Cthulhu Vs. God - Who Would Win?

  1. Terrible Old Man

    Terrible Old Man Worm That Gnaws

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    Has anybody else noticed the quite subtle yet surprisingly strong anti-Christian theme in HPL's writing? Though I haven't read it, I'm aware of a recent book collecting HPL's atheist non-fiction writing, but I'm talking about his fictional stories.

    Firstly, I could be wrong about this because I'm not intimately familiar with everything HPL ever wrote - I don't see much point in tracking down every last scrap of juvenilia, revision, posthumous "collaboration" which is 99% the work of August Derleth, and other lesser material. But I've read all his major stories, and I can't think of a single instance where a priest or similar person gains any special advantage over the powers of evil by virtue of his Christian faith. Which, given that in the tales just about every other form of magic works to at least some degree, is quite odd.

    More importantly, consecrated ground isn't an obstacle for mythos critters; indeed, it positively attracts them! Burying grounds have always been a standard setting for horrors, because, hey, they're full of dead bodies. But HPL's bogeymen seem to have a special interest in infesting the church itself. Every time anyone enters a church - certainly every time that it matters to the story that they do - some horrible cult has invariably taken it over. In Lovecraft's universe, you never go to church unless you want your soul to be eaten by seething abnormalities that should not be...

    A particularly good example is the church in The Haunter Of The Dark, which is taken over by the Starry Wisdom cult, and when they are forced to leave by what threatens to become a lynch mob (curiously leaving all their treasured cult objects behind - maybe they were in fact lynched?), the building is simply ignored for several decades, even though for most of that time the remains of a missing person are rotting in the middle of the floor!

    The point is, the cultists casually displace the Christians, just as they do in Innsmouth, but when they leave, Christianity is seemingly impotent to reclaim the church, even to the extent of entering the building to destroy evil, dangerous books and objects sitting in plain sight, and give a decent burial to any dead bodies that might be lying around! It is made absolutely clear that the local population puts equal or greater trust in rustic Italian lucky charms than they do in crucifixes, which they carry only because every little helps. And whenever they see the abandoned church, their instinctive gesture is not the sign of the cross, but some other "cryptic" and doubtless pagan gesture which they clearly think has greater protective power.

    As for Father Merluzzo, the best he can do is "to pronounce whatever helpful syllables he could". This is of course utterly useless, and fails to contain the horror in the steeple - actually, since they all apparently know the creature to be allergic to light, he would have been far better employed organising everyone to bring lanterns and so on that wouldn't blow out in the thunderstorm! They're called storm lanterns - he must have known about them! I suppose it could be argued that the climactic thunderbolt represents Divine Intervention, but if so, God carelessly or capriciously answered their prayers too late to save Robert Blake, the only person who was genuinely threatened.

    It's true that in some stories, Christians have, at some time prior to the events in the tale, executed witches and warlocks for being manifestly abhorrent in some foul fashion involving dead babies or something. But in these instances, the law-abiding majority are Christian by default, and they accomplish their goal by virtue of numbers and force of arms, not by being especially holy. And of course, the deceased magus invariable fails to stay permanently dead. For example, in The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward, the Christian mob fails to permanently put paid to Joseph Curwen, whose sorcery utterly outwits them. He is only destroyed when Dr. Willett, a man who relies on learning and intelligence instead of faith, turns his own magic against him.

    Much the same happens in The Dunwich Horror, except that at no point do any Christians make the slightest attempt to deal with a family who are blatantly trafficking with the Devil in the worst way. Presumably the local priest just hides behind closed shutters like everybody else, until the learned professors from the big city show up and deal with the problem in a way which will actually work.

    But it gets even more subversive! Consider Azathoth. Although descriptions of him vary - the prose poem of that name makes him sound quite pleasant - the usual version depicts him as a blind idiot who happens to rule the Universe. Lovecraft is basically telling us that God Almighty, far from being omniscient, can't see what you're doing because He has no eyes, and wouldn't care if He could because He has no brain either.

    In other words, the "God" who rules absolutely everything is indistinguishable from pure chance, except that he/she/it enjoys listening to drums and flutes being played badly by yetis forever (so Azathoth, though blind, isn't deaf, though he's probably tone-deaf). Which is an odd touch, until you remember the equally peculiar Christian emphasis on God's throne being surrounded by hosts of angels singing the same song for all eternity - apparently it consists basically of "Holy! Holy! Holy!" (unless Derek and Clive are correct in their daring hypothesis that the Heavenly Host are eternally crying with knob-ache). It's exactly the same concept, taken to its illogical conclusion - Azathoth is a blatant and far from subtle parody of Jehovah.

    And what about Nyarlathotep? He's some sort of extension of Azathoth - his "soul and messenger" - who is sometimes described in similar or identical terms, as a blind idiot, but who is usually at least partly humanoid, and quite often unique among the Great Old Ones in that you could sit down with him and have a rational conversation, and maybe not even know who - and what - he really was.

