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How Cthulhu Works

By: Jonathan Strickland  | 

Call of Cthulhu

The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society produced a silent film based on Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu."
The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society produced a silent film based on Lovecraft's "Call of Cthulhu."
Photo courtesy of Amazon.com

Cthulhu shows up in odd places, but one that isn't so bizarre is the role-playing game genre. In 1980, creators of the game Dungeons & Dragons included several creatures in the Cthulhu mythos in the resource guide called "Deities and Demigods." Unfortunately, they did so without knowing that Arkham Press, which owned the rights to Lovecraft's intellectual property, had already licensed the rights to Chaosium, Inc. Subsequent printings of the resource book excluded the Cthulhu mythos creatures.

Chaosium, however, went on to publish one of the most successful horror genre role-playing games ever. They called it "Call of Cthulhu," and designed a game rooted deeply in the Cthulhu mythos. Players assume the roles of normal people caught up in the nightmarish world of Lovecraft's imagination. Just like the characters in Lovecraft's stories, the best most characters can hope for is a quick death before they go completely insane. Characters must unravel mysteries knowing that just by gaining knowledge they put their own sanity at risk. A well-run game creates a sense of unease and paranoia among the players.

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The "Call of Cthulhu" game is a pencil-and-paper role-playing game, meaning that each player has a character sheet that records what his character is capable of, what he's carrying and any other information necessary for the player to play. The arbiter of the game is called The Keeper, and he runs all the aspects of the game not directly controlled by the players. Together the Keeper and the players tell a story of terror and adventure.

There's also a video game called "Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth." In this game, you get a first-person perspective as you explore Lovecraft's universe, encountering otherworldly nightmares and fighting to survive. The Cthulhu mythos is a major influence in many other games as well, ranging from the serious ("The Lurking Horror") to the not-so-serious ("Discworld Noir").

If you go to any clothing store that caters to geeks, it's only a matter of time before you encounter a shirt that references Cthulhu. His ugly mug graces clothing, posters, comic books, bumper stickers and even toys. Something about this critter tickles the fancy.

Perhaps the fascination with Cthulhu is because part of us finds him to be a little silly, with his tentacle face and large wings, while another part of us feels that same cold, creeping dread Lovecraft seemed to communicate so well in his timeless stories. His appeal is both indefinable and undeniable. To that end: la, Ia, Cthulhu fhtagn. (Or, in human terms, "Cthulhu waits!")

Originally Published: Sep 4, 2007

Cthulhu FAQ

What is Cthulhu?
Created by H.P. Lovecraft, one of the most celebrated "weird fiction" authors created Cthulhu as part of a larger mythology involving extraterrestrial creatures whose very existence is outside the realm of human understanding. Cthulhu made his first official appearance in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu," written by Lovecraft in 1926, although no living character in the story ever sets eyes on the actual creature.
Why is Cthulhu evil?
According to Lovecraft, humans can never fully understand Cthulhu because his very existence is beyond mortal comprehension. However, many believe that Cthulu is evil because the mythical creature can inflict madness and death in people. Lovecraft, however, didn't call this good or evil; it's just the way the universe works.
How tall is Cthulhu?
According to Lovecraft, Cthulhu stands hundreds of meters (or yards) tall.
What religion is Cthulhu?
In Lovecraft's fiction, the various cults worshipping Cthulhu usually consist of primitive, or secluded groups of people who either believe that Cthulhu will usher in an era of chaos and uninhibited violence or that he will wipe out all humanity but will thoughtfully kill off the cult quickly and relatively painlessly.

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More Great Links

Sources

  • "Tuning in to a deep sea monster." CNN.com. June 13, 2002.
  • http://archives.cnn.com/2002/TECH/science/06/13/bloop/
  • Bloopwatch.org http://www.bloopwatch.org
  • Cthulhu Files http://cthulhufiles.com
  • Lovecraft, H.P. "The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories."Penguin Books. 1999.
  • Papers from an Attic Window http://danharms.wordpress.com/
  • Shoggoth.net http://www.shoggoth.net
  • The H.P. Lovecraft Archive http://www.hplovecraft.com/