The ‘Official’ Cthulhu Mythos FAQ – Part 3 of 3

Part 3: Mythos Books, Stories, and Sources

3.1. What are the best Mythos stories?

Everyone’s tastes will differ, but here are my top ten favorites, including Lovecraft’s stories and those of authors who influenced him:

  • “The Haunter of the Dark”, Lovecraft (The Dunwich Horror and Others, Arkham House; The Best of H. P. Lovecraft, Del Rey Books)
  • “The Call of Cthulhu”, Lovecraft (The Dunwich Horror and Others, Arkham House; The Best of H. P. Lovecraft, Del Rey Books)
  • “The Shadow out of Time”, Lovecraft (The Dunwich Horror and Others, Arkham House; The Best of H. P. Lovecraft, Del Rey Books)
  • “The Sect of the Idiot”, Thomas Ligotti (The Azathoth Cycle, Chaosium; Songs of a Dead Dreamer, Carroll & Graf)
  • “The Repairer of Reputations”, Robert W. Chambers (The King in Yellow, various publishers)
  • “The White People”, Arthur Machen (The Dunwich Cycle, Chaosium)
  • “The Tugging”, Ramsey Campbell (Cold Print, Headline Feature, Tor Books)
  • “Black Man with a Horn”, T. E. D. Klein (Dark Gods, Viking, Bantam Books; New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Arkham House)
  • “The Return of the Lloigor”, Colin Wilson (Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Arkham House)
  • Strange Eons, Robert Bloch (Whispers Press, Pinnacle Books)

3.2: What Mythos anthologies have been published?

Following this is a short list of Mythos anthologies, both out-of-print and in print. These are probably the easiest to find; a more complete source may be found here.

Arkham House (P. O. Box 546, Sauk City, WI 53583):

Cthulhu 2000
Dark Things (oop)
Nameless Places
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1967 edition, oop)
Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (1990 edition)
New Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (oop)

Chaosium Books Inc. (950-A 56th St., Oakland CA 94608)

The Azathoth Cycle
The Book of Iod
The Cthulhu Cycle
Cthulhu’s Heirs
The Disciples of Cthulhu
The Dunwich Cycle
The Hastur Cycle
Made in Goatswood
Mysteries of the Worm
The Necronomicon
The Nyarlathotep Cycle
The Scroll of Thoth
The Shub-Niggurath Cycle
Singers of Strange Songs
The Xothic-Legend Cycle

DAW Books (375 Hudson St., New York, NY 10014):

The Disciples of Cthulhu (1976 edition, oop)
Miskatonic University

Fedogan and Bremer (4325 Hiawatha Ave., #2115, Minneapolis, MN 55406):

New Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos
Shadows over Innsmouth
Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos

Pagan Publishing (5536 25th Ave. NE, Seattle, WA 98105):

Alien Intelligence

3.3. Now that I have the title of this book of Cthulhu Mythos fiction, how do I find it?

The following tips will help you find Cthulhu Mythos books, or any other book for that matter.

First, determine whether the book is in print or not. There are two ways to do this. One is to check Books in Print for the current year. This is a database available in print and CD-ROM versions which you can find at your local library or bookstore. The drawback to this is that many small presses don’t bother to update their listings often. It’s often better to write the publisher and ask if the book is still in print. If you don’t have the publisher’s address, check the “Publishers” volume of Books in Print. Put together as much information as possible about the book — its ISBN number, its place of publication, year, and so forth.

If the book is in print, you’re in luck. You can either order it through a bookstore, or direct from the publisher. The former helps to support your local bookstore, but it’s not always possible. Many bookstores won’t order anything that’s “not in the computer” (so try to find one that will), and some publishers — especially Arkham House — seem to prefer that individuals order their material. In these cases, it’s best to order it from the publisher.

If the book is out-of-print, there are two possible courses of action. If you must own a copy and have some cash available, check with an out-of-print bookseller. Many of these people can try to find titles for you through their own journals and networks. I especially recommend David Wynn‘s Mythos Books (218 Hickory Meadow Lane, Poplar Bluff, MO 63901), since he offers an extensive collection of older Mythos material. Get a price quote first, as Mythos volumes tend to increase dramatically in value in a short time. If you’re not a rare book collector, you may want to see if a less expensive edition has been published subsequently.

On the other hand, if you don’t have much money and just want to read the book, check out inter-library loan at your local library. It’s likely that they can get you a copy, though you should familiarize yourself with your library’s rules for the loan beforehand.

You could ignore all of the above and just post to alt.horror.cthulhu to ask about the book. My experience has been that the more complicated method is more likely to achieve results, though. Besides, it builds character.

3.4. I’d like to write my own Mythos stories. What should I do?

I may not be the best person to comment on this, as my output of fiction has been minimal. I have read a good number of Mythos stories, though, so I feel I can give the following suggestions:

Have something original to say. If you’re just going to write a carbon copy Mythos story in which a reclusive scholar reads from some hideous tome he inherited from his great-uncle and then goes insane or is eaten, go ahead, but don’t expect too many people to rave about it. Try to take your story into uncharted territory, instead of rehashing the same old plots.