    Basically, he's a scaled-down humanoid avatar of Nyarlathotep apparently created to interact with the world of men. Once upon a time he lived as a man in the Middle East, where his enormous charisma - even animals loved him - vast wisdom, and the many wonders he displayed caused the locals to worship him as a divine king, until eventually he gleefully abandoned them to a terrible fate. And one day he will come again to do the same thing to all of us. But in the meantime, he walks among us in many different forms, inflicting all manner of small-scale madness and disorder upon us while he awaits the day when the world dies screaming in glorious full-blown chaos!

    Now, who is that a merciless parody of? (Clue: Try and think of somebody famous who got nailed to something.)

    Bearing in mind that Lovecraft privately believed all religion to be a pernicious waste of time, but in those days couldn't really work such a theme explicitly into his fiction if he wanted it to actually be published, did he not only invent a world where the only gods that truly existed were hideous, uncaring monsters, the worship of which didn't really get you anywhere, but also slip in the most blistering critique he could get away with of real-world religion? What does everybody think?
     
    Jul 27, 2011
    #1
  2. Ningauble

    Ningauble Lovecraftian

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    Walter Gilman wards off Keziah Mason with a crucifix (and then strangles her with the chain).
     
    Jul 27, 2011
    #2
  3. D_Davis

    D_Davis Well-Known Member

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    Subtle?

    :D

    Good post, BTW.
     
    Jul 27, 2011
    #3
  4. J Riff

    J Riff The Ants are my friends..

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    It would be a real tentacle-fest. Cthulhu is probably still angry about God stealing his job.
    Impressive first post indeed. *****
     
    Jul 28, 2011
    #4
  5. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    Quite an impressive first post, indeedy... and I love the avatar. Bless me, but I do miss Roger Delgado as The Master.....

    A couple of questions, though... "yetis"?:confused: And: aside from "The Haunter of the Dark", in what story does anyone go into a church? Also... what other forms of magic? What Curwen and company were doing would certainly qualify, or come close to it(it could also be said, as per the quotation from "Borellus", to be a form of alchemy or early science, masquerading as magic because of the ideas of the people of Curwen's time... though Willett's reference to it makes this highly debatable); and in some of his early works, magic and the genuinely supernatural certainly appear to be at work; but by the time of "The Call of Cthulhu", this begins to be much less apparent... especially given that what the characters view as "magic" -- just as those they view as "gods" -- may not be anything of the sort....

    Essentially, yes, HPL satirized religion in several of his tales (the entire denouement with Wilbur's twin is a parody of the crucifixion, complete with the Lovecraftian equivalent of "Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?" (or, as scholars would have it, "Eli, eli, lama sabachthani?"). And then there is the parody of the 23d Psalm at the end of "The Shadow Over Innsmouth"......

    Whether these were consciously intentional or not cannot be definitively stated, so far as I know; but it is likely they were, as Lovecraft did tend to make such mythical analogies in his work.

    Incidentally, I would suggest checking out Against Religion, as it is quite a good little book, with some wonderfully entertaining and thought-provoking essays and other writings; often sparkling with wit and highly energetic....

    As for the point which Ningauble brings up... I've discussed that elsewhere on these forums, quite a long while back; but suffice to say that, while I agree that it is a flaw in the tale the way it is handled, I also see her hesitation as a sound piece of psychological characterization. Considering the milieu she was raised in, no matter how far she distanced herself from that in all conscious ways, vestigial remnants of the fears such religious upbringing tends to instill almost certainly would have remained unconsciously; just enough to make it plausible, even likely, that (being caught off-guard during a moment of emotional stress) there would be that momentary hesitation, perhaps just long enough for Gilman to get the thing around her throat.....
     
    Jul 28, 2011
    #5
  6. Terrible Old Man

    Terrible Old Man Worm That Gnaws

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    Wwhen does anybody else go into a church? For starters, in The Shadow Over Innsmouth, our hero, while he doesn't actually enter the building, gets a glimpse inside, and he sees the pastor wearing a headdress which makes it all too clear that the Esoteric Order of Dagon has made considerable changes to the local brand of Christianity. In case we miss the point that mainstream religion has been utterly subverted, the narrator explicitly spells it out in that same paragraph. Here's the relevant passage:

    The door of the church basement was open, revealing a rectangle of blackness inside. And as I looked, a certain object crossed or seemed to cross that dark rectangle; burning into my brain a momentary conception of nightmare which was all the more maddening because analysis could not shew a single nightmarish quality in it.
    It was a living object—the first except the driver that I had seen since entering the compact part of the town—and had I been in a steadier mood I would have found nothing whatever of terror in it. Clearly, as I realised a moment later, it was the pastor; clad in some peculiar vestments doubtless introduced since the Order of Dagon had modified the ritual of the local churches.

    It's also worth mentioning that Dagon is, I think, the only Great Old One to be mentioned in the Bible, as one of the false gods powerless against the followers of Proper God. So maybe that's a sly little dig in itself. And what about The Festival, in which the entire population go to church to celebrate, of all things, Christmas:

    The church was scarce lighted by all the lanthorns that had entered it, for most of the throng had already vanished. They had streamed up the aisle between the high white pews to the trap-door of the vaults which yawned loathsomely open just before the pulpit, and were now squirming noiselessly in.

