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Sympathy for Cthulhu

A. Lee Martinez's latest novel, Chasing the Moon, out this month

H.P. Lovecraft suggested that reality as we know it is all the deranged fever dream of an incomprehensible horrific monster sitting at the center of creation.  The monster’s named Azathoth, and he’s the closest thing to a benevolent force you’ll find in the Lovecraftian tradition.

The entire premise of Lovecraftian horror is built on this notion.  The universe is too large and mysterious for the human mind to ever understand, and those who do understand even a piece of the real “truth” will eventually be driven to madness.  And they’re the lucky ones.  Insanity or ignorance.  These are your choices, according to Lovecraft.

Choose wisely.  Or whatever.  Not like it really matters in the end.

Cheerful fellow, that Lovecraft.

It’s always struck me that dread cosmic horror, as a genre, is still written from the human perspective.  This makes sense.  It’s horror by humans for humans.  We aren’t generally interested in the horror that a turkey must face when the normally friendly farmer (who feeds and tends to the oblivious bird) comes calling with an axe.  We don’t empathize with the dying sun as it fades into oblivion.  And when the ants war, we tend to ignore these miniature battlefields, littered with their dead.

And what about Cthulhu?  Who thinks about Cthulhu?

Probably the most famous of the horrors created by H.P. Lovecraft, Cthulhu is that giant green squid faced monster that most people associate with the incomprehensible.  It’s truly a paradox of the human mind that we can create an archetype for the incomprehensible, but that’s just one of our talents.  Cthulhu, sleeping under the ocean in his vast sunken city, waiting for the stars to align and to claim the earth for his masters once again.

It’s often forgotten that Cthulhu is just a working stiff.  He bears no malice toward the human race.  He’s just doing his job.  He’s a combo caretaker / exterminator, and you and me are just scurrying across this planet while he’s off taking a nap.  When he finally does awake, he’s probably going to be very disappointed to see how much we’ve spread.  Like leaving a bit of food on your kitchen counter, only to discover a swarm of ants have popped up around it.  So he’ll clean the place up and hope it takes this time.

But, like our war against roaches, it probably won’t work.  Even if he managed to exterminate all the humans, something else would come along.  It’s an endless struggle, a trudging uphill climb.  Even if you’re an eternal monster spawned from the stars themselves, that has to be frustrating.

Yes, I am saying I can feel a little sympathy for the big, green guy.  And while I’ve never read a story where Cthulhu rose from R’lyeh, looked around, and said, “Screw it.  I’m going back to bed.”, I’m pretty sure the thought crosses his mind now and then.  So the next time you’re spraying some insects with bug spray or crushing a beetle that dared to invade your garden, take a moment to think of poor old Cthulhu because he’s going to have a hell of a mess to clean up when he finally gets around to it.

And, regardless of the number of tentacles you may or may not have sticking out of your face, I think we can all relate.

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  1. Gloria Oliver

    May 4, 2011
    at 3:45 pm

    Great post! Cthulu would love you, if he/she/it ever deigned to notice that the human roaches have intelligence. You feel his pain. He would be proud.
    Empathy is what makes for great writers. Even if they go ignored by those whom they try to understand…or make them into toe jam.
    Looking forward to the new book!

    • Sarai

      May 9, 2011
      at 3:48 am

      He would like you as he ate your soul.

  2. Lovecraft eZine

    May 4, 2011
    at 8:25 pm

    Great essay! I’ve often compared Lovecraftian horror to the horror that cows, turkeys, and chickens would feel if they were more self-aware. From their perspective, humans would be evil. Cthulhu and his buddies see humans the same way as we see farm animals.

  3. snipe

    May 5, 2011
    at 12:28 pm

    At least one person agrees with you :) http://www.chizine.com/i_cthulhu.htm – this is a fun piece written from Cthulhu’s perspective.

  4. Citizen13

    May 5, 2011
    at 2:52 pm

    You are needing one of the finest pieces of English fiction writing I have encountered as of late: Grendel by John Gardner. Fantastic stuff. Writing synmpathetically from the monster’s perspective, without ruining everything that was great about the creature in the first place, is not easy, but Gardner accomplishes it beautifully.

  5. Joe

    May 8, 2011
    at 1:25 am

    Good, clever post!
    Thanks.

  6. Bruce P.

    May 29, 2011
    at 11:03 am

    “And while I’ve never read a story where Cthulhu rose from R’lyeh, looked around, and said, “Screw it. I’m going back to bed.”, I’m pretty sure the thought crosses his mind now and then.”

    It could be argued that very thing happens in “The Call of Cthulhu”, if you accept the creature described in the Johansen narrative is in fact Cthulhu.

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