Cthulhu is probably the most well known entity described by H. P. Lovecraft. I will not spend too much time describing the appearance of Cthulhu. HPL described it in great detail and even make a sketch of the small sculpture found in the backwaters of Louisiana (see above). Hundreds if not thousands of artist have drawn, painted or sculptured their interpretation of what Cthulhu looks like. While a very small sampling of some of this artwork is included here, this article focuses solely on HPL’s text in its discussion of Cthulhu.
Essentially, Cthulhu was presented as a conglomeration of an octopus, human, bat and dragon. More importantly, the description of the sailors’ experience in their encounter with Cthulhu is more telling than the sculpture, which is a feeble attempt to convey what the entity looks like. When the aperture to Cthulhu’s tomb is opened, Johansen states “that tenebrousness was indeed a positive quality.” There are three definitions for the word “tenebrous” and I believe all three apply to this situation. First, the word can mean to “shut off from the light.” Indeed, Johansen says that the inner walls of the tomb were in darkness and that when the thing emerged from the tomb it visibly darkened the sun. Second, the word can mean “hard to understand.” Obviously applicable to the situation. The size of Cthulhu, its shape and associated sounds and odors make it very difficult to understand. Additionally, as will be described later, Cthulhu does not even adhere to our known physical laws on Earth, which adds to the difficulty in understanding it. Third, the word can mean “causing gloom.” Again, this is very applicable to the sailors’ attitude and perception of Cthulhu, as documented by Johansen.
As has been previously discussed, the City of R’lyeh appeared to be of a confusing, shifting, non-Euclidean nature to human perception. The same can be said of Cthulhu. It was difficult to determine what exactly Cthulhu is made of – is it gaseous, solid, liquid or a combination of these states of matter? Is it made of the same matter we are? For example, phrases such as “burst forth like smoke from its aeon-long imprisonment”, “flapping membranous wings”, “lumbered slobberingly”, “gelatinous green immensity”, and “…slid greasily into the water…” give Cthulhu a fluid semi-corporeal appearance, shifting through the various states of matter, possibly being a form a plasma.
Three forms of matter found on Earth (www.fcwa.org)
So what is plasma? In our everyday life, atoms are stable, each one composed of various combinations of protons and neutrons in the nucleus with a various number of electrons orbiting the nucleus in a quantum haze. Using water as an example, at room temperature water is liquid but as the temperature declines the water will freeze at zero degrees Celsius. On the other end of the spectrum, as the temperature increases the water will evaporate becoming water vapor; at or above the boiling point of hundred degree Celsius steam is produced. These various states of matter arise due to the movement or “agitation” of the water molecules. Ice forms a lattice structure but as the temperature increases it melts into fluid water and eventually becomes water vapor where the water molecules are highly mobile and moving around with a considerable amount of energy.
The arrangement of atoms (or water molecules) in the three state of matter on Earth (www.trivedichemistry.org)
However, at non-Earth bound temperatures, say a few thousand degrees, the atoms become so agitated and full of energy that the electrons are no longer bound by the electromagnetic forces between them and the protons in the nucleus and thus break free. At this point the gas is described as being ionized. Such conditions occur in the sun; temperatures are so high that both electrons and protons are freely moving and no longer simply bound in the formal atomic state – this strange state of matter is called plasma (Frank Close; Particle Physics: A Very Short Introduction, 2004). Ironically, while plasma is very rare on Earth, it is the most common state of matter in the universe (Michio Kaku; Hyperspace: A Scientific Odyssey Through Parallel Universe, Time Warps and the 10th Dimension, 1994).
Heating the plasma even further can give rise to stranger states of reality, which can include, among other things, the appearance of ten-dimensional superstring symmetry. Essentially, there is so much energy that the very geometry of space-time will distort and the dimensionality of space-time could actually change (Kaku, 1994). Again, more on this in an upcoming article. Bringing it back to Cthulhu – is this entity a “plasma” or “super-plasma” being? Having such a plasma-like state would explain the difficulty in trying to describe it as solid, liquid or gaseous. Also, the energy needed to move such a being with such fluidity in both our atmosphere and in the ocean could easily be conducted by a plasma-being. However, wouldn’t this mean that Cthulhu could only exist within a star where a plasma environment exists?
Cthulhu by Joel Harlow (www.deviantart.org)
Possibly, but I believe this is where the dimensionality of Cthulhu comes into play. As previously mentioned the true form of Cthulhu can not be perceived by humans since we do not have the proper senses to do so. Additionally, if Cthulhu’s true home is in a plasma environment we would not be able to survive entering his true home. However, maybe Cthulhu uses the vast amounts of energy at its disposal (as a plasma being) to project part of its essense into our reality, guided by the dreamers who function as some type of biological, space-time beacons.
HPL’s attempt to convey what Cthulhu looks like or, more importantly how it is actually experienced and perceived by a human, is the gist of his philosophy of Cosmic Horror. The sculptures and artwork of Cthulhu are what is conveyed to dreamers as to the entity’s appearance but the true reality of experiencing Cthulhu is far more complicated and difficult to interpret and hence describe. This complexity associated with direct contact with Cthulhu may be at least partially attributed to the distortion or warping of space-time and dimensionality around Cthulhu.
Next time we will go into a little more detail on the dimensionality of Cthulhu and why many of HPL’s biological discoveries from outside our space-time appear weak or easily defeated in our reality. Thank you – Fred.
Awakening of Cthulhu by Obrotowy (www.deviantart.org)