The Call of Cthulhu by HP Lovecraft

Do yourself a big favour and discover, or re-discover this classic piece of American horror literature.

In a nutshell, the story chronicles the narrator’s discovery of this secret and deadly Cult of Cthulhu.

Lovecraft uses a suspenseful plot device that he has used before – the discovery of mysterious papers, research, artifacts and trinkets that some curious and ill-fated relative or acquaintance had left behind – giving the information an immediate and sinister gravitas. In this case, the narrator is the executor of his grand-uncle’s estate, and he promises that upon his grand-uncle’s passing he would burn the entire collection of his life’s research.

When the time comes, however, the narrator’s curiosity overcomes him, he gains access to the collected papers and he is swept into his grand-uncle’s obsession with a deadly cult who worship a fantastical being. I will leave the reader to discover the story and savour the suspense.

Another of Lovecraft’s techniques was to use artists in his stories to introduce the otherworldliness of the antagonists. He did it in Pickman’s Model, where a mural artist depicts unimaginably bizarre demonic scenes with an incredible realism because he is a personal witness to these scenes. Here, it is several artists who independently reveal the nature of Cthulhu through dreams and visions, expressed in their artwork. From bas-reliefs to finished statues, these artists present a reasonably consistent image of a being with a “cuttlefish head, dragon body and scaly wings”. In Lovecraft’s world, the artists are more open, more receptive to cosmic ideas, acting as the vessel through which more scientifically-minded people discover fantastical realms.

Lovecraft wrote several stories building up bits and pieces of the Cthulhu mythos, and this writing is regarded as the centrepiece of the whole thing. One could spend many hours weaving through the intricate and dense messages, commentaries and themes. For example:

After a quote from Algernon Blackwood, the story opens with, “The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far.” What an elegant way to express that ignorance is not only bliss, but that it is essential to maintaining our own sanity. That when the human mind begins piecing together the little bits that we do understand, we can come to some very scary conclusions. Lovecraft loves to explore the curious relationship that humans have with the unknown. We fear and loathe it at the same time that we cannot resist exploring it, and sometimes fear is the appropriate response.

As with many stories in the Cthulhu mythos, the New England states and the city of Boston is involved.

Those who discover too much about this Cult of Cthulhu end up finding themselves either dead or crazy. And now, our narrator knows… and so does the reader.

Originally published in the February 1928 issue of Weird Tales magazine, The Call of Cthulhu was instantly recognized by Lovecraft’s contemporaries as a horror classic, even inspiring a few of them to contribute to the Lovecraftian universe of Cthulhu. The creative influence continues to this day, with creative minds being inspired to create everything from the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game, to a fan-based publication of the Necronomicon, to Metallica’s instrumental epic “The Call of Ktulu” from the album “Ride the Lightning” (and not Metallica’s only Lovecraft-inspired song, either). Read it and be captivated by the Call of Cthulhu.

Get your Cthulhu fix before Cthursday! It should only take you two hours, tops. You can download it for free from Feedbooks.

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