C is for Cthulhu

I appreciate the writings of H.P. Lovecraft because he was a relatively consistent nonbeliever.  Many people who do not know the grace of God (or outright deny His existence) assume for their own sanity that there is something wondrous and beautiful worth seeking at the at heart of the universe (see Carl Sagan and Neil deGrasse Tyson).  Lovecraft was not so slow as to buy into such nonsense.

The most famous of Lovecraft’s creations is the Cthulhu.  Cthulhu is a giant humanoid with wings and tentacles over his/her/its mouth.  Cthulhu is so famous now that he/she/it is even marketed as a plush toy.  This is ironic and silly.

What Lovecraft is actually famous for is his literary philosophy called cosmicism.  In his works there is a host of frighteningly powerful extraterrestrial beings that are going to wipe out humanity.  They will not do this because they have a vendetta against humankind but are in fact completely indifferent to our own survival and well-being.    Think of yourself as being a fly living in a warm house with lots of food.  One day the owners will find you and kill you because you are a small target in their home.  That is what’s ultimately terrifying.  You are not even significant enough to be hated.  You’re just small and in the way.

Cthulhu is one of those terrifying beings.   He/she/it lies at the bottom of the ocean until the stars are right and will then arise to, presumably, destroy the world or be stopped by an even bigger monster.  Of which there are plenty in this fictional setting.  Once in a while people get a glimpse at these hideous monstrosities and they almost always lose their sanity followed by killing themselves.

The driving force behind Lovecraft’s cosmicism is his belief that the universe is not for us because it is not ultimately for anyone.  Good, evil, beauty, splendor, and disgust are concepts fabricated by men to make the world less scary and the time more passable.  These underlying objective standards are all an illusion according to him.  The universe is vast, mostly empty, and this tiny pocket of life on earth will likely be wiped out one day and its not even necessarily a bad thing.  It’s just a thing.

I appreciate the writings of Lovecraft because he is almost unwilling to commit to the logical end of his premise.  When we truly realize that there is no God, then there is nothing left for us in this world.  This is what Lovecraft suggests as the remedy:

It is good to be a cynic—it is better to be a contented cat — and it is best not to exist at all. Universal suicide is the most logical thing in the world—we reject it only because of our primitive cowardice and childish fear of the dark. If we were sensible we would seek death—the same blissful blank which we enjoyed before we existed.
  • “Nietzscheism and Realism” from The Rainbow, Vol. I, No. 1 (October 1921); reprinted in “To Quebec and the Stars”, and also in Collected Essays, Volume 5: Philosophy edited by S. T. Joshi, p. 71

And this is how Lovecraft responds, in a sense, to his own line of thinking with a truly fascinating response:

I am perfectly confident that I could never adequately convey to any other human being the precise reasons why I continue to refrain from suicide—the reasons, that is, why I still find existence enough of a compensation to atone for its dominantly burthensome quality. These reasons are strongly linked with architecture, scenery, and lighting and atmospheric effects, and take the form of vague impressions of adventurous expectancy coupled with elusive memory—impressions that certain vistas, particularly those associated with sunsets, are avenues of approach to spheres or conditions of wholly undefined delights and freedoms which I have known in the past and have a slender possibility of knowing again in the future. Just what those delights and freedoms are, or even what they approximately resemble, I could not concretely imagine to save my life; save that they seem to concern some ethereal quality of indefinite expansion and mobility, and of a heightened perception which shall make all forms and combinations of beauty simultaneously visible to me, and realisable by me. I might add, though, that they invariably imply a total defeat of the laws of time, space, matter, and energy—or rather, an individual independence of these laws on my part, whereby I can sail through the varied universes of space-time as an invisible vapour might … upsetting none of them, yet superior to their limitations and local forms of material organisation. … Now this all sounds damn foolish to anybody else—and very justly so. There is no reason why it should sound anything except damn foolish to anyone who had not happened to receive precisely the same series of inclinations, impressions, and background-images which the purely fortuitous circumstances of my own especial life have chanced to give me.
  • Letter to August Derleth (25 December 1930), quoted in “H.P. Lovecraft, a Life” by S.T. Joshi, p. 584


What Lovecraft  did was describe a world that was without connection to God and this place was, as rightly should be expected, hellish.  But he was never actually able to look at Cthulhu.  Consider God’s answer in Eccl 3:9-13:

What gain has the worker from his toil? I have seen the business that God has given to the children of man to be busy with.  He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.  I perceived that there is nothing better for them than to be joyful and to do good as long as they live; also that everyone should eat and drink and take pleasure in all his toil—this is God’s gift to man.

We are often violently shaken by the absence of food, art, and the satisfaction of a full day’s work because God made them pleasurable even when we don’t recognize Him as their ultimate source.  So it should be no surprise why Lovecraft was hesitant to embrace the alternative.

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One Response to “C is for Cthulhu”

  1. I’ve never read anything by Lovecraft. After reading this post, I find his views on suicide both fascinating and very disturbing.

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