Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia – Foreword, Part 5

While these are Derleth’s best remembered changes, perhaps the greatest – or most enduring – was the concept of the Cthulhu Mythos itself. His reasoning behind the title remains obscure. Cthulhu did show up regularly in Lovecraft’s stories after he wrote “The Call of Cthulhu”, but the king of R’lyeh is not the most important or most frequently mentioned of Lovecraft’s creations. (He is more prominent than Hastur, the being Derleth wanted to name the Mythos after originally.) Still, it was “The Call of Cthulhu” that might be seen as the basis for Derleth’s organization, as he brought together a wide array of gods and monsters from Lovecraft’s fiction and that of others to comprise the “Great Old Ones” mentioned in that story. Overall, Derleth tended to emphasize the material from certain of Lovecraft’s stories – “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Shadow over Innsmouth,” and especially “The Dunwich Horror” – choices that affected how future authors and readers used the Mythos.

As Derleth created the Cthulhu Mythos, he created another category – the Cthulhu Mythos story. As Robert M. Price points out, the Mythos may also be seen as a collection of tales surrounding these imaginary beings, books, and places. While Lovecraft referred once to his “Arkham cycle” of tales, it is unlikely that any of the Weird Tales authors thought of their in-jokes as a means of categorizing their stories. It cannot be said that the original stories defined as belonging to the Mythos have a common setting, plot, or tone – the connections between them are often tenuous and not readily discernible. Still, Derleth had his corpus, and he took it upon himself to add to it a series of tales that he admitted were potboilers. This was a shame, as Derleth was a talented writer who could have provided a fresh look at the same themes that Lovecraft treated. Instead, readers were treated to a set of tired motifs –New England settings used for their own sake, libraries bulging with arcane lore, professors who spouted forth codified lore, and tale upon tale of ancestral vengeance and resurrected wizards. Sadly, many took these stories to be the epitome of Cthulhu Mythos tales, and stories aimed at only recycling these tropes continue to be written today.

For these definitions to be accepted, much of what Lovecraft and others said about their creations had to be overlooked. Arkham House gave Derleth a forum to advocate these views through his introductions and non-fiction articles, not to mention to publish his stories and those of others who shared his interpretation. His “posthumous collaborations”, tales based on Lovecraft’s story seeds but mostly Derleth’s work, confused the issue by associating Derleth’s concepts of the Mythos with Lovecraft’s name. All of this occurred at a time when Weird Tales authors received little attention from other sources. In this way, Derleth made his position the default for understanding the Mythos he created.

Arkham House went on to publish new Mythos stories by established and new authors. Some hold up Derleth as a defender of the Mythos, but I feel this support may be misplaced. Most Mythos aficionados prize the mythology’s social aspect – by writing and sharing a story, they become part of a grand tradition reaching back to Lovecraft. Derleth would have none of this – he claimed ownership of not only Lovecraft’s stories, but also Lovecraft’s creations. Both assertions were of dubious legality; Derleth only bought the copyrights to some of the stories, and no renewals for them have been found. In addition, enough people had used the Mythos that claiming rights to its components was a hopeless case. This did not stop Derleth from telling new authors not to write such stories. Near the end of their tenure, Derleth and Wandrei stated that Lovecraft authorized only a few authors to write Mythos stories, and now only Arkham House could do the same. Of course, no one else has found a letter in which Lovecraft excludes other authors or permits anyone else to exclude them.

During the Sixties, matters Lovecraftian began to pick up speed. It was during this time that Lovecraft began to gain critical attention, though his overseas reception was much warmer than that in the States. More importantly, new paperback editions of Lovecraft’s works began to appear, as did the first movie adaptations. Possibly as a result of Arkham House’s profits from the sale of these movie rights, Arkham House released the three‑volume set of Lovecraft’s tales which has remained in print even today ‑‑ The Dunwich Horror, At the Mountains of Madness, and Dagon. Arkham House also published the Mythos stories of two new authors ‑‑ Ramsey Campbell and Brian Lumley ‑‑ who would leave their mark on the world of horror fiction.

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Published in: on January 22, 2008 at 12:30 am  Comments (1)  

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