The Call of Cthulhu: Book Summary & Quotes

Instructor: Erica Schimmel

Erica has taught college English writing and literature courses and has a master's degree in children's literature.

Francis Wayland Thurston learns there are some things better left unknown in H. P. Lovecraft's 'The Call of Cthulhu.' What horrible truth does he uncover? Learn more about his investigations in this summary.

Opening Information

Have you ever heard the saying ''ignorance is bliss?'' Most of the time we may not believe ignorance is a good thing. But Francis Wayland Thurston, narrator of H. P. Lovecraft's The Call of Cthulhu, wishes for ignorance of a terrible truth. Presenting his tale in three parts, Thurston lays out how he pieced together ''so hideous a chain.''

Part I - 'The Horror in Clay'

Thurston begins: ''The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its contents.'' He first learned about ''the thing'' when his grand-uncle George Gammel Angell, a professor ''widely known as an authority on ancient inscriptions,'' died unexpectedly. As Angell's closest living relative, Thurston must sort through the estate. In one box, Thurston finds a strange clay bas-relief, or sculpture. The sculpture seems like a cross between an octopus, dragon, and person--''A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings''--and it is accompanied by unfamiliar hieroglyphics, or writing.

This Statue's Origin

But where did the statue come from? The answer lies in an accompanying document titled ''Cthulhu Cult.'' The first part tells about Henry Anthony Wilcox, a ''thin, dark young man of neurotic and excited aspect.'' Wilcox brought the sculpture to ask Angell to look at the hieroglyphics on March 1st, 1925. Wilcox made the sculpture after a disturbing dream about a strange city and a repeating sound that seemed like ''Cthulhu fhatgn.''

Turns out the word Cthulhu triggered something for Angell, and he began asking Wilcox about ''strange cults.'' Wilcox doesn't know what Angell is talking about, but he does keeping visiting to tell Angell about other dreams.

Between March 22nd and April 2nd, Wilcox becomes deliriously ill, raving about dreams of ''a gigantic thing 'miles high' which walked or lumbered about.'' Miraculously, Wilcox snaps out of it on the afternoon of April 2nd. Thurston finds evidence that shows Wilcox was not alone: numerous other artists had similar dreams that became even stronger during the time Wilcox was most ill.

Part II - The Tale of Inspector Legrasse

Thurston learns why ''Cthulhu'' interested his grand-uncle in the second part of the manuscript. In this half, we learn Angell had an earlier experience when John Raymond Legrasse, a police inspector, brought a similar sculpture to an annual meeting of the American Archaeological Society after confiscating it from a group of people practicing voodoo. This sculpture was of a monster 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.'' Of all the experts there, only one--Professor Webb--thinks it looks at all familiar. He remembers seeing something similar used by a cult whose ''bloodthirsty'' religion included chanting around the statue.

Legrasse's Story

It turns out that cult and the people Legrasse seized the statue from were chanting the same thing, which roughly translates into ''In his house at R'lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.'' Responding to a call about missing women and children, the police found a group of naked people ''braying, bellowing, and writhing about a monstrous ring-shaped bonfire'' while the ''oddly marred bodies'' of the missing people hung upside down on scaffolds around the camp. In the center of the bonfire, the statue sat upon a tall monolith, or pillar.

Legrasse ended up arresting 47 worshippers. After much questioning, some of them finally revealed they were a cult that worships ''the Great Old Ones.'' The image on the statue was one of those Old Ones, the ''great Cthulhu.'' Someday, when ''the stars were right'' the priests of Cthulhu could release him.

Thurston visits Wilcox and Legrasse's policemen. Though he believes he is on the track of a secret religion, he still does not believe Cthulhu is real. He does, however, begin to think Angell's death was no accident.

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