reducing it to parody, though.

There are rather few really good science fiction mythos stories, since the basic assumptions of the two genres clash – horror is dystopian, science fiction utopian – and it takes a major talent to resolve that discord. (A true genius, I theorise, would find a way to use it to power the story’s action and themes.)

Aside from that? The Mythos is everywhere. Cthulhu uber alles.

Happy reading 🙂

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