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In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.

"That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons even death may die."
— Passage from the al-Azif, a.k.a. the Necronomicon, from The Call of Cthulhu by H. P. Lovecraft

An informal and appropriately chaotic Shared Universe that squarely defines the darkest and edgiest of genres, cosmic horror.

It was started unintentionally by H. P. Lovecraft and his circle of peers (informally called the 'Kalem Club') who belonged to the embryonic Fandom. At that stage less about Speculative Fiction, and more about writing short amateur "weird" stories for the 'pulp' magazines, at least for Lovecraft.

Lovecraft had already incorporated small elements of Robert W. Chambers' earlier The King in Yellow and the writings of Arthur Machen by way of Shout Outs. As time went on, Lovecraft and his friends began referring to his Eldritch Abominations and Tomes of Eldritch Lore in their writings, though usually not actual characters, and to share references made in his friends' stories or private letters. Mythopoeia defined the abstract, and original, cosmic setting. The actual term "Cthulhu Mythos" (depending on how you define it) post-dates Lovecraft's death, at which time H. P. Lovecraft's work got seized and expanded on by August Derleth. Lovecraft himself called his budding mythology "Yog-Sothothery" because Yog-Sothoth features or is mentioned in many more stories than Cthulhu.

The general premise of the Cthulhu Mythos is thus: Humanity exists within a small flickering firelight of sanity and reason in a cold and utterly senseless universe full of ancient and terrible things with tentacles and too many eyes. Our science doesn't properly describe the workings of the universe - ignorance really is bliss because even trying to understand the horrid truth of reality will surely drive you to madness. Our planet was owned by all manner of unknowable alien beings long before we crawled out of the primordial muck, and guess what? They want it back, which means doing a little pest control...

Due to the Shared Universe's informal nature, several rather divisive conceptions of the Mythos have arisen, generally categorized as the Lovecraft purists' version; the version including the broad post-1930s expansions by later writers like August Derleth (who is a controversy unto himself) and Ramsey Campbell; and then there are the rigidly codified and de-mystified Tabletop RPG adaptations which crunch down Mind Screwdriver-style to produce orderly game rules from an inherently disorderly Canon. Information from the latter has tended to proliferate across the Internet disproportionately, resulting in simple Google searches producing a majority of pages derived from the game and its various campaigns, rather than from prose literature (let alone Lovecraft's writings), which are not always labeled as such.

H. P. Lovecraft has his own trope listing, so tropes here should be for tropes that are not specific to his work, or have been greatly expanded from his work. See also Cosmic Horror Story for works which deal with Lovecraft's themes (and, optionally, make use of the Mythos) and Lovecraft Lite for works that take Lovecraft and Mythos less seriously.

See also the Call of Cthulhu RPG.

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     Related Settings 

Sub-settings within the Cthulhu Mythos 'verse include:

  • Lovecraft's own inventions of Arkham (containing Miskatonic University), Dunwich, Innsmouth, and Kingsport, Trope Namer for Lovecraft Country.
  • The Dreamlands: Also created by Lovecraft and inspired by the work of Lord Dunsany. A fantastical world created by people's dreams, more subtly horrific.
  • Clark Ashton Smith's settings, including Hyperborea, prehistoric Greenland prior to the Ice Age, Poseidonis, the last, foundering city of Atlantis, Averoigne in late medieval France and Zothique, set on Earth's last continent, all of which were threaded together over time. Clark's stories tended to focus more on weirdness, exoticism and the macabre than Cosmic Horror.
  • Kull, Conan the Barbarian, and Bran Mak Morn: Robert E. Howard's works form a peripheral part of the Mythos. The stories tend to be human-centric. "The Tower of the Elephant", one of the best early Conan stories, features a Lovecraftian abomination and subverts the mythos by making it sympathetic.
  • Delta Green: The Mythos meets government conspiracies and black ops. It began as a supplement for the Call of Cthulhu RPG game.
  • The Yellow Mythos: Works that focus on the themes that originated in The King in Yellow. Not all stories of the Yellow Mythos are set in the Cthulhu Mythos, but several do use the elements and concepts of both.
  • The Laundry Files: A Charles Stross Urban Fantasy novel series (and licensed tabletop RPG) that mashes the Mythos up with Spy Fiction and a hefty dose of Science Fantasy. Cthulhu itself is frequently mentioned in jest, while Nyarlathotep is a sort of Greater-Scope Villain, whom protagonist Bob Howard once nearly summoned by accident with a fractal-generation program he was experimenting with.

Notable Cthulhu Mythos writers include:

     The "Lovecraft Circle" 

The original writers who corresponded with each other and used the elements of the mythos in their writings.

     Pre-Lovecraft Authors 

Writers whose works were before Lovecraft started, but were a great influence on him. Later retconned into the Mythos:

     Post-Lovecraft Writers 

Notable authors who have written in the mythos after Lovecraft had passed away:

