The Cthulhu Mythos in TSR’s Deities & Demigods (1980)







Compare the entries and stats here to the “Lovecraftian Mythos” article in The Dragon. Despite J. Eric Holmes blowing off a reader’s suggestion to raise the hit points of the Great Old Ones, that’s exactly what’s happened—and a number of other criticisms have been addressed as well. My favorite part of the Azathoth entry—about the universe collapsing and all life being destroyed in the event of the creator’s death—has been removed, and instead of being “the creator of the universe,” Azathoth is now “the center of the universe.” The idea is to make the gods appropriately awesome and intimidating while also making them approachable from a role-playing perspective.

The illustrations are by Erol Otus, who, in my opinion, is the definitive early D&D artist and one of the greatest fantasy artists of all time. Lovecraft’s vibe suited him perfectly, and I wish he’d done—or would do—a portfolio or an illustrated edition. His smug Cthulhu is what I see when the name is invoked, and all the arcane denizens and their haunts shimmer with high strangeness and psychedelic mania.

To admire more Otus art from Deities & Demigods, visit The Erol Otus Shrine.

(Images via Dr. Theda’s Crypt)

‘The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons’ from The Dragon #12 (February, 1978)

D&D Characters014

D&D Characters015

D&D Characters016

“The Lovecraftian Mythos in Dungeons & Dragons” is a fascinating and important supplement to Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes (1976), which was itself a supplement to the original D&D set of 1974. The column was penned by two genre legends: Rob Kuntz, co-author of Gods, Demi-Gods & Heroes and the first edition Deities & Demigods (1980), and J. Eric Holmes, author of the first D&D Basic Set (1977). H.P. Lovecraft was, of course, listed as an “immediate influence” upon AD&D in Gygax’s famous Appendix N of the AD&D Dungeon Masters Guide (1979). Despite having little to do with the heroic fantasy genre as we know it, Lovecraft’s oeuvre is consistently identified with it, and has been just as influential on the development of fantasy role-playing as Tolkien and Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft’s long-distance friend.

There are a couple of reasons for this. First, the Cthulhu Mythos is fueled by occult lore and traditions: ancient magic, arcane knowledge and sacred mysteries, astral planes, psychic gateways, monsters of the deep, etc. As silly as the ’80s “satanic panic” was, the D&D universe (or multiverse) is alive with the same occult elements—employed as fictions, obviously, not facts. Second, Lovecraft, following Poe, used a journalistic approach when writing his weird fiction, sort of like a police procedural applied to supernatural phenomena. His world and its denizens are so convincing and internally consistent, in fact—so real—that actual cults have grown up around his writings and the anti-humanist, anti-rationalist philosophy they encompass. (See, for example, K.R. Bolton’s “The Influence of H.P. Lovecraft on Occultism.”)

Like Tolkien, Lovecraft experienced a dramatic resurgence in the 1960s, when alternative spirituality and the quest for altered consciousness reached a new high (so to speak). The Moral Majority resented, among other things, the spiritual independence won by young people by the end of the Summer of Love decade, and they feared that D&D and other products of the imagination would corrupt—i.e. render freethinking—a new generation of youngsters. The difference between literate hippies and early geeks is that the former wanted to replace the “technocratic” real world with a new one based on love, freedom (in politics and consciousness), and a return to nature, whereas the latter simply wanted to create and play in a sandbox of alternative realities.

The idea of inserting Lovecraft into D&D sums up the glorious absurdity at the heart of fantasy role-playing: on the one hand, we want to escape to a fictional time and place that is less complicated than the real one, a world in which magic exists; on the other hand, we want our fantasy worlds to be systematically playable, and for that to happen, statistics must be applied to said worlds and the beings inhabiting them. It’s equal parts Romanticism and Enlightenment, art and science. Hence the brilliant entry for `Azathoth, Creator of the Universe':

If Azathoth is destroyed the entire universe will collapse back to a point at the center of the cosmos with the incidental destruction of all life and intelligence.

