Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia – Foreword, Part 2

Also of crucial import for understanding Lovecraft and his Mythos are his dreams.  Lovecraft’s accounts of them are nothing short of breathtaking:

Space, strange cities, weird landscapes, unknown monsters, hideous ceremonies, Oriental and Egyptian gorgeousness, and indefinable mysteries of life, death, and torment, were daily – or rather nightly commonplaces to me before I was six years old.

In another time or culture, Lovecraft’s childhood experiences and intensive dreaming would have led him to great acclaim – or death – as such individuals were often seen as people of great power in cultures around the world.  As it happened, he was born into Victorian New England, in which the dominant paradigms were either materialistic science or mainline Protestantism. Both of these encouraged the dismissal of Lovecraft’s experiences as childish, ridiculous, or signs of mental disorder.  One of the few acceptable outlets for these sentiments was aesthetic expression, and this is what Lovecraft chose.

Was Lovecraft an occultist, a modern-day shaman?  No credible evidence indicates that Lovecraft had more than a superficial grasp of occult topics and terminology.  Critics are correct to point out the vast material in his letters and essays detailing his mechanistic materialism.   Still, Lovecraft was a man, not a philosophy, and we cannot assume that his thoughts can completely explain him or his output.  What makes Lovecraft’s writing so compelling is that it brings together the rationality of Western civilization with impulses and experiences that this civilization downplays but that nonetheless cannot be denied.

Lovecraft took quite some time to find a mixture that he found aesthetically pleasing.  His works before “The Call of Cthulhu” draw on a wide variety of source material, through the use of which he tried to reconcile these divergent demands.  In some cases, he made reference to religion and folklore.  “Dagon” and “Hypnos” draw upon his love of mythology, while folk beliefs inspired “The Temple” and “The Rats in the Walls.”  “The Horror at Red Hook” combines long-circulated rumors surrounding Oriental religion with the trappings of ceremonial magic.  A supposedly scientific rationale drives such stories as “Herbert West – Reanimator,” “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” and “From Beyond.”  Lovecraft’s cobbled-together cosmologies for these tales are mirrored by such otherworldly works as “Polaris” and “The Other Gods,” which seek to remove us entirely from the modern rational world to another where other laws reign.  Finally, we have stories including creations of Lovecraft’s own invention, such as Alhazred (“The Nameless City”) and the Necronomicon (“The Hound”), though these still take on the logic of a dream – or perhaps that of a story by his idol, Edgar Allan Poe.

August Derleth has been criticized for choosing the label the “Cthulhu Mythos” for this developing system, as Cthulhu hardly forms an important part in the overall Mythos pantheon.  (Lovecraft himself referred to it jokingly as “Yog-Sothothery.”)   Nonetheless, “The Call of Cthulhu” is perhaps the first tale in which Lovecraft successfully weaves together real-world legend and belief, the outlook and tools of scientific inquiry, and his own fantastic creations to create a belief system – albeit a fictional one – combining the power of myth with the conviction of science.

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Published in: on January 17, 2008 at 10:22 pm  Comments (1)  

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