    And if I may quote The Horror At Red Hook:

    These creatures attended a tumbledown stone church, used Wednesdays as a dance-hall, which reared its Gothic buttresses near the vilest part of the waterfront. It was nominally Catholic; but priests throughout Brooklyn denied the place all standing and authenticity, and policemen agreed with them when they listened to the noises it emitted at night.

    No, I don't think going to church in HPL's universe is a terribly sound plan. And then there's the Evil Clergyman...

    Roger Delgado's incomparable, irreplaceable Master did of course once assume the guise of an evil clergyman, the Rev. Magister, who had his own evil pagan cult of depraved morris dancers! He was trying to gain the godlike power of an extraterrestrial slumbering in a prehistoric burial mound, whose science was indistinguishable from ritual magic, and who was physically a dead ringer for Satan. Very Lovecraftean indeed, that tale! The BBC got a lot of complaints about Doctor Who And The Daemons - not because of the Satanism, or even the morris dancing, but because the special effects were so good that some people thought they'd blown up a real church. Altogether now: "Evo evohé Azaal!"

    I'd forgotten about Keziah Mason and the crucifix. However, I would agree with the view that Keziah is merely startled by it due to her cultural conditioning. It doesn't seem to repel her in the dramatic way it would a vampire, except perhaps momentarily - she certainly doesn't fly away screaming. And Gilman doesn't kill her by applying the cross to her flesh and thus causing her to burn or shrivel from the touch of the holy object - he strangles her with the chain, presumably not itself holy. (I'm not a Catholic, so I don't know if the chains from which holy objects dangle are also blessed - perhaps somebody could clear up this point?). This would kill anybody, witch or not!

    In any case, there are too many examples of the followers of hideous eldritch gods taking over Christian places of worship in their entirety, and not finding the consecrated ground a hindrance to their practices, for it to be plausible that any significant Old One or servant thereof would be truly inconvenienced by Christian symbols. By the way, although the church in The Haunter Of The Dark seems to have been legitimately acquired by the Starry Wisdom sect, and had thus probably been deconsecrated, the others equally likely weren't. Given that none of these groups really needed to use an ex-Christian place of worship when any large building would have done, and most would have been more discreet, I think HPL is making a deliberate point here.

    By the way, the yeti reference was partly because Azathoth's house band have "nameless paws" with which they play their distinctly human instruments, so I always think of them as belonging to another of the breeds of subhuman anthropoid HPL featured regularly.

    But I was probably also subconsciously thinking of Lovecraftean episodes of Doctor Who. Since almost all of it has been lost, we can't fully appreciate Doctor Who And The Yetis, but the plot was that the yetis - extraordinary web-footed creatures not resembling apes at all apart from being furry - were actually extraterrestrial robots built by Tibetan monks, whose abbot's meditations had become so advanced that he had accidentally made contact with a creature possessed of vast knowledge, power and evil, which, having eaten its entire native universe, fancies snacking on ours, and its ultimate aim is to pour through a dimensional gateway built with slave labour at the heart of Mount Everest, in the form of an infinite quantity of ravenous slime. So basically, it's Doctor Who versus Yog-Sothoth and the Mi-Go! How HPL is that, considering it's a 1960s British sci-fi TV show aimed at children?
     
    Jul 28, 2011
    #6
  7. j d worthington

    j d worthington Moderator

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    I must have been much more tired than I thought when I posted. Yes, those are valid examples -- very valid for your point. What I was aiming at was those who went to church for, if you will, protection from such nameless forces, as is the case in so much horror fiction of various periods. It was that I was not seeing; but yes, churches never had any sort of special status in HPL's universe (though he did love the beauties of churchly architecture in many instances); as an example of his... shall we call it impish irreverence? for such, there's always the incident when he was taking friends to see the sights in Providence, and attempted to play "Yes, We Have No Bananas" on the church organ; unsuccessfully, as it turned out, because (as he notes) "it was not a self-starter".....

    Incidentally, on the subject of that particular Doctor Who serial, while the video for The Abominable Snowmen is (save for an episode or so) gone, the audio still exists, and was released (with narrative links by Frazer Hines) on audio disc some years back. You can still find copies available on Amazon.com now and again, should you wish to look it up. This includes the entire audio for the serial; in fact, all of the missing Troughton (and Hartnell) episodes are available in this format and, combining this with the DVD set Lost in Time and the stills available on the Classic Doctor Who website, you can get a very good idea of what those serials were really like....

    http://www.bbc.co.uk/doctorwho/classic/photonovels/
     
    Jul 29, 2011
    #7
  8. BAYLOR

    BAYLOR There Are Always new Things to Learn.

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    I think God would win this one hands down.:D

    Yes Cthulhu is powerful , but he's not a god . if you put Cthulhu in the Marvel Universe or DC Universe he and the rest would get eaten alive by some of the powerful beings there.;)
     
    Last edited: Aug 9, 2015
    Aug 9, 2015
    #8
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