Yes, Virginia, There is a Cthulhu

Yes, Virginia, There is a Cthulhu

Cthulhu Stocking - LargeLast week I wrote about the famous editorial penned by Francis Church in response to a query by a girl named Virginia O’Hanlon as to whether there is a Santa Claus. Re-reading “Is there a Santa Claus?”, I was struck by a curious correspondence between part of Church’s argument and the very first paragraph of one of H.P. Lovecraft’s most famous stories, “The Call of Cthulhu.” I’ll run the relevant excerpts from Church, followed by the Lovecraft paragraph. See for yourself:

“…All minds, Virginia, whether they be men’s or children’s, are little. In this great universe of ours man is a mere insect, an ant, in his intellect, as compared with the boundless world about him, as measured by the intelligence capable of grasping the whole of truth and knowledge… The most real things in the world are those that neither children nor men can see… Nobody can conceive or imagine all the wonders there are unseen and unseeable in the world.

You may tear apart the baby’s rattle and see what makes the noise inside, but there is a veil covering the unseen world which not the strongest man, nor even the united strength of all the strongest men that ever lived, could tear apart.” (Church 1897)

“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our frightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation or flee from the light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.” (Lovecraft 1928)

Hmmm. Man is a mere insect in his intellect, unable to grasp the whole of truth and knowledge. His mind is unable to correlate all its contents. We are ignorant, in black seas of infinity, unable to peer through the veil covering the unseen world… See what I did there? Pretty much jumbled them together, and they are of a piece.

The shared premise, I think, is what Shakespeare succinctly expressed through the character of Hamlet four centuries ago: “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy” (Shakespeare 1602).

The correspondence between the Christmas editorial and “The Call of Cthulhu” is undoubtedly coincidental, and there are two salient differences in the discordant philosophies expressed in both texts. Church asserts that we can only gain glimpses through that veil of ignorance via “faith, fancy, love, poetry, romance,” whereas Lovecraft suggests the sciences are drawing back the veil. And, of course, Church posits the hidden “supernal beauty and glory beyond” as a good thing. Lovecraft, most assuredly, portrays those “terrifying vistas of reality, and our frightful position therein,” as a bad thing. A very, very bad thing.

Both views resonate with me; I, perhaps contradictorily, sympathize with both. What does that say about me?

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James McGlothlin

“See what I did there? Pretty much jumbled them together . . .”

Not to be overly critical, but I think this sentence of yours pretty much sums up this and your last post. If one makes very vague and overly ambiguous claims, I think it’s easy to see supposed connections between such claims for we’re never quite sure what such claims are not saying.

If the point of such posts is merely to be entertaining, then my remarks are off target and I apologize.

James McGlothlin

As I said in the last comment, if this post was for entertainment purposes, then my remarks were wide of the target and, again, I apologize.


Nothing can be known, not even this.

John ONeill

I think this is actually a fairly clever comparison, Nick. The essential articles of spiritual faith, and the tenets of Lovecraft’s existential horror, are both rooted in the belief that our ability to perceive and understand the universe is fundamentally flawed.

One draws a conclusion of profound hope, and the other leads to cosmic terror. But they start with the same facts.

Someone with greater schooling in philosophy than I will have to tell us what that reveals about human nature. 🙂

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