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What happened to Cthulhu ? 1/2

After going through the Call of Cthulhu novel again, I couldn’t help but wonder and think about why Cthulhu disappeared as quickly as he emerged whereas HP Lovecraft kept promising us the end of the world. So I posted this question on Facebook and received quite a lot of answers and interesting theories. Following all these comments, I started writing a reply myself in order to recap all these theories an to share my conclusion, but as I started typing I realized this was becoming to big to fit in a Facebook message box… Which is why I am posting this here, on our blog.

Before I start the recap I would like to refresh everybody’s memories with those 2 quotes from the novel the Call of Cthulhu:

“The Thing of the idols, the green, sticky spawn of the stars, had awaked to claim his own. The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.”

“Cthulhu still lives, too, I suppose, again in that chasm of stone which has shielded him since the sun was young. His accursed city is sunken once more, for the Vigilant sailed over the spot after the April storm; but his ministers on earth still bellow and prance and slay around idol-capped monoliths in lonely places. He must have been trapped by the sinking whilst within his black abyss, or else the world would by now be screaming with fright and frenzy.”


a. The stars weren’t right yet. Cthulhu showed up just because somebody came knocking at his door. Once the disturbance was taken care of he moved on with his sleep/death/dreaming.

b. That Creature wasn’t Cthulhu himself. We know that Cthulhu didn’t come to Earth alone and was buried in R’lyeh with more aliens like him. So perhaps that thingJohanson saw was just a guardian of the portal, merely looking like him.

I don’t think these 2 theories work because HPL clearly wrote: “The stars were right again, and what an age-old cult had failed to do by design, a band of innocent sailors had done by accident. After vigintillions of years great Cthulhu was loose again, and ravening for delight.” Here it’s obviously not Gustaf’s witnessing that’s being described by HPL since Gustaf never faced Cthulhu before and could not have mentioned that name in the first place. It’s clearly HPL telling us what time it is – ie: the stars ARE right, and this IS Cthulhu.

c. R’lyeh sucked him back down before he could claim his freedom. R’lyeh only appeared for as long as the stars were aligned which lasted from February 28th (date of the first storm) to April 2nd (date of the second storm). The sailors accidently woke him up while R’lyeh was emerged (which adds up), but he didn’t have time to shape up to its full potential nor awaken the other Great Old Ones before R’lyeh sunk again, sucking him back into the abyss.

I am not very enthusiastic about this theory, because this means that everything was a matter of bad timing and luck – a notion that seems a bit beyond the cosmic scale of the tale. Indeed, that would mean that the stars left their alignment at the very moment Cthulhu awakened (lucky!) and that Cthulhu dematerialized for his disappearance at the same time the boat hit him (super lucky!)

d. Cthulhu retreated in order to reform his head. The boat hit him bad and kind of stunned him, so Cthulhu had to retreat in order to reform his head. This means Cthulhu can be physically injured, which of course will seem absurd to most people. However, the last time Cthulhu was spotted seemed to have been by “the first men on Earth”. Following that, a dark Cult cultivated and passed-on the tales of his greatness which got amplified and altered over the course of millennias. That means Cthulhu would be nothing more but a glorified dinosaur like Godzilla for instance, and if the first men had no way to defend themselves against him (thus being terrified), today’s men could actually fend it off with their technology and weapons.

The reasoning makes sense. Afterall, Cthulhu is not a unique entity like Azathoth for instance. There is a whole alien race like him according to the book. That being said, I doubt this theory could be the right one… I mean this is actually how you COULD understand it from reading that novel, but I don’t think that’s the idea that HPL wanted to convey. In the other novels it is clearly stated over and over again that “awakening Cthulhu = the end of the world”. I hate to admit it, but maybe that means this particular novel is a bit flawed… After all, HPL himself called that novel “rather middling—not as bad as the worst, but full of cheap and cumbrous touches.” Perhaps he regretted this fight between an insignificant human and one of his Alien god, because it created an exception in his Lore. 

e. Cthulhu is immaterial and the fight between him and the sailor wasn’t physical but mental. When you meet Cthulhu whatever you see depends on your state of mind. Johansen experienced Cthulhu’s presence like that but the others may have seen something different. Johansen might have managed to wound his representation of Cthulhu because his mind is strong, and his soul is brave. I like the idea of Cthulhu being more like an ectoplasm. Indeed, there are many descriptions of Cthulhu, but at the end of the day only Johansen saw it. And he tells us : “The Thing cannot be described—there is no language for such abysms of shrieking and immemorial lunacy, such eldritch contradictions of all matter, force, and cosmic […] Three men were swept up by the flabby claws before anybody turned […] the mountainous monstrosity flopped down the slimy stones and hesitated floundering at the edge of the water […] There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper. For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething astern; where—God in heaven!—the scattered plasticity of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original form”

So yes, Cthulhu doesn’t seem to be that muscular creature we see everywhere on the fan paintings and book covers. Rather something wobbly and barely material…But if Cthulhu is an ectoplasm, did Johanson’s will really sufficed to harm that immaterial creature? If so, with 2 billion people out there (approximate population in 1930) Cthulhu would surely have taken a beating when attacking the continents ( obviously Johanson isn’t the only brave guy out there). So ectoplasm or not, that doesn’t tell us why Cthulhu left…

f. Cthulhu doesn’t exist and neither do the other Old Gods. All the creatures (Deep Ones, Elder Things, etc) featured in HPL’s work are real and can be physically encountered but they are nothing more than alien things or unknown species. They have another point in common : they worship gods from an ancient time, before men came and installed their own deities. Even the Cult of Cthulhu might be real: a bunch of men passing over the knowledge of this long-forgotten religion. But bottom line is: their gods are not real, just like ours aren’t. The story of Professor Angell is just a hoax, the work of a madmen who was obsessed by the mythos of these old gods and was trying to adapt his findings to his reality…

Mmh. Tricky one. I am under the impression that the Old Gods actually do physically appear in the novels, but I would have to re-read some of them to verify the theory and clarify whether it’s the actual gods or just some creatures… Maybe someone can help with that? Anyhow, my gut feeling is that HPL intended for this Mythos to be real, hence the creatures, the magic powers you can draw from their existence, etc. But then again the very word MYTHOS means it isn’t… arrrgh… my brain hurts! I am loosing sanity points.


In the Call of Cthulhu, HPL tells us that this IS Cthulhu, that the stars ARE right, and that Cthulhu DOES awake. He also tells us that Cthulhu immediately retire to R’lyeh after facing the sailor… So Cthulhu HAD to leave. That means he either got hurt (flawed), or R’lyeh sucked him in at that exact moment (bad timing) …

Of course we could bring up all kind of explanations like the Nodens intervening to save Johanson just like they saved Randolph Carter… But that would be a bit far-fetched and if HPL wanted us to reach that conclusion he would have left us with some hints pointing in that direction.

Which is why I insist that HPL’s tale leaves us with only 2 options. If so, then I’d definitely be in favor of theory n°C (bad timing)

Unless of course… none of that was real. To be investigated? 🙂


EDIT : after further discussion, I continued this thread in another post :

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