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February 24, 2009 9:49 PM   Subscribe

Today sees the 100th birthday of August Derleth, the man who founded Arkham House and saved the works of HP Lovecraft from falling out of print. Much of the Cthulhu Mythos cosmology we know today was actually the invention of Derleth, such as the distinction between Elder Gods and Outer Gods, and aligning the various Mythos deities along elemental grounds - something not entirely without controversy in Lovecraftian circles, as were Derleth's posthumous collaborations and Arkham's ownership of Lovecraft's work. Regardless opinions on his work, his impact is indisputable, and his home state of Wisconsin has honoured him by making Febuary 24th August Derleth Day.
posted by Artw (83 comments total) 32 users marked this as a favorite

 
Of course, depending on where you are right now it may actually be Febuary 25th right now. Febuary 25th is rubbish, no one good is born that day.
posted by Artw at 9:50 PM on February 24, 2009


Happy birthday, Derleth! Thanks for saving the works of my favorite author.

However, the title of this post ought to be "Misser of the Point," since in trying to reframe the Mythos as a battle between good and evil, that's exactly what he did with respect to Lovecraft's work. Which must have taken a pretty remarkable effort considering how much he corresponded with Lovecraft.

Still not as bad as Brian Lumley, though; I think the only time I've ever actually thrown a book across the room was when I reached the part with Cthulhu's good twin in the second Titus Crow novel.
posted by Caduceus at 9:56 PM on February 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


Cthulhu's good twin

what
posted by turgid dahlia at 9:58 PM on February 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Really, you just don't want to go there.
posted by Artw at 9:58 PM on February 24, 2009


It's called Kthanid BTW. Googling Kthanid gets this - that's pure straight up horror that is.
posted by Artw at 10:02 PM on February 24, 2009


Awesome post. Thanks so much. And, of course: C'thulhu fhtagn!
posted by Curry at 10:04 PM on February 24, 2009


Brian Lumley himself looks like a cross between an undead used car salesmen nd country music enthusiast from the north of England and one of those lizard men Robert E. Howard was always writing about - i.e. a good deal more creepy than any of his terrible writing.
posted by Artw at 10:05 PM on February 24, 2009


Neat post. And don't forget Clark Ashton Smith...
posted by KokuRyu at 10:08 PM on February 24, 2009


I was just looking up ol' CAS, KokuRyu. Alas, we let his birthday pass this year without a post. Though it wouldn't have been a centennial or anything. We missed that by a while.
posted by Caduceus at 10:13 PM on February 24, 2009


August Derleth didn't really get what Lovecraft was doing, but without him Lovecraft would probably be forgotten and lost to the ages, so good on him.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:22 PM on February 24, 2009 [3 favorites]


There was a Clark Ashton Smith post a while back... sadly it sank like a rock.
posted by Artw at 10:23 PM on February 24, 2009


I would have sat around and jawed about Clark Ashton Smith, but I wasn't on MeFi at that time. I will hang my head in shame now.
posted by Caduceus at 10:28 PM on February 24, 2009


Googling Kthanid gets this

Sweet mother of fuck.
posted by vibrotronica at 10:35 PM on February 24, 2009 [2 favorites]


Would someone mind elucidating what Derleth didn't get about Lovecraft? (these people had the coolest fucking names)
posted by Curry at 10:36 PM on February 24, 2009


So that's why we have the snake head fishes in the Potomac River.
posted by doctorschlock at 10:39 PM on February 24, 2009


The world of the Mythos, as established by Lovecraft, is cold, uncaring, and sometimes even hostile; you mean nothing, the entities powerful enough for your disgustingly tiny intellect and imagination to mistake as gods do not care about you, and logic, science, and reason are temporary and local properties of the corner of the universe that Earth is in. In short, nothing makes sense and nobody cares about you.

In steps Derleth, with his stories where people are waving around Elder Signs like crosses in a Hammer film, and in which the various entities are classified into something approaching a coherent system of correspondences (said classification being incredibly dubious about who it assigns to what, no less).

Derleth recognized Lovecraft's genius, but couldn't get away from the dualism and the idea of supernatural war that he picked up from his Catholicism. The "Elder Gods" were neither God nor angels to Lovecraft, and the "Outer Gods" weren't Satan nor demons. They simply were. Derleth's work fails to rise above the traditions of horror fiction- being based in those Christian conceptions- and shows that while he recognizes that Lovecraft is doing something amazing, he flat-out doesn't really understand what it is that he's looking at.
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:43 PM on February 24, 2009 [24 favorites]


Would someone mind elucidating what Derleth didn't get about Lovecraft? (these people had the coolest fucking names)

Lovecraft's cosmology was steeped in the horror of insignificance. That is, his elder gods/beings were not evil in the traditional way, they were just completely alien and indifferent to the point of malevolence toward humanity. Humanity is just an insignificant speck of dust in Lovecraft's universe, one that will be eventually brushed away by unimaginably powerful, inimically alien powers.

