What To Do When You Meet Cthulhu
A Guide to Surviving the Cthulhu Mythos
By Rachel Gray, William Jones
Elder Signs Press Copyright © 2010 Elder Signs Press, Inc.
All rights reserved.
He was in the changeless, legend-haunted city of Arkham, with its clustering gambrel roofs that sway and sag over attics where witches hid from the King's men in the dark, olden years of the Province.
— H.P. Lovecraft, "Dreams in the Witch House"
Welcome to the town of Arkham, a city with a long, and strange, history. Nestled upon the Miskatonic River, Arkham is H.P. Lovecraft's most popular literary location. Not only did Lovecraft often return to Arkham within his tales, it also appears in works by countless authors. Even DC Comics' favorite character, Batman, was not unfamiliar with Arkham — many of his insane, menacing rivals were said to be housed within the walls of Arkham Asylum — although DC Comics makes it clear that their "Arkham" is not connected to Lovecraft's "Arkham." Just a coincidence I guess. Or, in other words, all that Batman nonsense is just crazy-talk. The Arkham Asylum is a place of fiction. Batman's villainous jokers never set foot in Lovecraft's Arkham or in its actual asylum — Arkham Sanitarium.
H.P. Lovecraft's Arkham was founded in the late 1600s. Arkham is the residence of choice for countless ghouls, witches, horrors unseen, floating colors, and plenty of things far worse — namely college students. Don't underestimate these critters — one of them managed to reanimate the dead and cause quite a bit of trouble in and about Arkham.
In any case, if you want to learn how to survive the perils of the Mythos, the best place to start is Arkham. Or, you might be considering enrollment at the town's pride and joy, Miskatonic University , in which case you'll still need to consult this chapter if you want to survive four years at such an unusual, and sometimes deadly university....
Like any other college town, Arkham bustles with the innocuous activities of campus life. Football games. Tailgating parties. midterm exams. Periodic monster attacks. When trouble stirs in Arkham, as it often does, Miskatonic is usually at the center of the maelstrom.
Despite a lengthy history of trouble, the university has gained honor, recognition and prestige over the years. Although many argue that Miskatonic's distinction derives from its ill-fated expeditions, unique faculty, students, and mysterious library archives.
Miskatonic Library Archives
This world renowned tome is one H.P. Lovecraft's most famous creations. Mythos fan or not, most everyone has heard about it, and even a few are in search of it as you read this. The Necronomicon, or the "Book of Dead Names," was penned by the mad Arabic author, Abdul Alhazred. One of the few copies in existence dwells in the Miskatonic University library archives. The book's contents in its entirety are not known by a solitary human — such a vast mass of Mythos knowledge would pulverize the human brain. But the tome does contain great magic. Powerful spells used to get inside a person's head. Formulas to summon gods. Descriptions of the great beasts lurking about.
The Necronomicon, and its variations, appear throughout literature, film and popular culture. It's no coincidence that the powerful grimoire generating trouble in the Evil Dead movie series is Necronomicon Ex-Mortis. And there is the similarly-titled and equally powerful Book of the Dead in the delightfully Lovecraftian film, The Mummy. When librarian Evelyn Carnahan states "No harm ever came from reading a book," prior to flipping it open, any Lovecraft fan or scholar knows it's time to take cover.
The Book of Eibon
Appearing in many Lovecraft tales, the Book of Eibonis attributed to author Clark Ashton Smith, one of Lovecraft's contemporaries and friends. In this tome, Eibon, a wizard from the ancient, mythical land of Hyperborea, chronicles his lifelong adventures and journeys to distant lands. Eibon discovered powerful magical spells during his travels, recording them in The Book of Eibon. Unfortunately, only tattered fragments of the book remain. It is sometimes referred to as "The Black Book." Its creation by Smith was a nod to Lovecraft's Necromonicon.
Another popular tome, this time created by Lovecraft's friend, Robert E. Howard. This mysterious volume appears throughout the Mythos. The German name roughly translates to Unspeakable/Nameless Cults — at least that's what Howard was going for. The book itself focuses on various cults around the world, as well as their practices and rituals. Since most of the Mythos monsters have unspeakable names, it follows that their cult names are equally unpronounceable. So this title works well. Or, it might be that these cults are so notorious, so dangerous, so deadly that it is best to leave their names unspoken. So perhaps it's best not to write any jingles with names from this book — just in case you get on the bad side of one of the cults. And that's pretty much that — there isn't much more to say about Unaussprechlichen Kulten — otherwise it would need to be renamed Speakable Cults.
The Faces of Miskatonic
Plenty of notable folks have graced the halls of New England's most (in)famous university. This section provides a brief description of some of Miskatonic's more well-known students and faculty, as well as where to find them in this guidebook.
Henry Armitage served as the head librarian at Miskatonic University for many years. He delved into the university's copy of the Necronomicon on occasion. Maybe a few too many times. He was a fount of knowledge in his day, and has become a legend in the Mythos. Read more about Armitage in the Dunwich chapter.