  • Fritz Leiber. Technically a contemporary, but published stories set in the continuity only later.
  • Brian Lumley: A prolific writer whose Titus Crow, Primal Land, and Hero of Dreams works form a part of the mythos.
  • Chiaki Konaka: Who has written several Mythos stories in addition to his work as an anime screenplay writer.
  • Lin Carter: The major scholar and archivist of the Mythos, as well an editor and writer.
  • Ramsey Campbell: Notable British horror writer. Much like Lumley, Ramsey got his start writing Mythos fiction for Arkham House. Following a suggestion from Derleth, he created his own Mythos setting in England thus founding Campbell Country.
  • S.T. Joshi: Extensive researcher of Lovecraft and his life.
  • Robert Price: Religious skeptic and author of many Cthulhu Mythos stories.
  • Ruthanna Emrys: The author of the Innsmouth Legacy, including The Litany of Earth and Winter Tide.
  • Anna M. Pillsworth: The author of Summoned and Fathomless.
  • C. J. Henderson: Known for combining mystery with the Mythos. Some focus on Inspector Legrasse and others private eye Teddy London.
  • Stephen King: Contributed a couple of stories set in the Mythos.
  • Thomas Ligotti: More influenced by Lovecraft's bleak philosophy than by the particulars of the Mythos, but has written a few explicit homages like "The Sect of the Idiot."
  • Peter Clines: Wrote the novel Fourteen and The Fold.
  • C.T. Phipps: Who wrote Cthulhu Armageddon, which is a post-apocalypse Weird West series. He furthermore contributed to the Books of Cthulhu series (Tales of Al-Azif, Tales of Yog-Sothoth, and Tales of Nyarlathotep)
  • Graham Masterton: draws on the Cthulhu mythos, or at least some of its original referents in Native American mythology, for works such as The Manitou and the Night Warriors series.
  • Walter C. DeBill Jr: An occasional contributor to the Cthulhu Mythos, though more renowned for his originally conceived parallel creation, the Mlandoth Cycle.
  • W.H. Pugmire: Writes Mythos stories set in Sesqua Valley, his own creation.
  • Charles Stross: Has written The Laundry Files and A Colder War about government agencies formed to deal with Eldritch Abominations, as well as several short standalone stories of the Cosmic Horror variety.
  • Michael Shea: A frequent contributor to the Mythos, notable for setting his Mythos stories in modern, urban settings.
  • Nick Mamatas: Best known for his innovative combination of Lovecraftian themes and The Beat Generation, initially exemplified in his critically acclaimed novel Move Under Ground.

In Other Media

Works from other media set in the Mythos.note 

    Anime and Manga 

    Comic Book 

For adaptations of Lovecraft's works, specifically, see Lovecraft on Film.

  • Cast a Deadly Spell: parodic, with Lovecraft as a detective in The Unmasqued World. Lovecraft must prevent the rise of the Great Old Ones by acquiring a magic book his employer wants badly.
  • The Last Lovecraft: Relic of Cthulhu
  • Underwater: The film's climax reveals that Cthulhu himself is personally attacking the deep sea drilling platform. The film's protagonist disables him at least temporarily by blowing up the station's reactor.





    Tabletop Games 

    Video Games 

    Visual Novels 


The Mythos includes such specimens as:

