A Tale of Two Lovecraftian Cities


R’lyeh by the artist Mr. Loach.

H.P. Lovecraft used the term non-Euclidean in a few of his stories including  “The Call of Cthulhu” and “Dreams in the Witch House.”  In specific reference to “The Call of Cthulhu” the term non-Euclidean geometry is used to describe Cthulhu’s sunken City of R’lyeh.  However, the term non-Euclidean was not used to describe the great cities of the Elder Ones in “At the Mountains of Madness.”  This article compares these two alien cities to one another and discusses the non-Euclidean nature of R’lyeh.

I have already discussed what Euclidean and non-Euclidean means in a pervious article but for the sake of this discussion these terms will be briefly reviewed.  Simply put the term Euclidean refers to 2-dimenional (squares, triangles and circles on a plane) and 3-dimenional (cubes, pyramids and spheres in space) realities.  Human architecture is almost entirely based on Euclidean geometry (see below).


Euclidean three-dimensional space (from http://www.wikipedia.org)

While human architecture may be heavily Euclidean, other components of our lives are dependent on non-Euclidean geometry, such as the use of Global Positioning System (GPS) technology due to the curvature of the Earth (see below).  In addition, much of nature is non-Euclidean in design.


A comparison between Euclidean and non-Euclidean (elliptic and hyperbolic) Geometries (www.blendspace.com)

From a Lovecraftian perspective this may seem a little disappointing, however, shown below is an example of non-Euclidean architecture.  Such designs can be a little disorienting but as will be discussed in more detail below, based on HPL’s text I hypothesize that the non-Euclidean description of R’lyeh is only a partial attempt to understand the truly alien aspect of the city.  However, before we discuss R’lyeh in more detail, I want to briefly review the Elder Ones cities in “At the Mountains of Madness.”


 A truly non-Euclidean view of R’lyeh (www.jennytso.com)

HouseinAbiko_RenovationsofNationalExhibitionCentre6 House in Abiko, from Renovations of the National Exhibition Centre – an example another variety of non-Euclidean architecture.

The cites of the Elder Things in “At the Mountains of Madness” were truly strange and alien, being described as “…curious regularities of the higher mountain skyline – regularities like clinging fragments of perfect cubes…” and “…no architecture known to man or to human imagination, with vast aggregations of night-black masonry embodying monstrous perversions of geometrical laws and attaining the most grotesque extremes of sinister bizarrerie.”  Other terms used to describe the alien Elder Ones cities included truncated cones, tall cylindrical shafts bulbously enlarged and often capped with tiers of thinnish scalloped discs. multitudinous rectangular slabs or circular plates of five-pointed stars, cones and pyramids either alone or on top of other cubes or cylinders some of which were flatted on the top, and needle-like spires in clusters of five.

At the Mountains of Madness by Stephan Mcleroy (www.stephenmcleroy.com)

While the descriptions of the Elder Ones cites are indeed alien, they are primarily Euclidean in nature (e.g. cubes, cylinders, etc.) but with some small inclusion of non-Euclidean architecture.  More importantly, they did not give the impression of a geometry being “all wrong” as Wilcox described R’lyeh in his dreams or the dream-place geometry, extra-dimensional impression Johansen had when he landed on the island.

R’lyeh by the great artist John Coulthart (www.johncoulthart.com)

R’lyeh appears to be more “alien” to us relationship to the cities of the Elder Ones, which corresponds with our biological relationship between the Elder Ones and Cthulhu (including its spawn).  Essentially, HPL was very explicit in stating that the Elder Ones, while being very alien, were still made of the same matter we are; we are residents of the same universe.  In contrast, Cthulhu and its spawn are well known to be extra-dimensional entities.  They are not of this universe and are not composed of the same matter we are.  Thus, their manifestations into our reality is more than likely not their “true” form – simply an interpretation of their appearance in a three dimensional / one time universe.  Sort of the way you can draw a representation of a cubic on a sheet of paper.  It is an interpretation of a three dimensional object on a two dimensional plane.


This is a drawing of a cube, interpreting what a 3-dimenional object looks like on a 2-dimensional plane.

