Blesok no. 91, July-August, 2013
“The Call of Cthulhu” as read through the concept of estrangement
The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman, Laurence Sterne
This essay will try to pinpoint the language inventions (or/ – and conventions) through the concept known as “otstranenie” (defamiliarisation, estrangement), developed by the Russian formalist Viktor Shklovsky. The analysis will be made through careful hermeneutical interpretation of the language inventions in The Call of Cthulhu, but at certain points, our attention will be focused on specific mythological matrices which can be useful for depicting the nature of Cthulhu as chthonic or divine deity.
This essay, furthermore, will aim to set the basis for some future, more analytical readings of Lovecraft’s short narratives, which are only casually mentioned here for the sake of some general outlines, but purposely without enough presented and explained details.
To continue onwards with the analysis, we would need to remind ourselves of the meaning of the term otstranenie/ estrangement, which will be frequently used and which will be treated as one of the key terms for explaining the language inventions in Lovecraft.
In his essay “Art as Device”, published in 1917, Viktor Shklovsky develops the idea about what he calls “ostranenie”, and which we can nowadays translate as “estrangement, defamiliarization, deautomatization, alienation”, especially in the Macedonian language. This term is practically based on the needed new forms in the literature in general, and in one literary work individually. To be considered as a unique, unrepeatable, original (and if these attributes are possible and applicable in the field of literary axiology nowadays), a literary work must turn to literary and historical past and engage in the process of and re-evaluating almost everything previously founded and accepted as norm, as a prescription, as a convention. Therefore, the process of estrangement annuls (or at least tries to do so, since that is its purpose) the procedure of automatic imitation of: the style of prose/ poetry authors, already established and familiar plots, already given types of heroes, of literary and textual intentions, in order to create a new form, a new convention of writing and creating, to mark the period in which that literary work is created (and thus to fixate the cultural and social code that every work incorporates in itself, more or less explicitly). Hence, the term is marked by the need of alienation of the previously fixated concepts and of establishing new, fresher ones; it would probably sound inappropriate to say that a literary work begins ex nihilo (out of nothing, from scratch), no matter that this position completely breaks the illusion of originality, for which every text clings to.
Thus, the term given by the Shklovsky does not include literary, formal invention that aims towards promotion of new and original concepts at any price (and thus conventions, norms, etc. ), but aims towards the idea to create literary works which will be considered atypical, estranged, somewhat alienated of already established concepts that had the status of a prototype or pre-principle for sublime in literature.
Book Isaiah 27:1
Not only in “The Call of Cthulhu”, which was taken as the most suitable field for observation, analysis and explanation of the (possible) presence/ absence of the procedure of estrangement, but in his entire opus, Lovecraft leaves space to be viewed, read, and later on portrayed, analyzed and interpreted via different (theoretical and hermeneutical) aspects. We have taken the aspect of the language for analysis and when we use the term “language”, we do not think of this category as a formal system of different elements (Saussure), but of the language the chthonic beings in the narrative use as their “mother tongue”; we have decided to take the term language as a general category, and not the terms speech or discourse, because here we do not think of the discourse in stylistic terms, as an ornament or an instrument, nor even the discourse as an evidence of the author’s erudition, but specifically of the fictitious, imaginary, “non-existent” in our reality language Lovecraft’s beings use; this literary technique resembles, although does not have the same function, as Tolkien’s fictional language called The Sindarin Language, used by the elves in his Lord of the Rings trilogy and probably in some of his other works.