Derleth reframed this cosmos as one caught in a battle between good and evil, dark and light. He created a group of benevolent Elder Gods who were at war with Cthulhu and his brethren. He also aligned the elder beings with the elements: Cthulhu-water, Tsathogua-Fire, Hastur-wind, etc. This is not born out by Lovecraft's vision of alien beings that are, well . . . alien. Besides, how the fuck can Cthulhu be imprisoned under water if he is some sort of water elemental?
posted by anansi at 10:47 PM on February 24, 2009 [9 favorites]


. . . or what Pope Guilty said.
posted by anansi at 10:49 PM on February 24, 2009


The Masks of Cthulhu books are not too bad... basically short stories in the style of Lovecraft with all the trappings, but they do introduce some of that elemental guff. The Trail of Cthulhu, on the other hand, is all about the adventures of Laban Shrewsbury, who's some kind of Lovecraftian action hero fighting the forces of Cthulhu with his gang of sidekicks.

At the end they persuade the navy to nuke Cthulhu. And it works. That's just not right.
posted by Artw at 10:49 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


A Watchmen thread and a Lovecraft thread on the same day? Shit yes!

Set phasers to nerd, gentlemen ...
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:03 PM on February 24, 2009 [5 favorites]


I know, it's awesome. I keep thinking, "I must've done something right today."
posted by Curry at 11:08 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nuke...Cthulu? Would he even notice? Yeah, not right. Wow that's not even wrong.
(Gaiman wrote something about someone pitching a 'Sandman' film to him and one of the climaxes being Dream taking out a big army or some such. Huh? Apparently he walked out.)

You'd think Arkham House would be the frat that's on double secret probation at Miskatonic University. 'Louie Louie' always blaring from the place. Drunken students oblivious to the horrific nightmares all around them. The Dean shouting "ARK-HAM HOUUUSE!" when they deconstruct a Mi-Go brain box in his office and the resulting resonations lets in...terrible...things. Flounder saying "oh boy this is going to be great" looking to have sex with a white ape goddess shortly before his sanity is crushed in the face of degenerate horrors and he develops a fishlike physiognomy...plus having his brother's car trashed to make a parade float for one really futile and stupid gesture to be done in the face of limitless nihilistic terror.

But no, they just publish books.
posted by Smedleyman at 11:25 PM on February 24, 2009 [20 favorites]


Set phasers to nerd, gentlemen ...

Man, I've got to remember that line. That has to become a regular feature of my vernacular. Well fucking done, EatTheWeak.
posted by Caduceus at 11:32 PM on February 24, 2009


Nuke...Cthulu? Would he even notice?

Of course not, he's dead.

For now.
posted by The Tensor at 11:39 PM on February 24, 2009


I'd love to take credit, Caduceus, but it's a well-worn idiom, I'm afraid.
posted by EatTheWeak at 11:43 PM on February 24, 2009


Of course not, he's dead.

Tsk. That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.
posted by Artw at 11:44 PM on February 24, 2009 [1 favorite]


From the Cthulhu Now rules:

"What happens when we nuke Cthulhu?" The answer is, of course, "He reforms fifteen minutes later. But now he's radioactive."
posted by Artw at 11:47 PM on February 24, 2009 [6 favorites]


I found this earlier today, and am chagrined that I neglected to post it earlier: Master of R'lyeh.
posted by Curry at 12:00 AM on February 25, 2009


Tsk.

You have to read all the words, Artw.
posted by The Tensor at 12:12 AM on February 25, 2009


You have to read all the words, Artw.

Don't do it. That's how they get you: you start reading all the words and then the little characters get all squiggly and before you know it you've forgotten to reapply plaster to round out the corners of your room. Then the hounds come.
posted by juv3nal at 1:13 AM on February 25, 2009 [5 favorites]


You have to read all the words, Artw.

Yeah. Also, "In his house at R'lyeh, dead Cthulhu lies dreaming".
posted by DecemberBoy at 1:29 AM on February 25, 2009


Wow. I never realized it before, but I guess Sauce Trough and I were married on August Derleth's birthday. Dang. And it's been seven years now.

I know that according to the ordinary Western scheme, seven is the copper/wool anniversary. But it must be different for us, given the Derleth connection. I figure it's gotta be either deathly miasmas or shunned tomes.

