Necronomicon Convention talk on the Biology of the Old Ones, Part 2 – Taxonomy of the Old Ones (Robert M. Price)

As anyone who is familiar with Lovecraft knows, his stories were a loosely connected set of tales that provide glimpses into what lies beyond our five senses and sense of reality.  There are things in and beyond the known Universe that we can not imagine, must less quantify or categorize with science.  However, his concepts and ideas of “what lies beyond” resonated with so many people that some have attempted to provide some clarity or explanation on the subject.

For some, such as Robert M. Price, this was more of a fun academic activity while to others, such as August Derleth, it was suppose to provide critical insight into Lovecraft’s philosophy on his Cthulhu Mythos, which was coined by Derleth and not Lovecraft.

This part of the talk at the convention was very short but I wanted to elaborate a bit here.  Before I get into Derleth’s work, it should be known that Mr. Price provided a proposed taxonomic scheme for the Old Ones that I did not discuss during my presentation.

In Price’s H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos (Starmont House, Inc., 1990) he includes an article called “A Lovecraftian Taxonomy”.  The article focuses and addresses the confusion and inconsistency in names of the Lovecraftian entitles in Cthulhu Mythos fiction.  Thus, the article focuses on the taxonomy of names and not on the biology of the entities.

Price's Book
Price’s Book

Reviewing Lovecraft’s stories, Price came up with a set of recommendations in the development of a classification system of Lovecratian entities for future scholars.  Listed below are his recommendations taken directly from his article:

1.  The Great Old Ones (= the Other Gods): the pantheon of cosmic entities threatening humanity, including Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, Shub-Niggurath and Nyarlathotep.

2.  The Cthulhu-spawn: the cosmic octopi headed by Great Cthulhu, now asleep in R’lyeh.

3.  The Deep Ones: a race of fish-frog men dedicated to Cthulhu’s service.

4.  The Mighty Ones: a race of merfolk led by Nodens, Lord of the great Abyss.

5.  The Elder Ones:  the star-headed aliens of ancient Antarctica.

6.  The Outer Ones: the Mi-Go or fungi from Yuggoth.

7.  The Great Race: the time-travellers of Yith.

8. The Great Ones: the mild gods of earth.

9.  The Ancient Ones: the ascended masters beyond the Gate of the Silver Key.

10.  The People of K’n-yan:  the humanoid aliens living beneath the surface of the Oklahoma wilderness.

You may ask (as I’m sure you are), why bother to do this?  Lovecraft didn’t categorize his entitles.  He worked and created from story to story and was not concerned about consistency between the tales.  Yes, there were connections but he did not see it as a fully developed and integrated Universe.   In fact, including inconsistencies and mixing the real with the imaginary gave his work an air of mystery and realism.

So with this in mind, why did Price propose this classification system?  Well, first and foremost, it was done for academic fun.  When you hear Mr. Price talk, his appreciation for the Mythos really shines through and he readily admits that a lot of his work was simply done for the love of it.

In addition, it makes sense that humans would at least “try” to categorize something they are trying to understand.  We have a compulsion to label, categorize and systematize things (stars, rocks, plants, animals), even when such methodology does not work.  For example, while Linnaeus’s binomial nomenclature for naming organisms (Genus, species) can be easily applied to plants, fungi and animals, this system is difficult to apply to bacteria where horizontal gene transfer is possible.  In other words, the concept of species is sometimes very difficult to apply to bacteria, yet we still use it to label these organisms.  The same could be said about Lovecraftian entities; it’s our attempt in trying to understand them.

Finally, using such a labeling system does not have to be etched in stone and could be great fodder for future stories where humanity is trying to understand exactly what these “things” are.  Next time, I will be talking about the infamous “Derleth” taxonomic system before I move into the meat of the presentation.

Thank you – Fred Lubnow


7 thoughts on “Necronomicon Convention talk on the Biology of the Old Ones, Part 2 – Taxonomy of the Old Ones (Robert M. Price)

  1. Going back even FURTHER.

    I’ve heard several different names for the Elder Things, such as Old Ones and Elder Ones. And wasn’t Cthulhu an Old One? Sorry, I’m a little confused with the categorizing of the Cthulhu Mythos monsters…


    1. When it comes to Lovecraft’s work there are a couple things to keep in mind. First, Lovecraft was not trying to create a “universe” or mythos through his fiction. He would frequently borrow from his previous stories (or from others) or modify ideas / concepts just for the sake of creating the “mood and atmosphere” of a weird tale. This would result in changes or modifications in the overarching story thread or timeline; bottom line = a lot of inconsistencies.

      Lovecraft was basically the exact opposite of J.R.R. Tolkien, who spent years developing the cosmology and mythology that would eventually establish the background for the Hobbit and the Lord of the Rings. Consistency was fairly important to Tolkien. In fact, he tried to re-write the Hobbit in the 1950s so it would be more consistent in story and tone to the Lord of the Rings. Mood and atmosphere was more important for Lovecraft rather than consistency.

      Second, to some degree Lovecraft liked to include such inconsistencies since it added to the mystery associated with uncovering such strange and alien secrets. This is one of the reasons why Lovecraft gave permission to others to use his ideas as why he included his ideas in some of his revision work. Thank you – Fred.

      1. It makes sense about the inconsistencies…thank you for explaining that!


      2. I re-read this article just now.

        I think that this is the classification I’m gonna use from now on.

        Continuing with my short and stupid comments. [sigh]


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