Where strange fact and stranger fiction collide
I was a sophomore in high school when a senior told me about how he and a few of his friends had cast a weather manipulation spell from the Necronomicon. Now by this time I had only read two of Lovecraft’s stories (The Outsider and The Dunwich Horror) but I did have a copy of The Book of Lists which had the Necronomicon on its list of books that were not real. When I brought up the fact that the Necronomicon was fictitious, he countered that not only was it real, the spell he had cast had succeeded. Now there is a time tested rule that senior beats sophomore in high school arguments, so I officially lost that argument. But it wasn’t the last time that I had heard someone say that part of the Cthulhu Mythos was real.
If H.P. Lovecraft was the ultimate atheist, a true materialist who didn’t believe in anything unprovable by science how did a small percentage of his reading audience come to believe that the creatures and deities he wrote about were real?
To answer this question we have to define the term ‘real’. There are several different versions of real that we could use in the content of this discussion. One is just what we normally mean when we say the word real, that the things HPL wrote about such as Cthulhu, Yog-Sogoth and Shagoths are actual physical things that can influence and can interact with our world. A second concept is the possibility that even if their origins are fictitious they can they influence our world. And the third possibility is, did Lovecraft take entities and deities from an actually mythology and use them in his writings? I am going to address those possibilities in reverse order.
Was Lovecraft inspired by a real mythology and its inhabitants? Very few people believe that the Greek gods are real, but then again no one thinks that Rick Reardon made them up for the Percy Jackson series. The basic answer to this question is no, almost everything HPL wrote about was original. Now he wasn’t beyond lifting names from classical sources, like Dagon, Hypnos and Nodens, but by the time Howard got hold of them and gave them his particular makeover the only resemblance they had with their classical counterparts was the name. Now normally that is a great insult to a writer saying he has no real knowledge of his source material, but in this case it is a testament of Lovecraft creativity and ability to adapt things into his stories.
Next there is a group of people called chaos magicians, who believe that they can bend reality to their will. Many use what Lovecraft wrote about as archetypes to cast spells, they still acknowledging there fictitious origins. I know very little about them them, and have to admit I am not really qualified to express an opinion. I am told that many chaos magicians use Lovecraft in their incantations, but understand he was writing fiction. It seems to work for them, so who am I to say anything against their belief system.
Now to the meat of this post, was Lovecraft trying to warn us of real cyclopean tentacle terrors? Are the believers in the Mythos right? Now before I answer this I have a question who are these people who thinks it is real and where did they get their ideas from?
One group of believers is some conservative Christians, who state that Cthulhu is a real demon. I recently saw a movie called Dark Dungeons based on an anti-roleplaying tract by Christian cartoonist Jack Chick. Though in ways it is very subversive (I doubt that Chick had in mind the lesbian subtext in his original story) in other ways it is true to the feel of the original tract. In DD the heroine has to denounce role playing games to prevent Cthulhu from rising from its watery grave.
After the screening during a Q&A I asked director JR Ralls why did he chose Cthulhu for the story. He explained in the Chick-verse Cthulhu is real. He had a minster on staff to prevent the movie form being to anti-Christian, and the only real complaint, the Chaplin had, was the addition of Cthulhu. But then he had the minster look at Chick’s website, where there was an article written by another person, but approved by Chick, that said one of the reasons RPG’s should be avoided is because “Cthulhu and the Necronomicon are real.” The minister didn’t have another objections to use of Mr. C after that.
Some people who believe in Cthulhu come from the other side of the isle too. Anton Levey mentions them in his book The Satanic Bible. But in his excellent article “Levey Satanism and the Big Squid” J. Gordon Olmstead-Dean points out that doesn’t mean that Cthulhu was real or evil, but that Levey was in reality a spiritually immature person who had no problem stealing from works of fiction to create his religion.
A third category is HPL fanboys who want all of it to be real. Back in the early 80’s I remember hearing about a fanzine dedicated to people who thought Star Trek was real and that they were Klingons who just happened to get reincarnated on the wrong planet. This might seem crazy and maybe even a little sad, that someone would think that a nihilist world like the one in CoC would be superior to ours, but sometimes driving to work I think that a Romero zombie world would be superior than what we got going on now.
I think it is important to say that there is no evidence that Lovecraft himself believed anything he wrote was based on reality. I have heard that we have more surviving letters of HPL than any other human being that lived. This maybe an exaggeration but, because of August Derleth and others preserving all of Lovecraft’s writing after his death, copious amounts of his correspondences survive. In none of them is there any indication that he believed that what he was writing was real. In fact there are more than one letter where he told a fan he made up the Necronomicon.
The one artifact that people point to supporting the reality of the Cthulhu Mythos is The Simon Necronomicon. Published by several different publishers since 1977, this book has never been out of print. It purports to be a transcript of a man calling himself “The Mad Arab”, a reference to HPL’s character Abdul Alhazred. Reportedly translated by an occultist who went by the pen name Simon, it contains Lovecraftian allusions combined with Babylonian and Sumerian Mythology. This is surely the book my friend in high school was referring too.
The book has dark reputation as being an evil grimiore and was used as evidence in several murder trials. A friend of mine recently told me that Powell’s Books has had to chain their copy to a display stand because it was the most stolen book in the whole store. I have thought of picking it up to fill out my mythos collection, and once even had it in my hands, but dropped it off before I got to the counter, not because I thought it was evil but because I rather spend hard earned cash on a collection of Brian Lumley short stories.
I have no way other to say this than the Simon Necronomicon is undoubtedly a hoax.
The book talks about a war between good and evil, a battle between the “elder gods” and ‘the great old ones.” Though these were concepts used by Lovecraft, his beings were impartial creatures who were beyond good and evil. The whole concept that the Cthulhu Mythos was a cosmic war between good and evil, did not exist until after Lovecraft’s death, when August Derleth began to codifying his hero’s works.
The biggest evidence of the Simon Necronomicon was a twentieth century creation is that, there is no evidence of any discussion about a book called the Necronomicon ever being mentioned prior to HPL’s use of the title. There is no evidence of any Pre-Lovecraft usage of the word or the book by occultist or even a reference by the inquisition. The historical document that explained its origin as the Arabic tome Al-Azif to its English translation by John Dee (Queen Elizabeth’s astrologer) was created by Lovecraft as a form of back story.
The backstory was spread around HPL’s writing circle so it was used by other pulp writers of the time, including Derleth, Robert E. Howard (Creator of Conan), Robert Bloch (writer of the novel Psycho), and Lin carter. These stories all being published in the pulp magazines of the twenties and thirties, by different authors made many readers believe they were referencing a real book. This was however a sly tribute by the authors to their friend Howard.
So in the end it turns out that the Cthulhu Mythos is a work of fiction. Lovecraft mainly wrote for himself. He repeatedly said that he wrote the type of stories that he wanted to read. It is obvious that his visions and likes have influenced horror writing from Aliens to Steven King., but it has also been argued in The Cult of Alien Gods: HP Lovecraft and UFO Pop Culture that he has also influenced our occult world too. But in the end he wrote fiction for no one else but himself.