Many Eldritch Abominations are said to cause madness to anyone who sees their true forms. How does THAT work?
Actually, madness would be the least of your worries in dealing with an Eldritch Abomination. They actually exist. For example, Graham's Number could be considered an Eldritch Abomination, in the sense that it's so unbelievably huge, there isn't enough space in the universe to write it down (even if each digit were written on the Plank scale) and if you could actually conceive the number of digits involved, the entropy inside your head would turn it into a black hole. Mathematicians can prove it exists, just not what the whole number is.
Imagine that Impossible cube floating near you, without gaps and breaks. Are you still sane?
Yes. Or else all artists and math teachers would be in asylums.
Except they don't have the cube in real life, silly. They just look at lots of pictures of them. Imagine the cube, IN REAL LIFE, FLOATING THERE.
Also, that cube is only a representation of the shadow that a 4-dimensional cube it would cast. Your brain is simple not physically designed to imagine a four-dimensional object (a 4-dimensional cube is actually called a tesseract) but were you to see one, it could perceive it. As with Graham's Number, Mathematicians can describe the fact that such things can exist, but cannot comprehend the thing itself.
They're just that weird-looking.
I know that. I mean, why would you go insane just because you saw something really insane? People usually go "That's one ugly sonuvabitch", "Eww", or "Well, that's gonna show up in my nightmare for a while", not freaking go insane!
They're that weird-looking. Yes, the response most people have to something horrible-looking in real life is revulsion and disgust, but Eldritch Abominations that inflict madness by merely looking upon them are so completely, absolutely, mind-breakingly wrong compared to our senses that it fundamentally breaks our perceptions of reality.
The original Eldritch Abominations (Lovecraft's earlier ones) weren't so much madness inducing due to looks as much as it was the revelation at how powerless humanity as a whole is in comparison to them. Some of them were due to the noises they made or if you came in physical contact with them. Some made you go crazy in realizing how easy they could wipe out humanity, or their sheer size.
This particular silly concept is more based in folk monsters that would kill anyone who looked upon them or caused them to go blind. The most famous is Medusa, who was so ugly that people would subconsciously turn themselves to stone to protect themselves; insanity is weak sauce next to that. This is also why most writers make Medusa have eye beams or give her a more elaborate curse because they realize how stupid such a concept is unless you go for an unseen Ultimate Evil and say Take Our Word for It, which Lovecraft did so he could have used this a lot better than his imitators if he decided to implement it—he didn't use the trope, contrary to popular belief.
Not so silly if it is based on PTSD and other temporary or permanent mental disorders that were only just being identified, and we're decades from being understood. A fair bit of Poe's work can be read as illustrations of various psychological phenomena, so why not Lovecraft? Witnesses to the "mere" aftermath of horrific events have been rendered catatonic, turned violent, gone to great lengths (even relocating to different continents) to avoid commonplace reminders. Treating people for the psychological effects of traumatic events is now a profession, but in the 1920s many "treatments" (institutionalization, electric shock, lobotomy) were likely to make the patient worse. Viewing Lovecraftian horrors in person was portrayed as a traumatic event — as much for what it represented as what it was, and probably more for what couldn't be comprehended as what could be described.
And of course, in the 1920s, there were plenty of traumatised, broken and damaged people wandering around, completely shattered after undergoing nightmarish experiences in horror beyond description that damaged and transformed their bodies and minds almost beyond repair, unable to sleep for the nightmares and unable to function in the day for the memories. Except they were ex-soldiers and the 'Eldritch Abomination' that broke them wasn't Cthulhu, it was the First World War.
Also, they could be of a dimension that we should not be able to see.
I think that somehow, our minds can't comprehend what we see, and we go insane because our brains are occupied trying to figure out what the hell just happened.
Who came up with THAT one? I'm pretty sure our brains do not work that way.
Yes, our minds do work that way. People who were born blind and had their sight restored have to learn to see (or to associate what they are seeing with concepts they only know by their other senses). There's a well-documented case where such a person could not identify a wheel, drew a square when asked to illustrate it, and only fully realized what it was when he could put has hands on it and feel its shape. While this did not drive him insane, it was a source of stress and a contributor to depression.
Justified in the Cthulhu Mythos: Cthulhu and most of the other eldritch abominations from there are psychic and could probably break someones mind.
And why do people keep drawing artwork of them? That only makes it feel more like an Informed Ability.
The Old Ones did bring down statuettes and such with them when they came to Earth, bearing their likeness. While the materials used to make these statuettes were beyond analysis, the imagery wasn't all that dangerous to one's sanity - as long as you don't know their context. For example, the idols retrieved from the cultists and R'lyeh itself in Call of Cthulhu did not cause insanity on their own. Piecing together where they came from, however...
