What I want in a Cthulhu idol

This post follows on from the last one. Also, it is explicitly about what I want in a Cthulhu idol. YMMV, and probably does, and that’s cool. In particular, I talk here about aspects of other people’s work that do and don’t work for me, but none of that should be taken as criticism of those people or their work in general, or as a suggestion that my artistic ability is greater than theirs (I assure you that the opposite is the case). If you have different ideas about what Cthulhu should look like, please fire back in the comments.

First principle: Cthulhu should be scary. A fat guy in a rubber suit with limbs that look like prawns is the opposite of scary. Therefore it is crucial to not follow Lovecraft’s drawings (borrowed from here):

Lovecraft Cthulhu sketchLovecraft Cthulhu sketchNext: Cthulhu should not look like a human at all. Nick Derington put this very well in his idol build thread on Replica Prop Forum:

Too often you see stuff like this-

humanoid cthulhuCthulhu shouldn’t have thumbs. Cthulhu shouldn’t have sweet biceps. Cthulhu shouldn’t have angry eyebrows.

He should be otherworldly and like in the description “vaguely anthropoid” at best. Not a bodybuilder wearing an octopus mask and bat wings.

Next, I agree with Mike that over-specifying Cthulhu is probably a bad idea. As he said in a comment on the last post:

Like all ancient horrors, Cthulu works best when you can’t see him clearly. (See also: xenomorph, clover). It’s not just anything that looks like a man with the squid head that breaks the illusion — it’s anything that has a clearly defined outline.

That’s a tough standard to follow when making a Cthulhu idol, which has to be a real, solid, three-dimensional thing. I think the operative words, though, are “clearly defined”. At some point, if something is going to look truly alien it has to defy easy interpretation. Otherwise it’s just recognizable bits stitched together, and people have been making monsters that way for millennia (gryphon, hydra, manticore, etc.).

Legrasse Cthulhu idol 2As I said in a comment on the last post:

For that reason, the Legrasse idol from the 2005 movie is possibly my favorite of all the craft Cthulhu idols I’ve seen, because it’s not immediately clear what all the bits are, and you’re not sure where your eyes should go. That’s exactly the effect that a Cthulhu rendering should have. And it achieves this largely through being heavily stylized, which is also the right move in general (although in specific I might quibble over whether a pseudo-mechanical approach was the best one to take for this specific entity). From Paleolithic Venus figurines to jade lions to Egyptian tombs to Mayan codices, ancient renderings of religious significance are always stylized. So a photo-realistic approach is not only wrong for Cthulhu itself, it’s especially wrong for a Cthulhu idol.

Next item: if Cthulhu is not just a man in a suit, nor should it just be an alien animal. There should be a quality of malign intelligence (two potentially separate things: it should look smart, and also evil). This is the one area where Nick Derington’s Cthulhu sculpt leaves me cold: it certainly looks inhuman, it just doesn’t look very bright, and therefore not very scary.

So there is a list of qualities that a Cthulhu idol ought to have to be satisfying: it should be alien enough to not look like a human, alien or stylized enough not to be too easily interpretable, but sufficiently interpretable to convey malign intelligence. That’s a tough mix, I think, because some of the qualities are almost at odds with each other, and it got me thinking about some specific design elements that one might use.

First stop is basic geometry. If Cthulhu looks like a round lump or a toad, it’s easy to imagine yourself as bigger than it is, which is all wrong. One nice thing about the Legrasse idol is that it leans outward, toward the viewer, which sort of subtly punches up the idea that it is huge and should loom over you.

I think asymmetry could come in here, too. Symmetry is familiar, soothing, and attractive. Asymmetry denies us those things, and when applied to biological structures can look stomach-churningly wrong. Obviously this could be overdone, but I think some subtle asymmetry could reinforce the otherness of Cthulhu.

Lovecraft described Cthulhu as having vestigial wings, and his drawing confirms that, but I’m in favor of making the wings bigger rather than smaller. If they wings are too small, they look cutesy, like fairy wings, and totally destroy  the effect. But going in the other direction, wings can be a vehicle for some of the desirable elements listed above. For me, the wings on the Legrasse idol work: they can’t be anything other than wings, but their profile is unusual and aggressive. They make me think of devil-wings and Dracula’s cloak, without too literally implying either of those specific things.

I’d be tempted to go even further in terms of imbuing the wings with menacing and disturbing qualities. For menace, no wings in history are scarier (to me) those of the demon Chernabog from the “Night on Bald Mountain” sequence in Fantasia.

Night on Bald Mountain demonThe pose of the wings is an opportunity to bring in some asymmetry without making the object unreadable:

Night on Bald Mountain thumbnailBut Cthulhu’s wings can’t just be Chernabog’s wings or we’re back into the territory of the too-familiar.

alien-facehugger-1024x456What if the wings were sort of unfinished–vestigial not in their physical span, but in the extent of their wingy-ness? Imagine something like the appendages of the xenomorph facehugger, but partially webbed (the excellent facehugger above is built out of real  animal bones, with a couple of turtle shells for the egg). From bats and classical demons like Chernabog, we expect the finger-ends to point down, but what if they pointed up and out, like the points on the wings of the Legrasse idol? I think that could be very effective and unsettling.

alien-resurrection-alien-newborn-polystone-statue-sideshow-collectibles-9119-bNext up: eyes. I am sorely tempted to go eyeless, because eyeless faces are always disturbing. But (a) it won’t do, canonically, and (b) it’s been done, in the Alien movies and a lot of horror movies and videogames and such. Although I gotta say, I really like how the eyelessness is accomplished in the poster below, in that not only are there no eyes, there’s not even a top-half-of-the-head where the eyes ought to be.

cthulhu-i-want-you

(I’m also bypassing the idea of doing the eyes shut. Snakes and spiders sleep with their eyes open, and that’s creepy. Also, anything recognizable as shut eyes is probably too recognizable. Finally, the Great Cthulhu should not look sleepy–that way lies plush toys and true madness.)