In order to “capture” and portray, in order to present the atmosphere (and chronotope) in his narratives, Lovecraft creates the fictional language of “The Great Old Ones”, in order to complete the task of portraying the authenticity of the world which he creates. Therefore, we should not be astonished by certain references to the so-called “Mythology of Lovecraft” or even “Cthulhu Mythos” (the term was invented by August Derleth after Lovecraft’s death; see Joshi 2001: 244), since with the introduction of a never before heard or never before imagined creatures, Lovecraft attempts to create an intimate, assembled and imaginary world where the real and the fantastic, the unusual and strange/ supernatural, coexist in general and mutually dependent relation. Lovecraft actually uses this pseudomythology as one of the ways to convey his fundamental philosophy, whose main characteristic was cosmism. “The true importance of ‘The Call of Cthulhu’”, writes S. T. Joshi, “lies not in its incorporation of autobiographical details, nor even in its intrinsic excellence, but in its being the first significant contribution to what came to be called the ‘Cthulhu Mythos’” (Joshi 2001: 243). But, Joshi carefully warns us that it would be careless and inaccurate to say that the Lovecraft’s mythos is equivalent to the author’s philosophy. “His philosophy is mechanistic materialism and all its ramifications, and, if the Lovecraft mythos is anything, it is a series of plot devices meant to facilitate the expression of this philosophy. These various plot devices (…) can be placed in three general groups: first, invented ‘gods’ and the cults of worshipers that have grown up around them; second, an ever-increasing library of mythical books of occult lore; and third, a fictitious New England topography (Arkham, Dunwich, Innsmouth)” (Joshi 2001: 243).
The reader, as well as the interpreter, no matter of their scientific competence, skill and erudition, will have a close encounter with Shklovsky’s concept of estrangement just by reading the title of the narrative (“The call of Cthulhu”). We previously did not mentioned, but it is more than clear that the process of estrangement in a text (in the broadest sense) can be deployed as a tool in many of its levels – to the linguistic, stylistic, thematic, structural level of a narrative. The interpreter itself is the one who can and is able to decide which of these aspects is most appropriate for analysis.
So, just by reading the title of the narrative, we can sense that the author tries to suggests something “new”, something somewhat pretentious, something for us unknown or something that is not significantly exhausted as a form of literary creation, something which was not previously canonized, and hence – through fresh, unique, if not exotic creation of the characters and atmosphere, the readers (at least those eager and patient enough) are put to a test to resolve the final meaning (if it does exist) of these so-called innovations in the author’s literary creation.
Through the use of the unusual language, Lovecraft makes the language form more “complex” (or to be more precise – he “enriches” it), making it a favorable foundation for a variety of interpretations and forms of research. The author uses this new language to grant the validity of the presented world, in order to capture the atmosphere of the unknown, non-human (or anti-human?) race of ancient beings, for which we read that existed long before man to inhabit the Earth. Unlike the whole grammar that Tolkien created for his Sindarin language, Lovecraft uses just a certain number of specific words or combination of words, that refer to the language of The Great Old Ones, of the migrants from the planet of Yuggoth (a planet which is the ninth on distance from the Sun), of the ones “(…) who came from the stars and had brought Their images with Them.” In addition, the author presents his newcomers through the optics of the people, because the humans and these Outer Ones, do not form dialogic connections (it is said that “In the elder time chosen men had talked with the entombed Old Ones in dreams”; Lovecraft 1950: 81).
The expressions or linguistic forms which the author uses, can be interpreted as an attempt to distinguish (or to create a foundation for setting distance) between people as indigenous inhabitants of Earth, despite these seemingly new migrants, who have their own language that defines or separates them from humans. We will witness different, weird-sounding names like (and let’s not forget that Nomen est Omen, a Latin proverb which achieves its culmination in this narrative): Tsathoggua (amorphous, frog like-god mentioned in ancient writings), N'Kai (cosmic and geographical setting of the capital of Tsathoggua, and thus, special and specific chronothopic landmark), R'lyeh (the homeland of the paradoxically demonic god Ctulhu, also described as “the nightmare corpse-city”, as “Babylon of elder daemons”, as monstrous acropolis), Irem (“The City of Pillars”, located “amid the pathless deserts of Arabia… where it dreams hidden and untouched”), etc… , which clearly show the so-called “hindering” of the (linguistic) form.
