Cthulhu Mythos
The Cthulhu Mythos is a shared fictional universe
Shared universe
A shared universe is a fictional universe to which more than one writer contributes. Work set in a shared universe share characters and other elements with varying degrees of consistency. Shared universes are contrasted with collaborative writing, in which multiple authors work on a single story....

, based on the work of American horror
Horror fiction
Horror fiction also Horror fantasy is a philosophy of literature, which is intended to, or has the capacity to frighten its readers, inducing feelings of horror and terror. It creates an eerie atmosphere. Horror can be either supernatural or non-supernatural...

 writer H. P. Lovecraft
H. P. Lovecraft
Howard Phillips Lovecraft --often credited as H.P. Lovecraft — was an American author of horror, fantasy and science fiction, especially the subgenre known as weird fiction....


The term was first coined by August Derleth
August Derleth
August William Derleth was an American writer and anthologist. Though best remembered as the first publisher of the writings of H. P...

, a contemporary correspondent of Lovecraft, who used the name of the creature Cthulhu
Cthulhu is a fictional character that first appeared in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu", published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. The character was created by writer H. P...

- a central figure in Lovecraft literature and the focus of Lovecraft's famous short story The Call of Cthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu
The Call of Cthulhu is a short story by American writer H. P. Lovecraft. Written in the summer of 1926, it was first published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales, in February 1928.-Inspiration:...

(first published in pulp magazine
Pulp magazine
Pulp magazines , also collectively known as pulp fiction, refers to inexpensive fiction magazines published from 1896 through the 1950s. The typical pulp magazine was seven inches wide by ten inches high, half an inch thick, and 128 pages long...

 Weird Tales
Weird Tales
Weird Tales is an American fantasy and horror fiction pulp magazine first published in March 1923. It ceased its original run in September 1954, after 279 issues, but has since been revived. The magazine was set up in Chicago by J. C. Henneberger, an ex-journalist with a taste for the macabre....

in 1928) - to identify the system of lore employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors. Writer Richard L. Tierney
Richard L. Tierney
Richard L. Tierney is an American writer, poet and scholar of H. P. Lovecraft. He is the coauthor of a series of Red Sonja novels, featuring cover art by Boris Vallejo. Some of his standalone novels utilize the mythology of Lovecraft's Cthulhu Mythos.-Youth:Tierney was born in Spencer, Iowa...

 later applied the term "Derleth Mythos" to distinguish between Lovecraft's works and Derleth's later stories.

Authors writing in the Lovecraftian milieu
Lovecraftian horror
Lovecraftian horror is a sub-genre of horror fiction which emphasizes the cosmic horror of the unknown over gore or other elements of shock, though these may still be present. It is named after American author H. P...

 use elements of the Mythos in an ongoing expansion of the fictional universe.


Robert M. Price
Robert M. Price
Robert McNair Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including...

 described in his essay "H. P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos" two stages in the development of the Cthulhu Mythos. The first stage, termed the "Cthulhu Mythos proper" by Price, was formulated during Lovecraft's lifetime and was subject to his guidance. The second stage was guided by August Derleth who in addition to publishing Lovecraft's stories after his death attempted to categorize and expand the Mythos.

First stage

An ongoing theme in Lovecraft's work is the complete irrelevance of mankind in the face of the cosmic horrors that apparently exist in the universe, with Lovecraft constantly referring to the "Great Old Ones": a loose pantheon of ancient, powerful deities
A deity is a recognized preternatural or supernatural immortal being, who may be thought of as holy, divine, or sacred, held in high regard, and respected by believers....

 from space who once ruled the Earth and who have since fallen into a death-like sleep. This was first established in The Call of Cthulhu, with the minds of the human characters deteriorating when afforded a glimpse of what exists outside their perceived reality. Lovecraft emphasised the point by stating in the opening sentence of the story that "The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents."

Writer Dirk W. Mosig
Dirk W. Mosig
Yōzan Dirk W. Mosig is a psychologist, historian, literary critic and ordained Zen monk noted for his critical work on H. P. Lovecraft. He was born in Germany and lived for several years in Argentina before emigrating to the United States. He received his Ph.D at the University of Florida in...

 claims that Lovecraft was a "mechanistic
Mechanism (philosophy)
Mechanism is the belief that natural wholes are like machines or artifacts, composed of parts lacking any intrinsic relationship to each other, and with their order imposed from without. Thus, the source of an apparent thing's activities is not the whole itself, but its parts or an external...

