Robert Weinberg

In February 1928, a story entitled "The Call of Cthulhu" was published in Weird Tales. The author was the already popular H.P. Lovecraft, who had made his mark with the readership with such tales as "The Rats in the Walls" and "The Temple." With the publication of "The Call of Cthulhu," however, HPL assured himself lasting recognition in the weird fiction field. Within months, other writers, seeing the vast possibilities of this mythology devised by Lovecraft, began writing Cthulhu Mythos tales. A number of beginning writers, many of them close friends of HPL, first made their mark with tales in the mythology. This practice continued until the death of the market in 1954 with the demise of Weird Tales. Yet, even today, new stories in the genre are still published in original harcovers from Arkham House, and older stories are still being reprinted. A sort of following has developed for Lovecraft and the mythos and the stories. It is for these readers and those who are just learning of the Cthulhu Mythos stories that this guide and index has been prepared.

In writing his stories, Lovecraft borrowed ideas from the earlier tales of Machen, Bierce, and Chambers. Probably the stories that influence Lovecraft the most were "The Great God, Pan" by Machen, the four King in Yellow stories by Chambers, and "The Wendigo" by Blackwood. In these tales, very rarely, if ever, is the true horror actually described. Several times, a horrible book containing dark secrets that drive men mad is consulted. Almost all of the tales are told in the first person. To these basic concepts, HPL added several original ideas of his own, and came up with an entirely new mythology. In brief, his stories deal with a race of "Elder Beings" who once ruled the universe, but now are imprisoned or sleeping in various parts of the Earth and the galaxy, awaiting for the time "when the stars are right" and they can resume their rule. These beings employ evil humans and terrible monsters for servants to further their aims. Other men, discovering dark secrets from ancient, terrifying books, try to thwart these plans, with varying degrees of success. Newspaper clippings, interviews, and long quots from authentic sounding sources lend an air of realism to the stories.

A number of authors modified this structure, the most notable being Lovecraft's pupil and later publisher, August Derleth. The most drastic revision added by Derleth was another entire race of beings, "The Elder Gods," who were directly opposed to the "Elder Beings," though not always friendly towards mankind. Derleth had these gods responsible for the imprisoning of the Elder Beings where originally it seemed that Lovecraft intended to imply that they were just awaiting for a period of galactic turmoil to pass. Some people have claimed that Derleth's gods are based on a quote by HPL in one of the tales. The one passage that they use as evidence is inconclusive. Lovecraft's stories usually reflect an air of pessimism and despair throughout. One strongly doubts that HPL would want to provide a possible "out" for mankind by a race of gods. It is more likely that Derleth just added the Elder Gods by chance. Lovecraft never opposed any changes other authors made in the mythology. In fact, the man welcomed such revisions.

Of all the tales, the stories written by Lovecraft are the best. The longer the story, the better it was. Only the novel "At the Mountains of Madness" did not follow this rule. While the story was filled with an interesting description of the early history of the Elder Beings, it was a slow paced tale, and dragged in some spots. Only the last chapter succeeded in building up a feeling of true horror. This nove, as well as "The Shadow Out of Time," was published in Astounding Stories in 1936, after being submitted by Donald Wandrei and August Derleth without Lovecraft's knowledge. Both were severely cut, and did not appear in complete form until hardcover publication much later.

Lovecraft was best at the long novelet. His finest were "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Dreams in the Witch-House," "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," and "The Dunwich Horror." The third mentioned story, which was also published abridged in magazine form, Lovecraft wrote probably his strongest conclusion, with the dramatic confrontation between Curwen and Dr. Willette. Unfortunately, the story was published five years after HPL's death, and never received the attention it deserved.

Lovecraft appeared in a number of short stories as a character. In the Bloch tale, "The Shambler from the Stars," a story dedicated to Lovecraft, the main character's mentor, whose name is never mentioned, but who is easily recognized as HPL, is devoured by a monstrous entity. Lovecraft later returned the compliment by killing Blake (Bloch) in "The Haunter of the Dark." August Derleth mentions Lovecraft in many of his stories, having his characters implying that HPL was telling the truth in his tales, loosely disguised as fiction. "The Lamp of Alhazred" has Lovecraft as the main character. HPL appearedin one of Ray Bradbury's "Martian Chronicles," indulging in one of his (Lovecraft's) favorite pastimes, eating ice cream.

Of the tales not written by Lovecraft, few approach the master's work. The best was "The Black Stone" by Robert E. Howard, which introduced both the mad poet Justin Geoffrey and the frightful Black Book of von Junzt. Hugh Cave's tale of a man who returns from the grave, "The Death Watch," built up to a climax of sheer terror. Also worthy of note was "Far Below" by Robert Barbour Johnson, which was based on a line from Lovecraft's story, "Pickman's Model," and convinced a number of people to remain off the subway. C. Hall Thompson captured the Lovecraft mood with his two excellent stories, "The Will of Claude Ashur" and "Spawn of the Green Abyss." However, the late Derleth did not think much of Thompson's stories and "put a stop to the use of Lovecraft properties by C. Hall Thompson . . ." (from a letter from Derleth to Robert Weinberg, dated November 15, 1969).

Of all the authors connected with the mythology, August Derleth has written the greatest number of tales, many in posthumous collaboration with HPL. Unfortunately, Derleth rarely succeeded in capturing the true feeling of the stories. His tales, by and large, read like imitations. His best attempt was "The Return of Hastur," which appeared in 1939. Of his works in collaboration, "The Lurker at the Threshold," based on an idea outlined by Lovecraft, was the best. Many of the collaborations are stories written by Derleth, based on short notes from Lovecraft's Commonplace Book, and so are not real collaborations at all.