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     Tropes A-F 
  • Absolute Xenophobe: Yekubians, an alien species who destroyed all other intelligent life in their home galaxy.
  • Affectionate Parody:
    • Lovecraft Lite is a genre of cosmic horror where the eldritch monsters aren't completely invincible and humanity actually stands a chance against them.
    • A canon example with Derleth's "The Whippoorwills in the Hills", which is a quasi-sequel to "The Dunwich Horror". As if to follow up the parody at the end of "Horror", Derleth parodies the ending of another of Lovecraft's work.
  • Alien Animals: Cats, at least in the Dreamlands, are intelligent, speak their own languages, and can leap across space. They're also at war with the Cats from Saturn.
  • Alien Geometries: One of the most notable examples being on the island of R'lyeh, in "The Call of Cthulhu". To humans visitors the place seems to be shifting in angles all the time.
  • Aliens Are Bastards: Just about everything not of this Earth is evil and/or horrifying. About the only exception are Elder Things and the Great Race of Yith, who still do freaky things like body-swapping with humans so they can visit Earth, and politely mind-wiping the unfortunate human when they switch back. Nodens is probably the most pleasant, earthly-seeming deity, and even he only helps unfortunate humans on a whim.
  • Alien Sky:
    • The World of Seven Suns, orbited by seven stars.
    • Shaggai orbits twin green stars. Xoth (Cthulhu's original homeworld) is also said to orbit twin green suns.
  • Alternate Continuity:
    • Many of the parodies tend to use the mythos, but have their own spin on them.
    • One example is The Laundry Files by Charles Stross. Set in the present day, mostly in the UK, in a top-secret, high-tech government agency devoted to staving off "when the stars are right" for as long as possible. Delta Green meets The Office meets Stale Beer Spy Fiction. The monsters are real, the aliens and Deep Ones share the Earth with us... and most governments have secret Occult Intelligence divisions.
  • Always Chaotic Evil: The majority of beings in the Mythos - the Deep Ones, Great Old Ones, the Tcho-tcho, the Insects from Shaggai - come off as this. Sometimes may be due to how alien these beings are. Sometimes not.
  • Ancient Astronauts: In addition to Lovecraft's Cthulhu, Elder Things, Mi-go, Yithians, and Flying Polyps, later writers added the Shan, Star Vampires and Yuggs.
  • Another Dimension: Where Cthulhu and the Mi-go originated. Also the Dreamlands.
  • A Planet Named Zok: Most every planet mentioned in the Mythos follows this, the most well-known being Yuggoth.
  • Apocalypse Cult: Many of the Mythos cults are trying to bring back the Great Old Ones, which would end up destroying the world.
  • Apocalyptic Log: Often found by investigators, and some stories are entirely these.
  • Artistic License – Geology: Islands or whole continents rising out of seas. This was the result of Lovecraft and pals cribbing from the Theosophists (using their ideas about Atlantis and Lemura to lend a sense of authenticity), as well as the science of the time. Latter writers knew the scientific impossibility, but just ran with it for the sake of coolness.
  • Artifact of Doom: Plenty, but the Shining Trapezohedron is probably the most noted. Also an Artifact of Death, if you differentiate between the two.
  • Asshole Victim: A common occurrence. Though, the reader may feel pity towards these characters because of their horrific fates.
  • Author Appeal: Being a lover of cats, Lovecraft tended to treat felines rather fondly in his works. Friends and later writers would actually add Lovecraft into his own Mythos because of his influence.
  • Author Avatar:
    • An unusual example is that Lovecraft himself became a figure in his own mythos and was written into several stories by other authors, either as an avatar or even more curiously as himself. In addition to this, the first Lovecraft short story collection The Outsider and Others, put together posthumously, was inserted into the mythos as one of the arcane tomes frequently referenced in the stories of other authors, starting with August Derleth (who coincidentally was also that book's publisher...)
    • Robert Bloch killed off a character based on Lovecraft in "The Shambler from the Stars"; in response, Lovecraft killed off a character based on Bloch in "The Haunter of the Dark".
    • Later, Bloch wrote a sequel which mentions both the Expies and himself and Lovecraft. You would think that Bloch or Blake would have realized that they were carbon copies of each other down to having written almost identical stories. To top it off, the main character (Fiske) is also an avatar, as Bloch wrote under a pen name of "Tarleton Fiske".
    • Frank Belknap Long had another character based off Lovecraft in "The Space-Eaters".
    • The main character of Fritz Leiber's "Terror from the Depths" shares many similarities to Clark Ashton Smith.
    • "HPL" by Gahan Wilson even has Lovecraft (and Clark Ashton Smith) as summoners of Mythos entities.
    • Lovecraft himself had several avatars: Ward Phillips, Randolf Carter, and Abdul Alhazred (which was Lovecraft's childhood play name).
    • T.E.D. Klein's Black Man With A Horn has a character based off Frank Belknap Long.
  • Bad Is Good and Good Is Bad: Somewhat of a meta example. Lovecraft and his friends and co-writers lived in a viciously racist and xenophobic society so it's likely they attributed negative stereotypes to aliens if they belived they existed. The underlying implication beneath Gods and extraterrestial aliens having Blue-and-Orange Morality that they seem to want to give is that they're so unspeakably EVIL that any level of wickedness and depravaty the reader imagines barely scratches the surface and draw most of the horror from that, after all they're horror books.
  • Based on a Great Big Lie: A good many of the tales are supposed to be documents, diaries, or excerpts from elder lore. In-universe, some are even referenced as some newspaper story "purported to be truth" but are met with skepticism.
  • Benevolent Conspiracy: Most of the anti-Mythos groups operate covertly. The Wilmarth Foundation do this to prevent panic and hide from the minions of the Great Old Ones. While very ruthless, Delta Green conspires to save America from unspeakable horror.
  • Bizarre Alien Biology: Almost all the aliens in the mythos have this. There's fungus-crab-bat things, Crinoid/plant lifeforms, giant shape-shifting amoeba-like monsters, and giant telepathic squid-worms. And that's not getting to the Great Old Ones, who aren't even of normal "matter".
  • Black Speech: R'lyehian, the language used by Cthulhu and his spawn. Eventually, it was passed down from aeons to be used by the minions of the Mythos. It's also used in general to summon various Great Old Ones or their minions, even those not directly linked to Cthulhu.
    ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn
  • Blue-and-Orange Morality: An alternative take on the Mythos by some authors. Most of the beings in the Mythos are beyond good and evil, as we understand it. For example, Long presents "The Hounds of Tindalos" as "Foul" and "descended of angles". Humans are somewhat "Pure" and literally descended from curves. In "A Note on the Cthulhu Mythos", Derleth explains that the entities of the Mythos are "beyond mundane morality".
  • Breakout Villain: Believe it or not, but Cthulhu isn't the most important Eldritch Abomination in Lovecraft's work. It's neither the most powerful nor the most frequently referenced. However, because "The Call of Cthulhu" became Lovecraft's most popular work, Cthulhu itself became the iconic character of Lovecraft's universe, to the point that the mythos is unofficially named after it.
  • Canon Welding: Very common.
  • Chaos Is Evil: Nyarlathotep, the "Crawling Chaos", is a sinister figure. The Lurking Chaos, Xexanoth, is considered blasphemous. Literally with Azathoth.
  • Christmas Episode: Lovecraft's "The Festival". This being Lovecraft, don't expect anything traditional about it.
  • City with No Name: "The Nameless City".