Since Cthulhu and its spawn are extra-dimensional, their architecture is more than likely extra-dimensional as well.  This would explain why the geometry of the R’lyeh just does not feel “right” to humans.  Being creatures of 3 dimensions and 1-time scale, our senses and previous experiences are making an attempt to perceive Cthulhu and R’lyeh.  Sometimes our senses clearly get this extra-dimensionality wrong such as when Parker was swallowed up by an angle of masonry that was acute but behaved as if it were obtuse as documented in the end of “The Call of Cthulhu.”


R’lyeh by Pal Carrick

To conclude, while the cities in Antarctica are clearly alien, they were built by the Elder Ones, creatures of our universe and reality.  In contrast, R’lyeh seems more alien and “wrong” since it is only a representative manifestation of what it looks like in our reality.  Thus, our perception of what is looks like is very different than what is actually looks like in its own multi-dimensional reality.  In fact, since we are limited to 3 dimensions and 1 time we can never know what this multi-dimensional city truly looks like.  This goes for its extra-dimensional denizens, which includes Cthulhu and its spawn.  However, if we could somehow alter, expand and/or increase our senses, maybe we could then see the true form of both Cthulhu and R’lyeh.

Next time we will expand on the concepts of extra-dimensionality, with specific discussions on Cthulhu itself.  Thank you – Fred.


R’lyeh by Decepticoin (www.deviantart.com)


17 thoughts on “A Tale of Two Lovecraftian Cities

  1. Great as always!

    As always, I have no real comment, other than to say that this fantastic website you’ve put together continuously gives me new perspectives on the horrors of Lovecraft. “The Dreams in the Witch House” series remains my favorite of your articles so far.

    I think “The Color Out of Space” is the one you really need to go for – the nature of the parasitic entity and its unknown color, where it might have come from and why it came, etc.


    1. Thanks Brian – yes, The Color Out of Space is on the horizon – it incorporates a variety of the sciences in one story – chemistry, physics, astronomy and biology. This was one of HPL’s favorite stories. Thanks again for the comments! Fred

  2. Hey Fred. This is actually one of the most imaginative and truly “horror” aspects of HPL’s narrative. When I was younger, I wasn’t “frightened” by his stories. I liked them because of their sense of “weirdness”, but Cthulhu didn’t scare me at all as a “monster”, I saw worse monsters in horror and sci-fi movies.
    Only later I realized how immense is the research work this writer did to succesfully express what he considered the most powerful and extreme fear of us humans: not only the fear of the unknown, but of what we’ll never be able to comprehend, even with our scientific progress. We had stories about aliens in the twenties and thirties, even extra-dimensional aliens, but Cthulhu, Azatoth, Nyarlatothep… are more than aliens.
    Their true nature is incomprehensible, their motivations impenetrable, thus they’re totally awe inspiring. We can only catch an illusory “glimpse” of Cthulhu, what our human nature allows us to see.
    Moses saw a burning bush and knew it was God manifesting to him, asking him to be part of his inscrutable plan. And I guess he was scared.
    This is the true meaning of the term “cosmic horror”.
    HPL, a materialist, didn’t create a mithology just as a nifty literary exercise, but to express this uneasiness in front of what we’ll never be able to comprehend.
    I seem to remember someone wrote that Azatoth (or maybe Yog-Sothot) is the representation of nuclear reactions occurring in outer space, or something like that. My guess, for what it’s worth, is all those entities represent aspects of the world Lovecraft himself couldn’t comprehend and feel at ease with.
    So you see, Brian, this is just another way for me to say nothing new, only using more words in a very uncertain language. And I like it.
    Thanks, Roberto.

    1. Hey Roberto – great comments and the same with me – the awe inspiring cosmic horror is what always drew me to HPL’s work. Yes, these entities are a glimpse of their true forms and into the structure of the universe(s) and reality, which in my opinion makes it truly horrifying.

      I think Brian Lumley equated Azathoth to the Big Bang and thus the resulting forces of nature that came to be (gravity, electromagnetic, strong nuclear force, weak force).

      Thanks again for your comments!


