Cthulhu is a fictional cosmic entity created by writer H. P. Lovecraft and first introduced in the short story "The Call of Cthulhu",[2] published in the American pulp magazine Weird Tales in 1928. Considered a Great Old One within the pantheon of Lovecraftian cosmic entities, the creature has since been featured in numerous popular culture references. Lovecraft depicts Cthulhu as a gigantic entity worshipped by cultists. Cthulhu's appearance is described as looking like an octopus, a dragon, and a caricature of human form. Its name was given to the Lovecraft-inspired universe where it and its fellow entities existed, the Cthulhu Mythos.

Cthulhu Mythos character
A 2006 artist depiction of Cthulhu
First appearance"The Call of Cthulhu" (1928)
Created byH. P. Lovecraft
SpeciesGreat Old One
TitleHigh Priest of the Great Old Ones
The Great Dreamer
The Sleeper of R'lyeh
FamilyAzathoth (great-great-grandfather)

Cthaeghya (half-sister)
Nctosa and Nctolhu (twin daughters)
Yog-Sothoth (grandfather)
Shub-Niggurath (grandmother)

Nug (parent)[1]

Etymology, spelling, and pronunciation

Though invented by Lovecraft in 1928, the name Cthulhu is probably derived from the word chthonic, derived from Classical Greek, meaning "subterranean", as apparently suggested by Lovecraft himself at the end of his 1923 tale "The Rats in the Walls".[3]

Lovecraft transcribed the pronunciation of Cthulhu as Khlûl′-hloo and said that "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."[4] S. T. Joshi points out, however, that Lovecraft gave several differing pronunciations on different occasions.[5] According to Lovecraft, this is merely the closest that the human vocal apparatus can come to reproducing the syllables of an alien language.[6] Cthulhu has also been spelled in many other ways, including Tulu, Katulu and Kutulu.[7] The name is often preceded by the epithet Great, Dead, or Dread.

Long after Lovecraft's death, the spelling pronunciation /kəˈθl/[8] became common. Others use the pronunciation Katulu/Kutulu /kəˈtuːluː/.[9]


In "The Call of Cthulhu", H. P. Lovecraft describes a statue of Cthulhu as "A monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind."[10] Cthulhu has been described in appearance as resembling an octopus, a dragon and a human caricature, hundreds of meters tall, with webbed human-looking arms and legs and a pair of rudimentary wings on its back.[10] Cthulhu's head is depicted as similar to the entirety of a gigantic octopus, with an unknown number of tentacles surrounding its supposed mouth.

Publication history

The short story that first mentions Cthulhu, "The Call of Cthulhu", was published in Weird Tales in 1928 and established the character as a malevolent entity, hibernating within R'lyeh, an underwater city in the South Pacific. The imprisoned Cthulhu is apparently the source of constant anxiety for mankind at a subconscious level, and is also the subject of worship by a number of human religions (located several places worldwide, including New Zealand, Greenland, Louisiana, and the Chinese mountains) and other Lovecraftian monsters (called Deep Ones[11] and Mi-Go[12]). The short story asserts the premise that, while currently trapped, Cthulhu will eventually return. His worshippers chant "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" ("In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.").[10]

Lovecraft conceived a detailed genealogy for Cthulhu (published as "Letter 617" in Selected Letters)[1] and made the character a central figure in corresponding literature.[13] The short story "The Dunwich Horror" (1928)[14] refers to Cthulhu, while "The Whisperer in Darkness" (1930) hints that one of his characters knows the creature's origins ("I learned whence Cthulhu first came, and why half the great temporary stars of history had flared forth.").[12] The 1931 novella At the Mountains of Madness refers to the "star-spawn of Cthulhu", who warred with another race called the Elder Things before the dawn of man.[15]

August Derleth, a correspondent of Lovecraft, used the creature's name to identify the system of lore employed by Lovecraft and his literary successors: the Cthulhu Mythos. In 1937, Derleth wrote the short story "The Return of Hastur", and proposed two groups of opposed cosmic entities:

the Old or Ancient Ones, the Elder Gods, of cosmic good, and those of cosmic evil, bearing many names, and themselves of different groups, as if associated with the elements and yet transcending them: for there are the Water Beings, hidden in the depths; those of Air that are the primal lurkers beyond time; those of Earth, horrible animate survivors of distant eons.[16]:256

According to Derleth's scheme, "Great Cthulhu is one of the Water Elementals" and was engaged in an age-old arch-rivalry with a designated air elemental, Hastur the Unspeakable, described as Cthulhu's "half-brother".[16]:256, 266 Based on this framework, Derleth wrote a series of short stories published in Weird Tales (1944–1952) and collected as The Trail of Cthulhu, depicting the struggle of a Dr. Laban Shrewsbury and his associates against Cthulhu and his minions.