The other way to do something scary and inhuman with eyes (while rightly avoiding the “angry eyebrow” syndrome quoted above) is to do too many eyes. Lovecraft drew Cthulhu with three eyes on each side, and Nick Derington’s sculpture has three on a side, but in neither case do the eyes strike me as scary. For scary multiple eyes, the ne plus ultra has to be spiders.

jumping spider eyesInhuman? Check. Malign intelligence? In spades.

Cthulhu-esque spiderIn fact, while searching for images of scary spider eyes I came across this abomination, which is pretty darned Cthulhu-esque already.

As for the body and limbs, I’m still thinking. I like the unholy profusion of limbs on this Cthulhu maquette by Joel Harlow:

Joel Harlow Cthulhu figureThe side limbs are a little too clearly goatish for me, but I really like the WTF hand-flipper-wing thingies both in front and behind. Also, excellent use of multiple eyes, and tentacles not just as mouthparts but sort of popping out all over the place. It’s all over-specified for an idol (which is fine, since it’s not trying to be one), but suggests a couple of useful principles. First, have lots of limbs, or at least don’t make Cthulhu too obviously a tetrapod. Second, don’t make the individual limbs too clearly this or that.

It just occurred to me that polydactylous webbed hands and feet could be a sort of reflection in miniature of the webbed-facehugger-type wings. It could lend Cthulhu the suggestion of unholy growth, just too many body parts going on at once. Also, if the fingers (on hands, feet, or wings) look like spider legs, that is both disturbing and not something I’ve seen done before with Cthulhu. We’ve had reptilian and molluscan and crustacean Cthulhus, but nothing that I’ve seen that draws too much from terrestrial arthropods. Insects and spiders are creepy–maybe we should be capitalizing on that.

michael whelan_horror_boogeymanAnyway, back to limbs in general. I don’t think Cthulhu should be buff. Skinny, skeletal limbs are creepier than big muscular ones. That’s how Edgar Rice Burroughs described the evil goddess Issus, that’s how Michael Whelan painted the Boogeyman (above), and that’s how Giger’s xenomorph started out (although later iterations strayed from the true faith),

To sum up, my ideal Cthulhu idol would have the following characteristics:

  • stylized
  • looms outward, or otherwise aggressively posed
  • big grabby unfinished-looking wings, possibly posed asymmetrically
  • spider-like eyes, but probably not too regular in numbers or symmetry
  • extremities not clearly arms or flippers or whatever, but some horrible combination, and skinny rather than buff
  • inhuman (probably covered by all of the above)
  • intelligent
  • menacing

So. This is basically just a pile of art references and musings. As I said in the last post, the obvious next step is to turn it into reality. Unfortunately right now I am short on both time and sculpting experience. The latter is just a complication, in that it will make it more difficult and time-consuming to get what I want. The former is an actual barrier, in that it’s keeping me from doing this at all right now. But maybe soon.

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66 Responses to What I want in a Cthulhu idol

  1. Mike Taylor says:

    I’d agree with all of that. From what I’ve seen so far, Joel Harlow’s is by far the best.

    You touch on, but don’t really discuss, what for me is the key issue here: “don’t make Cthulhu too obviously a tetrapod”. That’s it exactly. Clover scored highly by being probably-not-a-tetrapod, or at least if it was one then we couldn’t tell what. The xenomorphs lose points for having a body shape much too closely based on that of humans. Human-like body-shape is appropriate for balrogs, not only because Tolkien said so (“a dark form, of man-shape maybe, yet greater”) but because it’s a fantasy creature with a magical origin. But the xenomorphs are Alien (clue’s in the title) and surely evolved completely independently of terrestrial life, so that degree of convergence rings very false.

    As for Cthulu: we know that the “star-spawn of Cthulhu”, warred with the Elder Things before the dawn of man, and AFAIK he’s meant to be ancient enough not to share any meaningful ancestry with humans — is that right? Could he be a tetrapod, based on the text?

    My favourite reading would be that he’s not really a biological being at all, but a sort of projection into three-dimensional physical space of some completely different kind of thing, which would mean all physical bets are off — as they would need to be, for him to both have wings and be a decent size. (This comes back to a favourite problem of mine, which is how dragons fly. In Guards, Guards, which may be my favourite Discworld novel, Terry Pratchett is explicit that the vulgar swamp-dragons fly mechanically, like birds and bats, but that the big ones fly by magic, being quite unable to work aerodynamically. I assume that Cthulu can similarly violate physics.)

    If that’s your assumption, then you can go with the notion of “unholy growth, just too many body parts going on at once”, which I like a lot. The body doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not really a body. It’s like the way that spaceships don’t have to make aerodynamic sense because they don’t move through air.

  2. Matt Wedel says:

    As for Cthulu: we know that the “star-spawn of Cthulhu”, warred with the Elder Things before the dawn of man, and AFAIK he’s meant to be ancient enough not to share any meaningful ancestry with humans — is that right? Could he be a tetrapod, based on the text?

    Yes, that’s right, and no, he couldn’t be a tetrapod in the phylogenetic sense. In “At the Mountains of Madness” we learn that the Elder Things have been here basically since the beginning of life on Earth, and have frequently tampered with evolution, but Cthulhu and his ilk came much later (in the mid-Mesozoic IIRC), when essentially all the major clades of terrestrial life were already established.

    There is plenty of textual support for the idea that Cthulhu does not operate on the same principles as Earthly life. From the climax of the story (spoiler alert for those who haven’t read it!):

    But Johansen had not given out yet. Knowing that the Thing could surely overtake the Alert until steam was fully up, he resolved on a desperate chance; and, setting the engine for full speed, ran lightning-like on deck and reversed the wheel. There was a mighty eddying and foaming in the noisome brine, and as the steam mounted higher and higher the brave Norwegian drove his vessel head on against the pursuing jelly which rose above the unclean froth like the stern of a daemon galleon. The awful squid-head with writhing feelers came nearly up to the bowsprit of the sturdy yacht, but Johansen drove on relentlessly. There was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler could not put on paper. For an instant the ship was befouled by an acrid and blinding green cloud, and then there was only a venomous seething astern; where – God in heaven! – the scattered plasticity of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original form, whilst its distance widened every second as the Alert gained impetus from its mounting steam.

