Sunday, March 28, 2010

H P Lovecraft's "The Call of Cthulhu" (novelette, free): Sleeping alien awakens to claim earth!

An illustration of alien priest Cthulhu in his under water city Rlyeh from H P Lovecraft story The Call of CthulhuThere is little action; it's mostly a story that builds up atmosphere. And it does so by frequently calling upon its (presumably original) target readers' prejudices - white man's superiority over those of other skin colors, "different" means abominable, worshiping ancient gods is evil, ...

A lot of readers will have a right to take offense at a lot of places. And virtually every other sentence contains a negative adjective - "accursed", "hateful", "awful", "monstrous", ...

This is, however, an obviously influential story - I can see influence on some works of Henry Kuttner, John W Campbell, Jr, & Eric Frank Russell. Probably others too.

Story summary.

Narrator is piecing together the story from notes of his recently dead "great-uncle, George Gammell Angell, Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages in Brown University". During a short period lasting a few days or months, some people across world have been dreaming similar dreams. And there have been discoveries of similar but very ancient idols of a strange anthropoid god belonging to no known religion, on an unknown type of stone, at several places in the world, amid some sort of very ancient local religious cults.

He will eventually get drawn into the story & go interview people & see places involved. And eventually tell us the real story:

Aliens ("Great Old Ones") of huge body stature came to earth when the world of young. Immortal aliens with body of no known materials, building their massive buildings with "wrong" angles that spawn unknown dimensions, ... They've a priest called "Cthulhu".

Over the eons, their city ("R'lyeh") (cities, with R'lyeh only one of them?) has sunk under sea, where these telepathic immortals now lie dead ... no, lie dreaming. The process of their awakening is complex, & can only happen when the stars are in "the right positions". Someone who's not among them must awaken their priest Cthulhu at the right time; priest will then awaken the rest of them.

To ensure there is someone to awaken them, the sleeping ones have telepathically been influencing "sensitive" humans telepathically - ensuring there are fanatic religious bands all over world who will do their bidding at right time.

Now an earthquake has raised above sea surface the undersea building that entombs Cthulhu, & the stars are right. So the telepathic call goes out to nearest cult band to come awaken the priest. The band will be killed in a conflict with white sailors on the way, & the victorious come to claim what the cult wanted them not to see. And will unwittingly awaken the Cthulhu...


  1. Description of Cthulhu abode - "In this phantasy of prismatic distortion it moved anomalously in a diagonal way, so that all the rules of matter and perspective seemed upset." - made me recall the idea of the enchanted palace of Pandavs in "Mahabharat" where Duryodhan kept falling during his first visit because what the eyes saw wasn't real. There must be similar buildings in mythology elsewhere too.
  2. According to Wikipedia, this story has the first-ever mention of the fictional alien "Cthulhu".
  3. Wikipedia notes the following works as possible influences on this Lovecraft story: Alfred Lord Tennyson's poem "The Kraken", Lord Dunsany's "A Shop in Go-by Street", "The Gods of Pegana" (download), Guy de Maupassant's "The Horla" (download), Arthur Machen's "The Novel of the Black Seal" (download).

    "Other inspirations for Lovecraft's story are referenced in the story itself—for example, James Frazer's The Golden Bough, Margaret Murray's Witch-Cult in Western Europe, and W. Scott-Elliot's Atlantis and the Lost Lemuria". I'd not noticed these local references.

See also.

  1. H P Lovecraft's "Dagon" (download): Provides "an earthquake has raised an under-ocean city to surface for a while" subplot.
  2. Irvin S Cobb's "Fishhead" (download): Probably provides "swampy land with an inland lake & its resident monster who's friend to feared locals" subplot.
  3. Henry Kuttner's "Where the World is Quiet" (download) may have been inspired by this Lovecraft story. A localized region of earth's surface inhabited by unnamable alienness where any humans enter at their own peril.

Fact sheet.

First published: Weird Tales, February 1928.
Download full text from DagonBytes. MP3 audio. A graphic novel adaptation at Scribd.
Rating: B.
Related: Stories of H P Lovecraft; fiction from 1920s.