The Cthulhu Mythos as Series

On Literature and Intertextuality

Term Paper (Advanced seminar), 2018
29 Pages, Grade: 1,3


Table of Content

1. Introduction

2. Intertextuality in the Context of Series

3. A Definition of Series

4. About the Cthulhu Mythos

5. Is Neil Gaiman’s a Study in Emerald part of the Cthulhu Mythos?

6. Conclusion

7. Bibliography

1. Introduction

Cthulhu – a puzzling sequence of letters that has influenced many works of modern pop culture but is still unfamiliar to most. Its inventor H. P. Lovecraft said “the word is supposed to represent a fumbling human attempt to catch the phonetics of an absolutely non-human word. The name of the hellish entity was invented by beings whose vocal organs were not like man’s, hence it has no relation to the human speech equipment.” (Lovecraft in Joshi 2004, 29). A term that best describes the Lovecraft’s work is ‘cosmic horror’ and once one starts to engage with Lovecraft’s work, it is impossible not to see “how much of fantastic cinema has derived, unconsciously or otherwise, from the writer’s ideas” (Sharrett 2015, 22).

Lovecraft’s influence goes far beyond the cinema. There is a Cthulhu Pen & Paper (see Pegasus Verlag 2018), board and card games (see Joshi March 2018) and Comics (see The H.P. Lovecraft Archive 2017), but Lovecraft has also influenced artists like painter H.R. Giger (see The H.P. Lovecraft Archive May 2012), who was responsible for the costume design of the Hollywood classic movie Alien (1979) (see DeLaughter 2014) and gave it “the strongest sense of Love craft's cosmicism yet produced” (Sharrett 2015, 24). In particular the by Lovecraft’s invention, the “unmentionable Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred […]; a book which I had never seen, but of which I had heard monstrous things whispered” (Lovecraft 2011, 304) has occurred in many movies (see The H.P. Lovecraft Archive August 2012) and series (see The H.P. Lovecraft Archive 2011) through the years. “Lovecraft is, if not everywhere, in many places – and, as such, is many things. There are fictions whose horrors might easily be designated ‘Lovecraftian’ without explicitly referencing his stories, and the term itself connotes a variety of ideas and motifs drawn from Lovecraft’s fiction.” (George 2016, 166).

Howard Phillips Lovecraft, born on August 20, 1890, in Providence, Rhode Island (see Joshi 2018) wrote more than sixty stories, most of them short (see The H.P. Lovecraft Archive 2014), in his forty-seven years lifespan. He died on the 15th of March in 1937 (see Joshi 2018) and “His [Lovecraft’s] work would never be published in book form during his lifetime” (Oates 1996). His work was almost exclusively published in amateur magazines like The United Amateur, 6 stories between 1915-1923, and the pulp magazine Weird Tales, 40 stories from 1925 on until 1941 even after his death (see The H.P. Lovecraft Archive 2014). It was also in Weird Tales that he published probably hist most influential short story The Call of Cthulhu (1928, Weird Tales, 11, No. 2) which centres around the name-giving deity for his overall Mythos. Despite his negligible success as a professional writer during his life, today “his stories are available in textually corrected editions, his essays, poems, and letters are widely available, and many scholars have probed the depths and complexities of his work and thought.” (Joshi 2018). In addition to that, Lovecraft has “had an incalculable influence on succeeding generations of writers of horror fiction, and Lovecraft is arguably the more beloved by contemporary gothic aficionados.” (Oates 1996). To this day “[t]here is really no parallel in the entire history of literature for such enduring and wide-ranging attempts to imitate or develop a single writer’s conception” (Joshi 2008, 20).

“Now that Lovecraft has become a figure of world literature, the extent to which he and his work are cited in novels and tales by writers high and low has grown exponentially” (Joshi 2008, 22). Lovecraft is the “inventor of a sublimely creepy series of loosely linked horror stories” (Stentz 1997). His “mature work, the cycle of horror/fiction tales to which his disciples have given the title the ‘Cthulhu Mythos,’ springs from a common source of invented legend.” (Oates 1996). This Cthulhu Mythos and the question of the extent to which it can be considered as a series is going to be the object of this work. Over the course of the argumentation this text is going to give a brief overview of the term ‘intertextuality’ in the context of literary studies and establish some useful terms for the analysis of Mythos Literature. Subsequently, a definition of ‘series’ is going to be decided on, as well as the characteristic features of so-called Mythos literature. The theoretical results of these three Chapters are then going to be used in an analysis of a short story of contemporary author Neil Gaiman that employs many of Lovecraft’s inventions and concepts. Thence will be answered the question whether or not Neil Gaiman’s A Study in Emerald can be considered to be part of the Cthulhu Mythos.