    All of that makes Cthulhu sound more like a sponge or jellyfish imbued with Wolverine-like powers of regeneration. I also like that the story describes it as “stumbling” and basically dragging itself over the rocks. For me, one of the most effective things in Cloverfield was the way that Clover’s reverse-jointed limbs gave the impression that it was dragging itself around like some kind of giant crippled thing. That’s much more disturbing than something like Godzilla, which just tromps around like an oversized human.

    My favourite reading would be that he’s not really a biological being at all, but a sort of projection into three-dimensional physical space of some completely different kind of thing, which would mean all physical bets are off

    Strongly agreed. Maybe some kind of entity that cannot fully manifest itself in our continuum–yet.

    The body doesn’t have to make sense because it’s not really a body. It’s like the way that spaceships don’t have to make aerodynamic sense because they don’t move through air.

    Lovely idea. I will keep it in mind.

  3. Mike Taylor says:

    Glad to have helped 🙂

    I thought Cloverfield was disappointing as a film, but that the creature was top drawer.

    “A cloven sunfish”?

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  6. Nathan Myers says:

    I can’t claim this is especially relevant, but five years ago my
    daughter drew this: http://cantrip.org/sungoeslikethis.jpg

    Your observations are spot-on. I was disgusted at the rendition of
    ents in Pete’s LOTR film, with their homonidiacal knees. They
    shouldn’t even have had joints, never mind proper legs and feet
    and pelvises.

    I wonder, though, about making Cthulhu too evocative of human
    nightmare feedstock. It’s supposed to be _incomprehensibly_ alien,
    first, and then become the more horrifying as you begin to identify
    its features. To take it in fully is to become mad.

    So, I see the description as vaguely man-shaped to be only the observer’s
    mind shying away from the reality, trying to shoehorn his impressions
    into something that seems comprehensible.

    To achieve such an effect on paper cannot but be difficult. We must
    begin by constructing its outline to suggest a tetrapod, but on closer
    examination none of the parts actually function as what we had taken
    them for. The wings aren’t really wings, the arms aren’t really arms,
    the head is no head at all. Having corrected our initial misapprehension,
    we then discover further details that throw each new construal in
    question. Each new examination forces us to conclude that our present
    interpretation makes no more sense than the last. We finally give up
    not in blank confusion, but for fear of what closer examination must
    cause us to be unable to forget.

  7. Nathan Myers says:

    This is not a candidate, but is much better than most monsters:

  8. Bryan Riolo says:

    Most all your comments add up to making something as ominous as a huge pile of slush, through which some moldy wing bones and gelatinous tentacles appear. Nope. Scary, yes, but only insofar as the remnants of a collision of two garbage trucks would appear. “Get the cleanup crew out here! Fido ate some squid–a LOT OF IT!–and left it on the road!”

    I’ve had to design a lot of creatures for customers who wanted to avoid the familiar so it would be scarier. Nope. Too unfamiliar and the viewer will not know what it is. Of course, if it eats his dog, it will become frightening. The stylized statue above leaves me cold. Looks like a robot butterfly gone wrong.

    LOVECRAFT!!! wrote and designed the character, not you nor me. Ipso-facto, if you leave off all the traits described and drawn, it’s your character, not Chthulhu. Your character might look scary as hell, but it won’t be Chthulhu.

    Might make Gojira AND Clover take a dirt road, but it is not now and will never be Chthulhu!

    Matt and Mike! You guys are SCIENTISTS! Apply some scientific scrutiny to the tetrapod issue! Chthulhu and the Elder Ones are other dimensional! (YES! I know this is fantasy!!!!) What matters WHEN then? They are not, in Lovecraft’s writings, products of our evolution, so how can an earthly timeline matter?

  9. Cameron says:

    Then there’s also:
    The aperture was black with a darkness almost material. That tenebrousness was indeed a positive quality; for it obscured such parts of the inner walls as ought to have been revealed, and actually burst forth like smoke from its aeon-long imprisonment, visibly darkening the sun as it slunk away into the shrunken and gibbous sky on flapping membraneous wings.

    So it seems like Cthulhu is dragging some weird physics around.

    Also interesting is that Cthulhu in the… flesh?… is described with fairly vague terms such as “gelatinous green immensity”, “flabby claws” and “awful squid-head with writhing feelers”. I always imagined that Cthulhu in life had only the vaguest similarity to the man/squid/dragon idol but… yeah, it would certainly be nice to see something that looks more threatening than a guy with a squid head taking a dump. And can we talk about that common pronunciation, “ka-thul-hoo”? According to Donald Wandrei, he used that pronunciation in from of Lovecraft and received a blank stare.

  10. Heteromeles says:

    One non-trivial detail to point out: whatever Cthulhu’s vocal apparatus looks like, it has to be able to say “Cthulhu.” The default is that his mouth looks human, with flat teeth, a palate, and a tongue… This is one case where a squid’s beak really won’t cut it.

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  12. Matt Wedel says:

    Hi all, many thanks for the excellent thoughts.

    Cameron:

    …it seems like Cthulhu is dragging some weird physics around.

    Agreed! You will like the writeup about the second entry in the Collect Call of Cthulhu series. Stay tuned.

    And can we talk about that common pronunciation, “ka-thul-hoo”? According to Donald Wandrei, he used that pronunciation in from of Lovecraft and received a blank stare.

    Well, kinda like Cthulhu’s physical form, his name is not something that was intended for human vocal apparatus to be able to handle very well. But on the flip side, we gotta pronounce it somehow. The most common ones I’ve heard are [k’TOO-loo], [k’THULE-hoo], and [k’THEW-loo]. I prefer the last one myself, but I couldn’t defend that.

    Nathan:

    I can’t claim this is especially relevant, but five years ago my daughter drew this: http://cantrip.org/sungoeslikethis.jpg

    Ah, wonderful! I remember seeing that–in fact, I was just trying to describe it for my son the other day, but I couldn’t for the life of me remember where I’d seen it. Great timing.

    So, I see the description as vaguely man-shaped to be only the observer’s mind shying away from the reality, trying to shoehorn his impressions into something that seems comprehensible.

    Yep, I think you’ve hit the nail on the head here. The images you linked to are fantastic. There is a particularly gross Nyarlathotep sculpture out there, I think from Sideshow, that has something of the same feel as that first chaotic monster. I should post on that sometime.