In philosophy, the theory of materialism holds that the only thing that exists is matter; that all things are composed of material and all phenomena are the result of material interactions. In other words, matter is the only substance...

" who embraced the philosophy of cosmic indifferentism. Lovecraft believed in a purposeless, mechanical, and uncaring universe that human beings, with their limited faculties, could never fully understand, and the cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance
Cognitive dissonance is a discomfort caused by holding conflicting ideas simultaneously. The theory of cognitive dissonance proposes that people have a motivational drive to reduce dissonance. They do this by changing their attitudes, beliefs, and actions. Dissonance is also reduced by justifying,...

 caused by this leads to insanity. Lovecraft's viewpoint made no allowance for religious belief which could not be supported scientifically, with the incomprehensible, cosmic forces of his tales having as little regard for humanity as humans have for insects.

There have been attempts at categorizing this fictional group of beings, and Phillip A. Schreffler argues that by carefully scrutinizing Lovecraft's writings a workable framework emerges that outlines the entire "pantheon" - from the unreachable "Outer Ones" (e.g. Azathoth
Azathoth is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos and Dream Cycle stories of H. P. Lovecraft and other authors. Its epithets include Nuclear Chaos, the Daemon Sultan and the Blind Idiot God.-Inspiration:...

, who apparently occupies the centre of the universe) and "Great Old Ones" (e.g. Cthulhu, imprisoned on Earth in the sunken city of R'lyeh
R'lyeh is a fictional lost city that first appeared in the H. P. Lovecraft short story "The Call of Cthulhu", first published in Weird Tales in 1928. According to Lovecraft's short story, R'lyeh is a sunken city in the South Pacific and the prison of the malevolent entity called Cthulhu.R'lyeh is...

) to the slave caste (the lowly shoggoth
A shoggoth is a fictional monster in the Cthulhu Mythos. The being was mentioned in passing in sonnet XX of H.P...

s and the Mi-go
The Mi-go are a race of extraterrestrials in the Cthulhu Mythos created by H. P. Lovecraft and others. The name was first applied to the creatures in Lovecraft's short story "The Whisperer in Darkness" , taking up a reference to 'What fungi sprout in Yuggoth' in his sonnet cycle Fungi from Yuggoth...


David E. Schultz, however, believes Lovecraft never meant to create a canonical Mythos but rather intended his imaginary pantheon to merely serve as a background element. Lovecraft himself humorously referred to his mythos as "Yog Sothothery" (Mosig coincidentally suggested the term Yog-Sothoth Cycle of Myth be substituted for Cthulhu Mythos) and at times had to remind readers his mythos creations were entirely fictional.

The view that there was no rigid structure is reinforced by S. T. Joshi
S. T. Joshi
Sunand Tryambak Joshi — known as S. T. Joshi — is an award-winning Indian American literary critic, novelist, and a leading figure in the study of Howard Phillips Lovecraft and other authors of weird and fantastic fiction...

, who stated "Lovecraft's imaginary cosmogony was never a static system but rather a sort of aesthetic construct that remained ever adaptable to its creator's developing personality and altering interests... [T]here was never a rigid system that might be posthumously appropriated... [T]he essence of the mythos lies not in a pantheon of imaginary deities nor in a cobwebby collection of forgotten tomes, but rather in a certain convincing cosmic attitude."

Price, however, believed that Lovecraft's writings could at least be divided into categories and identified three distinct themes: the "Dunsanian" (written in the vein of Lord Dunsany), "Arkham" (occurring in Lovecraft's fictionalized New England
New England
New England is a region in the northeastern corner of the United States consisting of the six states of Maine, New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, and Connecticut...

 setting), and "Cthulhu" (the cosmic tales) cycles. Writer Will Murray noted that while Lovecraft often used his fictional pantheon in the stories he ghostwrote for other authors, he reserved Arkham and its environs exclusively for those tales he wrote under his own name.

Although not formalised and acknowledged as a mythos per se, Lovecraft did correspond with contemporary writers (Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith
Clark Ashton Smith was a self-educated American poet, sculptor, painter and author of fantasy, horror and science fiction short stories. He achieved early local recognition, largely through the enthusiasm of George Sterling, for traditional verse in the vein of Swinburne...

, Robert E. Howard
Robert E. Howard
Robert Ervin Howard was an American author who wrote pulp fiction in a diverse range of genres. Best known for his character Conan the Barbarian, he is regarded as the father of the sword and sorcery subgenre....

, Robert Bloch
Robert Bloch
Robert Albert Bloch was a prolific American writer, primarily of crime, horror and science fiction. He is best known as the writer of Psycho, the basis for the film of the same name by Alfred Hitchcock...

