Right now I’m reading The Best of H.P. Lovecraft, which is a comparatively weighty tome to the first two volumes. But it contains a certain tale some of you may be familiar with, and the story which is the reason behind this series entire. That story goes by the title of Call of Cthulhu.
It’s a complex and winding tale. A young man comes into possession of a distant relative’s manuscripts, and a strange idol. The narrator travels about, piecing together clues and anecdotes to reconstruct what had previously happened. This primarily concerns two different occurrences: a federal raid on a Cthulhu-cult in the Louisiana bayou many years previous, and a shipwreck and survivor of an encounter with dread Cthulhu himself.
For our purposes, the rest of the tale can be set aside for now. Let us look at the facts concerning the encounter with Cthulhu:
*A storm, caused by Cthulhu’s awakening forces a ship, the Emma off its course. It cannot be directly concluded which event caused the other- if the Emma’s simple presence caused Cthulhu to psychically reach out, or if the Emma was simply a victim of being in the wrong place at the same time.
*Almost a month later, the lost Emma encounters a ship (the Alert) crewed by (presumable) Cthulhu cultists, and bests them in battle, what with the Emma crewed by hearty Norwegians and the cultists racial degenerates.
*Soon after, they land on Cthulhu-island (aka R’yleh). There’s similarities to the island in Dagon, but it can’t be said for sure if it’s the same place- there is vastly more architecture in R’yleh.
*Captain Johansen arrives with eight men, who explore the strange city.
*They find an “immense carved door,” “like a great barn door,” at a generally strange angle to the ground and land. “Men wondered how any door in the universe could be so vast.” The man who opens the door from the far side rather quickly rejoins the group, before any other action occurs.
*Cthulhu comes out of the door.
*Two perish in fright immediately, and three more are “swept up by flabby claws” before any further action can be taken. Another falls on the strange terrain while attempting to escape. The remaining two explorers reach the boat.
*The other survivor looks back and goes mad, seeing Cthulhu pursuing, and eventually dies of exposure.
*Johansen brings the boat around and rams Cthulhu, doing significant, but non-lasting damage. Cthulhu sinks beneath the waves, and Johansen escapes.
How Big is Cthulhu? Big, but not that big. Cthulhu is described as “A mountain walked or stumbled.” The door it arrives through is massive. Yet it’s also small enough for a man to slide down safely and quickly. A scope of miles does not make sense. A scale similar to Godzilla or King Kong does Cthulhu justice: massive.
How Deadly is Cthulhu? Deadly, but not that deadly. Cthulhu is famously stated as “Damage: 1d6 Investigators per round,” but I think he just had a good first round. After the first round, Cthulhu’s damage output significantly decreases: 1 Investigator during the entire chase sequence on the island (and it must have taken them more than one round to get back to the boat), and then nothing.
(Interestingly, in my research I found that Cthulhu’s original statblock had him doing 22d6 damage with a claw, or 16d6 with his tentacles, with 100% accuracy- certainly enough to take out a hero each action. The later editions added a special attack: “if the investigators are unlucky enough to meet Cthulhu, each round 1d3 investigators are scooped up in Cthulhu’s flabby claws to die horribly.”
Clearly, if you can get away from the man himself, you have a fair chance of launching a counter-attack.
How Tough is Cthulhu? One would have to imagine with all that bulk, shotguns and dynamite just won’t do the trick. (Call of Cthulhu places is armor above the damage output with most weapons, and allows him to regenerate. Editions of the game that give stats for mortars and field guns, as well as investigators patient enough to whittle down Cthulhu’s hit points are victorious, but then he reforms in 1d10 + 10 minutes.)
But enough blunt force trauma may be, surprisingly all you need. Johansen turns his boat around and rams it into Cthulhu, doing rather more damage to Cthulhu than to the boat:
“[Johansen] drove his vessel head on against the pursing jelly… there was a bursting as of an exploding bladder, a slushy nastiness as of a cloven sunfish, a stench as of a thousand opened graves, and a sound that the chronicler would not put on paper.”
However, it’s clearly not a killing blow: “the scattered plasticity of that nameless sky-spawn was nebulously recombining in its hateful original form.” But it gives Johansen enough time to get away.
But Maybe Cthulhu Destroyed the World Later: No, he didn’t. The narrator, by this point, is writing months and months after the events.
But Maybe the Stars Were Wrong: Was Cthulhu woken up on accident, and thus Johansen only defeated a groggy version of the Elder God? Possibly. The narrator assumes so. However:
The Call of Cthulhu (which gives strange dreams, and causes some further insanity, but presumably only in the already mentally unbalanced), is accompanied by earthquakes- likely from R’yleh rising to the surface, weeks before the Emma arrives at R’yleh.
During this time, artists around the world have strange dreams. It stops on the day that Johansen escapes Cthulhu.
A more likely interpretation of the events suggests that the Stars Were Right, and the Call of Cthulhu was unleashed, but Johansen’s timely intervention stopped the entrance of Cthulhu on earth. If he and his crew were responsible, the Call would have happened when the vault was opened.
One can’t reasonably conclude the Emma’s presence was solely responsible for awakening great Cthulhu; the text mentions specific latitude and longitude: boats know where that spot is, and can find it, and have been there before.
Can You Fight Cthulhu? Yes. All you need is enough blunt force trauma. But that won’t kill him.
However, one wonders what one might be able to do with more advanced technology.
Lovecraft never lived to the nuclear age, (which is a shame, because the fears of the time would have resonated with him) but one of his colleagues did, a man who collaborated with him strongly on the Cthulhu Mythos. You might have heard of him: August Derleth.
And according to Derleth, the answer to the age old question of “what happens if I nuke Cthulhu” is not “he reforms next round, but now he’s radioactive.”