Oh, My Pop Culture Elder Gods: The Cthulu Mythos

At the beginning of the 20th century, H.P. Lovecraft wrote a series of stories about darkly powerful elder gods and eldritch horrors. These “Great Old Ones” were “ancient, powerful deities from space who once ruled the Earth and who have since fallen into a deathlike sleep”. The most well known among these mythical figures was Cthulu, and even if you’ve never read a single Lovecraft story I’d be shocked if you didn’t think of giant octopus monsters and grimy insanity when someone mentions Cthulu or Lovecraftian horror in general.

cthulhu_rising_by_somniturne1There’s something uniquely appealing about a pantheon of powerful, uncontrollable, sleeping gods who if you look upon their true form, will drive you to insanity, and so even after Lovecraft’s death the Mythos has carried on, appearing in all sorts of media.

Spoilers for Cabin in the Woods, Homestuck, Haiyore! Nyarko-san below the jump.

cabin16The horror film Cabin in the Woods features a group of sleeping Elder Gods as the main threat throughout the movie. It posits that these creatures require a formulaic human sacrifice to remain asleep, and five separate cultures around the world engage in yearly ritual killings (based on the tradition of horror films in that culture) to keep ’em slumbering. When this becomes clear to the two sacrifices left alive at the end of the movie, they decide to let the gods awaken and destroy the world rather than sacrificing themselves to maintain the status quo of killing-people-to-appease-the-dark-gods. Although what we see of these deities (one giant hand in the last second of the film) is relatively humanoid, the Lovecraftian inspiration is hard to miss.

OglogothHomestuck‘s horrorterrors are even more clearly inspired by Lovecraft’s mythos. These eldritch creatures are only ever shown in silhouette, and appear to be tentacled, squidlike beasts. Unlike Cthulu, these outer gods are awake, and they interact to various extents with the characters in the Sburb medium, specifically with the darker-personalitied Derse dreamer players. From Rose’s grimoire we learn that they also have very Lovecraftian names, such as Gl’bgolyb, Fluthlu, Nrub’yiglith, and Oglogoth. These mysterious creatures are almost the most powerful beings in the Sburb game/the Homestuck universe, and direct interaction with them can cause nightmares, and, in Rose’s case, outbreaks of uncontrollable grimdarkness.

HorribleSubs-Haiyore-Nyaruko-san-11-720p.mkv_snapshot_00.35_2012.06.18_22.50.44-1024x576Haiyore! Nyarko-san is a 2012 anime about some of the lesser-known figures from the Cthulu Mythos, and is the only thing on this list to use Lovecraft’s actual characters rather than characters inspired by them. The eponymous Nyarko is Nyarlathotep, and it also features the wind god Hastur, the fire god Cthuga, and scenes in the sunken city of R’lyeh among other places. Now, this was a terrible, bog-standard harem anime and I was hoping for something a lot darker and cleverer, but I feel like once your characters have gotten deep enough into the pop-cultural consciousness that they have moe Japanese schoolgirl incarnations, you might as well pack up and go home. You’ve made it, and there’s nowhere to go from there but down.

For an entirely fictional pantheon less than a century old, the Cthulu Mythos has really gotten a lot of mileage in pop culture. There’s even a Supernatural episode that briefly features Lovecraft. Perhaps it’s just such a unique reversal on the pervasive idea of an omnipresent and loving God; perhaps it just appeals to those of us who are intrigued by a one-two punch combo of fantastical and psychological horror. Either way, I don’t see Lovecraft’s eldritch abominations losing their unknowably tentacled grasp on pop culture any time soon.

Do you know any other examples of Cthulu and Co. in pop culture? Let me know in the comments, and tune in next week to get some reli-Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.