According to Joshi (2007), a tale from the Cthulhu Mythos has several defining features that occur regularly throughout Lovecraft’s work. What are the features and how are they used in The Shadow over Innsmouth? Furthermore, can you see any of these features being used in The Void?
Two of the main features of the Cthulhu Mythos are the use of other gods and a violation of natural law. These features are evident throughout H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Shadow over Innsmouth” as well as the film “The Void” by Steven Kostanski and Jeremy Gillespie. These features are used to horrify the audience as well as communicate the theme cosmicism.
To understand how these features are used, it is important to first understand the theme of cosmicism. Lovecraft (1934) states that “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown” (p. 1). This fear is precisely where the theme of cosmicism is drawn from. Lovecraft (1934) continues to explain cosmicism as a realisation that there is no divine power and that humanity is insignificant to the vastness of the universe. The inability of humans to comprehend the universe in its entirety not only plays on mankind’s fear of the unknown, but grants a god-like status to the powers of cosmic entities.
The use of ‘other’ gods is a definitive feature of both Lovecraft’s work as well as the wider Cthulhu Mythos. This feature appears in Lovecraft’s short story “The Shadow over Innsmouth” through the mentioning of the entity Cthulhu and its worshipers known as The Deep Ones. The Deep Ones reside in the depths of the ocean but have started interbreeding with the humans of Innsmouth creating amphibius human hybrids. The story’s protagonist describes these hybrids as having a particular look with “queer narrow heads with flat noses and bulgy, stary eyes that never seem to shut, and their skin ain’t quite right” (Lovecraft, 1936). By painting the hybrids in a negative light, it demonstrates the fact that the narrator does not really have a grasp on the reality of the situation. The visual representation of these hybrids not only repulses the reader but aims to provide a sense of fear through lack of understanding. Additionally, the visibility of the hybrids gives validation to the possibility that another race exists and therefore, so must another god. However, the inability of the protagonist to comprehend the human hybrids and therefore fear them is used to demonstrate the theme of cosmicism.
The use of ‘other’ gods is also a key feature used in “The Void”. The ‘other’ god in the film hails from another dimension but has some form of resurrection power. It is through the visual representation of the voids beings that the ‘other’ god is really given power. In this film, humans have been implanted with creatures from the other dimension. Later in the film they appear as disfigured and mutated creatures with tentacle-like extremities. The vile depiction of these void creatures is meant to make audiences uncomfortable but also promote the idea of human insignificance in the universe. This idea is supported by Stableford (2007) who claims the notion of humans being capable of conquering the universe was never that strong, suggesting there were other more capable creatures. Coherently, the creatures of void are stronger and more powerful (surpassing human limitation of life through resurrection) than humans. This feature contributes to the idea that the ‘other’ god and it’s followers are superior to humans, continuing the theme of cosmicism.
The violation of natural law is a feature also present in ‘The Shadow over Innsmouth’ the violation of natural law. This is seen through the interbreeding of humans and the Deep Ones. It is understood as a violation because of the manner in which those who look mixed are described. One in particular is described by the narrator as having “watery blue eyes that seemed never to wink, a flat nose, a receding forehead and chin, and singularly undeveloped ears” (Lovecraft, 1936). Through this description, Lovecraft makes the hybrids seem sub-human rather than mythical suggesting to the audience a violation of natural law has occurred. This depiction is also important to the theme of cosmicism as it makes the reality of the Deep Ones and hybrids more plausible, reaffirming humankind’s existence as trivial.
Similarly in ‘The Void’ a violation of natural law occurs when Doctor Richard Powell uses the power of the void to try and resurrect his dead daughter. The resurrected creatures are formed from human beings, so initially carry human-like features. However, the human-void creatures of the film progressively become more grotesque and less human as the film plays out. While the penultimate creature hardly resembles a human, it is important to recognize that this was a progression. The fact that the creatures all started from or within a human body and are mutated suggests an element of truth to the film. This is important to the Cthulhu Mythos as Joshi (2007) explains it is rooted more on science fiction than the supernatural. Therefore, by using the human body as a starting point it allows for a violation of natural law to occur rather than a supernatural phenomenon.
The use of ‘other’ gods and a violation of natural law are recurring features of Lovecraft’s work and the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole. These particular features are recognisable within both “The Shadow over Innsmouth” and “The Void”. Both texts employ these features as a means of demonstrating cosmoscism, a theme prevalent throughout the Cthulhu Mythos.
Joshi, S. T., (2007). The Cthulhu Mythos. In Icons of Horror and the Supernatural. (Vol. 2, pp. 97-128). Wesport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group
Lovecraft, H. P. (1934). Supernatural Horror in Literature. Retrieved from http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/essays/shil.aspx
Lovecraft, H.P. (1936). Shadow Over Innsmouth. Everett, PA: Visionary Publishing Co.Stableford, Brian (2007). The Cosmic Horror. In Icons of
Horror and the Supernatural. (Vol. 2, pp. 65-96). Wesport, CT: Greenwood Publishing Group