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Literature / The Trail of Cthulhu

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The Trail of Cthulhu is a horror novel by August Derleth, long-time friend and correspondent of H. P. Lovecraft. Although published in 1962, the book is actually a collection of interconnected short stories that were originally published in the '40s and '50s.

As the title suggests, the book is set within the Cthulhu Mythos. It tells the story of Laban Shrewsbury. Shrewsbury, a professor at Miskatonik University, vanished one night, only to return to campus 10 years later. Upon his return, his research has turned to the arcane. Specifically, he began looking for a common link among all ancient folklores and cults, a trail as one of his colleagues puts it.

As the book unfolds, it becomes clear that the ultimate goal of this trail is to find the Black Island and kill Cthulhu once and for all. Unfortunately, Shrewsbury finds he can't do it alone and enlists the help of brave, if ill-prepared, would-be heroes


As this is based on Lovecraft's work, Shrewsbury's meddling doesn't go unnoticed and he and his friends find themselves on the run from some very pissed-off cultists.

Like many of Derleth's Lovecraftian stories, this work is rather controversial due to his reimagining of Lovecraft's Ancient Ones as actually being evil as opposed to being beyond good and evil. Still, it—much like Derleth himself—is certainly not without fans.

Not to be confused with the Lovecraft RPG Trail of Cthulhu.


This book contains examples of:

  • City with No Name: A part of the fourth chapter is set in the "Nameless City" (from the eponymous H. P. Lovecraft short story).
  • Decoy Protagonist: In the first chapter, Andrew Phelan is obviously the main character, then it turns out that each chapter has its own protagonist
  • Demoted to Extra: Every character other than Shrewsbury and Hovarth (who was introduced too late into the story to have a chance to be demoted).
  • Did You Just Punch Out Cthulhu?: Shrewsbury's goal. It works. However, it's implied that this victory is only temporary.
  • Grand Finale: The Black Island. Remember, this was originally a series of short stories, so the final showdown was really the end of a series spanning at least 10 years rather than the end of a single book.
  • Lovecraft Lite: Subverted in the epilogue, which goes out on a very bleak note that falls more under Cosmic Horror Story than it does this.
  • Most Writers Are Writers: Four of the six protagonists have professions relatives to writer. Shrewsbury, Clairborne Boyd, and Horvath Blayne are scientists focused on humanities (the former about occultism, the two latter about ethnology), Nayland Colum is a novellist. Indirectly, Andrew Phelan have been hired by Shrewsbury because he has some skills in a secretary job, among other things. The less relevant protagonist to this trope is Abel Keane, who is a theology student aiming to become a priest.
  • Necromancer: Non evil example. Shrewsbury manages to shortly reanimate Abdul Alhazred corpses in order to ask him a few questions, including: "where can I find an original scroll of your Necronomicon?" and "where is R'lyeh?".
  • Nice Job Breaking It, Hero!: Nice job reawakening Hovarth's interest in his family's past, Shrewsbury.
  • No One Could Survive That!: During the finale, said to Shrewsbury by the American general while ordering the nuking of R'lyeh.
  • Perspective Flip: The last chapter has a scene during which Horvath Blayne reads a diary and s letter describing The Shadow over Innsmouth events and their aftermath through the eyes of an Innsmouth inhabitant. Who is Horvath's grandfather.
  • Ragtag Bunch of Misfits: Subverted near the end where it turns out that the American military has become involved with Shrewsbury's research
  • The Reveal: Professor Shrewsbury has no eyes.
  • Shoot the Shaggy Dog: In the end, it's arguable that all Shrewsbury accomplished was to merely prolong the inevitable and get Abel killed in the process...and set Hovarth on the road to becoming a villain (or at least a mook)...meaning that Derleth's themes might have more in common with Lovecraft's after all.
  • Up to Eleven: The climax of The Black Island, when compared to the climax of The Call of Cthulhu. Instead of sailors who accidentally land on the island, we now have military men seeking out the island and deliberately laying explosives; Cthulhu comes out and even more specific detail is given about his freakish features and gargantuan size than in Lovecraft's story; our heroes run away from the scene, only to DETONATE CTHULHU AND THE ENTIRE ISLAND WITH A FREAKING ATOMIC BOMB once they are at a safe distance!

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