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Is Cthulhu moving from story to myth?

CTRandall

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For decades now, references to the Cthulhu mythos have been slipping into everything from Batman to Fallout to Hell-Boy to the music of John Zorn, Metallica, dozens of metal bands, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Ben 10, Dr. Who, Earthworm Jim (that was a great cartoon!), the popular medical show "House", Scooby Doo, etc. etc. etc. etc. (I left out some of the most obvious references) .

So when does a piece of fiction become something bigger? When does it become myth? I'd guess that there are plenty of teenagers today who don't know about the origins of Cthulhu in the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. I'd guess that there are plenty of people who think that Chaosium has turned some ancient Pheonician/Babylonian/Hittite/who-knows-what myth into a game. I'd guess that there are plenty of people who think the Necronomicon has been around for centuries, that amongst the dozen or so versions of the book available on Amazon, one might be the real thing.

My question is, has Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos become a real, modern myth? Have people repeated the stories, images, phrases ("Yog-Sothoth lives!) and tropes so much that their literary origins are becoming blurred? Are they becoming, in a sense, a set of stories so universal that we use them to make sense of our world (or the darker parts of it, at least)?
 

J-WO

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I'd say yes, mainly for the reasons you give; the original canons ideas diffusing into wider cultural use. It's not all that different to the Wendigo, say. There, some storytelling genius anthropomorphised the dangers of winter into a monstrous entity, one that was useful for northern American and Canadian cultures. Lovecraft took scientific era people's fears of insignificance in a godless universe and gave it a face (or faces. Or tentacles. You get my meaning). There's not all that much difference other than Lovecraft's concepts could travel further and faster in print than the more traditional means of oral dispersal.
 

BAYLOR

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I'd say yes, mainly for the reasons you give; the original canons ideas diffusing into wider cultural use. It's not all that different to the Wendigo, say. There, some storytelling genius anthropomorphised the dangers of winter into a monstrous entity, one that was useful for northern American and Canadian cultures. Lovecraft took scientific era people's fears of insignificance in a godless universe and gave it a face (or faces. Or tentacles. You get my meaning). There's not all that much difference other than Lovecraft's concepts could travel further and faster in print than the more traditional means of oral dispersal.

Cthulhu has found his way into alot of places .
 
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Overread

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I would wager the vast majority of people who enjoy Cuthulu references have never read the original short story from which he came. Some might have read part of it, some might have read a hint, but I'd say few have actually sat down and read it. So yes I think Cuthulu has moved from its honestly humble beginnings.


The madness has infected, spread and diffused through the world! Though its changed from cannibalistic cults to stuffed toys!
 

HareBrain

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Apologies for any offence caused, but I think this has happened in part because the idea of Cthulhu and the various mythos beings are more powerful and interesting outside the original stories than they are within them, because, frankly, the originals weren't much cop. I think such beings fulfill a psychological need for gods of the gibbering emptiness in a secular age, whilst also being quite fun.

Earthworm Jim (that was a great cartoon!)
Amen to that! Which episode were you thinking of in terms of Cthulhu? I think I've seen them all, but not for many years.
 

BAYLOR

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For decades now, references to the Cthulhu mythos have been slipping into everything from Batman to Fallout to Hell-Boy to the music of John Zorn, Metallica, dozens of metal bands, Terry Pratchett, Neil Gaiman, Ben 10, Dr. Who, Earthworm Jim (that was a great cartoon!), the popular medical show "House", Scooby Doo, etc. etc. etc. etc. (I left out some of the most obvious references) .

So when does a piece of fiction become something bigger? When does it become myth? I'd guess that there are plenty of teenagers today who don't know about the origins of Cthulhu in the stories of H. P. Lovecraft. I'd guess that there are plenty of people who think that Chaosium has turned some ancient Pheonician/Babylonian/Hittite/who-knows-what myth into a game. I'd guess that there are plenty of people who think the Necronomicon has been around for centuries, that amongst the dozen or so versions of the book available on Amazon, one might be the real thing.

