Echoes From Cthulhu’s Crypt #8, by Robert M. Price

Dr. Robert M. Price

Dr. Robert M. Price

Do You Have to Read Lovecraft to Be a Lovecraftian?

I am sometimes asked what I think it takes to make a piece of fiction “Lovecraftian.” Does it have to presuppose Lovecraft’s philosophy of Cosmic Futilitarianism? If it does, is that sufficient? Or does it also need to feature familiar names like “Miskatonic,” “Cthulhu,” “Necronomicon”? Or are these names by themselves perhaps enough? Is Colin Wilson’s The Mind Parasites truly Lovecraftian? Are Laird Barron’s stories? Interesting question, but not to be explored again here. Instead, I want to ruminate on a kindred question: what does it take to make you a Lovecraftian?

Suppose a person became interested in “the Mythos” through role playing games and eventually expanded his interest to, say, Lovecraftian rock, Lovecraftian comics, movies, etc., but never got around to reading the fiction of Lovecraft and his disciples and successors? I feel rather sure it has happened.

It is quite natural that individuals initially attracted to Mythos RPGs become curious about the strange and intriguing lore underlying the game and want to go back to its literary sources. I know for sure that this has happened. In fact, it happened so frequently that the late Keith Herber approached me back in 1990, asking if I’d like to compile volumes for Chaosium featuring the essential stories about each Old One, each haunted town, each blasphemous tome, all for the benefit of this new generation of Mythos fan-addicts.

This suggestion took me aback, making me realize how long ago I had obtained the various books by HPL, August Derleth, Robert Bloch, Ramsey Campbell, et. al. The obvious suddenly struck me: much of the relevant fiction was by now out of print and not readily available even if one knew where to look! And then again, there were plenty of Mythos tales that had never even been published in single-author collections. Others lurked, largely forgotten, in obscure anthologies–if they had ever been reprinted from their original pulp appearances at all! What an opportunity! The Cycle Horror Series would have contents to appeal both to the completist and connoisseur as well as to the new fan seeking remedial indoctrination. Plus, many of these stories had never received any critical analysis. Pedantic windbag that I am, I rejoiced to supply this lack. And there was so much interesting religious, mythical, and cultural background to elucidate! Stuff from Theosophy, Shi’ite Islam, Greek myth, the Bible, etc.

Thus many were moving from gaming into reading. Some even left gaming behind, though very many still enjoy it. But the big irony about Mythos gamers who had not yet dived into the fiction was that it displayed in an extreme form something David Schultz and others had long bemoaned: the isolation of the Mythos, the tendency of writers like Lin Carter to make it into a systematic theology and bring it to the fore, to make it more important than the stories to which it formed the background. Carter was not above writing new stories, which sometimes were barely stories at all, merely as vehicles to get this or that new item of Mythos lore into print, thus establishing it as part of the canon. I will not deny that the result could be a lot of fun. I, too, after all, had always been a Mythos geek (or is that “Mythos” nerd?).

But it did strike me as a bit perverse that the lore had left the texts behind! I have always loved the stories of these wonderful authors for various reasons, whether they featured Cthulhu and Rhan-Tegoth or not. That’s what made me happy to see the gamers discovering the fiction, not any disapproval of gaming.

But, again, suppose someone never made this transition. Should they be entitled to call themselves “Lovecraftians”? Well, of course, the question is both moot and silly: can you imagine anyone actually arguing over this? I hope not! But it is kind of interesting. And I would have to say that such a person would be correctly, meaningfully, designated a “Lovecraftian.” He or she would still be devoted to the creations of Lovecraft, even at second hand. Like a Christian who does not make a point of reading the Bible. Why wouldn’t he? But he wouldn’t have to. After all, Christian ethics and beliefs are the result of abstracting a system from a disparate group of texts which do not set forth a system and which even sometimes contradict one another. “Lovecraft” has become a larger phenomenon, bigger that H.P. Lovecraft, bigger even than his texts.

Robert M. Price

Hierophant of the Horde


Dr. Robert M. Price

Dr. Robert M. Price

Robert M. Price is an American theologian and writer. He teaches philosophy and religion at the Johnnie Colemon Theological Seminary, is professor of biblical criticism at the Center for Inquiry Institute, and the author of a number of books on theology and the historicity of Jesus, including Deconstructing Jesus (2000), The Reason Driven Life (2006), Jesus is Dead (2007), Inerrant the Wind: The Evangelical Crisis in Biblical Authority (2009), The Case Against the Case for Christ (2010), and The Amazing Colossal Apostle: The Search for the Historical Paul (2012).

