The Call of Cthulhu



What’s the point of H P Lovecraft?

We’d laugh at him when we were growing up: ape his funny yokel accents, shake our heads at his racism, sneer at his propensity to stack adjectives; it was a way of excusing ourselves our own racism and snobbery, I guess.

That’s the thing: we who are closeted behind the barricades of the western world are not as distant from the attitudes expressed in the stories of H P Lovecraft as we might like. You can say, “I didn’t choose this,” or, “I won’t do this,” but some of those ideas are embedded into the structure of our language, disguised as ‘common sense’ or patriotism. H P Lovecraft reveals what lies beneath the deep-seated and intractable issue of racism: revulsion and a refusal to face the truth.

He’s also one of very few writers to find an original approach to describing the Real; what’s written isn’t always willed by its writer in the absolute sense, and connotation can be as important as denotation to artistic longevity.

Michel Houellebecq – writing before his own talent and notoriety made him famous – makes a good case for H P Lovecraft’s creative importance in H P Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (translated into English by Dorna Khazeni in 2005 and republished by Gollancz in 2008): it is fundamentally an existentialist argument – one about how Lovecraft combined lyricism and delirium to reveal a deeper truth about human estrangement:-

“I perceived with horror that I was growing too old for pleasure. Ruthless Time had set its fell claw upon me, and I was 17. Big boys do not play in toy houses and mock gardens, so I was obliged to turn over my world in sorrow to another and younger boy who dwelt across the lot from me. And since that time I have not delved in the earth or laid out paths and roads. There is too much wistful memory in such procedure, for the fleeting joy of childhood may never be recaptured. Adulthood is hell.”

Colonial powers refuse to face the truth about their impact on the world not because they are old but because they are infantile: that’s my position, at least. Umberto Eco does a great job of summarising the issue in his article on Ur-Fascism: what is presented as rational is in fact deeply irrational. Here’s a quotation from one of Lovecraft’s letters I found in Howard Ingham’s review of the film Jug Face (2013):-

“As for the Nazis – of their crudeness there be no dispute, yet in many ways the impartial analyst cannot help feeling a certain sympathy for some phases of their position. They are fighting, in their naive & narrow way, a certain widespread & insidious mood of recent years which certainly spells potential decadence for the western world – & one can’t help respecting that however ugly & even dangerous some of them may appear to be. Hitler is no Mussolini – but I’m damned if the poor chap isn’t profoundly sincere & patriotic, it is to his credit rather than otherwise that he doesn’t subscribe to the windy flatulence of the idealistic ‘liberals’ whose policies lead only to chaos & collapse.”

The basis of racism is fear; I think we need to get deeper into this fundamental truth rather than turn away from it. Unconscious impulses require creative understanding.



The song “Whateley” comes from the album We Bake Our Bread Beneath Her Holy Fire by Thumpermonkey.

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.