    Bryan:

    I’ve had to design a lot of creatures for customers who wanted to avoid the familiar so it would be scarier. Nope. Too unfamiliar and the viewer will not know what it is.

    That makes perfect sense. Zak Smith wrote a pretty good essay about this very problem.

    LOVECRAFT!!! wrote and designed the character, not you nor me. Ipso-facto, if you leave off all the traits described and drawn, it’s your character, not Chthulhu. Your character might look scary as hell, but it won’t be Chthulhu.

    Well, three things. The first is that things take on a life beyond what their creator intended. Over at the Propnomicon blog there are something like 190 posts on different Cthulhu idols. All are different, but all but one are almost instantly recognizable as Cthulhu. I woulnd’t want a Cthulhu idol that people couldn’t identify as Cthulhu–what would be the point? But I also, as a personal preference, like the envelope-pushing depictions more than the “guy with a squid head taking a dump” (thanks, Cameron, for that lovely expression!). So there’s an inherent tension here: make it too vanilla, and it’s Cthulhu, but it’s boring. And not scary. Make it too outre, and it might be reconizable at all. The trick for me is to make something that would make someone say, “Yeah, okay, that’s Cthulhu, but…yuck, dude, that thing gives me the creeps.”

    The second is the question of whether, in reconstructing Cthulhu, we are trying to be faithful to Lovecraft’s drawings, or his text descriptions, or his ideas. One can make a sculpture that is basically a 3D version of Lovecraft’s sketches, but it will only imperfectly capture his written descriptions, and I would argue that it would not capture his ideas–that Cthulhu is supposed to be alien and scary–at all. As you said yourself: Most all your comments add up to making something as ominous as a huge pile of slush (although as long as you’re being literal, note that Lovecraft himself referred to Cthulhu as a “jelly”). A fat dude with a squid head and wings probably was pretty far out in the 1920s, but monster design has moved on, bigtime. So I argue that you can be faithful to the drawings (Squid Guy) or the ideas (poorly-defined horror from beyond) but not both. The written descriptions fall in between–they specify some aspects of the form, but not nearly all, and some of the descriptors don’t make much literal sense (“flabby claws”)–they seems more to be pointers in the direction of something too truly alien to be confined to the page.

    Finally, these aren’t hypotheses to be falsified, they’re explorations of how we might possibly incarnate Lovecraft’s ideas today. You can argue that that’s badwrongfun and “not Cthulhu” and I shouldn’t do it, but it’s hard for me to grasp why not.

    Heteromeles:

    One non-trivial detail to point out: whatever Cthulhu’s vocal apparatus looks like, it has to be able to say “Cthulhu.” The default is that his mouth looks human, with flat teeth, a palate, and a tongue… This is one case where a squid’s beak really won’t cut it.

    I’ll see that and raise you parrots. 🙂

    More seriously, though, you seem to be saying that to make human-like sounds, it has to be built like a human mouth. I disagree. Phonographs and earbud speakers can both replicate human speech despite being nothing like a human vocal apparatus in form. You might argue that I’m cheating by bringing in mechanical devices, but Cthulhu is not just an alien, but comes from alien dimensions. So as long as other arrangments of matter can replicate human speech, I don’t think we can say for certain that Cthulhu had a human-like mouth.

  13. Matt Wedel says:

    Matt and Mike! You guys are SCIENTISTS! Apply some scientific scrutiny to the tetrapod issue! Chthulhu and the Elder Ones are other dimensional! (YES! I know this is fantasy!!!!) What matters WHEN then? They are not, in Lovecraft’s writings, products of our evolution, so how can an earthly timeline matter?

    Um, yeah, that’s pretty much what we said: not from Earth, therefore not part of Earth’s evolutionary tree.

    I brought up the ‘when’ because Lovecraft himself discussed it in “At the Mountains of Madness”. It matters because the guy who invented all this stuff told us right in the story when it arrived on Earth. And that is one of the best lines of eviidence that Cthulhu is not just not from Earth, but not related to Earthly evolution at all. As opposed to the Elder Things, which are explicitly said to have tinkered with the evolution of life on Earth, and may have been responsible for kicking it off in the first place (which would make us part to their phylogenetic tree).

    Also, why do you keep SHOUTING!!! at us?

  14. Mike Taylor says:

    One other thing I wanted to throw in is the Things from the Dungeon Dimensions in Terry Pratchett’s Discworld novels. If I remember right, they are mentioned in passing in the first two books, but we first get a good look at them in the third (and arguably best) book, Equal Rites. In his conception, they share with the 5-7 Cthulu the sense of being somehow cancerous out-of-control growths of multiple kinds of recognisable life, and also of not quite making physical sense; but Pratchett takes that idea in the direction of their being feeble and pitiable. As though they are protrusions into our dimension of being that make sense in their own, but don’t quite make sense here.

    I’m not suggestion a pitiable Cthulu (“Deep down, he just wants to be loved!”) (although come to think of it that could be an interesting alternative). But I do like the idea that the misshapenness and, more, the misbegottenness of his body might be causing him permanent torment. Which he is happy to share with others.

  15. Matt Wedel says:

    I like thinking of Cthulhu as like something in a Biohazard Level 4 lab: the only reason we can sit here and talk about him like reasonable people–instead of hemorrhaging out our eyeballs–is that he is on the other side of a barrier. He’s sunken, he’s dreaming, he can’t fully extrude himself into our reality.

    So, here’s a thing: I think Cthulhu got less interesting after “The Call of Cthulhu”, which was the first story in which he appeared. Because there he is monstrous and poorly-defined and a lot of the possibilities we’ve been discussing could apply. But later descriptions narrow the scope of what’s going on. For example, when I first read your line about Cthulhu being in torment, I thought, “Hey, that’s pretty cool.” But then I immediately thought, “Wait, according to ‘At the Mountains of Madness’, Cthulhu and his ilk came and invaded Earth, so they must have liked it here” (but see below). And then I had the new thought that AtMoM kind of diminishes Cthulhu by making him explicitly an invading alien from space–and neither the first nor the last to arrive here. Now, on one hand, a war between Cthulhoids and Elder Things is a pretty epic thing to imagine, but it still makes Cthulhu more a known entity than the less-defined version we get in “Call of Cthulhu”.