In one part in his study devoted to fantasy and science fiction (Demons and galaxies), Vlada Urosevic notes that Lovecraft uses these names on two levels – some of them are just a result of the author's imagination (like Cthulhu, R'luen, Azatot, for example), versus the others which are probably taken from the mythology of Middle East (Dagon as a typical example of the Canaan mythology) (Urosevic 1988: 60). This serves as a proof of the live dialogue literature has with other fields and disciplines, especially with folklore and mythology. But, without even knowing these information, the procedure of estrangement (firstly of the language, and then of the style, theme and plot of the text) works flawlessly. Often, the stylistic level, the characterization of the characters themselves, and especially the anti-heroes, might be analyzed in the light of this constructive procedure.
As an example, we shall take the description of the small statue that represents Cthulhu:
(Lovecraft 1950: 72)
S. T. Joshi writes that the dominant literary influence on the narrative has played De Maupasant’s The Horla and “(…) it related the advent to France of an invincible being who lives on water and milk, sways the minds of others, and seems to be the vanguard of a horde of extra-terrestrial organisms arrived on Earth to subjugate and overwhelm mankind” (Joshi 2001: 243). But, we must note that Joshi’s opinions are somewhat too subjective and in order to present Cthulhu’s ambiguous, dispersive and symbolic nature, we shall reconsider some potentially plausible ideas.
Cthulhu is the name reserved for one of Lovecraft’s major (antagonistic, chthonic, dark), almost demiurgic beings in position in the narratives, especially in The Call of Cthulhu, as the title itself suggests. “The name ‘Cthulhu’ clearly evokes a phonetics and a morphology alien being, if compared to those of any human language. (…) The word is supposed to represent a fumbling human attempt to catch the phonetics of an absolutely non-human word. The name of the hellish entity was invested by beings whose vocal organs were not like man’s, hence it has no relation to the human speech equipment. The syllables were determined by a psychological equipment wholly unlike ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats… The actual sound – as nearly as human organs could imitate it or human letters record it – may be taken as something like Khlul’-hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness” (taken from the letter Lovecraft sends to Duane Rimel; Berutti 2009: 9). Berruti decides to explore furthermore and to go even deeper for finding the possible roots of the word/ noun and in order to do so, he mentions William Neff’s hypothesis, in which the term “Cthulhu” can be treated as a sort of a “relic” from Lovecraft’s childhood days. “The word bears some similarity to a certain type of decorative art”, writes Neff. “In late Victorian times”, he continues, “various forms of glassware came into vogue as part of the Art Nouveau movement. They resemble the movement of water – milky, cloudy, bubbly, swirls – long sweeping serpentine lines or octopoid shapes for decorative vases. These were manufactured in Scotland and termed ‘Clutha’ or ‘Cluthua’ ware. These terms are from old Gaelic, and are related to ‘cloud’ or ‘cloudy’, as in ‘cloudy waters’ or aqueous-appearing glassware. The name is thought to derive ultimately from an old word for the river Clyde” (Berutti 2009: 9).
The symbolic language is also important. On several occasions, the reader will witness the repetition of this symbolic, seemingly difficult to speak, “almost unpronounceable jumble of letters”:
“Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyen wgah'nagl fhtagn”,
for much later to discover its true meaning (given in the “human language”, in particular the language of the characters and the author – the English language; the appropriate translation is as it follows: “In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming”; Lovecraft, op.cit., pg.74). The question is: Can we talk about the procedure of estrangement, if there was not given any conceivable explanation of this sentence/ phrase/ incantation, and unless it was not translated into a language the reader and the interpreter understand?
Although contemplative and rationally elusive, Cthulhu reveals itself in the nature of an ambivalent, dual in nature being which possesses certain primordial, eschatological attributes. He is a symbol of the dark (because he/ it is unknown, incomprehensible, because it is Outer, because it is non-human, because it patiently slumbers beyond water levels; he is, at the same time dead, but also awaiting), and also the potential characteristic of the light; this second feature would sound paradoxal, if we do not explain the function of a cosmological chthonic creature – his function is to cause, or at least to be a catalyst, for the end of the world in order for a new, better, more evolved world to be born. In this sense, Cthulhu shares the characteristics which are primarily attributed to the beings such as the dragon or the snake, from which the first one is associated with the genetic representation of death (from initiation rites) (Lafazanovska 1996: 99), but it is always “somewhere beyond”, not among people, landing at a given moment of unexpectedness, and it is almost always hidden and dormant, just as Cthulhu itself is.