Derleth's interpretations have been criticized by Lovecraft enthusiast Michel Houellebecq, among others. Houellebecq's H. P. Lovecraft: Against the World, Against Life (2005) decries Derleth for attempting to reshape Lovecraft's strictly amoral continuity into a stereotypical conflict between forces of objective good and evil.[17]

In John Glasby's "A Shadow from the Aeons", Cthulhu is seen by the narrator roaming the riverbank near Dominic Waldron's castle, and roaring. The physical description of the god is totally different from that given as canon by all the other authors.

The character's influence also extended into recreational literature: games company TSR included an entire chapter on the Cthulhu mythos (including statistics for the character) in the first printing of Dungeons & Dragons sourcebook Deities & Demigods (1980). TSR, however, were unaware that Arkham House, which asserted copyright on almost all Lovecraft literature, had already licensed the Cthulhu property to the game company Chaosium. Although Chaosium stipulated that TSR could continue to use the material if each future edition featured a published credit to Chaosium, TSR refused and the material was removed from all subsequent editions.[18]



In 1981 Chaosium released their role-playing game Call of Cthulhu. It has now reached its 7th edition with a large amount of supplementary material also available, and has won several major gaming awards. In 1987 Chaosium published the co-operative adventure board game Arkham Horror, based on the same background, which has since been reissued by other publishers.

In 2006, Bethesda Softworks together with Ubisoft and 2K Games published a game made by Headfirst Productions called Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth based on the works of Lovecraft. Cthulhu himself does not appear, as the main antagonists of the game are the Deep Ones from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, and the sea god Dagon, but his presence has been alluded to several times, and a statue depicting him appears in one of the temples that will negatively affect the player's sanity. One of Cthulhu's "chosen", a Star Spawn of Cthulhu, a hideous creature similar in appearance to the monstrosity himself, also appears as a late-game enemy.[19]

On March 19, 2007, Steve Jackson Games released an iteration of their card game Munchkin called Munchkin Cthulhu.[20] The game presents Cthulhu and its surrounding mythos with a cartoon art style and comedic tone, heavily playing upon themes of madness and cultism. Great Cthulhu features as a standalone monster in the deck, alongside various parodies of Lovecraft's creatures.[21] Cthulhu is depicted as an overweight, bright green creature with a large, bulbous head, and a pair of disproportionately small wings.[22]

Cthulhu appears as a monster in many video games. Terraria as the final boss, nicknamed as moonlord which is the fusion of the parts Eye of Cthulhu and Brain of Cthulhu(also bosses in the game). He also appears as the main inspiration for the story of the Call of Duty: Black Ops 3 Zombies saga. The massively multiplayer online role-playing game World of Warcraft has numerous references to Cthulhu and the Mythos, with one of the game's "Old Gods" named N'Zoth resting in a sunken city.[23]

In 2016, Z-Man Games released an alternate version of the board game Pandemic. This new adaptation, Pandemic: Reign of Cthulhu, is set in the Cthulhu Mythos and explorers race to save the world before Cthulhu returns.[24]


Cthulhu has appeared as a parody candidate in several elections, including the 2010 Polish presidential election as well as the 2012 and 2016 US presidential elections.[25][26] The faux campaigns usually satirize voters who claim to vote for the "lesser evil". In 2016 the Troll account known as "The Dark Lord Cthulhu" submitted an official application to be on the Massachusetts Presidential Ballot. The account also raised over $4000 from fans to fund the campaign through a gofundme.com page. Gofundme removed the campaign page and refunded the funds, stating that the fundraiser did not meet their requirements. The Cthulhu Party[27] (UK), another pseudo-political organisation, claim to be 'Changing Politics for Evil', their take on The Brexit Party's Changing Politics for Good; a member of The Cthulhu Party holds the position of Mayor of Blists Hill. Another organisation, Cthulhu for America[28] claim they want to run against Donald Trump in the 2020 elections to provide an alternative to 'the lesser of two evils'.