Materials in artwork at least tends to be made of the things that don't drive you nuts upon seeing them. Either that, or the artwork is of the parts that can actually be seen and recorded into the medium. The incomprehensible bits don't make it to the medium, and therefore we get a look at the monster without getting a faceful bloogity-bloogity.
People draw pictures all the time, often of things that they have never personally seen or don't even actually exist. When they do so of Eldritch Abominations, even if the artist has actually seen it and is thus insane, no one will believe the scrawlings of this madman. It is far too easy to dismiss a picture; after all, such a creature could never really exist, right? The fact that the artist is insane only makes it easier for all but the Dangerously Genre Savvy to ignore. To have one standing before you, however, is another matter entirely. To see a thing that you know logically should not be able to exist, and yet it clearly does as it is right in front of you, clearly alive and eminating a terrible presence of utter wrongness.
The thing is that anyone who can accurately imagine the appearance of something that drives you mad is too crazy to be able to describe it, due to having imagined something that drives them mad. As a result, if you don't have any idea what they could look like, that's a good sign.
Also (and I can't believe nobody's mentioned it), this works as a Brown Note or a Logic Bomb on human brains - of course, neither trope really applies to humans in Real Life (not that way, anyway), but if that bothers you as well, then maybe you should consider reading stuff that doesn't have such things (and you'll probably want to pass on an awful lot of other speculative fiction works).
Perhaps encountering such an entity face-to-face is simply so disturbing that it rapidly causes traumatic stress. It's not just the way it looks or the knowledge that it shouldn't exist, but also the fact that it's physically present and the way it's acting. Sort of like how playing Counter-Strike is fun but being in a war generally isn't.
Because, bottom line, Lovecraft was a racist xenophobe, who based his horror stories on interracial miscegenation, and one of his protagonists went mad just knowing that the Deep Ones EXIST, and they're just ugly smelly Fish People. Some things just affect people differently. Not to mention, he was trying to capture the scope of what gods and demons must truly be like if they were to exist. The idea is that they're so alien and different from us that it shatters our notions of reality and makes us rethink everything - not because they're especially ugly or psychic.
I always thought it was because they realized that the universe was so cruel that it would allow such an awful thing to exist in the first place. We view it through the lens of fiction, but if one were to see something "too horrific to describe", they'd have their faith shattered because a supposedly kind and loving deity lets something so vile and horrific exist and lets it run around free rather than at least trying to seal it away.
It isn't seeing the Abomination that causes people to go mad, but the realization that such things are real, which breaks the only thing that keeps you sane: a flawed understanding of the universe.
Or a deep-seated sense of "right" that requires one to follow an "insane" path. Fear of communism made both Adolf Hitler and Joseph Mc Carthylead a witch-hunt against anyone with particular politics AND anyone who tried to protect them. Religious conviction has led extremist members of virtually every faith to persecute, injure, and even kill those who don't believe what they do. Racism, sexism, homophobia, virtually any RW prejudice can manifest as such intense fear or hatred of a concept that human beings feel it necessary to murder strangers to protect or restore their world view. You can argue that these people are already insane, but the insanity only manifests when confronted — directly or indirectly — by the object of the insanity. Thus, the Eldritch horror "makes" them crazy.
The trope is ultimately far older than Lovecraft (who didn't even use it much, though there may be a couple of debatable cases). One of the first known categories of beings described as not always safe for mere humans to look upon were deities, after all...that's right, if one wants, one can certainly interpret the whole "alien supermonsters drive fragile humans crazy at a glance in a cold, uncaring universe" concept as having outright religious roots. (Of course, much the same could be said about the notion that there are in fact Things Man Was Not Meant to Know...the concepts of "forbidden" knowledge and taboos of any sort in general are very, very much Older Than Dirt.)
While certain aspects of the creatures themselves aren't understandable by humans, enough of the events surrounding them are.
The human mind is notorious for having difficulties understanding that Space Is Big, as well as precisely how big. Yet we can describe this issue. The average human does not actually understand what "forever" means. Yet we can describe this issue. The average insect cannot do long-form calculus with a pencil. Yet we can describe this issue. Just because you don't know for certain what it is doesn't mean you can't make a run at it.
Nobody ever grasps the true form of an abomination, usually. doing so requires the brain to adapt. we see horrific creatures as a subconcious warning that looking at this thing is dangerous. continually staring slowly causes the brain to rewire itself to cope with what it's really perceiving, and ultimately adapts it beyond what we could consider sanity.