    I suppose that just because Cthulhu and his star-spawn migrated to Earth, doesn’t mean they like it here. Maybe they’re trapped here in our crushingly limited world of 3 dimensions and Euclidean geometry because of something horrible back where they came from–some kind of cataclysm or an even worse monster (what’s Cthulhu’s idea of a gigantic gross monster–what scares him?). In one of the comments above, Cameron had the cool idea of Cthulhu dragging weird physics around with him. Maybe he has to do that just to survive here–maybe alien geometries and contra-Terrene physics are his equivalent of a space suit, or local Cthulhuforming.

  16. Mike Taylor says:

    So many sweet ideas! I particularly like the idea that space goes non-Euclidean around Cthulu because that’s just part of what he is, just like air goes stinky around Swamp Thing because that’s what he is.

    As always, the more you find out about a thing, the less interesting it gets. See also: Senate, imperial; Wars, clone; Council, Jedi. At the most trivial level, places named in passing in songs are almost always demythologised when you discover where they are. “Come on down to the Mermaid Cafe and I will buy you a bottle of wine”, sing Joni Mitchell, evocatively. But I recently found out that the Mermaid Cafe is in the village of Matala in Crete, and has since been renamed the Kymata/Waves Restaurant. And while that’s as good a location for the Mermaid Cafe as any, having it nailed down like that diminishes its resonance.

    I think this is a universal. I even felt like this to some extent about Earendil the Mariner, and about Beren and Luthien.

  17. Bryan Riolo says:

    Shouting??? To make myself heard! ;<) No italics that I can find here.

    Most everyone here seems to want to ignore Lovecraft. It's as if we are being asked to paint/sculpt etc. a portrait of Donald Trump, but we should ignore the hair, ignore the jaw, ignore his eyes and the fact that he (once in a while) walks on two legs. No…would not work, would it?

    I've seen one pic of Chthulhu that, IMO, catches perfectly Lovecraft's descriptions. I'll see if I can find it and link it here, if you want. Not mine, no.

  18. Bryan Riolo says:

    Good points all, Matt.

    Alright, Fido left some jelly. BAD doggy!

    Lovecraft’s ideas are what I am after. I feel strongly that he gave us clues in his writing. I might try and design an idol myself.

    As for a voice; Chthulhu was basically what we would call a god, if I remember the Mythos correctly. Seems to me he could speak however he pleased, though it’s certainly fascinating to conjecture about it.

  19. Matt Wedel says:

    Regarding italics–put whatever you want italicized in between HTML italics thingies. You can see the requisite codes here.

    I hear you about Lovecraft. If someone could make a Cthulhu depiction that was both completely faithful to Lovecraft and disturbing to modern audiences, that would be something. Until that happens, I’m willing to bend the rules a little to achieve the effect I want. But I admit that I am going beyond Lovecraft–and maybe even against Lovecraft–in doing so.

  20. Matt Wedel says:

    Lovecraft’s ideas are what I am after. I feel strongly that he gave us clues in his writing.

    I feel the same way. In particular, I think he gave us only clues in his writing–nothing too precise or defined.

    I might try and design an idol myself.

    You definitely should. I think you’d find it an interesting exercise. My sketch did not turn out exactly like I expected it would. You might say it grew in the telling. I’d be interested not only to see what you come up with, but also to hear your thoughts on the process of creating it. Whenever you get around to it or however long it takes, you have a standing invitation to have it posted here.

  21. Bryan Riolo says:

    I think non-Euclidean was what HPL was after; you hit it right on the nose.

    As for your second point: I myself have the opposite reaction. Mark Twain felt the same way as you. Me? I’m a creative artist–you know, one of those dingbats who scribble a lot–and thinking that way would bore me. And give me an overwhelmingly conceited notion about how much I think I know. Not for me.

  22. Bryan Riolo says:

    Interesting thoughts and you might well be correct. Lovecraft wrote a novel which has always fascinated me and colors my thoughts on his mythos to this day: The Dreamquest of Unknown Kadath. While it’s been claimed to not be part of the Cthulhu Mythos, that’s silly, since other beings from canon CM are included.

    IF I understand the story at all (it’s been 40 years since I read it), the Dreamquest takes place in one of the dimensions the Elder Ones live in. Pitiable? I don’t think so. Awesome? Yep!

    Is Cthulhu evil? Not by his way of thinking. Very different, yes, but close enough to communicate with his worshippers. I can easily imagine he’s the soul of Donald Trump…some cool pics have been done of Cthulhu in the role of a CEO, and the art was funny and menacing all at once…and having a blast.

  23. Bryan Riolo says:

    Thanks for the invitation, Matt! Your sketch IS disturbing–in a good way–but it shows its inspirations too clearly, IMO. And no, I don’t mean I shouldn’t recognize the spider face and tentacles, but meld them into something more outre…and alive. So MANY possibilities, so few sharp pencils!

  24. Matt Wedel says:

    Is Cthulhu evil? Not by his way of thinking.

    Yes, yes, precisely! He’s not immoral, he’s amoral. Moral categories simply don’t apply.

    I am reminded of a conversation I overheard in a movie theater while waiting for Independence Day. This was a month or two after it first opened and most of the audience were not seeing it for the first time (myself included). The guys sitting in front of me were talking about the scene where the president asks the alien at Area 51 what it wants him–and by extension humanity–to do, and the alien says simply, “Die.” And these guys were laughing about how cartoonishly evil that was. And I was thinking, “No, they don’t want us to die because they’re bad. They want us to die because we’re in their way. For them it’s a logistical problem, not a moral crusade.” Or as they put it in the Avengers movie, “Ant, boot.”

  25. Matt Wedel says:

    Your sketch IS disturbing–in a good way–but it shows its inspirations too clearly, IMO. And no, I don’t mean I shouldn’t recognize the spider face and tentacles, but meld them into something more outre…and alive.

    I agree with all of that. The sketch I posted was just intended to be Step 1, and then I’d evolve it in various horrible ways in subsequent steps. I haven’t gotten around to that yet, but it’s still something I want to do.