(And if you're reading this, happy anniversary, sweetie!)
posted by palmcorder_yajna at 1:50 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Arkham has its roots in Lovecraft, but also in the DC comics universe.

My four year old son and I enjoy Lego Batman, where he hangs out at Arkham Asylum. My child and I await a truly entertaining videogame based on the original Lovecraft.
posted by twoleftfeet at 1:54 AM on February 25, 2009


Happy birthday Artw!
posted by Pronoiac at 2:17 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Curry: You're the fish now, man!

The song in that link, by the way, is "Tentacles," from A Shoggoth on the Roof. I've got the soundtrack album for that. It's perfect.
posted by JHarris at 2:44 AM on February 25, 2009


Hastur forgive me, but the Titus Crow books were one of the biggest WTF readings of my life. If I had a cheesyometer on, the part where things go all Mad Max On Ice! would probably have taken away a couple of blocks in my old neighbourhood. I began to root for the chtonians to come back and eat everyone under the suns, I tell you.

Also: I got the Derleth book with the Chulthu nuking when I was still a teen living in a small Argentininan city, where this whole scholarly knowledge about how he changed the Mythos silly was just unknown to us like most other geeky lore (I still wonder how the hell a Spanish traslation of that book ended up in my ass-lost part of the world). It was not unlike the feeling of finding your favorite uncle pissed off his ass in the street for the first time, when you're 7 y.o. and you can't even understand WTF is that, even less why it's so wrong.
posted by Iosephus at 3:32 AM on February 25, 2009


Brian Lumley has exactly one note, and it's like that high-pitched buzzing tone in that if you don't hear it when you're 16, you never will.
posted by Pope Guilty at 3:59 AM on February 25, 2009


I just got a bad feeling about this.
posted by turgid dahlia at 4:55 AM on February 25, 2009


What about this, then? Or this?
posted by The Tensor at 4:59 AM on February 25, 2009


ffffff-
posted by turgid dahlia at 5:02 AM on February 25, 2009


As far as Lovecraft interpretations, I thought Jihad over Innsmouth was surprising good for a radioactive cthulu action story.
posted by Staggering Jack at 5:23 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


I've been loving the hell out of encountering Lovecraft as an adult over the past couple of years, and made that Clark Ashton Smith post (man gets no respect), but can't help noticing no one here is saying much about the quality of Derleth's fiction. Can anyone recommend the best places to start in Derleth's work, Cthulhu-related or not?
posted by mediareport at 5:48 AM on February 25, 2009


While it is true that Derleth did terrible things, and Brian Lumley is an atrocity, at least their ghosts have been expunged by Charles Stross.
posted by aramaic at 6:08 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Nuke...Cthulu? Would he even notice?

Well, he was taken down by diesel-powered boat in Call of Cthulhu.
posted by absalom at 6:11 AM on February 25, 2009


He was just mildly put out by the ship, really. He could have eaten the minds of everyone on board, but he remembered he'd left the iron on back in R'lyeh.
posted by Mister_A at 6:45 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


I think Robert Bloch was also part of Lovecraft's circle, and helped keep Lovecraft's name alive...
posted by KokuRyu at 6:54 AM on February 25, 2009


Why are we celebrating August in February? Does the mythos now includes blasphemous calendars in addition to insane geometries?!

thanks, i'm here all week, tip your shoggoth.
posted by lord_wolf at 7:16 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


Sure, publishing Lovecraft is all well and good but August Derleth will always be known for his stories featuring Solar Pons, Detective.

Eh? Eh?

Solar Pons?

*tumbleweed blows by*
posted by Fuzzy Monster at 7:19 AM on February 25, 2009


Arkham has its roots in Lovecraft, but also in the DC comics universe.

Erm, the DC Arkham is named in direct reference to the Lovecraft mythos, not the other way around.
posted by FatherDagon at 7:46 AM on February 25, 2009


Derleth! As a younger man, he also applied to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle be the official series continuer of Sherlock Holmes - but was shot down. (And then blithely produced the not-at-all Sherlock-related Solar Pons and Dr. Parker mysteries.)

He also wrote a raft of now-forgotten Wisconsin-centric historical novels, established the Derleth Prize for outstanding fiction/poetry by a University of Wisconsin student, and on death, left the Wisconsin Historical Society his vast, vast comics collection.

Of course, if you want to be a Derleth Day Scrooge, you can always sign a petition.
posted by ormondsacker at 7:57 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Up top, Fuzzy Monster!
posted by ormondsacker at 8:00 AM on February 25, 2009


Nuking definitely won't work.
posted by Chrysostom at 8:06 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


My child and I await a truly entertaining videogame based on the original Lovecraft.