      1. You’re too kind…
        The Big Bang? Azathoth? Maybe…
        I prefer a more psychological interpretation
        I read a Lumley’s book ages ago, and I don’t remember anything about it… that’s not a good sign. One reason why I love HPL is that, in my opinion, he uses all his “creations” as a painful confession of his own uneasiness, a sort of “therapy” maybe, and this makes a great artist of him, not just an entertaining sci-fi writer.

        “Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth.”

        What the hell does this mean? I don’t know, but if you find out, you’ll have the key to a part of Lovecraft. I also love the immense Jorge Luis Borges, but I daresay he shows less of himself than HPL.

      2. Here’s the rough laydown, as far as I understand it: Azathoth rules reality. Yog-Sothoth *is* reality. He is the gateway to other dimensions and places in space and time.

        I find this theory somewhat problematic, though, as Nyarlathotep, in “The Dreams in the Witch House”, allows witch-cults to travel through dimensions without the perceivable help of Yog-Sothoth. Even the bubble congeries seen in the fourth dimension may not be Yog, it could be Keziah as a higher-dimensional being or a third-dimensional image of a higher-dimensional being (as Fred discusses in this article). But still, Azathoth, Yog-Sothoth, and Nyarlathotep are basically Lovecraft’s Trinity (all are connected), so…yeah.

        Fun stuff!

      3. I think Yog-Sothoth is a “supersymmetric” entity and lives layered among all of the dimensions; our 3 space / 1 time and beyond (supersymmetry and the latest Unified Field Theories indicate that there may be about 10 – 11 dimensions) and I think that passage is an attempt to describe that – but I will get into more detail on that when we discuss “The Dunwich Horror” in future articles.

        I have always meant to read Jorge Luis Borges – have heard such good things about his writings. Need to pick up some of his Penguin editions.

        As always thank you for the comments.


      4. Fred – yes, the idea of a supersymmetric Yog is very plausible. Can’t wait for “The Dunwich Horror” articles…what Yog-Sothoth is, what the Dunwich Horror is, and how the heck Lavinia and Yog mated!

    2. Well said. The definition of cosmic horror.

      Thinking about how vast the universe is truly disturbs me…really. And that’s why Lovecraft’s work resonates. It taps into that terror.

      1. Thanks for your neat, precise reply Brian.
        Yes, there is definitely a cause-effect connection between Azathoth, Yog Sothoth and Nyarlathotep. Now to make a little step further in my direction:
        Azathoth is The Primitive Spark, the origin. He is a God, but is “blind and idiot”, and is kept under control by a “music” or lullaby that soothes his primitive rage. Maybe he’s the “unconscious” Lovecraft. You say he “rules” reality. This would be very dangerous.
        Yog Sothoth is all-in-one-and-one-in-all, past, present future, gate, key and guardian of the gate. He is the rational/emotional balanced system, the “conscious” Lovecraft maybe. As you say, he “is” “reality”.
        Nyarlathothep (often compared to Mercury by HPL scholars) is the Messenger, something that “connects” the two aspects previously described. He can be either useful OR dangerous.
        This grossly summarize my interpretation, more or less.
        Bear in mind, I’m not saying this is right and definitive, I’m not even saying HPL actually wanted to say this consciously. HPL was a somehow “troubled” man, with some unsettled contradictions, and he surely didn’t write for money.
        What I’m saying is: real fun in literature is try to understand an author and grab something from him that can be useful to you (and this interpretation helped me). This works for everyone, from Lovecraft to Dostoevskij, and helps to spot true artists from succesful craftsmen.
        Sorry Fred, not much of geometry here… My heartfelt thanks for the space you give.

    3. Your points are completely right…just for fun, what is your favorite of the Lovecraftian Trinity? Mine is Nyarlathotep.

      1. Oh. … No “favorites”, sorry.
        Maybe Cthulhu, for his iconographic impact on pop culture, comparable to a Dracula or Frankenstein.

      2. Cthulhu is all good and well, but I lean towards the Outer Gods. For me, they convey the sense of cosmic horror better than deities that keep the earth.

  3. I am in another universe from those who can understand physics and geometry, although I really loved plane geometry in 7th grade, before my mind was destroyed by my 8th grade math teacher. From an artist’s viewpoint, though, I wish to compliment you on the gorgeous images you’ve chosen to illustrate this very interesting article. I truly enjoy reading your blog.

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