    I’d also like to try to put the first sketch out of my mind and draw another Cthulhu with the same inspirations. As I’m sure you’ve experienced, almost no piece of art is a perfect representation of what the creator had in mind. Contingent things happen during the process of creation, so that the final product does not equal the idea you started with, but more like the idea + the matter you have to work with + the process itself. I think I could start with the same ideas and end up somewhere different just because of that.

    So MANY possibilities, so few sharp pencils!

    Indeed!

  26. Mike Taylor says:

    The best take I’ve seen on this is in Douglas Adam’s Life, the Universe and Everything. The relevant except is at the end of this page — skip down to “Very quickly, therefore”.

  27. Bryan Riolo says:

    Cool model. Them feets is feets…he’s wearing octopus galoshes! 😉 Reminds me of a few of my Cthulhu designs.

  28. Bryan Riolo says:

    My main problem right now IS that I have so many possibilities! Not that I have a problem starting because there’s so many, but…some are meant to be terrifying, some are funny, some are quasi-humanoid, and some are very hard to grasp. I’ve been a fan, so-to-speak, of both science and fantasy for most all of my life.

    Every once in a while, I have a crazy dream. Very different from my normal dreams. Dunno what causes them, and don’t care. Maybe my brain gets warped. But I’ve seen beings like Lovecraft wrote about, in those dreams, probably inspired by movies, pics, stories, and life. Ipso-facto, this “challenge” is especially fascinating to me.

    So! You want to see the different kinds? Or just what is meant to meet your criteria?

    I will post them all on another site anyway, but what are you most interested in here, from me?

    And here is a bitch of an art assignment for anyone here who wants to try: take something familiar to you, mundane and everyday. Draw/sculpt etc. something that looks like it…and make it frightening.

  29. Matt Wedel says:

    We’ve hit our limit on nested-ness of comments, so I hope this shows up someplace where it makes sense.

    So! You want to see the different kinds? Or just what is meant to meet your criteria?

    Different kinds, please! I know what I think, what I want to see is what everyone else thinks. The more different from what I think, the more I’ll learn, the better.

    I will post them all on another site anyway, but what are you most interested in here, from me?

    Whatever you want to send. Doesn’t even have to be Cthulhu–at least one upcoming Collect Call of Cthulhu post is going to be on a monster that is certainly Lovecraftian but not directly inspired by Lovecraft.

    And here is a bitch of an art assignment for anyone here who wants to try: take something familiar to you, mundane and everyday. Draw/sculpt etc. something that looks like it…and make it frightening.

    Sounds awesome. As time and opportunity allow, I will.

  30. Markus says:

    There are really a lot of C´thulhu depictions, but I have to say, there are only quite few I really like. I am often under the impression that a lot of arists do not really understand the imagination Lovecraft probably had of C´thulhu. As you already noted, a main problem is that C´thulhu is way too often depicted way to obviously human-like. There are some really well done paintings and sculptures of C´thulhu, but with anatomical traits which are totally human, like the musculature of the arms or anatomy of the fingers. You also noted another often-depicted trait – evil eyebrows. I totally hate them, but sadly they have an extremely wide distribution especially among movie demons it seems. Another anatomical trait which is often depicted in a way from which I think they are very wrong, are the wings. Holy crap, C´thulhu is an underwater dwelling alien space god with a tentacle head, but still you can see it way too often with typcial bat wings, what´s really totally absurd.
    I always imagined C´thulhu quite massive, and for some reason a lot of depictions fail to show it really obviously obese or stocky. Perhaps because it´s really not that easy to make it not looking clumsy. But I think that even a “fat” C´thulhu can look quite menacing. My personal imagination shows somethings what resembles a Pacific giant octopus, which is massive, amorphous, fleshy and soft but at the same time looks ready to jump and incredibly strong. Furthermore, I think the eyes of such a Pacific giant octopus, which are anyway quite alien compared to those of humans or other tetrapods, have often a disturbingly intelligent look, which would also fit perfectly for C´thulhu. Adding extra eyes looks great to make something alien, but it makes it very hard to still recognize something as intelligent.
    For some reason, only quite few artists did ever cover Lovecraft´s original description of a scaly skin and dragon-like appearance, in general its body shape is after all totally human and its skin smooth.
    There´s a great drawing of a troll by Theodor Kittelsen from 1906, which depicts a gigantic troll the size of a mountain:

    Despite the different subject, the whole concept of this rather simplified drawing would work perfectly for a depiction of C´thulhu. There are a lot of shades and amorphous shapes, and only quite few details, but still the picture captures the pure force of elements such a creature would possess, and a frightening look in the single eye.

    I also already tried to depict my own imagination of C´thulhu, and I really tried to include the original description of a bloated body an scaly skin:

    http://bestiarius.deviantart.com/art/Resculpting-Cthulhu-355222836

    I made the head cephalopod like, but the anatomy is different, and especially in front view, the head is als different in shape. I also added some sort of segmentation on the head and tentacles and scales on the body. This bust is still not finished, and needs still a lot more detail-sculpting. I also have to say I am not fully happy with it, for example I´ll probably change the shape and surface structure of the shoulder area.
    This version was meant to be a depiction of C´thulhu “in the flesh”, and not as an idol. I actually sculpted three different idols, but none of them is online, so I can´t link them. In contrast to this bust, the idols are rather minimalistic, as I really tried to stylize them, quite contrary to my usual way of sculpting. I also tried to imitate certain artistic styles, like those of inuit artists or the traits of paleolithis mammoth ivory carvings.

  31. Matt Wedel says:

    Hi Markus, thanks for your thoughts, they’re all good. I really like that Theodor Kittelsen painting. And, holy smokes, I didn’t realize until I clicked on the link that you were Bestiarius! I saw your Cthulhu sculpt when it was featured on Propnomicon. Very nice work–the segmented, scaly tentacles are good step away from the too-familiar octopus versions. If you ever get that thing done to your satisfaction and molded, I think people would be lining up to buy casts.

  32. Markus says:

    Nice to see you like it Matt. It was really a lot of work to sculpt it, and the overall detail work is still far away from being finished.

