Jason Colavito Talks ‘Cthulhu in World Mythology’



Jason Colavito’s Cthulhu in World Mythology is a what-if work of speculative history that proposes that H.P. Lovecraft’s ancient god Cthulhu is real, and that humanity has worshiped him since the dawn of time.

Colavito discussed the surprising inspiration behind his book and the intersection between real-world mythology and Lovecraft’s mythos.

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Tell me about Cthulhu in World Mythology. What’s it all about?

Cthulhu in World Mythology is an exciting literary adventure through world mythology from a decidedly Lovecraftian perspective. The book begins with the “what-if” premise: What if Cthulhu were real? Using this as a starting point, the book takes readers around the world to see how the Old Ones influence myths and legends around the world.

How seriously should we take this thing? Is this tongue in cheek?

That’s a great question! The book is written in the form of a scholarly textbook in the character of a professorial Mythos investigator, and all of the myths and legends in the book are completely genuine—even the one about the South Seas worship of an immortal, resurrecting octopus who brings madness and death from his undersea temple. However, the book itself is completely fictitious. The legends are true, but the interpretation is fictional.

I heard that it’s a parody of other books. Which ones?

The book is a parody of “ancient astronaut” and “ancient mysteries” bestsellers like Erich von Däniken’s Chariots of the Gods, and their television spinoff, Ancient Aliens. I use the same methodology as they do—if it looks like Cthulhu, then it must be!—and in so doing, I hope that I show the reader how easy it is to create convincing but untrue pseudo-history.

What are some of the literary resources you drew from while writing the text?

Obviously, I drew heavily on H. P. Lovecraft’s stories, and I also went back to many of his sources, both fiction and nonfiction. I also incorporated old anthropological and ethnographic reports, as well as original ancient and medieval texts to help create the illusion that there really was a Cthulhu hiding in world mythology.

You’ve written about the Cthulhu Mythos before in The Cult of Alien Gods. Can this be considered a companion volume?

My first book, The Cult of Aliens Gods (2005), discussed the role of the Cthulhu Mythos in transferring to modern fringe writers nineteenth-century beliefs about how extraterrestrial teachers from Venus, Mars, or the Moon were involved in Atlantis and other lost civilizations. Lovecraft synthesized these ideas and ended up inspiring some of the 1960s writers on “ancient astronauts,” eventually giving us Ancient Aliens. Cthulhu in World Mythology is sort of the opposite of The Cult of Aliens Gods: Instead of taking the ideas apart to see where they come from, it plays the game of wondering what if it were all true. In that sense, the books are two sides of the same coin, and indeed many of the same myths and even the same pop culture—like Rod Serling’s Night Gallery—show up in both books, though in very different ways.

You’re a notable skeptic, but you seem to really enjoy weird topics like alternative history, aliens and science fiction. Can these things be compatible in some way? What draws you to them?

H. P. Lovecraft used to say that the weird tale provides the illusion that we have somehow escaped the iron grip of natural law. Science fiction, alternative history, ancient aliens—all of that serves the same purpose, providing the illusion of transcending the limits of time and space. When treated as fiction, outlandish topics are fun forms of escape. My interest in them as nonfiction, though, is more about understanding the reasons why people want to believe in weird topics for which there is little or no evidence. What needs does the story satisfy? What does it mean to believers? Where did the story come from, and how did it develop? Often these answers are more interesting than the original story.

Did you ever believe in any of this stuff? If so, were you disappointed when you discovered the truth behind them?

In The Cult of Alien Gods, I talk about how when I was twelve or thirteen I discovered one of Erich von Däniken’s books on my father’s bookshelf. Over the next few years, I read virtually everything I could find by fringe authors, ranging from Graham Hancock’s Fingerprints of the Gods to a weird book that claimed that the earth would fall off its axis on May 5, 2000. As a teenager, I didn’t have the critical tools to see the difference between real scholarship and its shoddy imitation, so I believed—though never completely uncritically—until around the age of nineteen I started to investigate the underlying texts and research and realized that the fringe writers weren’t just wrong, many were actively making stuff up. I don’t recall being disappointed as much as I was angry. I felt duped by people who portrayed themselves as heroes questing for truth, when they were more like Baron Münchhausen by way of Sir John Mandeville, which is to say wild fantasies and material copied and reused from earlier writers, often passed off as their own original research. That anger led me to ask how I had been fooled and where these weird ideas came from.

Lovecraft was a self-described materialist. How do you think that he would have responded to the book?

I think Lovecraft would have loved Cthulhu in World Mythology, at least if he didn’t castigate me for “deconstructing” his Cthulhu tales a little bit! Lovecraft himself contemplated writing an “expurgated” Necronomicon, and he freely mixed fact and fiction in his stories to produce the suspension of disbelief needed to create an effective atmosphere of horror. I think he’d recognize a lot of that in my book. He also wasn’t above a little creative manipulation of the truth: He ghostwrote “Imprisoned with the Pharaohs” (a.k.a. “Under the Pyramids”) for Harry Houdini, a work of fiction that Houdini passed off as his supposedly real (or was it?) adventures meeting the Egyptian gods. I hope that Lovecraft would have seen in my book some of the fun that he encouraged his correspondents to have with his creations, as well as a tool that skeptics can use to help show just how easy it is to fake history. After all, if it’s easy to make a convincing case for Cthulhu, a known fiction, then it’s worth stopping to think about what that means for ancient astronauts, Atlantis, and all manner of other weird ideas.