  • Civilization Destroyer: One of the basic characteristics of the Cthulhu Mythos horrors is that most of the different Eldritch Abominations would rapidly destroy human civilization if they ever awakened. The exceptions would simply want to toy with us first, or at least to mold gullible minds who would be foolish enough to awaken them.
  • Clarke's Third Law: Invoked most often in the Mythos works of Charles Stross, which imply that powerful Mythos entities are actually highly-advanced forms of AI and that magic is really a way of manipulating the underlying mathematics of the universe. It doesn't make these things any less terrifying.
  • Colonized Solar System: An extraterrestrial example. Several worlds in the Solar System, including Earth, have been repeatedly colonized by alien species or have native species already living there. These range from the Bulbous Vegetable Entities on Mercury to the Mi-Go colonies on Pluto.
  • Continuity Nod: Given they are part of a Shared Universe, this is inevitable with many stories in varying degrees, ranging from very subtle such as an off-hand reference to Miskatonic University or the Necronomicon to more obvious ones like incorporating famous abominations, to outright referencing plot points from Lovecraft's stories, all of which can be put to great use depending on the nature of the tale.
  • Continuity Porn: Common from virtually the moment of Lovecraft's death onwards, though hardly mandatory.
  • Covers Always Lie: Lovecraft anthologies (especially ones by Del Rey) often have weird, surreal imagery unrelated to anything in the stories. Though they do communicate the atmosphere of the books well enough.
  • Creepy Cemetery: "The Walker in the Cemetery" by Ian Watson is set in one of these.
  • Crossover Cosmology: Some characters theorize that all human mythologies are inspired by the Mythos in one way or another. Even the concepts of good versus evil is influenced by the conflict between the Elder Gods and the Great Old Ones (despite both being beyond good and evil).
  • Cryptic Background Reference: Lovecraft did this often, and so did the Kalem Club, throwing out little bits and pieces of elder lore. It left fans wondering and wanting for more. Trying to piece them all together is part of the stories' appeal.
  • Cults: The Mythos is filled with Old One worshipers with horrible rituals. They range from the Arkham witch coven, various madmen like the Whateleys, the Brotherhood of the Yellow Sign, and the English Temphill Cult to name a few.
  • Cultural Cross-Reference: Mythos references have been made in Japan ranging from the subtle (The Big O, Digimon) to the blatant (Nyaruko: Crawling with Love!).
  • Dark Fantasy: Notably by Smith and some of Lovecrafts stories deal with traditional fantasy elements.
  • Death by Adaptation: Inspector Legrasse in the 2005 silent film adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu. In the story, he not only lives, but some writers used him in their own short stories.
    • The same goes for a bunch of other characters in The Whisperer In Darkness as well. Most prominently, Albert Wilmarth crashes a plane into a Mi-Go ritual site, after which the aliens save his brain.
  • Did You Just Romance Cthulhu?:
    • Lovecraft's "The Dunwich Horror". Yog-Sothoth mates with a human woman and produces the offspring who will be known as Wilbur Whateley.
    • Michael Shea's "Fat Face". An "escort" seeks comfort from a large, seemingly kindly man. It's not a man, and it doesn't end well.
    • Played with Ramsey Campbell's "The Faces At Pine Dunes". The protagonist and his girlfriend investigate his parents' strange behavior. His father is a Human/Eldritch Abomination hybrid, and so is the protagonist.
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Happens to Cthulhu itself in "The Call of Cthulhu" when it was rammed straight into R'lyeh.
  • Divine Ranks: The Mythos developed a hierarchy of entities, but it wasn't formalized until later.
  • The Dreaded: Most of the monsters don't need to kill you to disable you. They can do that just by looking really really scary. The Cthulhu Mythos is the Trope Codifier of Eldritch Abomination for a reason.
  • Dug Too Deep: Happens in a Lumley tale in which an oil drill ends up drilling into a sleeping Great Old One.
  • Earth Is the Center of the Universe:
    • Played with - the primary reason that so many sealed evils are concentrated on Earth is precisely because they are not concentrated on Earth. There's just so damned many of them that Earth ends up having its fair share of octopoid elder gods as a matter of normal statistical distribution.
    • In The Dunwich Horror, young Whateley's diary states that the alien intelligences are interested in Earth as an element in their long-range plans. Organic life, on the other hand, is considered an obstruction, and their real plans can get started once they erase all life on Earth and take it out of three-dimensional space.
  • Eldritch Abomination: For all practical purposes, this is the font and origin of all blobby god-things with unpronounceable names.
  • Eldritch Location: Lots and lots.
  • Eldritch Ocean Abyss:
  • Elemental Embodiment: August Derleth had used an Elemental Theory: the idea that the Old Ones can be sorted by the four classical elements; for example, Cthulhu for water, and Derleth creations Cthugha and Ithaqua for fire and air, respectively. However, the theory is debatable and little used by other Mythos writers.
  • Evil-Detecting Dog: In The Colour Out of Space, cats end up leaving the accursed farm, likely knowing what really landed. In The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath, the onyx city of Inquanok would welcome cats, but it's too close to the evil plains of Leng and the northern desert; " that far land there broods a hint of outer space which cats do not like, and to which they are more sensitive than men."
  • Evil Only Has to Win Once: If any of the Great Old Ones are ever freed or awakened fully, then it's good-bye to mankind.
    • In the case of Azathoth, it's good-bye to everything including the other eldritch gods.
  • Evil Smells Bad:
    • In general the Great Old Ones smell "foul", a sign people would know them. In Cthulhu's case, he probably wouldn't smell so good after being stuck in a tomb for millions of years.
    • Ill-reputed Innsmouth smells like fish.
  • Evil Takes a Nap: A common theme in the mythos. Many Great Old Ones and assorted eldritch abominations are sleeping and bring ruin as they shift in their sleep. Their awakening, which is said to be inevitable, will bring about The End of the World as We Know It, something that was barely, barely averted in "The Call of Cthulhu" when the title monster awoke.
  • Expanded Universe: A rather informal one, with Lovecraft's tales being the nucleus of the chaos.
  • External Retcon: Happens, but most notable with Hastur.
  • Eyes Do Not Belong There: Wilbur Whateley has eyes where they should not be.
  • Fantasy Kitchen Sink: Despite not being a real mythology, the Mythos tends to get tossed into such stories.
  • Fantasy Pantheon: With three sets of them!
    • The Outer Gods seem to personify the cosmic forces of the universe, but they're still mostly uncaring towards humanity. With the exception of Nyarlathotep, their messenger, who's actively malicious (and basically Satan).
    • The Great Old Ones are, for the most part, just treated as vast, unknowable alien beings who are waiting in hibernation to reclaim their control of the Earth. Cthulhu itself fits in here.
    • The Elder Gods could be considered the Great Old Ones' Good Counterpart (or good enough, really). While the Old Ones are utterly unknowable and terrifying, the Elder Gods are helpful to humanity and familiar (some live in the Dreamlands and many of them are from real-world mythologies).
  • Fictional Document: The various unspeakable books, commentaries on said books, as well as the various final testaments.
  • Fish People: The Deep Ones and their Half-Human Hybrids resemble hideous humanoid fish.
  • Formerly Sapient Species:
    • "The Beast In The Cave" describes cave-dwelling humans who degenerated into savage monsters.
    • "The Rats in the Walls": The La Poer family sated its cannibalistic appetites by breeding "human pigs" in immense underground food pens. The breeding stock was so inbred and twisted towards the end that some of them had devolved into quadrupeds, and they had largely lost the capacity for thought.