The symbol of the snake is just as ambivalent. We recall that the ancient Egyptians knew of the god Apophis, physically represented as a snake (or a crocodile) and treated as an incarnation of evil and adversary of the creator of mankind, Ra In Japanese cosmogony, for example, from Kazuguchi’s blood (a god which is part of the second generations of gods in Nihon) Kura-okami is born, a god which is depicted as a dragon or a snake and who was thought of as a god of rain and snow. In other variants of the same mythological narrative, notes De Visser, from Kazuguchi’s blood Taka-okami was born, a god whose name is translated as “the God who lives in the mountains” and who obviously is different from Kura-okami, “the god of the valleys” (De Vizzer 1913: 136).
Yahweh, in the Old Testament, faces several snake-like creatures, such as Rahab (Book of Job, Book of Issaiah), Leviathan (Book of Isaiah) (Brandt 1989: 144), which serve as agents of the misbalanced, cosmic order. The snake, writes Miroslav Brandt, alongside with water, represents the symbol of the physical and the material. He quotes Origen, who in his scriptures depicts Satan as a “dragon” or “a big monster”, which extremely well portrays this chthonic, dark, and underground power that Cthulhu shares. The water, on the other hand, can and is interpreted in folklore as a border zone, as a transition from one state (of being) to another. As such, it can be represented by the binary oppositions “this world”/ “the outer world”, but as well as a symbol of death and a symbol of rebirth (Petreska 2008: 58), which, again, highlights Cthulhu’s ambivalence as the Destroyer (of the world as the narrator knows) and as Creator (of a new, different, better world). De Visser, for example, also mentions the interconnectedness of the concepts of the dragon in China and Japan, with the concepts of the Naga (nāga/ nāgī) in Hindu mythology and believes that the Nagas are located in the eight rang of the system of the world and that these beings were identified as water spirits, as demi-gods which reside under the water levels, underground or even in Patala (the seven underground worlds), and which often represent themselves in anthropomorphic form (De Visser 1913: 2, 6, 8). Robertson-Smith in his Religion of the Semites, writes that the living power that inhabits sacred waters and gives them their miraculous healing quality is often held to be a serpent, a huge dragon or water monster. It is easy to understand, writes Aston, how a river with its sinuous course and its mysterious movement without legs, should come to be thought of as a great serpent. “Rivers have their favourable and their maleficent aspects. (…) they furnish water for irrigation, (…) but they cause destruction of life by their floods, metaphorically expressed by the serpent’s poison.” (Aston 1905: 150). G. Elliot Smith shares the same opinion when he writes that even the fish and the crocodile, together with the serpent, became symbols of life-giving and life-destroying powers of water and that composite monsters or dragons were invented by combining parts of these various creatures to express the different manifestations of the vital powers of the water. “The earliest form assumed by the power of evil was the serpent”, he writes, “but it is important that (…) as each of the primary deities can be a power of either good or evil, any of the animals representing them can symbolize either aspect” (Elliot Smith 1919: ix, 108). He also gives an intriguing opinion when he writes about the process of blending the seven avatars of the dragon into a seven headed dragon, something which might have been facilitated by its identification with the Pterocera (commonly known as the spider conch – species of large sea snail) and the octopus. “We know that the octopus and the shell-fish were forms assumed by the dragon. (…) My attention was first called to the possibility of the octopus being the parent of the seven-headed dragon, and one of the forms assumed by the thunderbolt “ (Elliot Smith 1919: 215). Elliot Smith treats the symbol of the octopus as well as a surrogate of the Great (divine) Mother.