Why exactly are they called "Eldritch" Abominations? I can understand the abomination part, but who was Eldritch and how did his/her name become synonymous with beings such as this?
It's a word. It means weird. Look it up in the dictionary.
Why are Elementals not classed as Eldritch Abominations? their biology and nature is so incomprehensible some would go mad just figuring it out. So why aren't they classed as Eldritch Abominations(or are they? I'm not sure I have been looking in the right places)
Eldritch Abominations, even in the Cthulhu Mythos, are very, very rare. Some of their scariness comes from them being utterly unknown (and alien) to our little neck of the woods. If you encounter one, you're both the luckiest and unluckiest bastard in all of the universe. As noted on the main page, if they were as common as dirt, they would not have had the mind shredding impact they are known for. Elementals are, well, elemental. They are the basic building blocks of existance (though this depends on the setting - which one are you referring to?). The notion of being chased by sentient fire or water (or Chlorine) is frightening to be sure, but fire or water aren't exactly unknown to us. This lack of the unknown is what seperates an eldritch abomination from an elemental - though I grant you there are some abominations which do look like elementals. Someoverlapdoes occur. But not always.
Can I open a Trope repair shop to talk about the people potholing this trope to every "scary" looking tentacle monster in every show? It's getting ridiculous.
That is a Good Point, why do everyone think that tentacle monster are Eldritch Abomination? I mean not all of them have tentacle right?
A lot of examples listed on the Eldritch Abomination pages do not even classify as such, based on the definition handled by the page itself. Instead, the examples would more accurately be described as an Ultimate Evil or Starfish Alien or such. Cthulhu himself (herself? Itself?) actually wouldn't qualify as an Eldritch Abomination - based on the actual story he so prominitely features in, he is not a Great Old One, though a relation is hinted at in the Necronomicon quote found in the Dunwhich Horror (although, given how little humanity knows about the universe in Lovecraft's setting, this relation may be themical, rather than familial). Old Cthulhu would be more of a Starfish Alien (from a very, very distant part of the universe) than an Eldritch Abomination, whereas the Dunwhich Horror or Flying Polyps are more likely candidtates for Eldritch Abominations.
Am I the only one who thinks this is a subtrope of Villain Sue? After all, Eldritch abominations are described as being completely invincible to anything human beings can do to them, and can even drive humans insane, but more importantly, break the laws of their own universe merely by existing yet continue to exist despite being logical impossibilities. (Even with the Hand Wave of them existing in more than three special dimensions, the Square/Cube Law should still turn Cthulhu 'et al.' to goo.) In other words, they can exist only because the author of the story mandates it and won't let them suffer lasting harm, just like a Mary Sue.
Most true examples portray them as forces of nature, rather than characters. It's not a contrivance that the heroes can't beat them; that's how they are set up from the start.
Well first of all, there's no reason an Eldritch Abomination has to be invincible, even though most of Lovecraft's are. Secondly, this could be applied to pretty much anySpeculative Fiction idea.
Small correction there; Eldritch Abominations in Lovecraft's work do not break the laws of their own universe. What they break is humanity's understanding of the laws of the universe, which in Lovecraft's settings was wrong or incomplete at best. They are also mostly neutral and couldn't care less about humanity - they would destroy us with the same malice as a tornado or black hole would, which means none. The 'forces of nature' comparison is an accurate one. And they can be harmed - if you can arrange for one to take out another (which would be difficult to accomplish) or know the right lore and perform the right rituals (which seems more like magic and is often forbidden due to superstitious reasons). Eldritch abominations can both be allies (of a questionable sort, I should admit.) or enemies, but due to Derleth's take on the Mythos, the latter is the view most people know.
I agree with you OP. First off, it's boring to have invincible villains. I get that Lovecraft was trying to set the tone for his Hopeless Universe, but outside of the thrill ride that is trying to decipher what's happening, it's dull to hear about protagonists that literally can't win. Secondly, you're right. A creature that's simply not part of the Universe can't just enter it willy nilly and screw around. Either they or Reality itself would be turned inside out. They literally have to be comprehensible to some degree to be able to exist.
In your first point, you're reading it wrong. Lovecraft's works are not about the plot line. They are catalogues of knowledge. The story is only a vehicle to further the Universe's mechanics, not the other way around. As for the second, how do you know what would happen? Have YOU ever been in a Universe where a creature from outside came in and screwed around? Have you done any experiments or calculations on hypothetical scenarios on the mathematics and science of such a thing? Even if you did, how can you experiment properly without being able to comprehend what you're experimenting on?
And ona nother note, The only creatures that should count as E As are Energy Beings, who can't even be perceived as alive. A mass of slime and tentacles can still make sense.