     Tropes G-L 
  • Genocide Backfire: The Doom that Came to Sarnath is a result of a human city wiping out another non-human city.
  • Go Mad from the Revelation: The Trope Namer - many of Lovecraft's protagonists do not take well to grim discoveries. Encountering the Mythos in general is not good for one's sanity either.
  • Gratuitous German: The fictional book Unaussprechlichen Kulten originally appeared in various stories by the English Nameless Cults before it was decided to switch to German to match its fictional author Von Junzt. This title is grammatically off, because the nominative case would be Unaussprechliche Kulte, whereas the title as-is is the dative case and creates the impression that a preposition is missing.
  • The Greatest Story Never Told: People journey into the depths of horror, sometimes preventing such nightmares from rising - and very few (if anyone) actually learn of the tale.
  • Half-Human Hybrid: And not the cute furry kind, nor the sympathetic outcast kind.
  • Hate Sink: Y'golonac is one of the few of his kind that can be regarded as truly evil, being a cosmic Serial Rapist and Serial Killer that has absolutely no problems with defiling and murdering anyone he gets his hands on.
  • He Knows Too Much: Whoever finds out too much about the Mythos (such as the Cthulhu Cult) tends to be hunted down and killed. That is, if the person in question doesn't go insane first or get eaten.
  • Historical Domain Character: It's common for Mythos stories by later authors to feature Lovecraft himself as a character, often with the premises that he wrote truth disguised as fiction. Lovecraft Is Missing is a prominent example.
  • Homeworld Evacuation: The Insects From Shaggai (AKA Shan) in Ramsey Campbell's stories. When their home planet was destroyed by a Mythos abomination, some of them fled to a succession of other planets, finally ending up on Earth.
    • Yith itself is a dead planet, but the Great Race which evolved there fled to primordial Earth via mass mind-swap.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Allies of the Mythos are trying to work towards "clearing off the Earth" for the Great Old Ones.
  • How We Got Here: Typically of the "See, this is why I must commit suicide before sundown..." variety.
  • Human Sacrifice: Whether it's being used in some unspeakable experiment/ritual or just being a snack for an Old One, it's very common.
  • Humans Are Cthulhu: As shocking as it may seem there are some stories, even by Lovecraft himself, where humans are not at the bottom of the cosmic food chain. For instance "Memory" has a daemon and a genie talking about a race that built the ancient ruins in a valley: Man. And in "Through the Gates of the Silver Key" Randolph Carter possesses an alien from the distant past who is "disgusted by the thought of the human earth-mammal" that holds him prisoner in his own body for millions of years, long after the rest of his race is extinct.
  • I Have Many Names: All of the Great Old Ones and other incomprehensible beings have multiple aspects and/or names. Part of this is due to multiple attempts at spelling a alien word (Cthulhu, Ktulu, Clooloo, Q'thulu, Tulu, etc.) and partly just due to the use of epithet (Nuclear Chaos or The Daemon Sultan for Azathoth) in the case of The Scottish Trope where the true name is forbidden (even "Azathoth" is a pseudonym).
  • Informed Attribute: A big theme of the setting is the fact that most of the gods and monsters are indifferent to humanity and/or operate on Blue-and-Orange Morality, and thus the human concepts of benevolence and malevolence aren't really applicable to them... but they usually behave in much the same way a truly malevolent entity would anyway.
  • Insectoid Aliens: The Mi-Go and the Insects From Shaggai.
  • Kaiju: There are some really big monsters in the Mythos. Cthulhu is described as a walking "mountain". Most of his children are almost as large- one of them whose talons alone are the size of mountains. Not to mention Dagon, Zhar and Lligor, several of Nyarlathotep's masks... all big. And then there's Ghroth, a monster the size of a planet.
  • Living Bodysuit: Nyarlathotep, Hastur, Y'Golonac, and the Insects from Shaggai.
  • Lizard Folk: The Serpent Men of Howard's Conan stories, and later used by Lovecraft.
  • Loads and Loads of Races: HPL himself mentioned or sometimes showed a few dozen aliens and monsters, and subsequent authors and co-writers have expanded this greatly. That's not even getting into the godlike deity-aliens. Overall there are at least 30 intelligent races described.
  • Locked Out of the Loop: Upper-class Anglo-Saxons seem to be the only people on Earth unaware of the horrors going on.
  • Lovecraft Lite
    • The stories by Smith, Derleth, Lumley, and Howard, in particular. Smith's tales focus on the weirdness rather than the horror, and Howard's characters were simply badass enough to face cosmic horrors and fight them. Even Lovecraft had some lighter tales.
    • Naturally, the Mythos parodies and homages tend to be this as well.