These “water beings” (deities, demi-gods) are known even in some Gnostic myths. The Hymn of the pearl, for example, tells the story of a prince who is looking for the single pearl which is located amidst the sea is kept by a “snake that furiously wheezes” (Eliade 1991: 298), so the water in the given context, together with the snake, is depticted as a guardian of the precious, incomprehensible, and hidden, and Eliade also treats these two as symbols of the material world in which the human soul is trapped (ibid.; p. 299). Water is mysterious, because it hides Cthulhu, because the reader cannot see it, but just hear it, so he must assume that this sleeping Cthulhu is really located under water.
Berruti writes about a whole series of linguistic signals adopted by the narrator in the effort to express a sort of chaos of the language, that counterbalances the chaos of the knowledge (Berutti 2009: 8). The human language, he describes, can only try to guess, to make hypotheses about what the aliens are “uttering”, even only at a level of the mere linguistic signifier, basing on the sole instrument of the rational language that, perhaps, can be applied to the cacophony from the outer world. “The term of our language that better expresses the linguistic chaos represented by the alien words is perhaps ‘cacophony’, that ‘mad cacophony’ as a symbol of the moral chaos which the alien civilization stands for” (Berutti 2009: 10-11).
In order something to be “estranged”, in order for a form to be re-envented in a seemingly new, original and creative way, – it must be properly understood by the reader/ interpreter. This represents Jackobson’s theory of the language message – the “sender” and the “receiver” must understand and know the language of the sent message.
There are certain doubts whether fictional literature establishes referential relation to reality. But Ricoeur carefully notes that there is not a literary work which in itself does not minimally contains even the slightest connection to the reality. Although they are fiction, the stories of Lovecraft constantly refer to reality – through the names of well-known writers and poets (Milton, Machen, Poe, Clark Ashton Smith… ), through the existing real chronotopes of the author’s time – via the portrayed dark hills, castles, country houses… characteristic for the world fantastic novels). Berruti, for example, gives an intriguing opinion when describing the town where R’Lyen is supposedly situated: he believes that the geometry of the place is not settled, and it is in a sense changing and that that the city is in fact a city-in-progress. “It is hard even to imagine how his could really ‘be’: but after all this is just the aim that Lovecraft proposes to himself, this is the essence of the Lovecraftian Outsideness: to shock human episteme, depicting something so deeply ‘other’ that the human mind can not only describe it, but not even imagine it” (Berutti 2009: 7). R’Lyen itself, has “(…) surfaces so great to belong to anything right or proper for this earth, ad impious with horrible images and hieroglyphs. (…) The very sun of heaven seemed distorted when viewed through the polarizing miasma welling out from this sea-soaked perversion (…)” (Lovecraft 1950: 93-94).
This procedure of incorporating elements of reality in the domain of what is primarily fantastic (or/ and unusual, unheard of, unexplainable, macabre, paranormal, non-natural, as Urosevic notes) points to the need of providing authenticity to the literary work and to the “world of literary work” in its fullness, in order for this to be considered legitimate. S. T. Joshi, for example, writes that many of the locales in Providence are real, notably the Fleur-de-Lys building at 7 Thomas Street, where the artist Wilcox (who fashioned a sculpture of Cthulhu after dreaming about him) resides. “The earthquake cited in the story is also a real event” (Joshi 2001: 243), which gives a deeper dimension to the text as not completely “imaginary” and out of touch with reality. Hence, only the readers who will not or cannot identify and detect the used references to reality, will undoubtedly read these stories as anachronistic. We must note that even the symbiosis of the already known, “real” and referent, with the seemingly created, new and not known, can be interpreted as a form of implicit, micro-estrangement.
