The fear of the unknown is the greatest fear that mankind possesses, and I believe that it was H.P. Lovecraft himself that said something to that extent. There is something horrific about a thing being so alien, so indescribable, that it drives a person to complete madness and inevitable death. That is the premise of The Call of Cthulhu, a tale that has influenced horror writers and fans alike for almost a century.
The general plot of The Call of Cthulhu is one of my personal favorites: some ancient horror existing outside the realm of human imagination, and a central character discovering information about said horror through various means. This theme has been utilized countless times since, but I believe Lovecraft was my first experience with it. I also love Lovecraft’s mythos of the Old Ones; ancient aliens from the cold between the stars, deified on earth and worshiped by various cults. When you consider the time period, it becomes very obvious that Lovecraft was way before his time.
Some will say that Lovecraft’s prose is dense and dated, but I personally love it. I love the way he describes things and, in this particular story, it really makes the things that he is depicting seem even more terrifying and alien. His portrayal of the ancient city with its Non-Euclidean structures and dizzying angles, for instance, will forever remain within my mind’s eye. Lovecraft’s ability to visualize and paint such vivid mental pictures is astounding.
Despite all the good things I could say about The Call of Cthulhu and about Lovecraft himself, there are definitely faults to be found. There aren’t any real characters in his story, and thus the reader struggles with feeling cold and disconnected. There isn’t a real plot in the traditional sense of the word either, but simply revelations made by the narrator. Some wouldn’t consider these flaws, while others would grapple with them considerably. The glaring issue, as always when dealing with Lovecraft, is his racist tendencies. Part product of the time and part product of the man, The Call of Cthulhu is not without these cringe-inducing themes.
Despite its flaws and the faulty views of its author, The Call of Cthulhu remains an excellent and vastly influential horror story. Whenever I read or watch something that claims to be horror but fails to deliver on the actual concept of the genre, I return to The Call of Cthulhu to remind myself what true terror of the unknown actually is.