, Frank Belknap Long
Frank Belknap Long
Frank Belknap Long was a prolific American writer of horror fiction, fantasy, science fiction, poetry, gothic romance, comic books, and non-fiction. Though his writing career spanned seven decades, he is best known for his horror and science fiction short stories, including early contributions to...

, Henry Kuttner
Henry Kuttner
Henry Kuttner was an American author of science fiction, fantasy and horror.-Early life:Henry Kuttner was born in Los Angeles, California in 1915...

, and Fritz Lieber - a group referred to as the "Lovecraft Circle") - and shared story elements: Robert E. Howard's character Friedrich Von Junzt reads Lovecraft's Necronomicon
The Necronomicon is a fictional grimoire appearing in the stories by horror writer H. P. Lovecraft and his followers. It was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1924 short story "The Hound", written in 1922, though its purported author, the "Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred, had been quoted a year earlier in...

in the short story "The Children of the Night" (1931
1931 in literature
The year 1931 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:*Cherokee playwright Lynn Riggs' play Green Grow the Lilacs premiers. It would later be adapted by Rodgers and Hammerstein as Oklahoma!....

), and in turn Lovecraft mentions Howard's Unaussprechlichen Kulten
Unaussprechlichen Kulten
Unaussprechlichen Kulten is a fictional work of arcane literature in the Cthulhu Mythos. The book first appeared in Robert E. Howard's short stories "The Children of the Night" and "The Black Stone" as Nameless Cults. Like the Necronomicon, it was later mentioned in several stories by H. P...

in the stories "Out of the Aeons" (1935
1935 in literature
The year 1935 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* June 15 - W. H. Auden enters a marriage of convenience with Erika Mann.* July 30 - Allen Lane founds Penguin Books to publish the first mass market paperbacks in Britain....

) and "The Shadow Out of Time" (1936
1936 in literature
The year 1936 in literature involved some significant events and new books.-Events:* Life magazine is first published.* The Carnegie Medal for excellence in children's literature is established in the UK.-New books:...

). Many of Howard's original unedited Conan
-People:* Conan O'Brien , American talk show host* Saint Conan , bishop of the Isle of Man* Conan I of Rennes , king of Brittany* Conan of Cornwall , medieval bishop...

 stories also form part of the Cthulhu Mythos.

Second stage

Price's dichotomy dictates the second stage commenced with August Derleth, the principal difference between Lovecraft and Derleth being the latter's use of hope and that the Cthulhu mythos essentially represented a struggle between good and evil. Derleth is credited with creating the Elder Gods, and stated:

As Lovecraft conceived the deities or forces of his mythos, there were, initially, the Elder Gods... [T]hese Elder Gods were benign deities, representing the forces of good, and existed peacefully...very rarely stirring forth to intervene in the unceasing struggle between the powers of evil and the races of Earth. These powers of evil were variously known as the Great Old Ones or the Ancient Ones...

—August Derleth, "The Cthulhu Mythos"

Price suggests that the basis of Derlerth's systemization are found in Lovecraft, stating: "Was Derleth's use of the rubric 'Elder Gods' so alien to Lovecraft's in At the Mountains of Madness? Perhaps not. In fact, this very story, along with some hints from "The Shadow over Innsmouth", provides the key to the origin of the 'Derleth Mythos'. For in At the Mountains of Madness we find the history of a conflict between two interstellar races (among others): the Elder Ones and the Cthulhu-spawn." Derleth himself believed that Lovecraft wished for other authors to actively write about the myth-cycle as opposed to it being a discrete plot device. Derleth expanded the boundaries of the Mythos by including any passing reference to another author's story elements by Lovecraft as part of the genre: just as Lovecraft made passing reference to Clark Ashton Smith's Book of Eibon, Derleth in turn added Smith's Ubbo-Sathla to the Mythos.

Derleth also attempted to connect the deities of the Mythos to the four elements (air, earth, fire, and water), but was forced to adopt artistic licence and create beings to represent certain elements (air and fire) to legitimise his dichotomy. In applying the elemental theory to beings that function on a cosmic scale (e.g. Yog-Sothoth
Yog-Sothoth is a cosmic entity of the fictional Cthulhu Mythos and the Dream Cycle of H. P. Lovecraft. Yog-Sothoth's name was first mentioned in his novella The Case of Charles Dexter Ward...