Professor of Literature at Miskatonic, and debunker of legends regarding strange, crab-like flying creatures spotted in Vermont.
Although his debunking skills turn suspect when he actually encounters the crab-like race called the Mi-Go. Wilmarth's adventures appear in the More Mythos Monsters chapter.
Professor William Dyer
This geology professor directed the unfortunate Pabodie Expedition to Antarctica. The Pabodie Expedition is covered later in this chapter. You're not quite ready for that yet.
But if you really want to skip ahead, there is a Miskatonic Expeditions section just a few pages from this spot.
One of Miskatonic University's most famous medical students is Herbert West. He is well known for a number of risky experiments — notably his experiments on the dead. Or, perhaps better put, once he was done experimenting with them, the not-so-dead, "undead." Read more about Herbert West in the Need a Doctor? Section of this chapter. And honestly, don't go skipping around these pages too much. A little information in the wrong order can spell disaster. Of all people, Herbert West can testify to that.
Walter was a Miskatonic student specializing in non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics (it just sounds thrilling already). As a student, he decided to room at the local boarding-house, cleverly dubbed the Witch House (Walter obviously didn't give much thought to names). For more details on how that adventure went down (although you can probably guess it didn't end up good for Walter), visit the Where to Stay in Arkham section in this chapter.
Antiquarian, writer, prophet, and former student of Miskatonic, Randolph Carter bears an uncanny resemblance to H.P. Lovecraft. The numerous adventures of Randolph Carter are detailed throughout this book, and heavily in the Dreamlands section.
Nathaniel Wingate Peaslee
A professor of political economy, Peaslee suffered from a five-year case of amnesia — and it wasn't related to his topic of study. It turns out, his blackouts were more than medical curiosity, or trauma from an overload of statistics and unimaginable laws of economics. You see, Peaslee's brain was inhabited by a time-travelling creature from the Great Race of Yith. Although this does make one wonder: Why would an alien inhabit a professor of political economy? Anyway, there's more on Peaslee and his alien companion later in this chapter.
There are few females depicted in H.P. Lovecraft's fiction. One is an evil witch (think "Witch House"), and the other one is just an evil ... person. Asenath Waite dabbled in magic and studied medieval metaphysics at Miskatonic before charming fellow Miskatonic graduate Edward Derby into marriage. It turned out Asenath really knew how to get inside someone's head.
More on her abilities in the Wife Swap! section in this chapter. Yes, there is a "Wife Swap" section in this book. It just goes to show how forward thinking Lovecraft was — he had the basic premise of the modern reality show decades before they appeared. Or maybe television producers have been reading the writings of H.P. Lovecraft all along. Either way, as I told you, don't go flipping through the pages too early. The section will arrive soon enough, and who knows what other surprises await before then.
Edward Derby majored in English and French literature at Miskatonic, finished his degree at the early age of nineteen, and then devoted himself to the study of "subterranean magical lore." At thirty-eight, he met the wicked and alluring Asenath Waite. And again we are at the Wife Swap! Section. I would like to add that literature seems to get a bad rap in the Cthulhu Mythos — but that isn't true. After all, Edward went on to study "subterranean magical lore." I'm certain there's a pun in there. Anyway, he was clearly finished with literature and looking for a little more adventure.
Dr. Allen Halsey served as Miskatonic's dean during Herbert West's years in medical school. The two quarreled over West's questionable medical practices regarding dead bodies — is there really a debate there? There's more on these two in the section Need a Doctor?
Where to Stay in Arkham
Of course, the only way to learn about Arkham is to visit Arkham. So the first thing you need is somewhere to stay ...
The Witch House
Reduced to rubble long ago, legends brew about the Witch House boarding house in Arkham. The new boarding house on the site doesn't have the same charm, but it offers excellent rates. If you room there, make sure to ask for the Gilman Room.
In "Dreams in the Witch House," H.P. Lovecraft reveals the unique history of Arkham's most unique boarding house. The Witch House gains its name from its original inhabitant. Stay with me. You see, Keziah Mason owned the boarding house in the late seventeenth century, until the good people of Salem nabbed her for the Salem Witch Trials (no reality television in those days, so entertainment was live). She readily confessed her witchy ways, but it didn't much matter. She "inexplicably" escaped from the Salem Gaol not long afterward, leaving the folks in Salem with an abundant supply of angst, branding irons, rope, chains, letters to be stitched onto clothing, and far too much kindling for fires. True, some people claimed that her disappearing act proved she was a witch, but without any active witch hunters, there was little the folks of Salem could do — except to accuse someone else not so witchy, making it easier to follow through with the accusations.
Walter Gilman, Math Student Extraordinaire, Student in Need of Lodging
While attending Miskatonic studying non-Euclidean calculus and quantum physics, Walter Gilman decided it sounded fun to board at Arkham's most famous boarding house. Not his smartest decision. Clearly Gilman was book-smart, but not a practical guy — after all, he was excited about boarding in a Witch House.