  • Choose a proper setting. Lovecraft set his stories in 1920s New England because he lived there. You don’t, so why put your story there? You know a great deal more about your own place and time, and you know what scares you about them. You might even be able to find some local folklore or ghost stories for inspiration. If you do stray outside this area, research your new setting as much as possible.
  • Don’t imitate Lovecraft slavishly. At his worst, Lovecraft’s prose was purple, his characters were wooden, and he often lost readers with his piling-up of adjectives and adverbs. He could get away with this because the rest of his writing was so good. Unfortunately, most people who imitate Lovecraft’s style pick up its bad points without the good. If all you read is Lovecraft and Mythos fiction, this might be a good time to get out some of those Great Books your teachers always told you about, so you can get an idea of some other authors’ styles. Try to find your own voice, instead of using Lovecraft’s.
  • Consider your use of the Mythos. Use elements of the Mythos sparingly; too much will throw off casual readers. Authors have created hundreds, even thousands, of Mythos elements, so choose the ones that enhance the mood you’re trying to create. Some people say that a Mythos story must make such elements an integral part of the story. I don’t know about that, but if you think the story would be better off without them, don’t be afraid to leave them out.
  • Do the research. When using the Mythos in a story, try to find out as much about the elements you’re using as possible. Read the stories they appear in, or check in the Enyclopedia Cthulhiana. This isn’t to say that you can’t deviate from the canon, but you should at least know something about the element before you use it. Also, if you’re using scientific or historical data in your stories, make sure it’s accurate. Try to make your references meaningful, instead of gobbledygook thrown out to impress the reader.
  • Elements to stay away from: New England settings (unless you’re from New England), reclusive antiquarians (really, how many do you know?) ,psychics, teenagers who read twenty foreign tongues and investigate Mythos events out of some vague sense of duty, female characters who do nothing but scream and get killed, female characters who do nothing but turn into monsters during sex, taciturn townsfolk who mutter cryptic sayings, fake archaic language, libraries filled with dozens of Mythos books, long passages from Mythos books, long lectures from Mythos experts (except Daniel Harms), slasher murderers, other supernatural creatures such as vampires and werewolves (unless worked into the Mythos), Mythos creatures that talk, the narrator who keeps writing when they should be boarding up the windows/calling the police/running like hell/screaming their head off, pointless sex, pointless violence, heavy weaponry and/or explosives, Elder Gods coming in at the end to save the players, use of words like “sanity” and “nameless”.

    These are my own preferences, so don’t let them scare you too much. This isn’t to say you can’t use these — some have actually been used with some success — but they’ve appeared hundreds of times before. If you decide they’re integral to the story, put an original spin on them.

  • Write! Don’t sit around thinking about Mythos stories you’d like to write or talking to people about them; write them down. Otherwise, you’ll end up a crochety bastard like Daniel Harms.

I would be remiss if I did not point out the legal aspect of Mythos writing. Despite the widespread borrowing among various Mythos authors in the early years, any such creations are still the property of their creators. In most cases, this won’t be a problem for you; people have been using the creations of the older Mythos authors for decades, and most people in the fan press would probably be tickled pink to know you’re using their creations. The more important the author is and the larger audience your story reaches, the more likely you may find yourself in some sort of legal trouble if you use one of their creations. I’ve never heard of anyone being sued over this, but it’s best to be on the safe side. Brian Lumley has requested that people ask his permission before using his Mythos creations, and I wouldn’t be surprised if the same goes for Ramsey Campbell or Stephen King. Instead of recoiling in dread, however, I suggest you look upon this as an opportunity to get to know some of your favorite authors. Send them a letter; the worst thing they can say is no, and they may have some advice of their own.

Having gone to all this trouble to write your story, you might as well get it published. I really have no idea how to go about doing this, but you might want to check with some of the magazines listed in Part 3.5. Make sure you get submission guidelines from a magazine before sending in a story; some horror magazines have adopted “no Mythos fiction” policies. Most of these magazines only pay with contributor’s copies, if at all, but hopefully you’re not doing this to get rich. You’re likely to get some rejections, but keep trying. Good luck!

3.5. What magazines of Mythos fiction exist?

Several magazines like this exist, though you’ll rarely find them on the magazine rack at the local bookstore. The most famous of these that remains is Crypt of Cthulhu, which is distributed by Necronomicon Press. Crypt recently stopped publishing fiction, but the slack has been taken up by its sister publications Cthulhu Codex, Midnight Shambler, and Tales of Lovecraftian Horror. Others include Cthulhu Cultus (P. Marsh, P. O. Box 85, Lehigh Acres, FL 33970-0085) and Elder Signs at Chuck’s Electronic Publishing.

If you’d rather surf the Web for your Mythos fiction, check The NetherReal Cyberzine, Nightscapes, Mythos Online, Cthulhu Mythos Original Short Fiction Website, All Things Dark and Dangerous, and The Eldritch Dark, all of which may have what you’re looking for. More of these resources may be found on E. P. Berglund’s excellent The Cthulhu Mythos on the Internet.

3.6. What Cthulhu Mythos bibliographies are available?

Perhaps the best Cthulhu Mythos bibliography out there is that of Chris Jarocha-Ernst. You can find copies of the 1992 edition, which covers over nine hundred stories, here and here. If that’s not good enough for you, Pagan Publishing is planning a new edition double the size of this one in the new future. This new edition will also include an index to the Mythos elements in each story’s entry. Chris’s bibliography is limited to non-parodic fiction and poetry.

Another handy resource is E. P. Berglund and Robert Weinberg’s Reader’s Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos, published in 1973 (Silver Scarab Press) and currently being revised (by Berglund alone). This work differs from Chris’s in that it contains all locations for each item, only includes information submitted by the authors themselves, and that the individual authors (rather than the bibliographer) decide which of their work is Mythos. It covers fiction, nonfiction, poetry, parodies, gaming materials, artwork, and music. The next edition’s new and updated entries for the Mythos creators can be found online at The Cthulhu Mythos Listings until the new edition is published, and all you Mythos authors out there are welcome to add your own info.

3.7. What role-playing games based on the Cthulhu Mythos exist?

The only game based on the Cthulhu Mythos is Chaosium‘s Call of Cthulhu, which was recently inducted into the Gamer’s Hall of Fame and has won many different awards. Chaosium has given such companies as Pagan Publishing and Triad Entertainments (P. O. Box 90, Lockport NY 14095) permission to put out supplements for Call of Cthulhu, and I heartily advise looking for their stuff. There is a good COC page here, and the Berkeley FTP archive is also worth exploring. You can also check out the gaming resources on Berglund’s The Cthulhu Mythos on the Internet.

Aside from COC, there’s not really that much out there. TSR once put out an edition of their Deities and Demigods Cyclopedia which included the Cthulhu Mythos, but were forced to remove these beings when Arkham House complained. The GURPS game has a Cthulhupunk sourcebook which moves Cthulhu into cyberpunk territory. Some other games, such as Werewolf and Mage from White Wolf, have some Cthulhoid elements, but only in small quantities.

3.8. Where can I find fellow Mythos fans?

Finding people who share one’s interest in the Cthulhu Mythos can be a difficult task, as Mythos fans do not have a special insignia or secret handshake — yet. The best place to find fellow Mythos fans is the Internet, especially Usenet. The alt.horror.cthulhu newsgroup is probably the best place to meet Mythos fans from across the world. alt.necronomicon (and its less-able parent, alt.necromicon) is a battleground for skeptics and believers in the evil book, while alt.magick occasionally sees some threads on Lovecraftian magick. Those with unusual tastes often gravitate to, while alt.horror.shub-internet is a failed attempt at another Lovecraftian newsgroup. All of these places are good for meeting fans (but will also provide the means by which the cults of the Great Old Ones track us all down and kill us — maybe).

3.9. How can I find out more about the Mythos?

Reading the stories is the best way to learn about the Mythos. When doing so, it helps if you judge each story by what it says, instead of maintaining a set hierarchy in your mind as you read. Think about how the stories fit together afterward, and hopefully things will start to fall into place.

For those of you who just want the information without the trouble, there are a number of articles on the Cthulhu Mythos in magazines and on the Internet. Most of these are based entirely on their author’s own preferences and understandings. In my opinion, the best work on the subject is Daniel Harms’s Encyclopedia Cthulhiana (Chaosium, 1995). It has over three hundred short articles on the people. places, and Things of the Mythos, as well as appendices on the Necronomicon, and won an Origins Special Achievement Award in 1995. Since I’m Daniel Harms, you’re getting my own take on the Cthulhu Mythos, but I’m aware that I’m doing it and I’ve tried to compensate as much as possible. I would normally feel awkward about promoting myself like this, but from the raves I’ve gotten from just about everyone who owned the book, I must be doing something right. Besides, I’ve been unimpressed with the scholarship in most other attempts.

The only other published book-length work on the Cthulhu Mythos is Lin Carter’s Lovecraft: A Look Behind the Cthulhu Mythos (Starmont House, 1992; available from Borgo Press). Carter takes a chronological approach to the Mythos, explaining how each element was developed and mentioned in the stories. In my opinion, it gives a good idea of how the Mythos developed, but has a few flaws. First of all, it was written around 1971, when very little Mythos fiction had been published and Lovecraft criticism was in its infancy, so some of the material is inaccurate. Second, Carter tries unceasingly to place Lovecraft’s stories into various groups, such as the “Cthulhu Mythos” and “Dreamlands Cycle”, with no apparent reason for doing so save that everyone before him did it, too. Still, it’s a must for anyone who wants to understand how the Cthulhu Mythos came about. Robert M. Price has revised this book for publication under the Borgo Press imprint, so keep your eyes out for a corrected version some time soon.