) some authors created a separate category termed aethyr. Derleth matched earth against fire and air against water, which is inconsistent with the classical elements pairings.
Derleth's elemental classifications
Air Earth Fire Water
Hastur is a fictional entity of the Cthulhu Mythos. Hastur first appeared in Ambrose Bierce's short story "Haïta the Shepherd" as a benign god of shepherds. Robert W...

Ithaqua is a fictional character in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft. The titular creature debuted in August Derleth's short story "Ithaqua", which was based on Algernon Blackwood's tale "The Wendigo"....

Nyarlathotep, also known as the Crawling Chaos, is a malign deity in the Cthulhu Mythos fictional universe created by H. P. Lovecraft. First appearing in Lovecraft's 1920 prose poem of the same name, he was later mentioned in other works by Lovecraft and by other writers and in the tabletop...

Zhar and Lloigor
Zhar (Great Old One)
Zhar is a fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos. The being first appeared in the short story "The Lair of the Star-Spawn" by August Derleth and Mark Schorer.-Zhar in the mythos:...

Cyäegha is a fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos and first appeared in Eddy C. Bertin's short story "Darkness, My name Is" .-Summary:...

Shub-Niggurath, often associated with the phrase “The Black Goat of the Woods with a Thousand Young”, is a deity in the Cthulhu Mythos of H. P. Lovecraft...

Tsathoggua is a fictional supernatural entity in the Cthulhu Mythos shared fictional universe. He is the creation of Clark Ashton Smith and is part of his Hyperborean cycle....

Cthugha is a fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror fiction, the creation of August Derleth. He first appeared in Derleth's short story "The House on Curwen Street" .-Description:...

Cthulhu is a fictional character that first appeared in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu", published in the pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. The character was created by writer H. P...

Ghatanothoa is a fictional deity in the Cthulhu Mythos. The being first appeared in the short story "Out Of The Aeons" by H. P. Lovecraft and Hazel Heald. It is a large, amorphous, exceptionally hideous being comparable to Medusa.-Summary:...

Mother Hydra

* Deity created by Derleth.

"Lovecraft" mythos

A lesser known term employed by the scholar S. T. Joshi to describe the works of Lovecraft. Joshi identified four key elements in Lovecraft's mythos (that Price would later condense to three themes), being the fundamental principle of cosmicism
Cosmicism is the literary philosophy developed and used by the American writer H. P. Lovecraft in his weird fiction. Lovecraft was a writer of philosophically intense horror stories that involve occult phenomena like astral possession and alien miscegenation, and the themes of his fiction over time...

 (which once again highlighted the irrelevance of mankind), the imaginary New England setting, a pantheon of recurring "pseudomythological" entities and a collection of arcane books that supposedly yield insights into the mythology.

See also

  • Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture
    Cthulhu Mythos in popular culture
    This article provides a list of cultural references to the work of author H. P. Lovecraft. These references are collectively known as the Cthulhu Mythos. For works that are stylistically influenced by Lovecraft, see Lovecraftian horror.- Film :...

  • Elements of the Cthulhu Mythos
    Elements of the Cthulhu Mythos
    The following tables and lists feature elements of the Cthulhu Mythos, that are often shared between works within that fictional setting.The Cthulhu Mythos were originally created by writer H. P. Lovecraft in his horror short stories, although the term itself was coined later by August Derleth...

  • Cthulhu Mythos anthology
    Cthulhu Mythos anthology
    A Cthulhu Mythos anthology is a type of short story collection that contains stories written in or related to the Cthulhu Mythos genre of horror fiction launched by H. P. Lovecraft...

  • Cthulhu Mythos biographies
    Cthulhu Mythos biographies
    The following fictitious biographies showcase the most important characters in the Cthulhu Mythos.Overview:*Name. The name of the character appears first....

  • Cthulhu Mythos arcane literature
    Cthulhu Mythos arcane literature
    Many fictional works of arcane literature appear in the Cthulhu Mythos. The main literary purpose of these works is to explain how characters within the tales come by occult or esoteric knowledge that is unknown to the general populace. However, in some cases the works themselves serve as an...

  • Dreamlands
  • Cthulhu Mythos deities
    Cthulhu Mythos deities
    Writer H.P. Lovecraft created a number of fictional deities throughout the course of his literary career, including the "Great Old Ones" and the "Outer Gods", with sporadic references to other miscellaneous deities...


Robert M. Price
Robert M. Price
Robert McNair Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including...

(ed.), West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. Original publication:
Robert M. Price (ed.), West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press.
Robert M. Price (ed.), Mount Olive, NC: Cryptic Publications.

External links

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