You might be sitting there at your computer saying, "Hey, HowStuffWorks, how about all those copies of the "Necronomicon" I've seen on Amazon.com or at my local bookstore?" These books are all hoaxes of varying degrees of quality. Some authors wrote hoax versions in order to further Lovecraft's vision, while others sought a way to make some money off of the credulous.
The most well-known of all the hoax books is the Simon "Necronomicon." This edition, edited and annotated by an editor known only as Simon, combines the Cthulhu Mythos with Mesopotamian mythology and mysticism into a spellbook claiming to give the owner the ability to summon various eldritch beasties (that means weird, unearthly critters). The first printing was limited to 666 copies in 1977. Avon Publishing gave the book a widespread release in 1980. Several Web sites provide a thorough debunking of the book, and one even reveals Simon's (alleged) true identity.
Two other famous spoof versions of the book are the DeCamp-Scithers and the Wilson-Hay-Langford-Turner editions. The DeCamp-Scithers work sprung from the minds of authors L. Sprague De Camp and George Scithers and features a few pages of nonsense text written in an Aramaic language, with the same set of pages appearing multiple times. De Camp included an introduction acknowledging that the volume was, in fact, a fake. Colin Wilson, one of the authors of the other famous spoof, admitted to the joke in an article called "The Necronomicon: The Origin of a Spoof." His version, like the Simon edition, included various rituals and spells commonly found in books of the grimoire genre -- grimoires are manuals that describe rules and instructions for a specific process and are often associated with magic.
There are several other versions floating around bookstores and the Internet. They tend to either be very poor emulations of Lovecraft's writing style or odd combinations of Cthulhu mythos and other, older mythologies. The bottom line is that the "Necronomicon" is a literary device intended to add a sense of believability and legitimacy to otherwise unbelievable tales. It seems it has a much grander reach than the author intended.
In the next section, we'll look at how the "Necronomicon" has popped up in some unusual movies, television shows and comic books.