Lovecraft revised a number of his friend's stories. Among these were tales by William Lumley, Zealia Bishop, and Hazel Heald. These stories ranged from the fair "The Diary of Alonzo Typer" to the excellent "Out of the Eons." Also, in "The Horror from the Hills" by Frank Belknap Long, the dream chapter (Chapter V) is an actual dream of Lovecraft's, which Long received permission to use as part of his story.

One cannot speak of the mythos without at least a short mention of the monstrous works invented by various authors to lend an air of authenticity to their work. Most famous was the dreaded Necronomicon, written by the mad Arab, Abdul Alhazred. For years, fans believing that the book actually existed, wrote to the Weird Tales letter column, asking that the book be reprinted. Book journals have often featured ads searching for the volume. Several fans have related of going into old book shops, asking for the tome, and being told, "Had a copy of it, but sold it just yesterday." One wonders why anyone would want a copy of the book. Many of the original owners met with rather gruesome ends. Possession of the work seems to be a combination of the Black Spot and the Kiss of Death.

Other volumes, less well known, but just as ominous in content, are De Vermis Mysteriis (Mysteries of the Worm), by Ludvig Prinn and Unaussprechlichen Kultin (Nameless Cults) by von Junzt. The authors of the two volumes both met terrible fates, as did Alhazred. The mad Arab was devoured by an invisible monster in broad daylight in Mecca. Ludvig Prinn was burned at the stake, and von Junzt was strangled by a hideous monster when he was alone in a locked room.

A few other works worth mentioning are The People of the Monolith, a book of disquieting poetry written by Justin Geoffrey, who died screaming in a madnouse, and often quoted by Robert E. Howard; Cthulhu in the Necronomicon, a scholarly work by Dr. Laban Shrewsbury, the main character in Derleth's five-part novel "The Trail of Cthulhu;" and an unnamed book written by the previously mentioned von Junzt. This last mentioned work is no longer in existence. Von Junzt was working on the manuscript when killed by some nameless entity. The book was found torn to shreds next to the German's body. A close friend pieced together the work, read it, burned it, and then committed suicide!

Cthulhu Mythos tales are rarely well illustrated. Since many of the Lovecraftian horrors drove men mad when seen, illustrating them effectively is somewhat difficult, nor are actual representations such as Pickman's actually desired. However, the fact remains that most of the tales have not even been competently illustrated. Only one cover painting comes close to the quality of the story it illustrated. That was Wesso's cover for "The Hunters from Beyond" by Clark Ashton Smith. Brown's cover for "The Shadow Out of Time" is fair.

Interiors have ranged from very bad to very good. This was especially true of Weird Tales, where the same could be said about the illustrators. Hugh Rankin did some very good work for the early Lovecraft tales, his best being the illustration for "The Call of Cthulhu." Many of the other early artists, such as Wilcox and Doolin, took the easy way out and illustrated minor scenes that just featured normal characters and none of the more difficult monsters. One can only wish that C.C. Senf had followed this pattern. Seeing a line mentioning that the creature in "The Horror from the Hills" vaguely resembled an elephant, Senf drew an elephant instead of a monster for his two illustrations of the serial. Even worse was his picture for "The Whisperer in Darkness" by HPL, which revealed the story's surprise ending.

In the middle and late forties, Weird Tales had one superior artist, Lee Brown Coye. Fox and Dolgov were capable of some good work, but mainly drew hideous cartoons for the Cthulhu Mythos tales, the worse being that for "Notebook Found in a Deserted House" by Robert Bloch. Coye's best work featured degenerate and warped humans, who fitted well with the weird inhabitants of Dunwich and Arkham. His illustrations for "The Whippoorwills in the Hills" by Derleth and "The Will of Claude Ashur" by Thompson were masterpieces.

Hannes Bok did a few Cthulhu Mythos illustrations, his best being the interesting one for "The Shadow Over Innsmouth" by HPL.

Virgil Finlay was the best illustrator of the tales. His best was the drawing for "The Faceless God" by Bloch. Close behind were the illustrations for "The Thing on the Doorstep" by HPL and "The Guardians of the Book" by Henry Hasse. All of Finlay's work for Weird Tales was very good, and it is unfortunate that he began illustrating after most of Lovecraft's stories had already appeared.

More than forty years have passed since the first story in the Cthulhu Mythos was professionally published, and, yet, the stories are still popular. Derleth wasworking on a new posthumous collaboration, and collecting the stories for a new anthology to be entitled New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, both to have come from Arkham House, when he died. A number of scholarly works on the various books and gods appearing in the stories have been written by such people as Lin Carter and Jack Chalker. Though criticized by some, the tales refuse to die. There is no definite reason for this popularity, but one can venture a guess. The tales, unlike most horror stories, appeal to the intellect of the reader, instead of relying upon detailed descriptions of the horrors involved. The reader is stimulated to create his own monsters, much more frightening than any other could imagine. The terror is never spelled out and thus destroyed as in most werewolf and vampire stories.

Another reason for the popularity of the tales is the richness in anecdotes and secondary information. One learns of the horrible death of Alhazred, is fascinated by the poetry of Geoffrey, reads sections quoted from the fabulous Book of Eibon. As with Sherlock Holmes, the whole is greater than the sum of the individual parts. For this reason, one suspects that the Cthulhu Mythos tales will remain long after vampire, ghouls, and werewolves have been long forgotten.

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© 1997-2004 Edward P. Berglund
"Introduction": © 1973 Robert Weinberg and Edward P. Berglund; reprinted from Reader's Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos, Silver Scarab Press, Albuquerque, NM, 1973

Created: February 21, 1997; Current Update: August 12, 2004