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Lovecraftian thoughts

I went to a panel on Cthulhu becoming a pop culture icon yesterday. There was much talk of the mythos having an underlying theme of repressed sexuality, that Howard created a mythos for atheists, and the otherness of beings that can live at the bottom of the sea and/or in outer space.

I brought up the idea that Cthulhu & Co. might represent nature out of control. I've since thought more about it and the more I ponder, the more I think this might be significant. This doesn't rule out the "repressed sexuality" idea--sexuality is of course where Nature hits us hardest and most regularly. This also may be why kids start reading Lovecraft at the point where their bodies are changing, in the grip of forces that cannot be stopped. (Note that the "changing body" theme is one that pops up more than a little in Lovecraft's stories.)

The ocean is about the most cthonic feature of the planet. It's the origin of all life, goes down to unknown depths, and if we go down to those depths the ocean will crush us.

Another thing that brings up the "Lovecraft was writing about nature" concept for me is how the beings of the mythos don't care. We're just food. An acquaintance of mine who sits in her home reading fantasy too much and not getting out enough tried to impress upon me that the beings are frightening because of that. Well, I can have that by just swimming off of the California coast and being at risk from shark attack. Humans are not the top of the food chain, sharks are, and that, I think, is a very, very scary idea for most Americans. I think it was for Lovecraft.

Americans are not used to the idea of forces over which they cannot overcome, or which they cannot harness. This notion of not being in control, not being the top of the food chain, not being in a situation in which they will triumph is almost unthinkable and nature fits this bill. I was further reflecting today that Lovecraft's horror would have been much different if he'd participated in World War One. Offhand I can't think of any horror writers who did, anyone? Allison? I saw an interesting piece once on how WW1 influenced horror film, bringing to it images of disfigured humans and fiery hells.

I find human-made horror, or the horror that is the result of terrible human action, much more frightening that the Cthulhu mythos. Cthulhu and his ilk are as evil as sharks, that is to say, not at all. It's nothing personal. The violence that is personal terrifies me where the impersonal destruction of nature does not.

I am reflecting on this at a time when nature is again having its way with me: I am going through menopause. I think that might be why I've read "Shadow Over Innsmouth" twice and am going back for a third read soon. Old women are objects of horror, and like the hero of "Innsmouth" I am seeing myself in them now--and relishing it.

BOO!

Comments

( 11 comments — Leave a comment )
ebenbrooks
Mar. 1st, 2011 01:13 am (UTC)
I think you might like this deviantArt stamp I found the other day:

azelmaroark
Mar. 1st, 2011 01:42 am (UTC)
I find human-made horror, or the horror that is the result of terrible human action, much more frightening that the Cthulhu mythos.

Yep, that's why I like Saw.
kishiriadgr
Mar. 1st, 2011 01:48 am (UTC)
I thought you would weigh in with that. That's why I've never seen "Saw" and find "terrible alligator eating people" movies too stupid to watch.
azelmaroark
Mar. 1st, 2011 01:58 am (UTC)
A lot of people think Saw is too stupid to watch, too. I just ignore them.

I think it's scary because, before it started getting ridiculous, this is all something a crazy person could actually do. It's not fantasy or supernatural. It's a guy in a junkyard with scraps. My sister and I are still shocked that someone hasn't tried to replicate it IRL. (Obviously they'd be caught, but it so seems like something fail-humanity would do.)
childings
Mar. 1st, 2011 01:49 am (UTC)
Well, Leviathan, Ziz and Behemoth were kind of the same concept in the Bible, weren't they? That's always what I thought of when I thought of Cthulhu
kishiriadgr
Mar. 1st, 2011 06:41 am (UTC)
Leviathan and Behemoth (I must have missed Ziz) are whale-like creatures borrowed from Mesopotamian mythology into the Bible. They and Tiamat are primordial creatures opposed (sort of ) to Ha'Shem. Dagon the Babyloniann fish god is imported completely into Lovecraft though, especially in "Innsmouth".
garpu
Mar. 1st, 2011 03:48 am (UTC)
You know, I think you're onto something. (And I need to dig out my Lovecraft books.)

I had a related thought about the Silent Hill horror as Lovecraft's opposite, but it's not fully formed.

Edited at 2011-03-01 03:49 am (UTC)
vonjunzt
Mar. 1st, 2011 07:01 am (UTC)
Interestingly enough, Lord Dunsany served in World War I. I think the only combat he saw may have been in Dublin in 1916, but it's been so long since i read his autobiography, Patches of Sunlight, that I don't recall.
(Deleted comment)
caprine
Mar. 2nd, 2011 12:37 am (UTC)
That was a great panel. I quite enjoyed your contributions.

It's interesting how some people take reality personally and find cosmic horror far worse than personal horror while others have the opposite reaction. I think if a person has a lot of their ego invested in being the Protagonist of Their Own Story then impersonal forces are sort of insulting or threatening on a deep ego level. If it's coming to get me specifically then I am still important!

Those who find personal horror worse -- is it a revulsion at the use of individual mind and will for the purpose of increasing suffering?
kishiriadgr
Mar. 2nd, 2011 04:33 am (UTC)
I avoid "personal horror" movies for the reason you state: revulsion at the use of individual mind and will for the purpose of increasing suffering.

I find supernatural horror scary while I'm actually watching the film, though the feeling of being scared doesn't "follow me home" as it were. Supernatural horror films are a closed universe.

Films or stories based on natural horror, like "Jaws" or "Arachnaphobia" and so on, aren't scary at all to me, they're just boring. REAL sharks or alligators or other predatory creatures are to be respected and any fear of them come out of that respect. I think I find the Cthulhu mythos to be along those lines.
( 11 comments — Leave a comment )

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