Gilman believed Keziah Mason had not been a witch. Instead, she was a misunderstood mathematician who mastered the unusual angles and geometry of her spooky house (typical student of mathematics). This allowed her to travel between dimensions and transcend time.
Now, since Gilman was a math major, he was likely suffering from Student Syndrome — you know, where every medical student becomes a hypochondriac (well, except for the ones interested in reanimating the dead), and every first-year electrical engineering student lectures incessantly about how electrical circuits work. Well, Gilman obviously wanted to glamorize his field of study, and make it seem more mystical than it really was — honestly, it seemed mystical enough already; remember, Gilman didn't have a calculator yet. Way too much time on his hands.
Anyway. Gilman found the perfect room in the Witch House, chock-full of weird curves and angles (hmmm). The room, by the way, was easy to snag, since the boarding house's waiting list was completely empty, due to the house's high Creepy Factor.
Weirdness in the Witch House
Not surprisingly, Gilman didn't solve the house's mysteries. But he did discover more about Keziah Mason when she crept into Gilman's dreams — a trick Freddy Krueger learned later. Each night, the witch and her unsightly rat-like familiar, Brown Jenkin, visited the student in his slumbers.
As Gilman's dreams grew increasingly disturbing, his antsy behavior drew attention. His professors dismissed his nervous behavior to overzealous study habits, urging him to lay off the books for awhile. Think about that one for a minute; his professors thought he was studying too much and urged him to study less. Yet another reason to consider Miskatonic University. Where else can you find professors telling you to have more fun and cool it on the studying?
Eventually, Gilman found himself entangled in the dream-kidnapping of a young child, who was clearly intended to be sacrificed. His dreams spilled into reality when Gilman read about the kidnapping in the daily paper. And when Gilman deftly thwarted Mason's attempt to sacrifice the child, Brown Jenkin finished the job for his witch-master.
Gilman didn't fare better, his body was discovered in the Witch House not long afterward, heart bored out in a very rat-thing-like fashion.
Later, the skeletal remains of a rat-like creature, found in the rubble of the demolished boarding house, indicate there may be some truth behind the Witch House rumors. Not to mention tales of scuttling heard in the walls of the new boarding house. And the unsettling feeling, reported by many guests who awaken in the night, that a small, furry creature had just been snuggled against their neck.
When traveling to Arkham, be judicious in choosing a place to stay. Not every spot in Arkham is as delightful as the Witch House. For instance, in the tale "The Picture in the House," a traveler takes a shortcut to Arkham, only to get caught up in a nasty storm. Striving to find cover from the rain, he takes shelter in an abandoned house. Inside, a strange book titled Regnum Congo catches his attention. It contains a disturbing picture from a butcher's shop of the Anzique cannibals. That's right, even cannibals have butcher shops.
And things didn't get better for the traveler.
When an old man shuffled downstairs, the traveler realized the house wasn't as abandoned as he thought. The elderly fellow appeared friendly enough, but when he saw the Regnum Congo, things turned weird.
The old man started rambling about the book, the strange Anzique folk, and their cannibalistic ways. All of it gave the old guy a peculiar hankering, he explained, to try something more than just sheep for dinner. But, no worries — he assured the traveler he'd never actually try anything like ... human flesh. Although the blood dripping from the ceiling seemed to say otherwise.
As Luck or Fate would have it, there was a fortuitous bolt of lightning which struck the house at that very moment. This finished any speculation on the traveler's behalf as to whether he'd stay for dinner.
The crazy old man was not seen again. It seems the universe doesn't like cannibals much. Either way, it's best you don't stop at any abandoned houses outside of town. Just in case there are no approaching thunderstorms.
It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a ... Color?
One of the most colorful tales from the outskirts of Arkham is "The Colour Out of Space." Covered by a giant reservoir today, tales abound of a "blasted heath" at the original site — a five acre farm, long abandoned, where trees grew stunted, and the land was gray and desolate.
Eccentric elderly hermit Amni Pierce delighted in telling the surveyor, sent from Boston to assess the reservoir site, all about the blasted heath. A meteorite crashed to Earth in the late 1800s, landing on Nahum Gardner's farm. Globules within the rock were of a queer new color, never before identified. A troupe of professors and scientists quickly converged to slice up the meteorite into manageable chunks and test the heck out of it. But the strange material defied analysis.
If all of this sounds a bit familiar to the film The Blob, well then it's probably because it is similar. That's not to say the writers, director, and producers of the classic horror film intentionally borrowed from Lovecraft, but nonetheless, Lovecraft did have a strong influence in popular culture, so sometimes his influence seeped into other works without the knowledge of the creators. In other words, sometimes a tentacle is just a tentacle, and sometimes it's the influence of H.P. Lovecraft. You decide. Anyway, back to the uncanny events in Arkham ... (Continues...)
Excerpted from What To Do When You Meet Cthulhu by Rachel Gray, William Jones. Copyright © 2010 Elder Signs Press, Inc.. Excerpted by permission of Elder Signs Press.
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