     Tropes M-R 
  • Magic from Technology: Often hinted that the "magic" of the Mythos is just advanced science.
  • Magic Is Evil: There are plenty of evil (and insane) sorcerers. However, there are also examples of good people using "magic" to stop the bad guys. Titus Crow is one example, and Lovecraft's Professor Armitage is another. It's hinted that the magic may not be evil outright, just extremely dangerous to us ignorant humans. It's this interpretation that the Call of Cthulhu RPG takes, where using spells will sap Sanity.
  • Masquerade: One of the defining aspects of the Mythos, living in ignorance of the true horrors of reality.
  • Medium Awareness: Lovecraft encouraged the authors he corresponded with to use elements of his mythos in their stories, even if those stories were not part of the mythos itself. This emergence of common elements in seemingly unrelated works of literature created the impression that the mythos was actually real, thus leading to the fan theories that Lovecraft actually had encounters with eldritch entities. This culminated in a peculiar case when an infamous Moral Guardian by the name of Patricia Pulling included in a questionnaire submitted to police as a means of investigating people for possible occult affiliations, a question regarding whether or not the suspect had heard of and read the Necronomicon. This question, among various other things, led to her discrediting as a credible expert in the area of occult crime.
  • Mistaken for Quake: When the ground shakes in a Mythos tale, you can bet it's either a Cthonian hive nearby or something worse.
  • Moe Anthropomorphism: You can find most, if not all, of the mythos beings depicted as human girls. Cthylla is notable here since, being called Cthulhu's daughter, it's much easier to search for her moe art than her squid-like form. Nyaruko: Crawling with Love! takes this to the next level, with Nyarlathotep, Cthugha, and Atlach-Nacha as cute moe girls.
  • Monster in the Ice: "Cold Water Survival" by Holly Phillips has a group of adventurers setting up a base on an iceberg that's split off from Antarctica realize that various Eldritch Abominations frozen in the ice are slowly thawing out as the berg travels into warmer regions.
  • More than Three Dimensions: This trope is all over the Mythos. Most of its famous monstrosities exist in many more dimensions than we humans can perceive, so what we do see are just limited projections of their true multidimensional forms onto the 3D "reality".
  • Multiple-Choice Past: Details vary between story to story, even if it's the same author. It may have been done on purpose to create a sense of ambiguity.
  • Mushroom Man: The Fungi from Yuggoth, though less man and more flying-thing.
  • Mysterious Antarctica: "At the Mountains of Madness", as well as the material that follows up on the plot, such as roleplaying supplements and the novel Hive.
  • Names to Run Away from Really Fast: Pretty much all of them, unsurprisingly.
  • Natural End of Time: Destined to happen when Azathoth wakes up. Which could happen at anytime.
  • No Biological Sex: Almost all the monsters created by Lovecraft himself are sexless. The only exceptions are the Deep Ones.
  • No Hugging, No Kissing:
    • Lovecraft's stories contain virtually no hanky-panky. His narrators are universally chaste, at least during the actual story. Female characters are almost consistently abominations in disguise. When they aren't, they're little more than footnotes, like Nathan Peaslee's ex-wife. On the very rare occasions that sexual activity is implied, it is depicted negatively and guaranteed to result in inhuman hybrid demon spawn. The only even semi-notable exception is the unnamed mother of Charles Dexter Ward, who, while remaining a side character, deeply loves her son and falls ill out of concern for him; when her husband discovers what their son is really up to, he does everything he can to keep her from knowing just how awful things really are out of fear that he'd lose her forever, either mentally or altogether, from the shock.
    • There's the poor Lavinia Whateley in The Dunwich Horror, who goes over her head under the coaxing of her grandfather, and meets a grisly ending later on because she's not happy with the idea of destroying humanity. Most of the time women and romance aren't so much evil as completely absent from Lovecraft's stories, since he had no idea how to write female characters and was reportedly rather uncomfortable with sexual matters. Even Asenath Waite was actually the spirit of a man inhabiting the body of his daughter.
    • As in the space of a story (days, maybe weeks) the male heroes spend time among creatures like Innsmouth hybrids or man-eating degenerate beings from The Lurking Fear, it would be pretty horrible to imagine what they could do if they weren't chaste.
    • Averted with Smith and Campbell, where romance plays a role in some of their stories.
  • Non-Indicative Name: Cthulhu only appears in one of the original Lovecraft stories, and his role beyond that one is fairly minimal. Though he is the most iconic character in the Mythos, he is definitely not the central figure—technically, "The Great Old Ones Mythos" would be a more accurate title.
  • Not-So-Safe Harbor: Not surprising considering how it's mostly set in New England, but Innsmouth is especially noteworthy. Also not surprising considering Lovecraft's phobia towards all things aquatic, thus marine and octopoid creatures as a consistent source of horror.
  • Occult Detective: Several characters attempt this, but often it doesn't end well. Titus Crow is a traditional example, while Teddy London is a private detective that worked on cases involving the Mythos.
  • The Old Gods: The Great Old Ones and the Outer Gods. Averted with the Elder Gods, who imprisoned the Great Old Ones.
  • Our Titans Are Different: The Great Old Ones once ruled the cosmos, but are now trapped, limited in power, or sleeping.
  • Our Vampires Are Different: The fungoid creature in "The Shunned House" is Lovecraft's version of a vampire. It bears little resemblance to the undead humans of other works. Other authors added Star Vampires and Fire Vampires, which are even less conventionally vampire-like.
  • Paranormal Investigation: Plenty of investigators, and very few survivors.
  • Perspective Flip:
    • "The Litany of Earth" tells the story of one of the survivors of Innsmouth, thematically engaging with Lovecraft's fear of the other.
    • The works of W.H. Pugmire do this a lot. Most of his protagonists are non-human and linked to Lovecraftian entities.
  • Picky People Eater: Some of the horrors of the mythos want blood or brains instead of eating people entirely.
  • Plant Aliens: Both the Mi-Go and the Elder Things are described as being fungoid.
  • Pop-Cultural Osmosis: Thanks to the innumerable pop culture references, people have learned about the Mythos from almost everything but the original stories.
  • Posthumous Collaboration: Several stories were finished after Lovecraft's death by Derleth.
  • Product Placement: Partly a Shout-Out - in one of Derleth's stories, the characters acquire the anthology "The Outsider and Others" by H.P. Lovecraft for their investigation. "The Outsider" was the first book published by Arkham House, Derleth's and Donald Wandrei's company that was founded to help preserve Lovecraft's legacy. It was also a practical way to get the word out to the fans.
  • Psychological Horror: Much of the focus is on the emotional and mental state of the human protagonists as they delve deeper and deeper into the Mythos. Insanity is often as common a fate as death. Those lucky few who live tend to be broken by their experiences.
  • Public Domain Character: Even when it was created. H.P. Lovecraft encouraged creative diversity in the original Cthulhu Circle, such that there was (and is) no single all-enjoining Canon, but rather what amounts to multiple authors' Ascended Fanon. In this sense, the Cthulhu Mythos more resembles an organic Mythology with numerous variations.
  • Puny Earthlings: Everyone else in the cosmos is either vastly stronger, powerful, or more advanced than the fragile-minded humans.
  • Purple Prose: Lovecraft, Howard, and Smith indulged in this. Later writers, not so much.
  • Replaced with Replica: Many souls tried and failed to defeat the horror known as Ghatanathoa, but none are more well-known than T'yog, the high priest of Shub-Niggurath. He crafted a scroll that was meant to protect him from the dreaded curse that fell on those who looked upon Ghatanathoa or a perfect likeness of him. But T'yog was undone when the priesthood of Ghatanathoa stole the scroll in question and replaced it with a fake.
  • Reptilian Conspiracy: The Serpent Men of Howard's Conan stories, and later used by Lovecraft.
  • Retcon:
    • All over the place. Range from Derleth's ideas of morality or Smith's Greek pantheon-style genealogy (including such gems as Cthulhu being Hastur's half-brother), to Fan Wank trying to avert Science Marches On, like explaining various winged creatures like the Byakhee & Elder Things flying through space, originally ascribed to "ether", as biotechnological solar sails.
    • Lovecraft even did it to himself, such as placing the locales of some of his earlier short stories into the setting of the Dreamlands. (You'll notice that 'The Cats of Ulthar', for instance, never mention being anywhere but in the real world, let alone a shared dream consciousness.)

