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Shocktoberfest #28: Cthulhu


Hello everyone and welcome to the homestretch of Shocktoberfest. While I didn’t put these monsters in any order of personal preference, I did want to make sure that the final few were some of the biggest and baddest ever conceived by human imagination, and today’s beast is considered by many to be the greatest, fiercest and most evil force of death ever, and if you are familiar with his story, you know why. For those who aren’t, pull up a chair and learn the awful legend of the elder god who remorselessly rains death upon the world: Cthulhu.

While portrayed as an ancient evil deity, you might be surprised to learn that the myth of Cthulhu is not even a century old yet. His first appearance in any medium was in a 1928 short story by H.P. Lovecraft entitled “The Call of Cthulhu” published by the pulp magazine famous for its tales of fantasy and horror, Weird Tales. The name apparently has no meaning, at least none that any human can understand because even the name, Cthulhu, is a shorthand way of referring to the beast since its name is very long and unpronounceable by human tongues. This explains why the spelling of his name is so inconsistent.

In the story, Lovecraft describes him as “A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind.” Cthulhu is a chimera-like hybrid of man, octopus and dragon of immense size (hundreds of meters tall) and most terrifying of all, he cannot die. One sailor tries to kill him by ramming him with his ship, but all that happens is a green mist escaping from the wound before reassembling without injury.

Original 1937 sketch by Lovecraft
Original 1937 sketch by Lovecraft

We also learn that aside from being a fearsome monster, Cthulhu has spawned a cult which worships him and drives many of the cultists to madness out of fear and devotion to their god. According to the Necronomicon—a fictional book of the dead from another Lovecraft story—Cthulhu is described as a master of death which is why the members of the cult have been praying to him in order to wake him from his slumber beneath the sea. They believe that it would be better to be on the Great Old One’s good side rather than in his path.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die."
“That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.”

By accident, a group of sailors looking to uncover the whereabouts of Cthulhu achieve what the cult failed to do by design. They inadvertently open a carved portal which releases Cthulhu after eons of laying dormant, and just upon seeing him, many of the crew went completely mad and even died from shock.

Lovecraft continued to write more stories about Cthulhu in shorts like “The Dunwich Horror” and “The Whisper in Darkness” and even included him in his novel, At the Mountains of Madness. With greater development of his monster, Cthulhu’s influence only continued to grow and extended beyond the realm of recreational literature.

Countless role-playing games ranging from board games to card games to video games have been made based on the Cthulhu mythos, and even Dungeons & Dragons included an entire chapter on the mythos in their 1980 sourcebook, Deities & Demigods. However, TSR, Inc. was unaware that Arkham House had the rights to virtually all of Lovecraft’s literature and had already licensed the Cthulhu property to game company known as Chaosium. Even though Chaosium agreed to let TSR use Cthulhu as long as any future edition would featured published credit to their company, TSR declined and dropped Cthulhu for good.

Television programs from Rod Serling’s Night Gallery to South Park have referenced the Great Old One, and South Park even had Cthulhu become Cartman’s lacky in the season 14 episodes “Mysterion Rises” and “Coon vs. Coon and Friends.”

He mostly uses Cthulhu to destroy people he doesn't like.
He mostly uses Cthulhu to destroy people he doesn’t like.

Another surprising area of influence has also been on music, especially heavy metal. One of the most famous acts to have written songs about Cthulhu—three as of yet—is Metallica, including the Grammy-winning “The Call of Ktulu,” “All Nightmare Long” and “The Thing That Should Not Be” which includes verses taken directly from Lovecraft’s source material.

I would not be surprised if Cthulhu rocked out to Metallica.
I would not be surprised if Cthulhu rocked out to Metallica.

It seems appropriate that Cthulhu’s influence has spread to so many different media because according to his own legend, that’s exactly what he does. He’s the most evil and tyrannical in the history of time and has no other motive than to take dominion over everything and utterly destroy anything in his way. Whether you’re a rebel or a cultist, Cthulhu always wins in the end and reminds us all why he is the ultimate Great Old One. He’s been here eons before humankind existed, and he’ll be here for eons after humanity has died, and with his grip on popular culture, we couldn’t be happier to be his minions.

“Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn!”

“The Thing That Should Not Be” – Metallica

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