The Cthulhu's Witnesses[29] are a registered religion in the United States, although the majority of their activity is in the UK. They meet a number of times per year to show their 'devotion' to Cthulhu.


The Californian spider species Pimoa cthulhu, described by Gustavo Hormiga in 1994,[30] and the New Guinea moth species Speiredonia cthulhui, described by Alberto Zilli and Jeremy D. Holloway in 2005,[31] are named with reference to Cthulhu.

Two microorganisms that assist in the digestion of wood by termites have been named after Cthulhu and Cthulhu's "daughter" Cthylla: Cthulhu macrofasciculumque and Cthylla microfasciculumque, respectively.[32]

In 2014, science and technology scholar Donna Haraway gave a talk entitled "Anthropocene, Capitalocene, Chthulucene: Staying with the Trouble", in which she proposed the term "Chthulucene" as an alternative for the concept of the Anthropocene era, due to the entangling interconnectedness of all supposedly individual beings.[33] Haraway has denied any indebtedness to Lovecraft's Cthulhu, claiming that her "chthulu" is derived from the Greek khthonios, meaning "of the earth".[34] However, the Lovecraft character is much closer to her coined term than the Greek root, and her description of its meaning coincides with Lovecraft's idea of the apocalyptic scale of the threat of Cthulhu, with his horrifying tentacles, to collapse civilization into an endless dark horror: "Chthulucene does not close in on itself; it does not round off; its contact zones are ubiquitous and continuously spin out loopy tendrils."[35]

In 2015, an elongated, dark region along the equator of Pluto, initially referred to as "the Whale", was proposed to be named "Cthulhu Regio", by the NASA team responsible for the New Horizons mission.[36] It is now known as "Cthulhu Macula".[37][38]

In April 2019, Imran A. Rahman and a team announced in Proceedings of the Royal Society B the discovery of Sollasina cthulhu, an extinct member of the ophiocistioids group.[39]

Film and TV

Several films and television programs feature the threat of Cthulhu returning to dominate the Universe. A vivid example of the latter is three episodes of the adult cartoon series South Park in which Eric Cartman turns out to be so irredeemably evil that he is able to tame Cthulhu and direct him to annihilate personal enemies.[40] In those episodes ("Coon 2: Hindsight", "Mysterion Rises", and "Coon vs. Coon & Friends") Cthulhu is faithfully represented as the monstrous tentacle-mouthed god-like being Lovecraft describes.[40] Also, Supernatural devoted "Let It Bleed" (episode 21 of season 6) to a Lovecraft-inspired plot, with teen character Ben even shown reading a graphic novel entitled Cthulhu Tales right before he is kidnapped by demons who are crafting an evil empire and working to put Purgatory under their control. In the popular adult animated science-fiction sitcom Rick and Morty, a depiction of Cthulhu can be seen in the opening sequence, immediately prior to the title card.[41] In Cartoon Network's animated show The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Cthulhu has a dedicated double-length episode called "Prank Call of Cthulhu". Furthermore, Cthulhu also made a short appearance at the beginning of The Simpsons episode "Treehouse of Horror XXIX".

In season 2 episodes 18 and 19 of Gravity Falls, Cthulhu is briefly seen destroying a giant ear with a mouth-laser and then walking, respectively.[42][43]

On October 27, 1987, Cthulhu appeared in season 2 episode 28 of The Real Ghostbusters animated cartoon entitled "The Collect Call of Cathulhu", in which the Ghostbusters went up against the Spawn, and Cult, of Cthulhu.[44]

Cthulhu is featured in Arcana Studio's Howard Lovecraft animated trilogy beginning with Howard Lovecraft and the Frozen Kingdom, and ending with the upcoming Kingdom of Madness.[45][46]

The Call of Cthulhu (film) is a 2005 independent silent-film adaptation of the eponymous short story, produced by Sean Branney and Andrew Leman.