     Tropes S-Z 
  • Sapient Cetaceans: A story in Tales from Innsmouth has dolphins as allies of the Deep Ones.
  • Science Fiction: Several of the various monsters are given scientific (or quasi-scientific) explanations and origins.
  • Sci-Fi Horror: Several stories are clearly set in the subgenre - going into scientific detail of the horrors in the works.
  • Scrapbook Story: Most famously, the original Call of Cthulhu story does this, and other writers have followed suit.
  • Secret History: The Mythos' history is cosmic in scope, starting aeons ago before Earthy life even existed. Most people don't know about it because of the obscurity of the Mythos. The limited few who do learn of it are unable to prove it beyond first hand testimony. And in some cases (such as the Cthulhu Cult), some are actively trying to prevent it from being known.
  • Sentient Cosmic Force: Yog-Sothoth for the Space-Time Continuum. The various Outer Gods could be interpreted to be this. For example, every nuclear reaction is Azathoth.
    • At least one version says Azathoth's physical presence was the big bang.
  • Series Mascot: Cthulhu, naturally; it's neither the most powerful of the Outer Gods nor their leader, but it's the most famous because of the story it was featured in.
  • Shout-Out: To Lovecraft and the other writers in Lovecraft's circle. What started as in-jokes became hard continuity with Adaptation Expansion. References to the Mythos are also common in popular culture.
  • Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Most of the time, so cynical you could use the scale as a trebuchet. Competes with Warhammer 40k for the title of most cynical popular body of fiction.
  • Solo Tabletop Game: There are several solitaire capable games based on the Mythos. Fantasy Flight's Arkham Horror, Eldritch Horror, and Elder Sign can be played alone or co-operative. In the mid-1990's, Chaosium had the Mythos CCG, which in addition to standard multiplayer also had solo variant rules.
  • Sorting Algorithm of Evil: In essence, there are three tiers to the Mythos; at the bottom are the "mere" horrors — aliens, ghouls, mad sorcerers, etc. Above these are the Great Old Ones, which are basically Physical Gods. And above these are the Outer Gods, which are to the Great Old Ones what the Great Old Ones are to the lesser races. To put it in perspective, Cthulhu worships the Outer Gods.
  • Spacetime Eater: Conversed between the narrator and a Lovecraft-expy in Long's "The Space Eaters". They talk about Eldritch Abominations in general, with the Expy asking what would happen if they "eat their way to us through space!"
  • Spared by the Adaptation: The narrator in the 2005 silent film adaptation of The Call of Cthulhu. The beginning of the original story refers to the "late" Francis Wayland Thurston. How he died is not revealed. The movie doesn't really hint at this at all.
  • Spell My Name With An S: Intentionally; most of the Great Old Ones and the like have names that can't be rendered in human languages, so they're spelled in all sort of different ways in different stories.
  • Spotlight-Stealing Title: Despite being the most well known and iconic character, Cthulhu himself has only a few small appearances in the stories and is more of a minor background character compared to Yog-Sothoth, Dagon, and Nyarlathotep.
  • Starfish Aliens: All of HPL's aliens, and quite a few earth-dwelling creatures. Howard, for such an early writer, was good at ensuring his aliens were actually alien. And in the case of the Elder Things, one of the more sympathetic species, almost literal Starfish Aliens. Later authors have followed suit.
  • Stuck in Their Shadow: In-universe example: The protagonist of Black Man With A Horn by T.E.D. Klein feels that his literary career was overshadowed by his friend H.P. Lovecraft.
  • Sufficiently Advanced Aliens:
    • The Great Old Ones are some of the, er, oldest examples. All too often this aspect gets ignored in favor of The Theme Park Version's literal gods.
    • In an inversion, in their introductory story, the Elder Things are presented as being men- that is, in comparison to the other aliens and horrors out there, the Elder Things built things, created a civilization, wrote, created, learned, taught. They built things and invented things. They're human compared to the nigh-godly Cthulhu Spawn and the horrific Shoggoth(s?).
  • Sufficiently Advanced Bamboo Technology: Many of the alien tech look like they're ancient stone ruins or tools. Some of it is actually so very advanced it may be beyond human comprehension.
  • Superweapon Surprise: Of the Bigger Brother variety, in Lovecraft's Dreamlands stories "The Doom that Came to Sarnath" and "The Other Gods", to name a few. (Not in stories set in our world, though, or else said Bigger Brothers would have wiped humanity off the page.)
  • The Taming of the Grue: You can buy Cthulhu plushie dolls. Adorable, aren't they?
  • Tabletop Games:
    • Spawned several RPGs, including the Call of Cthulhu RPG, Trail of Cthulhu (using the GUMSHOE system and focused in the 1930's), Arkham Horror and Yellow Dawn - The Age of Hastur RPG (set in a post-apocalyptic world).
    • The franchise also inspired Card Games, like the Mythos CCG, the Call of Cthulhu Living Card Game, and even Munchkin Cthulhu.
  • Tentacled Terror: The octopus-headed star spawn, and their leader, the Dread Lord Cthulhu, Master of R'lyeh. H.P. Lovecraft had a strange thing about tentacles and invertebrates in general. There's always, always tentacles, to the extent that anything with tentacles will for better or worse be compared to a Lovecraftian horror. The reason there's such a strong "slimy creature from the sea" motif in Lovecraft's monsters is because he was both violently allergic to pretty much all seafood and had a phobia towards them — seeing marine creatures as among the vilest and disgustingly ugly animals in the world. Of course, the Old Gods aren't actually cephalopods or anything else that resembles terrestrial life, it's just the closest approximation of their true appearance that our brains can understand.
  • These Are Things Man Was Not Meant to Know: The entire Mythos is filled with these.
  • Through the Eyes of Madness: Several stories by Lovecraft, who was likely inspired by Chambers.
  • Tomato in the Mirror: Several stories involve the protagonist discovering something unpleasant about his heritage.
  • Tome of Eldritch Lore: Most notably the Necronomicon, but also De Vermis Mysteriis, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the... well just look at the list. Name-dropping one of these is a stock horror Shout-Out.
  • Too Many Mouths: One of the classic Eldritch Abomination traits. In a particularly corporeal case, the Great Old One Y'golonac (you fool, you've doomed us all!) has them on his palms.
  • Town with a Dark Secret: Oh so many, from Innsmouth to Jerusalem's Lot to Temphill...
  • Tuckerization: In addition to all the Author Avatars and Shout Outs, the Lovecraft Circle tossed out references to their pals:
  • Ultraterrestrials: Deep Ones, Ghouls, Sand Dwellers, and the creatures inhabited by the Great Race of Yith.
  • Universe Concordance: Daniel Harms' The Cthulhu Mythos Encyclopedia and earlier Encyclopedia Cthulhiana.
  • The Unpronounceable:
    • All the Great Old Ones qualify.
    • In one short story a fan of Lovecraft in a world where the stories are in truth based on reality has surgery to allow her to pronounce R'lyehian correctly. This gives her an eldritch look, and when she actually practices the ability, it sort of causes the end of the world as a side effect.
  • Unreliable Canon: The Mythos can have this problem given hundreds of writers have contributed to it.
  • Venus Is Wet: Venus is depicted as a tropical world filled with lush jungles, though its atmosphere is poisonous to any unprotected humans. It's home to a race of primitive reptilian humanoids.
  • Wainscot Society: Various twisted cults and factions have what amounts to a parallel society in port cities and remote human communities, hidden from the mass of society but with a structure of its own. Ghouls, mostly living under human cities, have fairly frequent contact with humanity, often via such cultists and maniacs, as well as happily eating any human corpses they can get hold of, while the aquatic Deep Ones and their half-human hybrids have a fair amount of influence in the human world.
  • Weaksauce Weakness:
    • The Cthonians dissolve in water. Justified: Considering the Cthonians are able to survive intense heat and pressures, can burrow underground, and have telepathic powers capable of controlling people's minds, the fact that Earth is mostly water may be the only reason why they haven't wiped humanity out.

