Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia – Foreword, Part 4

When Lovecraft died in 1937, fans responded with an outpouring of grief, but this did not spur a corresponding renaissance in Lovecraftian fiction.  Some of his friends left off the cross-references, and his close friend Clark Ashton Smith stopped most of his fiction writing.  Still, the numerous reprints of Lovecraft’s fiction in Weird Tales and elsewhere kept his work in the public eye.  At this time, August Derleth and Donald Wandrei founded Arkham House and published a huge omnibus of Lovecraft’s fiction entitled The Outsider and Others (1939).

Derleth’s legacy is a multi-faceted one, and it is appropriate to evaluate its impact on the Mythos.  Arkham House was a business into which Derleth sank a great deal of his time and money that could have been spent on his own writing.  Over the decades, when the pulp authors no longer appeared in magazines, Arkham reprinted their works and brought them to a broader audience.  Derleth and Wandrei also brought new authors, including Ray Bradbury, A. E. Van Vogt, J. Ramsey Campbell, and Brian Lumley, to the public’s attention.

Nonetheless, Derleth became a controversial figure among Lovecraft fans because of his interpretations of the Mythos.  He has been criticized for depicting the Mythos as a battle between the white-hat Elder Gods and the black-hat Great Old Ones.  This reading, however, does have some precedent – the minor supporting role of Nodens in “Dream-Quest”, or Keziah Mason shunning Gilmore’s crucifix in “Dreams in the Witch-House”.  Likewise, Lovecraft often encouraged other Mythos writers to create such material; Long’s original Dee Necronomicon quote, which started the exchange of concepts between stories, dealt with the cross warding off the forces of evil. 

 At one time, it appeared that even Lovecraft advocated this view.  Harold Farnese, a correspondent of Lovecraft’s, claimed that Lovecraft had sent him the following quote:

All my stories, unconnected as they may be, are based on the fundamental lore or legend that this world was inhabited at one time by another race who, in practising black magic, lost their foothold and were expelled, yet live on outside ever ready to take possession of this earth again.

In addition, Lovecraft had a chance to stop the Elder Gods before they appeared.  Derleth and his friend Mark Schorer turned out a number of collaborations one summer, most notably the story “Lair of the Star-Spawn.”  This tale adds a panoply of beings to the pantheon – the Great Old Ones and Elder Gods (the titles of the two groups are reversed from Derleth’s later usages!), the Star-Warriors, Zhar, Lloigor, and others.  Lovecraft, as usual, complimented his fellow author, and stated that he’d use the tale’s most minor creation – the Tcho-Tcho people – in his stories.  If Lovecraft meant this to be a mild critique of Derleth’s reinterpretation of his cosmology, it was a failure.

Despite these precedents, Derleth could have been more conscientious about his depiction of Lovecraft.  Lovecraft’s fiction and letters, with which he was intimately familiar, included few signs of a cosmic war and many passages indicating that cosmic indifferentism was his chosen framework for the tales.  Even if he had missed these, Clark Ashton Smith pointed them out to him in a letter written shortly after Lovecraft’s death.   It appears that Derleth received some misleading information in his career on these topics and chose never to re-evaluate his conclusions.

Derleth’s other innovation, the elemental theory, associated some of the Great Old Ones with  the four traditional elements – fire, air, earth, and water.   Some have attributed the “elemental theory” to Francis T. Laney, whose error-ridden “The Cthulhu Mythology:  A Glossary” in Beyond the Wall of Sleep (1943) was the first attempt to create a “guide” to the Mythos.  Nonetheless, Derleth was using the elemental theory in such stories as “The Thing That Walked in the Wind” long before Laney published his piece.  Within the elemental system, a few beings (such as Cthulhu and Dagon) were defined as water elementals, with the vast bulk being earth elementals.  Derleth decided to remedy this “imbalance”, creating or reassigning Great Old Ones to both fire (Cthugha) and air (Ithaqua, Lloigor, Zhar). 

Published in: on January 19, 2008 at 2:17 pm  Comments (1)  

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