opinion

Lots of Incomprehensible Cosmic Evils Around These Days…

The Lovecraftian mythos has become something of a thing in a number of video games.

When I say Lovecraftian mythos, I mean not only the specific collection of beings centered around H.P. Lovecraft’s writings, but ideas that draw heavily from it. Cosmic evils are an old fictional standard, of course, but the callously consuming and reality-warping nature of these cosmic evils is associated with Lovercraft’s writings in particular.  Any kind of entity with those particular traits is best called Lovecraftian. Tentacles seal the deal.

As always, when dealing with trends in storytelling, TV Tropes is your guide…and also your doom!

As an aside, between H.P. Lovecraft and Steven King, New England seems like a terrible place to live.

Let me list off a few of the games with this Lovecraftian element: The Secret World (Legends; the amnesiac version, apparently), Sundered, The Shrouded Isle, Darkest Dungeon, Dead Space, StarCraft, Stellaris, Bloodborne. There’s a couple that head generally in this direction, or try to but don’t do a good job, or might be going in that direction: the Mass Effect trilogy, Dragon Age, Halo (combined with the Borg), and my dear Destiny.

It’s a good storytelling tool for a lot of reasons. You automatically have a big bad that’s trying to destroy the world or turn it into a hell. It has the special kind of sense of mystery that is both fascinating and horrible, a sense of mystery that is easily maintained because knowing the details drives people insane. It makes it easy to hit all the awful ways of being disturbing from the loss of a soul, to body horror, to general gruesomeness, to mass murder, to the destruction of reality as we know it. It is also a convenient tool for video game replayability, as a Lovecraftian dark god can never be truly defeated.

One of the things that has always bothered me about the Lovecraft mythos is how it is almost rigorously categorized. This seems a violation of its spirit. My initial thought was that these were beings of chaos (Nyarlathotep has ‘The Crawling Chaos’ as epithet). After some thinking, they aren’t; their idea of order, however, is utterly alien to ours.  Still, the relative cogency of their hierarchies and relationships still violates the spirit of the idea, I think, because those things should not make any kind of sense to us. Yeah, this is overthinking something that isn’t real, but we all get bored at the office.

I think the concept of these Lovecraftian horrors appeal to one of our core senses of reality, in that a crushing and incomprehensible cosmic evil seeks to devour our reality. I do think it misses out on the most horrifying aspect, however, in an effort to make the whole disturbing Lovecraftian carnival comforting.

One of the core ideas of the Lovecraftian mythos is that this cosmic evil doesn’t regard you as anything, except maybe food. Like a potato chip, not a steak. You are irrelevant. Your efforts to defeat it are irrelevant. All in all, it is a nihilistic philosophy.

I find this to be untrue in my studies and watching and experience. Cosmic evil hates you personally. Your enemy Satan prowls about like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. The warping and destruction of self is not a side effect. It is a goal. All the horror you imagine from Cthulu and those other weird names is not merely a force. It is after you.

A good sense of how this feels is found in John C. Wright’s short story Pale Realms of Shade (found in the collection The Book of Feasts and Seasons).  Another good book for this is C.S. Lewis’ Perelandra and That Hideous Strength, two-thirds of his Space Trilogy, which are books containing some the most horrible renditions of evil and most spectacular images of good I have ever read. All three of these stories personalize the horror of the cosmic evil while making it no less cosmic. It’s a far more hopeful, yet still terrifying, take on what we call Lovecraftian horrors.

A last note about the Lovecraft mythos is that it has spawned a lot of humor. I think it has spawned more humor than horror, actually. I guess humanity would deal with madness-inducing incomprehensible cosmic evil from beyond the stars by turning its image into stuffed animals and knitted hats.

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