If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.
Cthulhu is High Priest to the Elder Gods, and some people also class him as an Elder God himself. He is foreign to this planet like most of the other eldritch beings of Lovecraft’s works. (Neil Gaiman explores his history in the short story I, Cthulhu (full-text)).
Because the stars are not properly aligned, Cthulhu sleeps in the sunken city of R’lyeh (Latitude 47° 9′ S, Longitude 126° 43′ W), waiting until they day they do align and he can rise again. During the spring of 1925, from March 22nd to April 2nd, “sensitive persons” dreamed deliriously of an eldritch and non-Euclidean city and of the strange words Cthulhu fhtagn. (Indeed, some more sensitive individuals had begun their dreams on March 1st, though the delirium did not begin until the night of the 22nd.) These words come from a saying of Cthulhu cultists “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn.” Roughly-translated, this means “In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” Indeed, the dreams of Cthulhu had touched the minds of humans.
It was later discovered that the stars had come into alignment and Cthulhu had risen. But fortune had not smiled on him and his cultists were unable to meet him. Instead, he was run through by an intrepid, though terrified, Swede. While Cthulhu survived and re-congealed, he was unable to wreak further madness and both he and the island-city sunk beneath the waves to await a more auspicious hour.
Had he risen, he would have brought about madness and destruction and probably opened the way for the Great Old Ones to return to Earth. One’s greatest hope for survival would have been as a willing sacrifice. At least you get deranged first.
Such is the lore from “The Call of Cthulhu.” Lovecraft’s mythos of monstrous evil beings is often termed the “Cthulhu mythos” or “Cthulhu cycle” to contrast with his “Dream cycle” stories. It includes many other such beings, some far more menacing or terrifying.
Unlike many of the other monsters, however, Cthulhu caught on in cultural consciousness, especially among geeks and gamers. The Call of Cthulhu RPG and Trail of Cthulhul RPGs have become quite popular, as has the Cthulhu Munchkin game and the Call of Cthulhu and Cthulhu Saves the World video games.
The crocheted Cthulhus you’ll see on this site and in my Cthulhu store are extremely cute avatars of the dread Cthulhu and thus are less likely to induce madness than Cthulhu himself. Just pray that the stars don’t align and doom us all.