Of Cthulhu, Clews, and Coincidence
My book Cthulhu in World Mythology is meant as tongue-in-cheek. I had hoped that would be obvious from the fact that the book is arguing for the literal existence of a fictional character and takes Lovecraft stories as historical artifacts. But apparently I fooled Mike Davis of the Lovecraft eZine, at least long enough for him to post a blog about it before he realized the truth. (Disclosure: I’m purchasing a Cthulhu sculpture through his good offices.)
The way I wrote the book was to work backwards from Cthulhu to the ancient myths that Lovecraft used to build Cthulhu, as well as related myths he could not have known. I then reversed the order of events and pretended that Cthulhu inspired the myths that, in fact, had inspired him. This is all in good fun, though like Lovecraft before me, I wouldn’t want anyone to be misled into thinking any of it is real. As Lovecraft himself wrote,
My book makes maximum use of coincidences, like random appearances of octopuses in myths, to suggest connections that do not really exist. But it’s important to remember that similarity and coincidence are not definitive. As an example, let me present a piece of art that has made its way around the internet as a possible inspiration for the Cthulhu statuette described in “The Call of Cthulhu.” This piece is called “Jan, King of the Jins of La Napoule” by Henry Clews, Jr..
The sculpture not only looks like Cthulhu, but it is also carved out of green porphyry, a stone quite similar to the unearthly green-gold material of Cthulhu’s idol. What’s more: Clews, son of a prominent local immigrant millionaire, reportedly had sculptures on exhibit in Providence in Lovecraft's lifetime.
Superficially, this coincidence is impressive, but in the details it breaks down. First, Lovecraft wasn’t in Providence when he began “Call of Cthulhu”; he was living in New York in 1926, though he finished “Cthulhu” upon his return to Providence that year. Second, the Clews sculpture is four times the size (32 inches) of Lovecraft’s Cthulhu idol.
But more importantly, Clews’ sculpture wasn’t carved until 1928, two years after Lovecraft wrote “The Call of Cthulhu.” (The story wasn’t published until 1928.) Clews had bought an estate in France in 1918 and carved the statue at his Chateau de La Napoule just west of Cannes. So, indeed, for all the similarities, this is just another Cthulhu coincidence.
That said, to be fair, Clews did carve many other similar statues. I can't find any record of a formal exhibition prior to 1939, and I also have no information about when in the artist's career his other, Cthulhu-like sculptures were carved. All of the Cthulhu-like statues for which dates are listed were carved in 1928. If anyone knows of one carved prior to 1926, it would be greatly appreciated.
Before I let you go, try this Clews' sculpture on for size. Also of green porphyry, it looks even more like Cthulhu and is called "The Og of Octopi."
Sadly, this one is also from 1928. Too late to be the real Cthulhu idol.
6/13/2012 05:13:22 pm
I've never read the Cthulu stuff, I know you may be biased to ask but, is it good?
6/14/2012 11:02:14 am
The ideas in Lovecraft are first rate. Whether you warm to his prose depends on how much you like verbal complexity. You can check out some of his stories on my site's online Library, and all of them are available for free at HPLovecraft.com.
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I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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