In The whisperer in darkness there is an interesting reference to the understanding of Einstein’s “speed of light” concept:
(Lovecraft 1950: 213)
We, once again, witness the power of the symbolic language, which can be read as a sort of incantation or maybe even as an allegoric language:
(Lovecraft 1950: 177)
This mys-en-abyme structure is incorporated in what would be considered basic, general matrix and narrative pattern of text as wholeness. These episodes actually contain lot of elements that can be found in Carl Gustav Jung’s theory of the collective unconsciousness. In Lovecraft’s narratives we can often sense the conflict between the narrator’s individual unconsciousness which influenced is by various mystical, dark, nebulous and obscure stories, episodes and encounters, which activate the collective unconscious in him. But, we must note that the ratio itself cannot function without its relation to the unconsciousness, the same way the consciousness cannot be complete without the “burden” of the collective unconsciousness. What we call “collective unconsciousness” can unconsciously project fixed images, as well as visual, semantic signs and meanings, by which the narrator can explain what is really happening around him, in the seemingly enigmatic environment. Therefore, Lovecraft’s fictional mythology could be seen through the prism of Jung's theory of the collective unconscious, because the graphical and structural plan describes the idea the analytical psychology has, which by the term “collective unconscious” encloses a set of inherited, engraved signs and meanings for which we are not always aware of. Therefore, the character of Cthulhu would function as an archetype of the demonic and dark (underground) force, as an archetype of a complex being with dual nature; Cthulhu is “divine” as much as it was the Sumerian Tiamat, whose elimination was followed by the creation of mankind, or the Japanese Izanami, who was born as a divine being but who later on is depicted as a resident of the Yomi, the underworld. He is described as “ Thing of the idols”, as “the green, sticky spawn of the stars”. He/ It can be treated as one of the leading symbols of the collective unconscious – his fortress, which goes against Euclid’s laws of geometry and symmetry, is deeply submerged under the sea and only when “the stars were ready”, it will rise to the surface and will somewhat “liberate” Cthulhu. In ideal parallel between dream and reality, Lovecraft highlights how the “non-Euclideity” of R’lyeh’s geometry gives rise to a sense of Outsideness, of abnormality which reminds the reader of ultra-terrestrial spheres and dimensions. According to Berruti’s opinion, in R’Lyeh anything may happen, not a single principle of Euclidean geometry is respected: other laws are at stake, laws that the human mind is not able to grasp, not even to imagine (Berutti 2009: 6).
But, when we interpret the status and the function of Lovecraft’s alien gods, we must be careful because, as Joshi suggests, there is no cosmic “good-versus-evil” struggle in his tales, nor there are Elder Gods, whose goal is to protect the humanity from the ‘evil’ old Ones. The Old Ones were not ‘expelled’ by anyone, writes Joshi, and are not (aside from Cthulhu) ‘trapped’ in the Earth of elsewhere. “Lovecraft’s vision is far less cheerful: humanity is not at centre stage in the cosmos, and there is no one to help us against the entities who have, from time to time, descended upon the Earth and wrecked havoc; indeed, the ‘gods’ of the Mythos are not really gods at all, but merely extraterrestrials who occasionally manipulate their human followers for their own advantage” (Joshi 2001: 246). However plausible and witty this interpretation might seem, it deprives Lovecraft’s narratives from their potential of a deeper meaning which cannot be grasped, but only sensed, just by reading the first layer of his texts. Why would Lovecraft be considered a great author, if he didn’t leave hidden marks and signals which can be discovered only by patiently reading and analyzing his texts? If that was the case, then his narratives would have been read simply for the sake of reading, without prompting the reader to try and decipher their true meaning. Besides, no one, whether one is an author or just a reader, can free oneself from the hidden strings of the collective unconsciousness, which is rich with the mythical symbols and plots that go way back.
