What’s the difference between “Mythos” and “Lovecraftian”?

Artwork by Steve Santiago: http://bit.ly/1eV5sIV

What follows will most likely be obvious to most Lovecraftian writers, editors, and publishers, and to many readers and fans as well.  But I feel it needs saying, anyway, because not everyone understands it.

Recently, I posted a list of Lovecraftian films currently on Netflix that I recommend.  Most loved the list, but a few Lovecraft fans commented that they were tired of movies being labeled as Lovecraftian when they weren’t.  The gist was that if the story isn’t set in the 1920s, and/or doesn’t feature Innsmouth, the Necronomicon, or the like, they felt it wasn’t Lovecraftian.

My response was that they are Lovecraftian, but not necessarily Mythos.  As a Lovecraftian editor, the way that I personally define these terms are as follows:

A Mythos story is one that features places, people, and creatures that appeared in Lovecraft’s stories.  When you read a Mythos story (aka pastiche) you’re reading a story that’s set, at least to some degree, in Lovecraft’s universe.

A Lovecraftian story is one that features the themes of Lovecraft: Cosmic horror, hopelessness.  The madness that comes when you realize what’s behind the curtain.  Isolated and old locations.  Unanswered questions about reality.  Etcetera.  It doesn’t matter when the story is set or who is in it — what matters is that one or more of Lovecraft’s themes are present.

There are good and bad Mythos tales, and there are good and bad Lovecraftian tales.  The Same Deep Waters as You by Brian Hodge in the upcoming anthology Lovecraft’s Monsters is an example of a Mythos (or pastiche) story that is a very good read.  An example of an incredible Lovecraftian story, on the other hand, is The Crevasse by Dale Bailey and Nathan Ballingrud.

(Edit: Some people might consider The Crevasse to be “Mythos” because of its Antarctic setting.  I don’t, personally — and you’ll note this is a personal definition of terms, as I wrote above — but some do, and I can see why they’d feel that way.  So perhaps a better example of “Lovecraftian” is in order.  Sticks, by Karl Edward Wagner?  Cold Print, by Ramsey Campbell?  And so on.)

I hope this helps.

By the way, if you’re looking for a list of great Lovecraftian books and Mythos books, check out my recommended books list.  And if you’re looking for a great Lovecraftian or Mythos movie to watch, go here.

(UPDATE: I can’t always respond to comments, but I read them.  There are some good comments on this post at the Lovecraft eZine Facebook page.  I had previously written that all Mythos is Lovecraftian, but someone pointed out the Brian Lumley’s work is not Lovecraftian, and I think that’s a good point.)

12 responses to “What’s the difference between “Mythos” and “Lovecraftian”?

  1. Exactly my thoughts, yesterday evening, watching the interesting but in the end underwhelming ‘absentia’. Not Mythos, certainly Lovecraftian!

  2. Mythos to me involves Lovecraft’s Cosmicism. Not every Lovecraftian tale is set against the grandeur of the cosmos. The Outsider is Lovecraft, but it is told in a microcosm – on a small stage. Tales like The Shadow Out of Time, are told in a macrocosm – there is a sweep to the themes that transcends more than just borrowing names and grimoires from standard Mythos tales,

  3. When I was editing TALES OF LOVECRAFTIAN HORROR it was my editorial policy that I would not accept anything Mythos–submissions had to be Lovecraftian. Some of the stories I selected did, after all, contain elements that might have been considered Mythos. I decided on this policy because one of the stories that I published in my first issue had been rejected from a mass market pb anthology because the editor felt the story wasn’t Mythos, although it was indeed Lovecraftian. “Lovecraftian” is still an idea that people disagree on, or have difficulty describing. I no longer try to distinguish between the two when I am working on a new story. The Lovecraftian element is always there, and if a Mythos element sneaks in, or is deliberately summoned, that’s fine. Commercial editors, such as Datlow and Joshi, discourage the use of Mythos elements in their Lovecraftian anthologies, although I doubt that Ellen can do so completely in her new anthology devoted to the beasts in Lovecraft’s fiction.

  4. Not to be confused with actual mythos, which is a real word used by people outside of the Lovecraft-verse to mean a set mythology, as it’s defined in the dictionary. Some people may be using the word that way, in which case, not all mythos is Lovecraftian, but all Mythos is. Very confusing stuff–Lovecraft kinda has his own language.

