H.P. Lovecraft’s Monster Drawings: Cthulhu & Other Creatures from the “Boundless and Hideous Unknown”


If you’ve ever played Call of Cthul­hu, the table­top role-play­ing game based on the writ­ing of H.P. Love­craft, you’ve felt the frus­tra­tion of hav­ing char­ac­ter after painstak­ing­ly-cre­at­ed char­ac­ter go insane or sim­ply drop dead upon catch­ing a glimpse of one of the many hor­rif­ic beings infest­ing its world. But as the count­less read­ers Love­craft has posthu­mous­ly accu­mu­lat­ed over near­ly eighty years know, that just sig­nals faith­ful­ness to the source mate­r­i­al: Love­craft’s char­ac­ters tend to run into the same prob­lem, liv­ing, as they do, in what French nov­el­ist Michel Houelle­becq (one of his notable fans, a group that also includes Stephen King, Joyce Car­ol Oates, and Jorge Luis Borges) calls “an open slice of howl­ing fear.”

Read enough of Love­craft’s mid­dle-class east-coast pro­fes­sion­al nar­ra­tors’ mor­tal strug­gles for the words to con­vey what he called “the bound­less and hideous unknown” that sud­den­ly con­fronts them, and you start to won­der what these crea­tures actu­al­ly look like. The clear­est word-pic­ture comes in the 1928 sto­ry “The Call of Cthul­hu,” whose nar­ra­tor describes the tit­u­lar ancient malevolence—avoiding instan­ta­neous men­tal break­down by look­ing at an idol rather than the being itself—as “a mon­ster of vague­ly anthro­poid out­line, but with an octo­pus-like head whose face was a mass of feel­ers, a scaly, rub­bery-look­ing body, prodi­gious claws on hind and fore feet, and long, nar­row wings behind.”

And so mod­ern Love­craftians have enjoyed a new vari­a­tion of that giant octo­pus-drag­on-man form on “Cthul­hu for Pres­i­dent” shirts each and every elec­tion year. (You can find one for 2016 here.) While that phe­nom­e­non would sure­ly have sur­prised Love­craft him­self, con­stant­ly and fruit­less­ly as he strug­gled in life, I like to think he’d have approved of the designs, which align in fear­some spir­it with the sketch­es he made. At the top of the post you can see one sketch of the Cthul­hu idol, drawn in 1934 on a piece of cor­re­spon­dence with writer R.H. Bar­low, Love­craft’s friend and the even­tu­al execu­tor of his estate.


If “The Call of Cthul­hu” ranks as Love­craft’s best-known work, his 1936 novel­la At the Moun­tains of Mad­ness sure­ly comes in a close sec­ond. Just above, we have an illus­trat­ed page of the writer’s plot notes for this unfor­get­table cau­tion­ary tale of an Antarc­tic expe­di­tion that hap­pens dis­as­trous­ly upon the mind-bend­ing ruins of a city pre­vi­ous­ly thought only a myth – and the mon­sters that inhab­it it. It exem­pli­fies the defin­ing qual­i­ty of Love­craft’s mythol­o­gy, where, as Slate’s Rebec­ca Onion puts it, “ancient beings of pro­found malev­o­lence lurk just below the sur­face of the every­day world.”

Moun­tains fea­tured sev­er­al species of for­got­ten, intel­li­gent beings, includ­ing the ‘Elder Things.’ The sketch on the right side of this page of notes (click here to view it in a larg­er for­mat), with its anno­ta­tions (‘body dark grey’; ‘all appendages not in use cus­tom­ar­i­ly fold­ed down to body’; ‘leath­ery or rub­bery’) rep­re­sents Love­craft work­ing out the specifics of an Elder Thing’s anato­my.” That such things lurked in Love­craft’s imag­i­na­tion have made his state of mind a sub­ject of decades and decades of rich dis­cus­sion among his enthu­si­asts. But just the body count racked up by Cthul­hu, the Elder Things, and the oth­er denizens of this unfath­omable realm should make us thank­ful that Love­craft saw them in his mind’s eye so we would­n’t have to.

Note: The sec­ond image on this page was fea­tured in the 2013 exhi­bi­tion held at Brown Uni­ver­si­ty, “The Shad­ow Over Col­lege Street: H. P. Love­craft in Prov­i­dence.” The Brown Uni­ver­si­ty Library is the home to the largest col­lec­tion of H. P. Love­craft mate­ri­als in the world.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

H.P. Love­craft Gives Five Tips for Writ­ing a Hor­ror Sto­ry, or Any Piece of “Weird Fic­tion”

H.P. Love­craft High­lights the 20 “Types of Mis­takes” Young Writ­ers Make

H.P. Lovecraft’s Clas­sic Hor­ror Sto­ries Free Online: Down­load Audio Books, eBooks & More

Love­craft: Fear of the Unknown (Free Doc­u­men­tary)

Col­in Mar­shall writes on cities, lan­guage, Asia, and men’s style. He’s at work on a book about Los Ange­les, A Los Ange­les Primer, and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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  • Aaron says:

    Yes, this is ter­rif­ic. He may not have been much of a draughts­man, but it’s worth hav­ing Love­craft’s ren­der­ings of these crit­ters.

    As I scrolled down to the sec­ond image I though “And here we have a sam­pling of Love­craft’s erot­ic draw­ing.” I think I was­n’t wrong.

  • polypot says:

    i saw a vagaina OH, like my notes from col­lege .

  • Biswapriya Purkayastha says:

    Ha ha, I told my girl­friend that “the thing that looks like a vagi­na with ten­ta­cles at top and bot­tom is an Elder Thing.”

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