I've been playing Call of Cthulhu to follow along with the Game Club, and it's pretty entertaining. Creepy as fuck, at least.
posted by graventy at 8:19 AM on February 25, 2009


Googling Kthanid gets this - that's pure straight up horror that is.

Sends ArtW a shoggoth for his brithday for exposing him to the mind-blasting terror of furry pr0n
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:31 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


A Watchmen thread and a Lovecraft thread on the same day? Shit yes!

Combinging the two, Alan Moore's The Courtyard is well worth checking out
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 8:34 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


You'd think Arkham House would be the frat that's on double secret probation at Miskatonic University. 'Louie Louie' always blaring from the place.

Louie Lou-eye
Ph'nglui mglw'nafh
Cthulhu fhtagn
Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia!

Louie Lou-eye
[unintelligible in this dimension]
Cthulhu fhtagn
Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia! Ia!
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 8:43 AM on February 25, 2009 [10 favorites]


The best non-Lovecraft Mythos story - bar fucking none, folks - is "A Colder War" by MeFi's resident genius-grump cstross.

Read it.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Well now I have to buy a comic book, thanks fearful!
posted by Mister_A at 8:44 AM on February 25, 2009


If you like "A Colder War," you may also enjoy The Atrocity Archives by Stross.
posted by Mister_A at 8:47 AM on February 25, 2009 [3 favorites]


If you liked The Atrocity Archives by Stross you might also enjoy everything else that motherfucker has written, 'cause he's good.

I'm kissing ass in the 9th dimension.
posted by Divine_Wino at 9:06 AM on February 25, 2009


The Shadow Over Innsmouth... singalong version.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 9:29 AM on February 25, 2009


Why are we celebrating August in February? Does the mythos now includes blasphemous calendars in addition to insane geometries?!

I thought the geometries were simply non-Euclidean, and no more insane than a Mobius strip or a Klein bottle. This blasphemous calendar of yours, though...color me intrigued.

I am not trying the fish, however. That way madness lies.
posted by malocchio at 9:38 AM on February 25, 2009


Pope Guilty's explanation of the Mythos has me excited to read some Lovecraft now. Help a naive innocent out - what story best encapsulates that "nothing makes sense and nobody cares about you" vibe I'm digging?
posted by naju at 9:40 AM on February 25, 2009


Does the mythos now includes blasphemous calendars in addition to insane geometries?!

Yes. In the Lovecraftian calendar, Labor Day is on a Saturday...so you have the day off already. IÄ! IÄ! CTHULHU F'TAGHN!
posted by Mr. Bad Example at 9:50 AM on February 25, 2009


Speaking of insane geometries, I can't make heads nor tails of the Lovecraft copyright situation re: Mythos fiction. Some of the parts are public domain, but some aren't, and I'm not sure how you tell what's fair game and what isn't.
posted by Bookhouse at 10:21 AM on February 25, 2009


naju, it's hard to go wrong with At the Mountains of Madness or The Dunwich Horror.
posted by Mister_A at 10:28 AM on February 25, 2009


Oh and one of my favorites, The Other Gods. The thing to keep in mind is that you're not going to come across a lot of stories where some giant malevolent entity is actively doing things like killing and eating people; it's more the suggestion of dark primeval naughtiness than the actual "OMG BIG TENTACLE MONSTER" that creeps you out.
posted by Mister_A at 10:32 AM on February 25, 2009


What dark and fearful intelligence spawned Derleth, a vile evil intent on bringing the horror of hierarchy upon the Cthullu world. His bombast, his hunger to usurp the lineages of Doyle and Lovecraft run a black chill through my spine, even as I write this, hunched and shivering beside the stove.

An eldritch nightmare, an alien will brought forth this abomination, to chuff and lambast all that is good. I dare not think too much on it, even now, even under this supposed safety deep within the warrens of the city.
posted by eurasian at 10:55 AM on February 25, 2009 [4 favorites]


naju, it's hard to go wrong with At the Mountains of Madness or The Dunwich Horror.

Actually The Dunwich Horror, while still a great story, is probably the one in which he gets closest to a "good vs. evil" dichotomy. If you're really looking for "nothing makes sense and nobody cares about you" check out "The Colour Out of Space."

