The deeper you peer into the mouth of nature, the more Lovecraftian the world becomes. Just days after I had posted a little meditation on Cthulhu, the great old god of H. P. Lovecraft’s unholy pantheon broke into the mainstream news. No less a source than NBC ran the headline “Tiny Cthulhu ‘monsters’ discovered in termite guts” only a few days ago. The microbe with the scientific name Cthulhu macrofasciculumque lives in the digestive system of termites, helping them in their destructive work. True, Lovecraft described Cthulhu as a bit bigger than that, but the first appearance of the microbes, according to Megan Gannon, reminded the discoverers of the eponymous terror of the Cthulhu mythos.
From microbes to the major football leagues such as the Baltimore Ravens, writers of the macabre have left their mark on our culture. The darkness they describe so richly is something we all feel at some level, but that we sublimate most of the time so that we can get on with our lives. Cthulhu macrofasciculumque may be very, very small, but the super-viruses and bacteria that we are encountering have the ability to destroy us just as surely as the chimerical colossus of Lovecraft’s nightmares. When we look for a way to describe these terrors, we have brave literary heroes from whom we might draw. We would be lost without them. They make it safe for us to venture into that darkened room, for they have been there before us. Lovecraft gave the world its first scientific description of Cthulhu, and although that description defies adequate reconstruction, we recognize it when we see it.
Science has brought us so very far. We can now see to almost the brink of an infinite universe and delve into the guts of termites. We have the ability to prolong life and increase physical comfort for those who can afford it, and we can annihilate entire nations at the press of a button. Drones can fly overhead and do the dirty work, and we don’t even have to step outdoors. Yet when we meet something that shivers our scientific spines, we turn back to the old gods to name it. Yes, religion may be the bête noire of science, but the dark night of the soul is not illuminated by LED’s or lasers. To see in this dark you need to have the night vision of literary perception. And those lenses, according to Lovecraft, reveal that the old gods are dead but still dreaming.