For Jung, the dreaming of water meant dreaming of the collective unconsciousness and in this context of deciphering Lovecraft’s symbols, we might come to the conclusion that Cthulhu in itself possesses combined characteristics: the dark, demonic potential, preserved as destructive power and inherent for certain types of chthonic beings; the animalistic (because he himself is a mixture of anthropomorphic and zoomorphic physical characteristics); the divine (he still is one of The Great Old Ones and in broader terms resembles the Indian god Shiva, because the Destroyer is always and simultaneously the Creator, since there cannot be creation without destruction). We must not forget that the characters in Lovecraft’s narrative, such as Willcox, sort of “communicate” with the Great Old Ones through dreams (for example, on page 83 of the narrative, the narrator explains that “They” – The Great Old Ones, – “and their subconscious residuum had influenced his [Wilcox’s, K.D.] art profoundly.” Let’s not forget that Wilcox shapes the figurine of Cthulhu as seen in his dream).
Cthulhu’s physical properties would certainly remind us of the old, well know cosmogony and eschatology matrices, where the hero, in order to deliver the world, is faced with certain chthonic monsters that threaten the cosmic order. We encounter such examples, for instance, in Scandinavian mythology, in which during the Ragnarok (the end of the world), the god Thor has the task to beat the Jormungand, also known as the Midgard serpent. Although he successfully wins the duel, he eventually dies from the snake’s poison, but the death of the hero here represents the birth of a new world and his sacrifice is needed for this to be achieved. In Japanese mythology, for example, there appears a similar motive, where the god of thunder Susanoo (in Nihongi his name is Susa no wo no Mikoto), kills the legendary 8-headed and 8-tailed Yamata no Orochi, the Eight-Forked Serpent, in order to prevent the sacrifice of young girls which lasts for seven years. De Visser mentions that in Japanese and Chinese mythology, eight and nine headed dragons were spoken of as the inhabitants of mountain lakes, being sometimes reincarnation of Buddhist priest, and down till the Restoration, offerings of rice were made by Buddhist priests to the dragons of some of those lakes (De Visser 1914: 134). According to Northern Buddhism, he writes, Nāgārjuna, the founder of the Māhāyana doctrine, was instructed by Nagas in the sea, who showed him unknown books and gave him his most important work, the Prajñā prāmitā, with which he returned to India (De Visser 1913: 6-8). These creatures, who are considered demi-gods (of water) or semi-divine serpents which very often assume human shape and are wholly dependent of the presence of water or who reside in Pātāla (the seven nether worlds), in China and Japan are depicted as four-legged dragons (particularly in China) or as eight-headed serpents, like the already mentioned Orochi. This does not necessarily mean that Lovecraft had in mind all these mythological matrices, narratives and beings when creating his world, but it does mean that, at certain point, we can establish some analogous connections for explaining the origin of the concept of the octopus-like sea monster and his role in the narrative. We have decided not to describe the most obvious connection Cthulhu has with the Kraken, a very old symbol of the Great Mother Goddess (as Joerg Rasche writes); this creature was considered a sea monster as well, not only presented in Norse, but also in other world mythologies (Greek, Hindu, and so on). The connection Cthulhu has with the Kraken is obvious on the plan on their physical characterization and appearance and their potentially destructive power, although we do not really read about Cthulhu actually destroying something; in the narrative, Cthulhu’s activities, if we agree that there are any, are just a result of speculation: on page 88, for example, the narrator concludes that the data considering Cthulhu is very limited, “… but what a train of ideas it started in my mind!”. The conclusions on Chtulhu’s misdoings are based on the stories of purposely “mad sailors”, like the fellow named Briden or even Johansen, and therefore their judgment cannot be treated as objective.
Developing further possible relations, the figure of Cthulhu finds itself a suitable basis for comparison with a similar figure in the Etruscan mythology. The first in line for such a comparison is the demon Tuchulcha who resides in the Underworld and is ruled by Aita/ Orcus/ Pluto (which is an equivalent of the Greek Hades) and Phersephnei (Persephone), and is depicted as “the most foul of all demons, which together with Charu, represents the symbol of death” (Shijakovic 1990: 60); the name of Cthulhu can be read as an anagram to Tuchulcha’s name.
