September 15, 2022

#08-240: The Call of Cthulhu Part I

Lovecraft's sketch of Cthulhu

Note: Few stories have chilled me like this one, the work of H.P. Lovecraft.

Get Ready: What sorts of stories really scare you?

In 1928, American writer H. P. Lovecraft's story "The Call of Cthulhu" introduced to the world Cthulhu (pronounced kuh-thu-lu), one of the "Great Old Ones." It is part of a pantheon of ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth. Since their heyday they have fallen into a deathlike sleep.

The story, one of the most horrific I have ever read, tells how Cthulhu was awakened, with potentially disastrous results. Since then the universe inspired by Lovecraft has included 23 stories by Lovecraft and numerous more by other authors. Together they are called "the Cthulhu Mythos." (The Mythos itself is dated to 1919 and the story "Dagon," which doesn't yet mention Cthulhu.)

Divided into three parts, "Call"  purports to be a transcript "Found Among the Papers of the Late Francis Wayland Thurston, of Boston." These, in turn, give an account of the work of Thurston's late grand-uncle, George Gammell Angell, a Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Brown University.

Part I, "The Horror in Clay," tells us that in the spring of 1925, Professor Angell had been made aware of a seemingly unrelated series of events. The first one was a dream reported to him in person by one Henry Anthony Wilcox, who brought a slab of clay inscribed with arcane letters and an image of a monster, like "simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature," with a "pulpy, tentacled head surmount[ing] a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful."

In fact people all over the world were having dreams; there were strange occurrences of mass hysteria; disturbances by native peoples in different parts of the globe, and in insane asylums; suicides, cult activities, and "Voodoo orgies." All of these, seemingly triggered by an earthquake felt all over the world, pointed to some ominous event which, at the end of Part I, remains unknown.

In Part II, "The Tale of Inspector Legrasse," we find Professor Angell's record of an archaeological conference back in 1908. There, a police inspector from New Orleans had brought a hideous statue that he had confiscated in a raid on a weird religious cult.

It is, as you may guess, the same weird figure depicted on Wilcox's clay slab, with writing on its base like that of Wilcox's inscription. A professor at the conference had encountered something similar among the Eskimos of Greenland; comparing notes with Legrasse, they rendered the inscription in English: "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming."

We'll learn more about this Great Old One in the next lesson.


Practice: Match the term to its definition below:

  1. caricature
  2. confiscated
  3. Emeritus
  4. heyday
  5. insane asylums
  6. pantheon
  7. potentially
  8. purports
  9. surmounting
  10. triggered

  1. mental hospitals 
  2. took by law
  3. set off
  4. like a cartoon
  5. possibly
  6. claims
  7. time of greatest power
  8. on top of
  9. retired
  10. a collection of gods

Answers are in the first comment below.

Submitted to the Shenzhen Daily for September 15, 2022

1 comment:

  1. Answers to the Practice: 1. d; 2. b; 3. i; 4. g; 5. a; 6. j; 7. e; 8. f; 9. h; 10. c