Actually, your best bet is to pick up The Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, which has all three of those, plus "The Rats in the Walls," which is one of his best early stories.
posted by Caduceus at 11:08 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Cthulu
Greater God

Armor Class: 2
Move: 18"/36"
Hit Points: 400
No. of Attacks: 30
Damage/Attack: 1-10 (x30)
Special Attacks: Fear and Insanity
Special Defenses: Immune to Magical Control, +2 or better weapon to hit, regeneration
Magic Resistance: 80%
Size: L (100' Tall)
Alignment: Chaotic Evil
Worshiper's Align: Chaotic Evil
Symbol: Image of Cthulhu
Plane: Prime Material Plane
Cleric/Druid: Nil
Fighter: As 16+ HD monster
Magic-User/Illusionist: 20th level magic-user
Thief/Assassin: Nil
Monk/Bard: Nil
Psionic Ability: I
S:25(+7,+14) I:20 W:23 D:20 C:25 CH:-7
posted by Bonzai at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2009 [2 favorites]


Just came in to recommend "The Colour Out of Space" as well as "The Rats in the Walls". The first so perfectly encapsulates the sense that horrid things will happen for reasons that the common folk'll never ken to, operate in ways they'll ne'er put a stop teh, an' leave a man broke by th' way jes teh try'n make a sense a' it.

Slight apologies for the pastiche of HPL's dialectical pastiches.
posted by FatherDagon at 11:40 AM on February 25, 2009


(In case you were wondering)
posted by Bonzai at 11:41 AM on February 25, 2009


Yeah, The Colour gave me permanent psych scars when I read it at the tender age of 16. What a fucked up story, you had to love it. Now that we have mentioned the great Smith, he managed to get pretty close to that atmosphere in The Treader of the Dust, though it's never mentioned in it you could think of the Treader as Colour's little brother or something.

As for entertaining values of Derleth's work, no complaints from me there as memory serves. I was always curious about his detecitve and western works but could never get to them. My list of pending readings is already long enough to fill the Library of Babel, sadly, but I still keep hopes.
posted by Iosephus at 11:41 AM on February 25, 2009


I recently encountered this speculation as to the source of the name Cthulhu.
posted by Zed at 11:56 AM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


"The Colour Out of Space" is a great place to start with Lovecraft, as are "The Call of Cthulhu" and "The Shadow Over Innsmouth". If you're after the cosmic insignificance, "Nyarlathotep", "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", and "The Dreams in the Witch-House" are all quite good.

I usually recommend The Best of H.P. Lovecraft: Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre to anyone wishing to get into Lovecraft. It's a solid collection that's been in print for over twenty-five years.
posted by Pope Guilty at 12:37 PM on February 25, 2009


Arkham has its roots in Lovecraft, but also in the DC comics universe.

This was already qualified by another comment.

Interestingly enough -- and I think I may have put this out on another thread -- Lovecraft was a pen-pal of Robert E. Howard. There are clear references between their works, connecting the world of Conan to the Cthulu mythos.

Conan of Cimmeria is also a canonical figure in main-continuity Marvel. They don't make direct references anymore (it's probably a trademark problem these days), but the fact is that Conan is a historical figure for Earth-616.

Therefore, Lovecraft ---> Howard ---> Marvel.
posted by scaryblackdeath at 1:27 PM on February 25, 2009


IIRC by similar chains Bucky O'Hare and Doctor Who are also part of 616.
posted by Artw at 1:29 PM on February 25, 2009


Is this someone where I wouldn't have to be a disembodied brain floating in a metal cylinder to have heard of him?

lonely
posted by adipocere at 1:30 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Alp-sized peaks found entombed in Antarctic ice

Tekeli-li!
posted by homunculus at 1:56 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


"To probe, without contamination, the waters of Lake Vostok for life, plans were initiated in 2001 by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory to start with a melter probe — the so-called "cryobot" — which melts down through the ice over Lake Vostok, unspooling a communications and power cable as it goes. The cryobot carries with it a small submersible, called a "hydrobot", which is deployed when the cryobot has melted to the ice-water interface. The hydrobot then swims off and "looks for life" with a camera and other instruments."
-- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lake_Vostok

Giant Albino Penguins.
posted by Tenuki at 2:30 PM on February 25, 2009


Most people say it like kuh-thoo-loo, but according to HPL's correspondence, the closest pronunciation possible with human vocal ability is more like kluh-luh (back of the throat, gutteral). I don't have a cite offhand, but I'm sure you could find one.
posted by exlotuseater at 4:50 PM on February 25, 2009


I figure it doesn't really matter how you say it, since whatever you say, it'll just be a poor approximation of syllables unpronounceable by humans.
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:52 PM on February 25, 2009 [1 favorite]


Lovecraftian School Board Member Wants Madness Added To Curriculum
posted by Artw at 10:33 PM on March 2, 2009 [1 favorite]


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