  33. Bryan Riolo says:

    Speaking of toxic…an old version I did of Chthulhu in space. Tentacles, scales, dragonish stuff….and nasty, angry eyebrows. http://th08.deviantart.net/fs70/PRE/i/2012/327/c/2/chthulhu_emerges_with_effects_by_algoroth-d4br5cz.jpg

  34. Markus says:

    So this morning, I made a quick try and made a depiction of C´thulhu directly based on Theodor Kittelsen´s Skogtroll:
    http://bestiarius.deviantart.com/art/Cthulhu-Theodor-Kittelsen-style-Skogtroll-385873253?ga_submit_new=10%253A1373998204

    This was done in around a half hour and it is also only a very small (around 6 x 9 cm) painting, and was only meant to be a sketch for a final version I´ll do anytime.

  35. Matt Wedel says:

    Very nice! If this is just a sketch, I can’t wait to see the final version. I’d be happy to include either (or both) in the “Collect Call of Cthulhu” series. Naturally I’d link to your DeviantArt page and any other pages you’d like.

  36. Markus says:

    Hi Matt, I would feel honoured if you would include this sketch to your series. I have no idea when I manage to find some time to make the final version, so it would be probably better to use the sketch alone (which is actually not even that lesser detailed than the original one).
    Perhaps you could link also to my blog (Bestiarium). It doesn´t really deal with fantasy and such stuff, but mainly zoology and paleontology.

  37. Markus says:

    I have to add that I am really not very good in drawing or painting, and actually I did only a handful of watercolour paintings during the last decade, and most of them were nothing but sketches too. So this is really only an amateurish try, which comes not even close to an artist like Kittelsen.

  38. Bryan Riolo says:

    Most representations of Chthulhu leave out the idea that he’s intelligent. I tried to address that thought in my version. Want frightening? How about the sudden realization that something the size of a mountain hungers for your soul and is looking at YOU! And can get you any time it pleases.

    To get an inside view in real life of what I’m talking about, go to a zoo. Find a lion. Get it pissed off at you. And stare into its eyes. And imagine it can make the barriers vanish when it wants you. And there’s nothing you can do about it.

  39. Mike Taylor says:

    +1 on the lion.

    A few years back, I took the family to Longleat safari park. We drove through a field of lions. We stopped to look at the lions. And one of them looked at me.

    That was one of the most vivid experiences of my life. It spoke directly to my hindbrain. What the lion said was “I’m letting you drive through here only because I can’t be bothered to eat you. But please don’t fool yourself that that silly tin contraption you’re driving could protect you for a moment. I own you.”

    It was, and I don’t use this word lightly, awesome.

  40. Bryan Riolo says:

    Kittelsen’s troll looks sad and lonely. 😦

  41. Matt Wedel says:

    No need to sell your art short. I think it’s rad. And it’s miles beyond anything I’ve accomplished. Thanks for letting me feature it here. I’m putting things up in the order they come in, and spaced a few days apart so each one gets some time to breathe. Yours will be in Part 4 toward the end of the week. I’ll put in the links you requested, too.

  42. Markus says:

    Thanks for you kind words, but you have to keep in mind this little painting was only created because I read your blog-series about C´thulhu-depictions, otherwise I had probably never done it.

  43. Matt Wedel says:

    Dude, that’s the highest compliment you can pay me. If new Cthulhu art exists in part because of me, I can die a little happier (even as some slavering horror strips away my sanity and my flesh).

  44. Bryan Riolo says:

    Well, I guess nobody saw my pic…or it was so bad, nothing could be said. There are some wonderful pieces of Cthulhu art, including some idols, on deviantART. Come on over and get your feet wet!

  45. Matt Wedel says:

    Oh, sorry, I had seen it, just not commented. I’ve been less active in the past couple of days because my summer lecture set just started. That was one of the reasons I kicked off the Collect Call of Cthulhu series–I figured not only was it time to hear from other people with different ideas, but also a stream of new art might help keep the conversation going when I was too busy to properly tend it. That part is working out.

    (Also, I wonder if having comments nested in stacked Reply threads, instead of just appearing chronologically, is hurting some comments because they end up sort of buried halfway up the total comment array. I’ll have to give some thought to which mode is better.)

    Anyway, I dig your Cthulhu-as-immense-space-dragon. It’s interesting, Lovecraft did explicitly describe Cthulhu as scaly and as much dragon as human or cephalopod, but most artists don’t take the “dragon” influence any farther than the wings. So punching up the dragonish side is a way to take Cthulhu depictions outside the norm without being unfaithful to Lovecraft. I especially like how the teeth continue from the mouth onto the tentacles–it’s a nice example of the blurring of normal biological boundaries that we’ve been discussing. I’d like to include it as an entry in the Collect Call of Cthulhu post series–I think it would fire some more discussion, and I’m sorry I didn’t make that offer sooner. Let me know!

  46. Mike Taylor says:

    I wonder if having comments nested in stacked Reply threads, instead of just appearing chronologically, is hurting some comments because they end up sort of buried halfway up the total comment array.

    For what it’s worth, Jeff Atwood of Coding Horror is implacably opposed to threaded comments. I’m not sure I buy all his arguments, but overall I think he’s probably right.

  47. Bryan Riolo says:

    (I’d like to include it as an entry in the Collect Call of Cthulhu post series–I think it would fire some more discussion, and I’m sorry I didn’t make that offer sooner. Let me know!)

    Yes, you can include it as long as it does not interfere with my copyright and usage of the image. I’ve gone through some nightmares with that problem.

  48. Matt Wedel says:

    Yes, you can include it as long as it does not interfere with my copyright and usage of the image. I’ve gone through some nightmares with that problem.

    I can understand that, and sympathize.

    First thing, do you have a link to the DeviantArt page with the image on it? The link you posted above goes to the image itself, and I can’t figure out how to get from that URL to the page with the image or your main DeviantArt page. The reason I’m trying to get there is so I can copy and use whatever copyright or licensing language you already have in place.

    Barring that, maybe you could just tell me what language you’d like me to include regarding copyright and licensing (if you’d like to invoke any Creative Commons licenses, this page has an overview of how they work).

