“The Call of Cthulhu” (1926)

Creators

H. P. Lovecraft (writer).

Commentary

A myth for the modern world. Cthulhu itself behaves “like Polypheme cursing the fleeing ship of Odysseus”. The framing device is one of tragic irony, reflecting Oedipus Rex (ca. 429 BCE). The narrator, opening his grand-uncle’s locked box and investigating the contents to his own detriment, takes the role of Oedipus. He falls into existential dread rather than plucking out his own eyes. As he writes, “If heaven ever wishes to grant me a boon, it will be a total effacing of the results of a mere chance”. This element of chance is crucial to the modernization. There is no penitence to compensate for chance, no parallel with the reconciliation of Orestes. Whereas Oedipus in the drama personally investigated his own past, what the narrator here discovers is defined by its extreme impersonality. In truth, Cthulhu is less human than Polypheme and does not care about the narrator. Cthulhu’s eye, like the narrator’s, is unhurt. Lovecraft’s horror is disconnected from Sophocles’s dramatic plane and fit for the 20th century.

In part also a remake of “Dagon” (1919). Interestingly, although Lovecraft clearly expresses his deplorable racist convictions here, this is only obvious from the context of his other writings. There is little unambiguous evidence for racism in the individual text. The first time I read it, I thought it was just a historical coincidence that the cult was big in Asia and that Angell’s killer was black.

References here: “He” (1926).

fiction text