Sunday, 8 December 2013

Cthulhu is not an octopus...

Many if not all depictions of Cthulhu tend to show him as an octopus stuck on top of a man's body. Sometimes that body also seems a tad too muscly and superhero-ish, for reasons I can't quite fathom. I've never been all that sure that such depictions are Lovecraftian enough. By that I mean that they tend to be a tad too normal, for want of a better word. 

The great thing about the various creatures created and described by Lovecraft is that they are never run of the mill. Put simply, they're odd. They're a weird amalgam of things, none of which seem particularly human-like (aside perhaps from Deep Ones, but they're cross-breeds). Certain themes tend to flow through Lovecraft's monsters, some of which tend to revolve around an apparent unease with anything fish-related. Other than that, there are tentacles or odd appendages, and hints of mollusc and wings - and that's when Lovecraft isn't completely going off on his own tangent. There isn't anything overtly described as being exactly like any of these things, however. There's just hints and scrabbling by the narrator in order to make some sense of what they're seeing.

Cthulhu is not some sort of buff guy with an octopus for a head. If anything, that tends to sell the description short. One also has to bear in mind that there are drawings of Cthulhu made by Lovecraft himself, such as this one:

Derived from the Wikipedia entry on Cthulhu

The above tends to tally more closely, of course, with Lovecraft's written description. But it also adds more flesh to the idea - in more ways than one. Rather than being a muscled super guy, the surprising thing to me is that Cthulhu is a fat blob of a thing. He has multiple eyes, of a somewhat fishy nature. The legs are almost chicken-like. There are suggestions of things that one can vaguely recognise, but as a whole it's an ugly mass that reminds the viewer of certain shapes but then goes off at a typically Lovecraftian angle. He's only octopid in a very, very vague way and he certainly doesn't have the physique of a Greek god. Okay, you might say that Lovecraft wasn't a great draftsman. I'd say that works in favour of his drawing. He's boiled things down to basic shapes and the basic gist of his mental image seems to be there.

So, taking that as my cue, I decided to rustle up a quick scribble of how this all blends together in my mind:

If anything, with more refinements and redraws I think I can make it all look much more odd in a sense that lines up more with Lovecraft's sketch. My version probably needs to be fatter and more bloated, and the mass of tentacles needs to be longer. But either way it seems that by trying to match that drawing, Cthulhu ends up looking distinctly weird.

He's odd, but he's not an octopus...

Click here for Part Two


  1. Promoted on my Google+ page -- good job!

  2. Post up the description from Lovecraft's story, too!

    The figure, which was finally passed slowly from man to man for close and careful study, was between seven and eight inches in height, and of exquisitely artistic workmanship. It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but with an octopus-like head whose face was a mass of feelers, a scaly, rubbery-looking body, prodigious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, narrow wings behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence, and squatted evilly on a rectangular block or pedestal covered with undecipherable characters. The tips of the wings touched the back edge of the block, the seat occupied the centre, whilst the long, curved claws of the doubled-up, crouching hind legs gripped the front edge and extended a quarter of the way clown toward the bottom of the pedestal. The cephalopod head was bent forward, so that the ends of the facial feelers brushed the backs of huge fore paws which clasped the croucher's elevated knees.

  3. I agree with you to an extent, however visually people want to see Cthulhu in different ways. For instance, have the muscular body is show show him in a powerful way because showing something abstract like causing madness requires more than just Cthulhu being in the picture. Also based on the research I have done on Lovecraft he doesn't strike me as one being stuck on one idea. Cthulhu could be interpreted in many ways as long as it is close to the text that inspired it. My Cthulhu paintings are always evolving and while I do base it off both his sketch and the text I do take artistic license and I don't think Lovecraft would be against it. I do agree that he should look more alien than just an octopus head though. Here is one of my most recent versions.

  4. But then again, if you look at Lovecraft's drawings of Cthulhu and use his text, it tends to narrow down the interpretations. That should be the main guiding force, in my opinion.

    1. Jerry...Cthulu as a concept is a malignant force, represented by images...this argument is like arguing over a drawing of an angel, or the devil, or similar entity of a thousand names. People draw or create the image people want to see, and when Lovecraft writes (as illustrated above) '..anthropoid outline', that implies at least a vague musculature. '..Octopus-like head' there's your octopus head, scaly tends to be a detail artists leave out, much to my annoyance, and the reduction in the number of eyes is also a common, the unecessary curtailing of Lovecraftian weirdness. Finally, claws are a must, and as long as they are definitely tentacles or hands, they work for me. :)

    2. apologies, it seems the above paragraph is riddled with missing words and spelling mistakes. I shall list the corrections:

      '...and as long as they are NOT*** tentacles or hands...'

    3. Yes, but - like I've said above - Lovecraft's drawings tend to nail down certain details. This is what makes it different to drawings of angels, etc as we have a direction relation back to the author's vision.

  5. It is still an attempt to describe something that is supposed to be beyond description. The drawing was probably a basic sketch so Lovecraft could have an image/doodle in his mind while he was writing. I do appreciate artistic license in the interpretation, as well as a more lovecraftian approach.

  6. The sketch created by Lovecraft's (shown above) was done some 6 years after 'The Call of Cthulhu' was published. I think sometimes that artistic license simply veers away into showing Cthulhu as just another muscled super-villian, which IMHO is much less interesting the image conjured up by Lovecraft's sketch.

  7. Yeah. I don't understand why super-muscles are supposed to represent eldritch horror.
    "Look at those pecs! They fill me with existential dread regarding my place in the cosmos!!!! That non-euclidean being from beyond the dimensional void must work out!!"