In the past few weeks, I’ve heard several people describe our current predicament in a variety of ways. But the general consensus has been this: We are living in weird times. We’ve been long overdue for some weird times, I wager. Even before our current outbreak, those who know me know that I’ve been grappling with another impending existential threat. You’ve probably heard me talk about it. Of course, I’m referring to Cthulhu.
This pressing danger was first documented by H.P. Lovecraft in his 1926 horror story, “The Call of Cthulhu.” Some have relegated the author’s work to the annals of fiction. And in this regard, from his blatant and undeniable racism to his tedious prose, there’s much to critically consider when it comes to Lovecraft. But it’s hard to deny the seed of inspiration Lovecraft planted has borne fruit in recent decades.
Such is the case that you’re probably familiar with Cthulhu’s visage these days, even if you know nothing about Lovecraft. Picture a looming giant with a bulbous, tentacle-covered head, large bat wings, and mildewy color palette. The lore, as Lovecraft establishes it, is that Cthulhu is a forgotten god, or something like one. He’s a misanthrope who abhors right angles, and his return will cleanse the Earth in the coming era of darkness and insanity.
I think we can all agree that things have gone slightly downhill throughout the 20th century. Back in the earlier half of it, we had the Greatest Generation. These days, the best we seem to manage with generations is tacking a letter onto the end. Lovecraft wrote his stories around the start of the century, and as time has passed, his work has gotten more popular and more frequently referenced. Coinciding, weather patterns are more destructive, temperatures have trended upwards and wealth has gotten more stratified. And I think we all know the common wisdom about correlation and causation.
In 1997, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration detected what has been commonly referred to as “The Bloop” in the south Pacific Ocean. The Bloop was a noise detected by sensors over 3,000 miles apart, according to Wikipedia, and some have suggested that it had an audio profile similar to that made by a living creature, but at a scale far larger than normal. Also coincidentally, Lovecraft gives coordinates for R’lyeh, the ancient, submerged city where Cthulhu’s dormant body lies, in the south Pacific Ocean. Scientific consensus has since suggested the Bloop was caused by an underwater ice quake, which is a far less interesting answer.
In the coming days, as an antediluvian titan beyond our understanding stalks our dreams and we are tormented by visions of an unraveling world, we’re going to have a lot to cope with. It might be tempting to worship that terrible thing in the depths of the ocean and look on with perverse joy as we wait for it to consume us, as the many desperate cults in Lovecraft’s canon do. But we should also remember, Cthulhu, like many forces of nature, doesn’t particularly care for or about us. In the face of doomsaying horror, it’s up to us people to take on the hard task of caring.
The appeal of Lovecraft, beyond the more colorful and less racist aspects of his vision, comes from his ability to point to the terror of a world that is beyond our control. Pandemics, changing climate, social crises, malevolent and ancient sea gods, these are all large scale problems. I’d never advocate for apathy in the face of a crisis. But as fiction can often show us, dire circumstances can be terrifying. To me, it seems healthy to have a space to grapple with and get a handle on that terror.
After all, until that behemoth squid head parts the oceans, we could always be worse off.
Evan Orbeck is a Messenger staff writer.