Beginners Guide to the Cthulhu Mythos

This is my beginners guide to the Cthulhu Mythos and assorted stories. In
other words, this is what I believe a new reader to the weird fiction of
H.P. Lovecraft and others should read first, to get a basic grounding in
the premises and ideas of the stories. This isn't a list of my favorite
stories, though a lot of them will be favorites of mine. Basically, it's the
best bits to introduce you to who Cthulhu is, why Yuggoth is an important
place, why dog-earing the Necronomicon is bad, and why a dinner date with
Pickman's models is a VERY BAD idea. ;)

Disclaimer: These are my opinions, you may disagree. I will be introducing
authors and their stories that aren't Lovecraft, or part of his original
literary circle. I'll even be recommending some Derleth stuff, because
I feel it adds to the Mythos. If you don't agree, good for you. It's a
sad world where we all think the same. But don't flame me, instead write
your own beginner's guide. So there. :)

Ok, lets start with the Old Man himself, Howard Philips Lovecraft. I could
be lazy, and say "read everything he's done." And I highly recommend
reading it all, it's fun. But this is for Mythos stuff only. So let's see
what stories you must read. There is alot of debate with fans on what's
Mythos and what's not, I'm going to stick to a fairly conservative group
of stories...but with a little mental work, you can make most any HPL story
have a Mythos bent.

  • The Call of Cthulhu
  • The Dunwich Horror
  • The Case of Charles Dexter Ward
  • The Haunter of the Dark
  • The Shadow over Innsmouth
  • The Whisperer in the Darkness
  • At the Mountains of Madness
  • The Shadow out of Time
  • Pickman's Model
  • The Thing on the Doorstep
  • The Dreams in the Witch House

    This will cover most of the major HPL only written Mythos tales. He also had some collaborations/ghost written stories that had Mythosness...but I wouldn't recommend them to start, the writing is kinda up and down. But you may want to look for "The Horror in the Museum" and "the Mound" These stories will give you a nice firm grounding in Mythos stuff. I would recommend getting the 3 Penguin Classics HPL collections, this will cover most everything listed about save the collaborations. I recommend these mostly for ST Joshi's annotations, since HPL was fond of words that aren't part of 'modern' American English. But any edition or editions will work. Also, the Del Rey collection "Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre" contains all of the above tales, minus "At The Mountains of Madness", plus other tales. I'd also say this is a definite affordable and in print winner.

    Once you've absorbed Grandpa Theobold's (one of HPL's nicknames for himself, when writing to other writers) prose, I would suggest moving to some of the other authors within his circle of friends. Robert Howard, Clark Ashton Smith, August Derleth, Robert Bloch and others. Lets start with Robert Howard. Though he's most famous for Conan the Barbarian, he wrote a number of Mythos tales, including my all time favorite, The Black Stone. Since this is a guide to Mythos, and not a guide to the best sword and sorcery tales, I'm only going to recommend one book, 'Nameless Cults' published by Chaosium. This has all the stories that generally are viewed as 'Mythos'. Also, if you happen to find a book called 'Cthulhu' by Howard, published by Baen in a used book store, that's pretty much the same collection. Either one is good, but Nameless Cults will be easier to get I think.

    Next on our list is Clark Ashton Smith, the 3rd of Weird Tales musketeers. But here we have a quandary, unlike Howard, there isn't a 'Mythos' collection of CAS's tales. My suggestion is find a copy of 'Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos' which has two of CAS's best tales, Ubbo-Sathla and Return of the Sorcerer, along with tales by Robert Bloch, Henry Kuttner, and Frank Belknap Long. All 3 were part of the original Lovecraft Circle, authors who all wrote the same style of fiction, for the magazine Weird Tales (and others) and exchanged personal correspondence with each other. They exchanged ideas, and played with each other's characters. This is half the fun of the Mythos, it's not just one author's playground, but many authors all mixing in their ideas. Another good volume is 'Tales of the Lovecraft Mythos' edited by Robert M Price. This includes more tales from the original circle, as well as some more recent authors.

    Once you've dug though Nameless Cults and assorted Tales, you'd be ready for
    one of the more controversial authors in the Mythos. August Derleth. I'm not going into the whys and wherefores. Instead I'll recommend picking up two of his books, The Mask of Cthulhu and the Trail of Cthulhu. Mask is a collection of stand alone stories, while Trail is a series of interlocked stories to make the original Mythos novel. You can find both in a single edition, called either 'the Cthulhu Mythos' or the 'Quest for Cthulhu'. While not everyone likes Derleth, many authors use his concepts and ideas in their own stories, so it's good to have an idea what they are. Also, IMHO Derleth does a decent job.

    At this point, you'll probably be chanting "Ia Ia" under your breath on a fairly regular basis. But we're not done yet...we still have a few more "must reads" to go. Lets start with an early collection, the Disciples of Cthulhu, it's a collection of stories from later authors. There are two editions, the original paperback from 1976, and the reprint from Chaosium. Both are out of print, but fairly easy to find on Amazon or EBay. Of the two, I recommend the older one if you can find it. When they reprinted the book, they were unable to get permission to use two of the stories, so they were replaced. The new stories aren't bad, but the original is better...and I like the cover art better as well ;)

    With Disciples of Cthulhu, you will be introduced to our next writer, Brian Lumley. Vampire fans will know him from his Necroscope books, but he's also written a number of Mythos tales and books. He has a number of collections, but I would recommend 'The Whisperer and Other Voices'. It contains his short novella, 'Return of the Deep Ones' which I think does a good addition to the mythology of the Deep Ones, which you will have first run into in Shadows Over Innsmouth. Deep Ones are a favorite of mine, and of most Mythos fans and authors. It's interesting to see how people take the idea of a man/frog mix and run with it. Since we're on the subject of Deep Ones, my next book suggestion is 'Shadows Over Innsmouth' edited by Stephen Jones. It's a collection of British authors playing with frogs. So more Lumley, as well as other authors. If you like the story, give the collection a try. If you're not so fond of Deep Ones, then it may not do much for you.

    Speaking of Brits, I also recommend Ramsey Campbell's 'Cold Print' Mr Campbell started as a fan, decided he wanted to write like HPL. His stories are fairly pastichish, but still good, and he has a good voice for weird fiction. You'll enjoy them, I think. His later tales and books are better written, but I personally enjoy his earlier 'voice' when writing his pastiches over his newer stuff.

    With that, you will have a good grounding in many of the basic themes and voices of the Mythos. From here you can branch out to the many other authors. Like sword and sorcery, try Richard Tierney's 'Scroll of Thoth' or 'Gardens of Lucillus'. Enjoyed the movie 'The Thing' ? Try Tim Curran's Hive. Like detective novels, try anything by CJ Henderson, or the collection 'Hardboiled Cthulhu'. Like the Deep Ones? check out 'Tales out of Innsmouth'; and 'the Innsmouth Cycle'. Enjoy the story 'The Dunwich Horror', you've got the 'Dunwich Cycle' and 'Tales out of Dunwich'. Also, there are magazines such as 'Dark Wisdom' or 'Weird Tales'

    There's a ton of tales out there, some good, some bad, some wonderful. Enjoy finding them for yourself, it will be worth your time I think.

    Last modified: 10/05/2013