How the Necronomicon Works

It's a Mad, Mad, Arab Abdul Alhazred World

H.P. Lovecraft created the "Necronomicon" as part of his Cthulhu mythos.
H.P. Lovecraft created the "Necronomicon" as part of his Cthulhu mythos.
Photo courtesy of Arkham House Publishers

So what's the deal with this Alhazred guy, anyway? Well, within the context of the fictional Cthulhu mythos, Abdul Alhazred was a poet who was born in Yemen and lived in Damascus during the 8th century. He was a world traveler, exploring much of the Middle East and Europe. He was remarkably intelligent and adept at learning and translating languages. Perhaps most importantly, as far as the "Necronomicon" is concerned, he was an avid drug user.

Alhazred's source of information for his history appears to have been the cosmos itself. He would meditate while inhaling fumes from incense that included exotic ingredients -- like opium -- and wait for knowledge to fill him. It's probably this unorthodox research methodology that inspired others to give him the nickname the "mad Arab."

The original title for Alhazred's book was "Al Azif," a reference to the noise made by insects at night, though some scholars (both real people in our world and fictional characters within the mythology itself) say it's also the sound of the demons howling. Sadly for prospective insane scholars across the globe, you can't get your hands on a copy of the original Arabic text, as all copies have disappeared.

That's the Cthulhu mythos version of the story -- here's the real deal. Abdul Alhazred was a name Lovecraft invented when imagining himself adventuring through the stories from Andrew Lang's "Arabian Nights." He was 5 years old at the time.

That's right, the most famous mystical book of spells was, in fact, initially just a fantasy from the mind of a 5-year-old boy living in New England. Later, Lovecraft was careful to create a sense of plausibility in his mythology, referencing the "Necronomicon" several times, often in the same paragraph that included references to authentic books on the occult, including "The Book of Dyzan" and "Poligraphia." In correspondence with his friends, however, he readily admitted the origin of his dread Arab's name.

"Necronomicon" is a movie adaptation of three H.P. Lovecraft short stories. "Necronomicon" is a movie adaptation of three H.P. Lovecraft short stories.
"Necronomicon" is a movie adaptation of three H.P. Lovecraft short stories.
Photo courtesy

Lovecraft expressed a desire to eventually write the "Necronomicon" himself. He thought it would be great fun to create out of whole cloth an ancient text that would lend credence to his mythology [source: The H.P. Lovecraft Archive]. However, he considered it too great a challenge, and for many years he thought about writing an abridged version of the book, which thankfully would only contain the bits that wouldn't drive the reader nuts.

Shortly after he first mentioned the "Necronomicon," it began to pop up in other authors' stories. Lovecraft took great pleasure in seeing his book referenced in his friends' stories and felt that widespread references helped make the book seem more real.

In the next section, we'll learn about the various translations of the fictional "Necronomicon," as well as where these fabled books are now.