De Rerum Natura

Even if I knew nothing of the atoms, I would venture to assert on the evidence of the celestial phenomena themselves, supported by many other arguments, that the universe was certainly not created for us by divine power: it is so full of imperfections.



SJE on UK Roleplayers asks: “Have we reached Peak Cthulhu?”

There’s Call of Cthulhu, Trail of Cthulhu, Achtung! Cthulhu; there’s World War Cthulhu and Raiders of R’lyeh. There’s CthulhuTech, a range of Lulu Cthulhu clothing and Cthulhu and brown rice, please.

Why? Brand recognition, says simonpaulburley; “Cthulhu players are – by definition – masochists.” The relentless ‘levelling-up’ in games of a similar vintage seems to me fairly masochistic, but I see what he’s getting at.

I love the way Call of Cthulhu sticks it to me. There’s nothing in there that pretends there’s anything inherently knowable about life. Everything comes from unanswerable darkness. Terror is the appropriate response; bring night sweats and a library card.

Or, as smiorgan puts it: “Cthulhu is a genre and particular kind of myth that can be adapted and reinterpreted.”

Which, in turn, gives rise to the related myth of HP Lovecraft as ‘master’ of his craft: nah, sorry. Like many original and important writers, he was somewhat rubbish. He had to come up with a new style to get his point across, and he wasn’t too clear about that was.

It’s that very ‘absence’ at the heart of Lovecraft that makes it mythic in scope: it’s at once ‘too much’ and ‘not enough’.

I find it inspiring that Lovecraft managed to come up with something important and long-lasting without excelling technically. You can pile up adjectives, fall out with your wife, write letters to lonely young men, it doesn’t matter; you can still ‘succeed’.

Lovecraft wouldn’t enjoy these interpretations: for him, his stories were doing what they said on the tin. He’ll just have to forgive us, the way we forgive him his racism and repressed sexuality.

The high-water mark comes for me in H.P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life, by Michel Houellebecq, which in its English translation (Dorna Khazeni, 2005) was introduced by Stephen King:-

Houellebecq, writing years before second novel Atomised became a best-seller, makes a compelling case for the literary importance of Lovecraft: “His writing, in fact, is not implemented entirely through hypertrophy and delirium; there is also at times a delicacy in his work, a luminous depth that is altogether rare.”

I’m resisting the clues that lead me to Trail of Cthulhu. There’s a) Bookhounds of London, and b) Dreamhounds of Paris. I’m a) a bookseller, and b) a frustrated surrealist; and now, perhaps, c) a gamer who wants to smuggle Lovecraft’s (coded) meanings into his stories. You can interpret this how you like.

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