      Not a particularly exploitable weakness for the bigger ones though. Shudde-M'ell (the chief Chthonian) is described as a mile long, so immersing him in water would be ... pretty challenging.
    • Water isn't good for the Great Old Ones according to The Call of Cthulhu, either - it blocks their telepathic powers completely, trapping them to their lairs both physically and mentally, until R'lyeh rises again.
    • The Haunter of the Dark, one of Nyarlathotep's many forms, is extremely weak against light. Granted, it comes from a dimension where no visible light exists (and where it would presumably be invincible), and it can't be killed, only banished back to that dimension, but still, it's an Eldritch Abomination that can kept at bay with a flashlight! But you'd better hope your batteries last until you find something else... the Haunter can wait, it only needs to catch you once.
    • In Robert Bloch's story "The Shadow From the Steeple" (considered out of canon by some) it gets better: after a serious blunder by a university professor attempting to contain it, it takes over his body, therefore becoming almost unaffected by light, changes the man's field of expertise to theoretical physics, then joins the Manhattan project so we'll succeed in creating a weapon that could actually annihilate us. It's also an avatar of the god Nyarlathotep, The Crawling Chaos.
    • Call of Cthulhu itself offers one. You may be surprised that, despite being an ancient and unspeakably powerful entity able to drive humans to insanity with nary a glance, Cthulhu is just as vulnerable as anything else to being rammed with large objects.
  • When the Planets Align: The Great Old Ones will return when The Stars Are Right.
  • Who You Gonna Call?: Professor Shrewsbury, Inspector Legrasse, Titus Crow, The Wilmarth Foundation, Delta Green, and Teddy London''.
  • Wolverine Publicity: Cthulhu only appears in one story, yet his name is used for the whole body of fiction. Justified in that Cthulhu or the events from The Call of Cthulhu is alluded to in other stories.
  • You Cannot Grasp the True Form: Contrary to popular belief, people can see the true form of many eldritch beings just fine. It's just sometimes the truth is just too much for the human mind. But there's a few that do play the trope straight. See the Character page for more detail.

Cthulhu fhtagn... what a wonderful phrase...


Video Example(s):

Alternative Title(s): The Cthulhu Mythos, Cthulhu


Lack of Clarity

MatPat brings up that one of the secrets to the Analog Horror genre's success is establishing something to be afraid of but never showing the audience what exactly it is, allowing them to fill in the blanks. He cites the Cthulhu Mythos and Jaws as examples, especially the latter given how it was unintentional.

How well does it match the trope?

4.47 (17 votes)

Example of:

Main / NothingIsScarier

Media sources: