Cthulu (alternate spellings / names: Tulu, Cthulu, Cutlu and many others) is a fictional character, one of a pantheon of fictional Great Old Ones of the Cthulhu Mythos in the writings of H. P. Lovecraft. "Cthulhu" is usually pronounced [kəˈθuːluː] (IPA transliteration), but according to Lovecraft, this is an attempt by human speakers to pronounce a name that is actually in an ancient language alien to them. Lovecraft speculated that KHLUL'HLOO, might be closer to the original name.
Cthulhu is a godlike being who would supposedly lay waste to the world if ever awoken from his slumber in the sunken city of R'lyeh, located somewhere under the Southeast Pacific. Because of this, Cthulhu might be described as "evil" although it is unclear whether this term applies to such an utterly alien being. In The Call of Cthulhu and other related works, Lovecraft implies that Cthulhu is not necessarially malevolent, but instead an a-moral being whose alien mind transcends human notions of good and evil. By way of analogy, Cthulhu might view the human populace of Earth in the same way a human sees an insect. Humans might worship Cthulhu as he lies sleeping, but in the grand scheme of things, they are immaterial to his designs. (It is implied, however, that Cthulhu will ultimately require some outside assistance to escape his watery tomb in R'yleh "when the stars are right.")
Physically, Cthulhu was said to have a bloated, humanoid body, greenish in color. His head was tentacled, with the tentacles arranged about his maw. Two bat-like wings sprouted from his back. His skin was said to be "flabby" and slimy. Cthulhu's exact height is not given, but the creature was able to pursue a ship through the Pacific Ocean, albeit on some still-underwater portion of risen R'lyeh, for some distance and still keep most of its body above water. Writes Lovecraft:
- "If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings... 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..."
- ―H.P. Lovecraft[src]
Cthulhu is closely identified with the quotes from the Necronomicon, specifically:
"That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange æons, even death may die"
The quote, "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn", which translates to "In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming", is used by cultists worshiping Cthulhu, and is thought to be in the original language of the Great Old Ones.
Although the cycle of stories written by Lovecraft and continued by his friends and literary successors bear the badge "The Cthulhu Mythos" (a label first used by August Derleth), Cthulhu is actually one of the least of the terrible creatures in the pantheon and indeed makes only one appearance (The Call of Cthulhu) as an active character in all of Lovecraft's work (though he and his star-spawn are mentioned in At the Mountains of Madness and The Shadow out of Time). Indeed, much of what has now become labeled as "The Cthulhu Mythos" is in actuality at great variance with Lovecraft's original conceptions. Therefore much of the lore on Cthulhu came only after his death, mostly the invention of Derleth and a departure from Lovecraft's original valueless, meaningless universe with no eternal struggle. There is never any mention of alliances between Cthulhu and other entities outside of the Cult of Cthulhu in Lovecraft's works, which portray Cthulhu and the other mythos creatures as mindless, inconceivable monstrosities, rather than Greco-Roman style gods able to breed and form pantheons.
According to Derleth's stories, Cthulhu is neither the most powerful one nor a leader among the God-like mythos creatures; those would be Yog-Sothoth, "the Lurker at the Threshold", and Azathoth, "the blind, idiot god", respectively. In fact, many believe that Cthulhu is not a god at all, though he may be worshiped as one, because of his severely limited power compared to these other deities. Like many others, Cthulhu is worshiped by a cult of followers that manages to survive through the centuries, and his cult is indeed the most wide-spread, containing the largest number of worshipers and arguably the most effective at recruiting new members. Though Cthulhu himself continues to be sleeping and dreaming in R'lyeh, this cult continues to expand its activities in his name. The cult's behind-the-scenes actions play a major role in stories of the Mythos, and through them Cthulhu continues to have an indirect influence in many stories.
Though arguably the best known figure of the pantheon, a number of stories by Derleth present his alliance with the other Mythos creatures as an uneasy one at best.
At least one of the other Great Old Ones acts as a rival to his power and a personal enemy to Cthulhu. This is Hastur, "Lord of the Interstellar Spaces", currently residing in the Hyades. Derleth did not create Hastur, but he was responsible for his introduction to the Mythos as Cthulhu's worst enemy and half-brother. Various stories present Hastur's cult offering assistance to those trying to prevent Cthulhu's awakening, or make other mention to the rivalry between the two. In Derleth's The Return of Hastur, first published in March, 1939, the two Gods even physically confront each other, albeit briefly.
Cthulhu has several avatars:
- B'moth / Beh'moth, the Devourer
Cthulhu has become astonishingly popular, by far the most so of all of Lovecraft's creations. Cthulhu is a recurring character on the webcomics Ghastly's Ghastly Comic, User Friendly, Irregular Webcomic!, and Mac Hall. Cthulhu also appears as a recurring character in writer/artist Matt Howarth’s Those Annoying Post Bros and Savage Henry comic books (under the spelling, C’Thulu) as a member of the fictional electronic music band, “The Bulldaggers.” Cthulhu plushies (stuffed animals) are available from a number of vendors.
Cthulhu and his cult (along with other Mythos references) also appeared in an episode of the Real Ghostbusters animated series.
The heavy metal band Metallica made two songs about Cthulhu, "The Call of Ktulu" (written by former guitarist Dave Mustaine and recorded on 1984's Ride the Lightning) and "The Thing That Should Not Be" (on 1986's Master of Puppets). The band's late bassist Cliff Burton was an avid fan of H. P. Lovecraft.
There are many filk songs about Cthulhu, where the name is also pronounced [kəˈθuːluː].