    If all else fails, can I just say, “Copyright Brian Riolo, all rights reserved”?

    Finally, when it goes up, are there any other links you’d like me to include? (Blog, Tumblr, online store, whatever.)

  49. Matt Wedel says:

    Yeah, I think I’m going to ditch the threaded comments. Also, I had not been reading Coding Horror, and now I am, so thanks for that.

  50. Pingback: Collect Call of Cthulhu, Part 4: Scott Elyard’s stumbling mountain | Echo Station 5-7

  51. Bryan Riolo says:

    Here’s the link—–> http://browse.deviantart.com/art/Chthulhu-EMERGES-01-261605997 Say what you need to say to guard my copyrights. I don’t mind people getting inspiration from my work, but some hyenas try to keep artists from using their own art (see work-for-hire contracts) even when not contracted for it.

  52. Bryan Riolo says:

    I’m working on several Chthulhu pics…inspired by YOU guys!…which I’ll post in deviantART. Hopefully, you’ll like some of them enough to include them. One type will be the little idols…have to stick to HPL’s descriptions there, IMO, because I don’t remember them being made of an outre kind of matter, like our sleepy water god. Another type will delve into the minds of people who go insane just seeing Chthulhu. How? You’ll see. 😉 And I have some weird thoughts on what Chthulhu would look like as a troll…I think of trolls as powerfully magical shamanic giants…and as a human; entirely designed as if made from human DNA, but with otherworldly powers. And yes, as his handsome, water-god self; all of which should be instantly recognizable as Chthulhu. I am not fooling around on THAT aspect.

    I want to experiment with Lovecraft’s ideas on the Elder Ones, while basically following some of his own ideas on them. Sorry, but there will be beetling, angry brows on some of them. I am working out my thoughts as well as a number of your wants as well, which is a great artistic challenge, believe me. 😉 And my designs will be mine, good or bad. Hope you all will like them!

  53. Matt Wedel says:

    Thanks for the link. I will guard your copyrights. Look for the post in a few days.

  54. Matt Wedel says:

    That all sounds great. As always, I’m incredibly happy–and honored–that this little Cthulhu-thon is inspiring new art. I can’t wait to see what you come up with.

  55. Dave Godfrey says:

    I really ought to join in with this, I’ve got some ideas for the sort of fetish you might carry around with you- something crudely carved, but recognisably Cthulhu-ey made out of a pebble- possibly something trypophobic

    Have you seen the HPLHS Cthulhu idol? Its probably too close to what you’re trying to avoid (squid-headed dude with wings), but it might give some people ideas for a different approach to the idols.

  56. Matt Wedel says:

    I had seen that one, but I didn’t know it was on Amazon. I really like that it’s supposed to be carved out of a walrus tusk so the overall form and color are very different from what we’ve become accustomed to.

    Incidentally, I love that in that scene in the movie, the Eskimo attacks the dude with a ulu knife. My wife went to Anchorage a few years ago for a conference and brought back an ulu knife among her souvenirs. It is hands down our most-used kitchen implement. Best pizza cutter ever. So when I saw the crazy Cthulhu-cultist Eskimo whip out the ulu knife, it made me laugh. And want pizza.

  57. Markus says:

    I find Inuit culture really fascinating. It´s also amazing how many inventions and even their original names found their way into western cultures, like kayaks or anoraks. For a culture which didn´t know any metal except for some meteorite-iron which was used for blades (like ulu-knifes), their amount of technical innovation was highly derived, with a lot of highly efficient and sophisticated items.
    At the momen I am reading the novel “Ivalvu” by Peter Freuchen (1886-1957), an arctic explorer from Denmark. He was married for several years with an Inuit wife, and this book -despite being a novel – gives a lot of highly interesting views into Inuit culture. Not only in the way they lived, but also in the way they thought, which seems sometimes quite unusual for our western imaginations.

  58. Markus says:

    BTW, I think I should really try to make an ulu knife for the kitchen too. It shouldn´t be that hard, as the overall construction is comparably simple, and it´s always especially cool to produce an interesting object with practical use.

  59. Bryan Riolo says:

    So! You want C’thullhu to be a CHEF? After all, it sounds like you’re going to make a Cth-ULU knife! 😉 Will he serve calamari?

  60. Bryan Riolo says:

    Uh-OH!!!!!! With some good luck, my first new Chthulhu pic will be posted on deviantART this week. It’s not the idol yet, just my tiny little dragon-squid-kinda-sorta-humanoid Chthulhu invoking his outre-dimensional self to get rid of some nuisances. Inspired by what I’ll call a dream-vision I’ve had several times. I don’t believe in the reality of what I saw…but Lovecraft was right. There ARE sights that can drive some people to embrace insanity. This new pic will probably inspire confusion. You see….you have to have been there.

  61. Bryan Riolo says:

    My thoughts,such as they are. There are some cool images atop the commentary. Which pics frighten ME, if at all? And why? Chernobog is one, a monstrous intelligent evil, indifferent to our human lives, yet willing to entertain itself with us. I’ve seen the sequence and I find it scary, cartoon though it is. Mussorgsky’s music helps a lot too.

    And the only other one that affects me that way is Whelan’s Boogeyman, beetling brows and all. You see, folks, he’s LOOKING for you, and he will FIND you.

    The others? Too impersonal, even though menacing. The facehugger will impregnate anything it can, you if you’re too close, but it’s not hunting you, unless you cross paths. It’s not hunting YOU personally, like Chernobog and the Boogeyman. It will kill you, but it does not want your soul like the aforementioned creatures. Spiders are cool…menacing but cool. And their faces convey hunger to me, not intelligence.

    Cthulhu, as shown in stories about him, wants in on our lives. Alien he may be, but not so alien as to be indifferent to us. And that means he’s LOOKING for you…and me.

  62. Pingback: Collect Call of Cthulhu, Part 6: Markus Bühler’s multifarious horrors | Echo Station 5-7

  63. Bryan Riolo says:

    Chthulhu! In space! Pic taken by the Hubble Telescope….

  64. Pingback: When worlds collide | TENTACLII :: H.P. Lovecraft blog

  65. Pingback: Crafting Cthulhu | TENTACLII :: H.P. Lovecraft blog

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