My question is, has Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos become a real, modern myth? Have people repeated the stories, images, phrases ("Yog-Sothoth lives!) and tropes so much that their literary origins are becoming blurred? Are they becoming, in a sense, a set of stories so universal that we use them to make sense of our world (or the darker parts of it, at least)?
Cthulhu also showed up in The Ghostbusters tv series , The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and South Park of which also answered the question why Kenny can never truly die .:D
 

CTRandall

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Which episode were you thinking of in terms of Cthulhu? I think I've seen them all, but not for many years.
Jim's snowglobe holds a "Nameless Beast" that looks like Cthulhu.

Cthulhu also showed up in The Ghostbusters tv series , The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy and South Park of which also answered the question why Kenny can never truly die .:D
I didn't know about the Kenny connection. Love it!
 

Toby Frost

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I think Cthulhu is an easy - and sometimes rather lazy - way to incorporate the supernatural into a story and to hint at larger and much darker truths behind a narrative. "The Nazis resurrected Hitler with a magic book" sounds more rubbish than "The Nazis resurrected Hitler with the dark rites of the Necronomicon" (although still quite rubbish). Lovecraft's world also has the advantage of not being properly tied in to any existing cosmos, unlike, say Satan and his minions. At least one board game has "The Inevitable Cthulhu Expansion".

Cthulhu is also surprisingly family-friendly. He's not genuinely Satanic and he's not related to any real-world religion to get offended about. He doesn't do anything very disgusting or try to have sex with people (like the Thing or the Alien, both of which are rather Lovecraftian), and he lacks the faceless-stalker-with-knife quality that seems to be a favourite with teenagers or the real-life thuggery of Nazis or Stalinists. In fact, Cthulhu doesn't actually do very much: he just stands in the sea and people go mad, which is quite a hard form of evil to find genuinely frightening.

So yes, I think Cthulhu makes a good "go-to" figure of awe-inspiring alien villainy (I hate the phrase "go-to", incidentally). Also, in the US at least, he's out of copyright.
 

picklematrix

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I would say yes, it is definitely a modern myth and has drastically influenced our culture and media. Mainly because a lot of different things can fit with it, due to the loosely defined nature of the ideas in the original stories. The protagonists were often insane, which means that there is no canonical answer as to whether or not the deities of the Mythos were real, but plenty of scope to build on nonetheless.
Hence why you can fit many horror or scifi films in with Chthulhu Mythos and have it make an approximation of sense.

As an aside, A popular fan theory suggests that the film 'Birdbox' features Nyarlathotep, from the lovecraftan Mythos.
 

Robert Zwilling

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I guess Cthulhu became a myth when it origins became overshadowed by its use. It successfully made the leap from existing in a book to existing in peoples minds as an explanation for something unknown. Maybe because it is from an older book written by an older class of writer that gives it a sense of history that helps give it relevancy all these years later. The style is simple and easy to apply all of which makes it easy to use. By not being so explicit it is hard for the concept to become dated, even though the style of writing is. As far as the impact of the stories, that probably has more to do with the frame of mind the reader was existing in when first read and not the contents of the story. Contents is the wrong word but will have to do. An older person, someone who has read everything and is well into their reading of weirdness and well executed graphically descriptive stories might not find Lovecraft all that exciting. But a ten year old, without a lot of exposure to everything wicked yet, might well remember their first encounters with Lovecraft, simple horrors so easy to comprehend and remember, making them as real as they could be, very little imagination required. I had that kind of encounter, so all the flash of today's outstanding works don't diminish my appreciation of being at the right place at the right time, which was only a local library with well stocked shelves.
 

William Delman

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I would sort of agree, particularly as someone who has dipped into the mythos for my work of several occasions, but for me the concept of myth is inextricably tied up with the idea of fallen religion(s). That is to say, for me the mythological had to once be considered (at least to some degree) representative of "the real." Hence the use of "mythos" when describing the Lovecraftian/Derlethian legacy.

Lately, I've been thinking about the characters in the mythos in the way I think about the X-Men. The core set of characters and ideas can all be traced pretty obviously to one author (or maybe a few), but here we are in 2019 and exactly how many different people have taken a crack at writing X stories? And how far have all those characters evolved from their roots (probably not far enough, but still)?

I mean, seriously, the Wikipedia entry on Apocalypse makes the Cthulhu Mythos look straightforward.
 
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