If we use the illustration Sally Nichols gives in her book Jung i Tarotot, using a more appropriate context and forgetting for a moment that she writes for the archetype of the devil, we might say that Cthulhu is what Jung called “the collective Shadow”, and which Nichols defines as “Shadow so large and wide-ranging which on a collective level can only be created with the help of all mankind” (Nikols 1998: 74)
At the beginning of this text we mentioned that Lovecraft’s prose serves as a sort of creative space which can itself be opened towards different kinds of reading and interpretation and it is very possible for a reader to came across hermeneutical readings of Lovecraft who might be more innovative, that the prose of the author itself. Every (well made, or, as Northrop Fry might simply say – good) text leaves space not for infinite, but for many differentiated, diverse and diffuse types of readings and interpretations. Someone might one day decide to read Lovecraft from the perspective of his creation of his new, fictional mythology, such, that subtly is intertwined with (our) reality or maybe even dedicate his or hers attention towards studying the phenomenology of Lovecraft’s beings, such as is the famous Cthulhu.
This article has sought to examine (or to give a short explanation) of few of Lovecraft’s concepts, perhaps focusing on the linguistic innovations of the imaginative, chaotic, “extraterrestrial” language of The Great Old Ones, just to portray its meaning as seen through the optics of the concept of estrangement. Similarly like Lovecraft’s narratives, this essay remains open for further (inter-subjective, intertextual) updates, in order to pay the respect towards the creative, almost demiurgic investment of this author, who quantitatively did not write many texts, but he has undoubtedly succeeded in creating a rich system of literary proceduresч these were, in fact, relatively new in the time they were first created. Therefore this paper ends relatively too early, but its author hopes that in the near future this text will grow and evolve, and mayhap become a wholesome study of Lovecraft’s creative world.
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1. The essay is also known by the name “Art as Technique” and maybe this title better illustrates Shklovsky’s critical and analytical thought about the term in its entirety.
2. In the narrative The whisperer in darkness, the narrator says that this planet of newcomers would later be named Pluto by astronomers.
3. The term chronotope is understood as a specific and specialized combination of time and space coordinates. We use the term as given by Michail Bakhtin. See Mikhail Bakhtin,. 1981. The dialogic imagination, ed. by Michael Holquist, trans. by Caryl Emerson, Michael Holquist. Austin: University of Texas Press.
4. Maybe the narrator wrongly uses the term “daemon” in his attempt to describe Cthulhu and his horde as evil beings, because the word “daemon” can also refer to a spirit with kind and good nature.
5. Which maybe represents a sort of reminiscence to the Hebrew Azazel.
6. It is said that Mehen, another huge serpent, coiled himself around Ra’s sun boat to protect him from Apophis. See: Encyclopedia of world mythology, 2009: 930.
7. In a different paragraph of Nihongi (The chronicles of Japan) it is said that the gods Izanami and Izanagi are the creators/ parents of Watasumi no Mikoto, “the Gods of the sea”.In the same chronicles are mentioned Oho-watatsu-mi no Mikoto, “The God of the Sea” or “The Sea Serpent” who, as well as Cthulhu, resides in his gargantuan palace under the sea. This sort of representations is thought to have its origins in Indian texts (De De Visser 1913: 140-142).
8. In Jewish folklore, Rahab (noise, tumult, arrogance) is a mythical sea monster, a dragon of the waters, the "demonic angel of the sea". Rahab represents the primordial abyss, the water-dragon of darkness and chaos, comparable to Leviathan and Tiamat. Rahab later became a particular demon, inhabitant of the sea, especially associated with the Red Sea. See: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rahab_(Egypt)
9. In “The Call of Cthulhu”, the reader encounters this paragraph: “There were legends of a hidden lake unglimpsed by mortal sight, in which dwelt a huge, formless white polypus thing with luminous eyes; and squatters whispered that bat-winged devils flew up out of caverns in inner earth to worship it at midnight. They said it had been there before D’ Iberville, before La Salle, before the Indians, and before even the wholesome beasts and birds in the woods” (Lovecraft 1950: 76). The water element here serves as a negative sign of the chthonic nature of the described being(s).