Cthulhu (2007 film)

The creatures in the 2018 Netflix film Bird Box are strongly implied to be related to Cthulhu.

Cthulhu appears in season 4 episode 7 of The Venture Bros., battling The Order of the Triad.

Cthulhu appears in season 2 episode 14 of Night Gallery, Professor Peabody's Last Lecture.

Cthulhu appears in the title opening of the 4th season of Rick and Morty. A baby Cthulhu is being held inside a space ship and is being pursed by a mother Cthulhu.


Heavy metal band Metallica reference Cthulhu in the song "Dream No More" from their 2016 album Hardwired... To Self-Destruct,[47] as well as on the 1984 album Ride the Lightning with the instrumental song "The Call of Ktulu", inspired by H. P. Lovecraft's novella The Shadow over Innsmouth, which was introduced to the rest of the band by Cliff Burton,[48] and on the 1986 album Master of Puppets with the song "The Thing That Should Not Be" (whose lyrics are inspired by The Shadow over Innsmouth and contain partial quotes from "The Call of Cthulhu").[49]

The second album of British steampunk band The Men That Will Not Be Blamed for Nothing features the song "Margate Fhtagn". The song describes the band's meeting with Cthulhu while on holiday in Margate.[50]

English extreme metal band Cradle of Filth's fourth album, Midian, features a song titled "Cthulhu Dawn",[51] although the lyrics seem to have nothing to do with Lovecraft's sea-monster.

The song "Last Exit for the Lost" by British gothic rock band Fields of the Nephilim references Cthulhu (or 'Kthulhu' as it is spelled on the album's inner sleeve).[52]

The British progressive rock band CARAVAN released the song "C'Thlu Thlu" on the album For Girls Who Grow Plump in the Night (1973).

The penultimate track on the 2011 self-titled debut album by New Zealand sludge metal band Beastwars is titled "Cthulhu".


The story was adapted for the stage by Oregon-based theater company Puppeteers for Fears, who performed "The Call of Cthulhu," as Cthulhu: the Musical! a feature-length rock and roll musical comedy performed with puppets. The script and songs were written by playwright Josh Gross,[53] and after a successful run in Ashland, Oregon, the production toured the west coast in 2018, including a sold-out run at the Hollywood Fringe Festival. Of the show, The Portland Mercury wrote, "You haven't truly experienced Lovecraft's madness until you've experienced it in its truest form: As a puppet musical."[54]


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Further reading

  • Bloch, Robert (1982). "Heritage of Horror". The Best of H. P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre (1st ed.). Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-35080-4.
  • Burleson, Donald R. (1983). H. P. Lovecraft, A Critical Study. Westport, CT / London, England: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0-313-23255-5.
  • Burnett, Cathy (1996). Spectrum No. 3:The Best in Contemporary Fantastic Art. Nevada City, CA, 95959 USA: Underwood Books. ISBN 1-887424-10-5.
  • Harms, Daniel (1998). "Cthulhu". The Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (2nd ed.). Oakland, CA: Chaosium. pp. 64&nbsp, – 7. ISBN 1568821190.
    • "Idh-yaa", p. 148. Ibid.
    • "Star-spawn of Cthulhu", pp. 283 – 4. Ibid.
  • Joshi, S. T.; Schultz, David E. (2001). An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press. ISBN 0313315787.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1999) [1928]. "The Call of Cthulhu". In S. T. Joshi (ed.). The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories. London, UK; New York, NY: Penguin Books. Archived from the original on November 26, 2009.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1968). Selected Letters II. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 0870540297.
  • Lovecraft, Howard P. (1976). Selected Letters V. Sauk City, WI: Arkham House. ISBN 087054036X.
  • Marsh, Philip. R'lyehian as a Toy Language – on psycholinguistics. Lehigh Acres, FL 33970-0085 USA: Philip Marsh.
  • Mosig, Yozan Dirk W. (1997). Mosig at Last: A Psychologist Looks at H. P. Lovecraft (1st ed.). West Warwick, RI: Necronomicon Press. ISBN 0940884909.
  • Pearsall, Anthony B. (2005). The Lovecraft Lexicon (1st ed.). Tempe, AZ: New Falcon Pub. ISBN 1561841293.
  • "Other Lovecraftian Products", The H.P. Lovecraft Archive
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