Monday, January 14, 2013

The Call of Cthulhu

The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. - H.P. Lovecraft

With the above words, the early twentieth century horror writer, Howard Phillips Lovecraft, began the telling of one of his best known tales--The Call of Cthulhu. It is a story that begins during the winter of 1926-27 with the death of the protagonist's great uncle, a Professor Emeritus of Semitic Languages at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island named George Garmmel Angell. Angell's dying wish was that his nephew become the executor of his estate, thereby settling all his affair. The nephew's discovery of a mysterious box sets him on a quest for knowledge as he very much desired to learn more about the disturbing contents revealed from within. It was a relic of sorts, made from clay, that was shaped with the likeness of a monster having the characteristics of a dragon, octopus and human being rolled into one. The protagonist's investigation ensues and Lovecraft's tale of horror begins to unfold. 

This post is not intended to be a so-called book review however, so what I've mentioned above is all that I want to tell you about the story. If you haven't read it and would like to, just follow this link
and you'll be able to enjoy it in its entirety.

Friday night a friend, who belongs to a local book club that considered Lovecraft's fiction last October, handed me a DVD, which he said came from the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society. It contained a 45 minute film version of Lovecraft's Call of Cthulhu. Surprisingly enough, the film was a silent movie, seemingly one of those pre-1930's productions that relied upon text for dialog while piano or orchestrated music played in the background. This particular film appeared ancient. Of course, everything looked as you would expect for a movie likely made in the1920's. The old film, seemingly suffering the ravages of time, would often fade into grainy lines before images and text reappeared. The characters, of course, were very reminiscent of those appearing in the early films of the teens and twenties. 

While watching events unfold, a confounding thought suddenly occurred to me. As a big fan of his fiction, I always had the understanding that, as a writer, Mr. Lovecraft's popularity was limited until after his death in 1937. So, why would they have put to film one of his stories during the 20's, I wondered. Further, The Call of Cthulhu, although written in 1926, was not even published until two years later. I was clearly baffled and resigned myself to discussing this further with my friend when next I'd see him. 

The opportunity presented itself the following afternoon. "Did you watch it," he asked me.

"I did. I enjoyed it but it left me totally confused," I reported. 

As I described my reasons for confusion he suddenly laughed. "It's not an old film," he said light heartedly. "It's quite new as a matter of fact; not more than a few years old. It was low budget." 

I was surprised by his revelation, but it also left me amazed. After a little more research I learned that the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society is involved with various productions, which include another film adaptation entitled The Whisperer in Darkness and a series of audio adaptations from the society's own Dark Adventures Radio Theater. Both the film and audio productions are available on CD and DVD and can be purchased through the group's website. Audio productions are also available for download.

I'm still marveling at how well done The Call of Cthulhu actually is. I enjoyed it when I first thought that it was a relic out of the 20's and the early days of film. Now that I realize the society created something that appears as a genuine product of that era--the time period during which H.P. Lovecraft existed and created his tales of horror, I consider their work a product of genius.  I'm convinced that were Mr. Lovecraft alive today, he would concur.

Cthulhu Lives: The H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society Website.



  1. I watched the trailer - fantastic! One of those cases of "it's so bad, it's good!".

    It's been ages since I've read Lovecraft. I think I must go check out that online edition you've linked to ... Thanks for sharing it! :o)

  2. You're welcome. Every once in a while it's a lot of fun to read some Lovecraft--and he has plenty of stories to choose from.

  3. I just tagged you for an award on my blog!