Talk about game over. And the creator of the universe only has 300 hit points!

In The Dragon #14 (May, 1978), a letter from reader Gerald Guinn cheekily objected to a number of points made in the “Lovecraftian Mythos” article. J. Eric Holmes cheekily responded in The Dragon #16 (July, 1978). Both letters are below. Holmes’ response is listed in Lovecraft scholar/biographer S.T. Joshi’s H.P. Lovecraft and Lovecraft Criticism: An Annotated Bibliography (1981).

A “Cthulhu Mythos” section (see tommorow’s post) expanded from the Dragon article appeared in the first edition of Deities & Demigods, but was famously removed from subsequent editions because TSR didn’t want to acknowledge its debt to Chaosium, which had acquired the rights—or the blessings of Arkham House, anyway, since Lovecraft’s works were and are in the public domain—for the Call of Cthulhu role-playing game.

For a comprehensive list of Cthulhu Mythos references in early D&D, see this post at Zenopus Archives.

Dragon #14 May 1978 Guinn

Dragon #16 July 1978 Holmes Lovecraft

1982 Chaosium Catalogs: Call of Cthulhu Ads

Call of Cthulhu Spring 1982

Call of Cthulhu Winter 1982

You can read the full catalogs at Scribd.

The Lovecraft Files: Upcoming Interviews with Byron Craft and Tom Sullivan

Sullivan Cthulhu 1977

A few months ago I wrote about The Cry of Cthulhu, a movie based on H.P. Lovecraft’s mythos that, very unfortunately, never got made. The film’s screenplay was uniquely weird and true to the source, unlike every other movie based on Lovecraft’s work up to that point, and a number of future special effects icons were involved in the project. The blurb above is from Starlog #15 (August, 1978) and features concept art by Tom Sullivan, who went on to do ground-breaking special effects for The Evil Dead and The Evil Dead 2, among other notable accomplishments.

I’m excited to announce that I had the chance to interview both Byron Craft, who wrote The Cry of Cthulhu screenplay (and its recent novelization, The Alchemist’s Notebook), and Tom Sullivan about the almost famous film and their past and current projects. Byron’s interview will run this Thursday, October 23, and my interview with Tom will run on the following Thursday, October 30. Be there!

Giant Inflatable Jaws (1975)

Jaws Inflatable 1975

Because we weren’t terrified enough of entering any and all bodies of water after Jaws came out. Look at the girl’s face. And look at the blood on the shark’s gums and teeth! Recommended for children over 5 years old!

Stupendous. Outrageous. One of the tastiest morsels of pop culture licensing I’ve ever seen. We must find one.

(Thank you, Lost Entertainment, for the photographic evidence.)

Creepy Jigsaw Puzzle (Milton Bradley, 1977)

Creepy Jigsaw 1977

Creepy #28 8-1969

According to a post at The Magic Robot, Milton Bradley released three puzzles featuring art from Creepy covers, and three featuring art from sister magazine Eerie. I’ve seen a couple on eBay and both had a copyright date of 1977. I’m not a collector, but I might make an exception for these. It’s a brilliant idea, and I find it telling that a major, family friendly corporation like Milton Bradley would license the lurid output of Warren Publishing.

You can read Creepy #28 at the Internet Archive. The cover artist is Vic Prezio, who contributed to Eerie and Famous Monsters of Filmland as well. He also worked extensively in the men’s action-adventure pulps of the 1960s. See more of his work at Flickr.

Many of the original Warren titles are online now. If you’re interested in reviewing issues, drop me a line. I think that would be a fun, worthwhile project.

TV Guide Halloween Promo for 21 Jump Street (1989)

Halloween TV 1989-2

Johnny is dressed up as Travis Bickle, naturally. The episode is “Old Haunts in a New Age,” from October 30, 1989. As of now, you can watch it here.

Are Adults Ruining Halloween for Kids?