A former Baptist minister, he was the editor of the Journal of Higher Criticism from 1994 until it ceased publication in 2003, and has written extensively about the Cthulhu Mythos, a “shared universe” created by the writer H. P. Lovecraft.

Browse Dr. Price’s books at Amazon.

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8 responses to “Echoes From Cthulhu’s Crypt #8, by Robert M. Price

  1. I could never fathom the game aspects although I have always been envious of those who could….my introduction was through Metallica songs and some old Kuttner stories…than the HPL stories allowed me to start filling in the gaps. Does that make me a Lovevraftian? Who cares!! I will always be a fab of the genre.


  2. Very well spoken article. I am personally growing weary of listening to the back and forth between folks who dispute who or what is exactly “Lovecraftian.” I think Mr. Lovecraft himself, though a pretentious person at times, was a brilliant man who accepted a vast group of folks to just write and be creative, so in the vain and honor of the man, I say that anyone who writes, reads, or plays in the milieu of the weird can be categorized as an official Lovecraftian.


  3. I started reading Mythos Stories in the 1960’s. At the time, a lot of the books I could get were cheap (35 cent) mixed anthologies of HPL and August Derleth. I think that there are a lot of people from my era who thought more in terms of “Mythos” than of HPL vs other Mythos writers. I think that nowadays there is a clearer differentiation.


  4. Back in my college days, over forty years ago now, I took a class in Eastern Art that included, as background, an outline of the development of Buddhism. (I stress the time and the subject as an excuse for any part of this I might have wrong.) According to this outline, the trunk of Buddhism soon divided into two main branches. The first branch, the one that stayed closer to the original growth, offered its followers the state of non-being we call Nirvana. The second branch, recognizing that non-being was too difficult a concept for most people to desire or comprehend, offered instead a series of heavens like Eastern-themed nightclubs with flowing beer and dancing girls. For what are surely obvious reasons, the first branch was called the Lesser Vehicle, and the second branch was called the Greater Vehicle. And where am I going with all of this? For better or worse, Derlethianity and its later day offshoots have become the Greater Vehicle of the Lovecraft Mythos. I say for better or worse, but really how bad can it be? The Greater Vehicle is probably popular for a reason. Meanwhile the Lesser Vehicle is still out there, and people may find their way to it who might never have heard of Lovecraft if the Greater Vehicle had not existed.


  5. Introduced to Lovecraft via, yes, the COC tabletop game, in the years since I have collected, read, watched, shared, discussed, pondered, and thoroughly enjoyed being completely captivated by Lovecraft’s concepts, in whatever form I found them in. I loved what had been inspired by Lovecraft long before I read his works, so I suppose it is possible to be a “Lovecraftian” without having read him, which for some perverse reason I find very amusing. I never even considered the question before! I loved your point re: story possibly suffering at the hands of well-intentioned attempts at organization – for me, at least, the theology/cosmology is much less important than the story. After all, these are beings I can’t even fathom – how can I possibly try to comprehend their motives, wishes, alliances, conflicts…I feel lucky to have been given tiny glimpses into the abyss, I don’t want to try and understand it. 🙂


  6. Not to avoid the question, but I wanted to say that Robert Price’s “pedantic windbag[gery]” is part of what made me a die-hard Lovecraftian. I discovered the Chaosium collections at a point where I had read all the Lovecraft I could find and was hankering for more. I picked up “The Necronomicon,” and I remember the stories were sort of hit and miss, but I really liked the critical analysis at the beginning. It really opened my eyes to the idea that Lovecraft was drawing from all these different ideas and traditions and that there was a depth to the Mythos. I have to admit, I ended up reading the introductions from several of those Chaosium books without ever reading more than a story or two. At the time, I didn’t have the same amount of funds to spend on books, so I tended to read while standing in the aisle of my local Border’s.


  7. I was thinking about the question last night, “What makes a story Lovecraftian…” while reading Lin Carter’s “Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos”. Many names in literature, who have something to say about HPL, try to systematize things that, like Robert Price says, were never meant to be folded, spindled and mutilated beyond recognition in that fashion. And in doing so, under that mind-numbing, left-hair-brained compulsion…we miss out on the visceral, the awe and wonder that captivated Lovecraft in the creative moment when he penned what he did. Great read Robert!


  8. Great article! I started with the texts and discovered the games later, and I find they are a great way to introduce friends to the Mythos who might find HPL’s texts a little daunting.


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