  5. It took me a long time to really get this difference. I’ve been reading ‘Lovecraftian’ fiction for about 30 years now. I began with HPL’s works and then discovered that others had written ‘his kind of stories’. The second phase of my reading was really mostly about collecting other Mythos-related writers (e.g., Robert Howard, Derleth). Mostly Mythos stories. Then I began following and collecting the Chaosium antologies. Again, still very Mythos but I didn’t realize it because of the volume of work there was to explore. In that immature phase I would get frustrated with anthologies that claimed to be Lovecraftian because I didn’t feel there was enough Mythos to fit my definition of the word. I finally started getting the difference between the two concepts 10-15 years ago. Suddenly a new vista of horror was opened up for me that still felt related to what I enjoyed about HPL.

    Thanks for posting this. I’m hoping it helps others come to the same realization and new level of enjoyment it took me so long to understand.

  6. I shared this text in a large Brazilian CoC gamer community on FB. Some people argued that, while both definitions are pretty accurate, all things Mythos are not necessarily Lovecraftian, considering the immense variety of contemporary medias and storytelling styles available for anyone willing to use a Mythos entity.

    For example, if a Mythos monster, character or deity features a humorous (or even darkly humorous) comic strip, is it truly “Lovecraftian”? The Mythos creature is there, but maybe not the theme – at least, not directly: fans will better recognize the character if she’s interacting with others in some “lovecraftian” way, but the final intended result is humor, not dread.

    Another example: if a little orphan girl wishing for a fairy godparent ends up summoning a dark, featureless, vaguely humanoid creature with cloven feet and a tentacle instead of a head, who acts as a friendly guardian angel to her but attacks everybody else, in a gory but somehow funny anime (Japanese humor, go figure), the Nyarlathotep reference is obvious, but is it “Lovecraftian”?

    What are your thoughts on this?

  7. appropriation of another’s work in the name of art and expression is common enough, but not cannon enough, in my humble opinion. Personally, I would avoid the mythos story, if only because I don’t feel I have the chops or creds to contribute to Lovecraft’s specific mythology. At the urging of a friend, however, I did write what I would consider a Lovecraftian piece (that I will submit like a good writer one day) because the themes and actions are dark. There’s a concentric quality to the Lovecraft work: His; those who are in tuned to it; those who get the message; and all the rest. I get the message, but the others I’ll stay away from.

  8. Hmm, I tend to share similar thoughts. Though usually (except for advertising purposes when I worry that using it might cloud the issue) instead of going with ‘Lovecraftian’ I just go with ‘Cosmic Horror’ when describing my particularly odd genre of paranormal fiction so that people know not to expect me to hit the ‘mythos’ key points but know they’ll still find tales of twisted horrors and mysteries that sometimes bring on madness.

  9. I’ve remembered I commented in the movie’s list posts that for me Lucio Fulci’s “L’Aldilà” wasn’t Lovecraftian (not even Mythos) because, although it revolved around Clark Ashton Smith’s “The Book of Eibon” and it’s hinted contents about resurrection, etc., I didn’t noticed any cosmic horror. I remember it as Earth / supernatural Hell centred (my memory may be cheating me…)

    But what happens when a movie like this one, though being told through an apparent supernatural Judeo-Christian Hell and with not the least sci-fi, materialism, anti-anthropocentrism, alien menace, cosmic horror nor the materialism Lovecraft brought to the genre (and more of the Lovecraftian themes pointed in Mike’s linked Wikipedia entry) do has that sense of hopelessness and fear when confronting a new truth found, moreover in a book of the Mythos?

    After reading Mike’s entry I’m not sure if I may have been wrong in my opinion that it was not Lovecraftian. I never think in monsters when considering that, but I always think in cosmic horror and materialist explanations (no supernatural treating).

    What do you think? Should be enough with some of that 3 ingredients to consider something Lovecraftian? We take the risk of making the word loose meaning and finding almost everything would be Lovecraftian, so the word would be useless…

    And of course, not everything Lovecraft wrote is Lovecraftian (may seem evident but…). And I may be wrong but I would claim that Lovecraftian are the NEW things Lovecraft brought to the genre. As Poesque are the NEW things he brought. The things Lovecraft picked from Poe wouldn’t make a story Lovecraftian but Poesque.

    I’m thinking of “The Outsider”, Lovecraft’s Poe’s pastiche. But it also has that ending with the most utter hopelessness and horror before the newly discovered truth so in that sense, I suppose it’s Lovecraftian too.

    Anyway, I know this is art, not maths, so…

    I would be glad to learn from your opinions.
    I don’t like bad debates; I like to listen and change my views if I’m convinced of it, not trying to change other minds at any cost without rethinking your position with the new sight received as in many debates. Another reason for my “abstract” misanthropy… That sadly seems some humans innate tendency, with horrible consequences (like religious hells all over the world). Hell’s gates exist, and there are much too many, and much more painful for the soul than in L’Aldilà…

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