Halloween Adults

Warpo Toys asked a question on Facebook yesterday that got to me. It was:

Whether it was home-made or Ben Cooper, [Halloween costumes] transformed us for one night of the year. I feel like we cared a lot more about dressing-up for Halloween than most kids do today. Why do you think that is?

My answer, and keep in mind that I live in Los Angeles and have a daughter who is just now old enough to appreciate some aspects of Halloween, was this:

Trick or treating has become mostly a manufactured, mass-market event. We have no more neighborhoods, only zip codes. The allure of Halloween was the freedom of going out with your friends unsupervised and collecting as much goddamn candy as possible (and maybe getting some revenge on the guy who never gave out candy). Also, when people dress up in Halloween costumes 100 times a year for every conceivable event, the uniqueness of dressing up in a Halloween costume on Halloween loses its uniqueness.

I thought I was probably being my usual grouchy, cynical self, but then I ran across an article at Time that reflected my sentiments, and added a number of salient points:

(1) “American adults now spend significantly more money on their own Halloween costumes than on their children’s.” (1.1 billion compared to 1.4 billion)

(2) “Today the biggest Halloween spenders turn out to be men from the ages of 18 to 34.”

(3) “The traditional going-door-to-door experience has been sanitized, conducted in near daylight with curfews, dwindling numbers of children and smothering adult supervision.”

(4) “Controlling the Halloween environment is meant to keep children safe, of course, but most of our fears are unfounded. There hasn’t been a single documented case of Halloween candy poisoning.”

(5) “Some parents cherish family time on Halloween, of course. But we pay a steep price — and not only a financial one — when we insert ourselves into the one time of year when, traditionally, children could escape the long reach of parental authority without serious consequences.”

Add to this the fact that school districts across the country are banning or attempting to ban Halloween costumes and parades, because of destructively inane political correctness and/or blatant paranoia, and there seems to be some substance behind the accusation.

So the short answer is, yes, I think adults are ruining Halloween for kids, but I think the author of the Time piece misses the underlying cause: It’s not the selfishness and vanity of parents, though that’s a contributing factor, but the continuing erosion of the American middle class, which led to the erosion of the American neighborhood (and the rise of gated communities and tract housing), which led to the transformation of American parents, now rootless and village-less, into paranoid hawks who are so desperate to keep their families unscathed that they are destroying the freedoms and joys of childhood in the process.

This year, my three-year-old girl is dressing up as Glinda from the Wizard of Oz. On Halloween we will take her to a moderately wealthy “neighborhood” in which we know not one person. It’s really just a series of streets populated by folks who can afford to lavishly decorate their houses, but it’s better than a mall or a trunk-or-treat. Everyone is pleasant enough, and we even get some candy thrown in among the organic fruit treats. But I think back to when I was a kid, dressed up as Luke Skywalker and running through the lanes and alleys with my friends, eating as many Three Musketeers bars as I could before I felt like I had to puke or had to go home, and I wonder, with some fear and sadness, how much of that experience will I be able to give my girls?

Halloween, 1977: Homemade Chewbacca Costume

Halloween Chewie 1977

Ass-kicker and name-taker Chip Guesman sent in this classic a few months ago. He says:

This was in Rices Landing PA (about 60 miles south of Pittsburgh). My mother made the costume by sewing individual strips of heavy plastic trash bags to a jumpsuit… I remember her staying up all night sewing it by hand for the Halloween parade at school (back when you were allowed to have such a thing!)…

The mask is from the 1976 Ben Cooper King Kong costume. Don’t forget to read the sign.

Thanks, Chip!

Halloween, Circa 1985: GoBots

GoBots 1985-1

GoBots 1985-2

GoBots 1985-3

Cop-Turd, to be exact. Nobody’s first choice, since Collegeville also made Transformers costumes.

The “flame retarded” joke is old, and yet still kind of funny.

(Images via USA Today and eBay)



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