Thanks Snowy! Now I shall type up some thoughts of my own:
1. I consider this tale to be the "gateway" tale, where Lovecraft's real-world horror stories that we have been (mostly) reading about so far -- where you can actually Google-map the locations in which they take place -- meets his grand mythology (known as the "Cthulhu Mythos"), which he will continue to write about after this point, but set in locations of his own invention -- otherwise known as "Lovecraft Country", which look and feel like real-world locations, but are completely fantastical. More on those later.
2. The real significance of this tale is that, unlike all the others so far, it does not concern an isolated case of inbreeding, sorcery, cannibalism, weird science, or a minor Nyarlathotep cult tucked away in an old mansion or church -- this time it's a global scenario of vast, cosmic significance that poses an existential threat for all of humanity (at least in theory; more on that later).
3. Once again, it is full of racism. This time, it's the blacks (mostly). Not a Dutchman in sight here, but keep an eye out for those pesky Eskimos and sinister Chinese. Now, it is well-attested that Lovecraft loathed Asians and blacks, as can be deduced from many of his stories and many of his letters on the subject (if I'm not mistaken, he believed the abolition of slavery was a mistake). And yet, one thing to keep in mind is that, while it may be black people who are worshiping the horror that is Cthulhu -- and therefore must be quite horrible themselves -- according to the laws of Lovecraft's own mythology, the black people in the story are actually RIGHT! In the story, Cthulhu isn't just some hand-crafted idol that horrible people worship, he is a living
entity of incredible power, posing a very real threat to all of humanity. And while white, "civilized" people hide themselves behind their walls of modernity and science, thinking themselves powerful and advanced, it is the black people who are more in touch with "reality". That's something to chew on at least.
4. I quite like the means by which the story is told; a series of accounts and newspaper clippings from his uncle's research which the narrator assembles to build the picture as a whole. You may have noticed a similarity here between the concept of The Shunned House
and The Call of Cthulhu
: narrator has an uncle whose life work has been collecting info on a mysterious subject that causes him to die. The research culminates in the uncovering of a gigantic thing buried deep below the world's surface which is causing misery and evil even while itself safely entombed within the earth.
5. One thing that struck me as rather strange was how much theosophy
is mentioned in the story, as if it were a credible, mainstream branch of knowledge. My understanding was that theosophy was a crackpot concept that only a handful of rather strange people took seriously. I have, through strange circumstances in themselves, actually visited the Edinburgh Theosophy Society (10 years ago). There were indeed some very peculiar people in attendance, all very snobbish and all of whom were obsessed with various forms of occultism. Quite a bizarre experience. In any case, I since discovered that theosophy was ALL THE RAGE among the middle-classes of the early 20th century, which is probably why it gets so much attention here.
6. As great as the story is, there's some things which I just find too odd to be convincing:
a. The epicentre of the Cthulhu Cult is located in Irem, city of the Pillars:
Of the cult, he said that he thought the centre lay amid the pathless deserts of Arabia, where Irem, the City of Pillars, dreams hidden and untouched.
Now, if you remember (and I don't blame you if you don't ¬_¬) Irem is mentioned once before in another tale we've already covered: The Nameless City
...and one terrible final scene shewed a primitive-looking man, perhaps a pioneer of ancient Irem, the City of Pillars, torn to pieces by members of the elder race.
It's an obscure and very brief mention, but it actually refers to a "Lost City" spoken of in the Qur'an. Read the Wikipedia article here in you're interested:
I suppose it kinda makes sense that a cult that did its utmost to remain hidden would have its HQ located in a mythical lost city, but I just found this a bit too unbelievable.
b. I found it really odd that, despite being so powerful, The Great Old Ones can only "live" when the stars are in the right positions. What use is that, I wonder? Also, not only that, but they need others to help wake them up and free them from their tombs. What use is Cthulhu as a vast and powerful "god" when he needs talking apes to let him out of his tomb?
c. Also, Cthulhu has purpose-built idols of himself which he brought with him to earth, ready-made for humans to worship him, all so he can have a crew of people ready to wake him up when the stars are right again? And these idols are just a few inches tall? Cthulhu's hands are big enough to grab several humans at once...
Three men were swept up by the flabby claws before anybody turned...
...and yet he can construct miniatures of himself that can sit on the palm of one human hand? Daft. I suppose it could be other, smaller "Old Ones" who actually made the idols, but it's still odd.
d. Cthulhu can be temporarily defeated when a ship cruises through his head? Really? Now, that whole climactic scene, where Cthulhu actually emerges from his tomb, is brilliant as a "set piece" and makes a fantastic image, much repeated by artists for several decades (including the great one that Snowy posted), but the fact that they're able to actually escape him in a steam-ship
really doesn't lend a lot of credibility to him as a being of vast power.
e. R'lyeh's rising and falling. In the early 20th century, it was genuinely believed by some scientists that land-masses in the ocean could just randomly rise and sink. This was actually used to explain mysteries such as the "lost continents" of Mu, Atlantis and Lemuria. There are at least three different Lovecraft stories which depend upon this concept, this being one of them. Again, the whole idea that Cthulhu's threat depends on:
i. The stars being right
ii. People being available to let him out at the right time
iii. His tomb being above the ocean floor at the time that the stars are right
iv. People not having steam-ships to escape on
...really doesn't bode well for him as a serious, credible uber-villain.
All that said, I do really like the concept of a monstrous being trapped under the ocean who can contact certain people through their dreams.
I also really like the ending line:
What has risen may sink, and what has sunk may rise. Loathsomeness waits and dreams in the deep, and decay spreads over the tottering cities of men.
It often comes to mind when I think about the chaos and madness of the western world's current political shenanigans.
One final thing from me:
This is where R'lyeh was found in the story. Lovecraft and August Derleth (Lovecraft's literary executor) seem to place it at different points (I'm not sure why). The "Nemo" point refers to the part of the Pacific Ocean that is furthest away from any mass of land. According to Wikipedia:
Known as "Point Nemo", Nemo being Latin for "no one" and also a reference to Jules Verne's Captain Nemo, it lies more than 1,400 nmi (2,593 km) from the nearest landmass. This point was featured in the 1928 short story, The Call of Cthulhu, by H. P. Lovecraft as the location of the fictional city of R'lyeh. The area is so remote that sometimes the closest human beings are astronauts aboard the International Space Station when it passes overhead.
The area is also known as a "spacecraft cemetery" because hundreds of decommissioned satellites, space stations, and other spacecraft have been deposited there upon re-entering the atmosphere to lessen the risk of hitting inhabited locations or maritime traffic. Point Nemo is relatively lifeless; its location within the South Pacific Gyre blocks nutrients from reaching the area, and being so far from land it gets little nutrient run-off from coastal waters.
I love the idea that the humans on board the ISS could suddenly experience horrifying dreams, or that R'lyeh is today covered in the wreckage of hundreds of spacecraft.