2. Intertextuality in the Context of Series

This Chapter is going to give a brief overview on the term intertextuality in the context of literary studies. The aim is to find terms that may help in the analysis of Mythos Literature and the question of its seriality. The theoretical overlap of intertextuality and seriality is not new, Umberto Eco already uses intertextuality to define what seriality in the context of cultural products is (see Eco 1999, 307) and both terms are indefinite which makes it necessary to define both concepts before applying them in an analysis.

The Penguin Dictionary of Literary Terms & Theory (1999) defines intertextuality as “the interdependence of literary text, the interdependence of any one literary text with all those that have gone before it.” Texts do not just stand by themselves, they all “arise from a single network” (Porter 1986, 34). This shifts the “focus more on the sources and social contexts from which the writer’s discourse arises” (Porter 1986, 35). And “[t]he text is not an autonomous or unified object, but a set of relations with other texts” (Leitch in Porter 1986, 35).

Since its coinage by Julia Kristeva in 1966, many critics and theorist have used the term intertextuality for their purposes and the term has thus “come to serve as an umbrella word for any critical procedure or creative practice involving a relation between two or more texts” (Duff 2002, 54). Some later theories of intertextuality did so to “limit the endlessly expanding intertextual space suggested […], in an effort to find out the basic criteria of a method that can throw some light on the practical analysis of intertextuality in literature” (Martínez Alfaro 1996, 272). This text will use the term intertextuality in the sense of these later theories by Riffaterre, Genette and Porter, which are going to be introduced briefly in the following paragraphs.

Riffaterre sees intertextuality as “modality of perception, the deciphering of the text” (Riffaterre 1980, 625) and thus the “main, fundamental characteristic of (literary) reading” (Martínez Alfaro 1996, 279), making text “not simply a sequence of words […] but a sequence of presuppositions” (Riffaterre in ib.). He then describes different types of reading. First is the “naïve ‘mimetic’ reading” (ib.), in which the literal meaning is apprehended by the reader and the words “signify through their one-to-one relationship with nonverbal referents” (Riffaterre 1980, 625). If this does not suffice and the meaning remains unclear, because “words signify through their relationship with structural invariants” (626), a retroactive reading occurs and “the reader keeps reviewing and comparing backward, recognizing repetitions, recognizing that some segments of the text are variations upon a semantic sameness” (ib.). This re-reading of the same text “occurs at every step of normal (from page top to bottom) reading” (ib.). If the re-reading still does not suffice to derive a satisfying meaning because of formal or semantic gaps, it would suggest that another text is necessary to fully grasp the meaning (ib.). This happens even if there is “no intertext at hand wherein to find comparabilities” (ib.). If the intertext is known, an intertextual reading takes place, perceiving similar comparabilities from text to text (ib.). These intertextual readings are going to be of use when discussing the Double Model-Reader for the definition of series in the next Chapter.

In his 1986 article Intertextuality and the Discourse Community, James E. Porter added an additional level of distinction to these intertextual reading. He made the distinction between iterability and presupposition. According to Porter, “[i]terability refers to the ‘repeatability’ of certain textual fragments, to citation in its broadest sense” (35), whereas “[p]resupposition refers to assumptions a text makes about its referent, its readers, and its context” (ib.). The former includes explicit allusions like references and quotations, but also “unannounced sources and influences, clichés, phrases in the air, and traditions” (ib.). The latter describes parts of the text that are not explicitly ‘there’ but are nevertheless read” (ib.), including the presupposed attitude of the audience (38).

Porter’s definition of presuppositions is rather vague and confuses the matter more than it enlightens it. It uses two of Culler’s examples from his 1976 text Presupposition and Intertextuality, but without his distinction of logical and pragmatic presuppositions (Culler 1976, 1389), which is going to be summarised here. For Culler, logical presuppositions are the “presuppositions of a sentence” (ib.) which introduce a “modest intertextuality” by relating the sentences of a given text to sentences which are not in the text (ib.) and that are only presupposed in the “intertextual space” (1390) of the text and defines the prior discourse (1391), it’s pre-text (1395). This “may or may not correspond to other actual texts” (ib.). Pragmatic or rhetorical presuppositions, however, are defined by the relationship between utterance and situation of utterance (1393). They lead to “a poetics which is less interested in the occupants of that intertextual space […] than in the conventions which underlie that discursive activity ore space” (1395).

Genette renames the whole concept of intertextuality, considering transtextuality a more adequate term, which means “everything, be it explicit or latent, that relates one text to others” (Genette in Martínez Alfaro 1996, 280). Under this new term, he introduces five subcategories: 1. intertextuality, 2. paratextuality, 3. metatextuality, 4. archtextuality and 5. hypertextualtiy. For Genette, intertextuality is the “effective presence of one text in another which takes place by means of plagiarism, quotation or allusion” (ib.). Paratextuality describes texts and accessory signals surrounding the body of a text (281). Metatextuality is used when a text comments on other text without quoting or mentioning it. Archtextuality is the linking of a text to the category it belongs to. This attribution does not necessarily have to be done by the text itself, but by the readers, also determining the reader’s horizon of expectation. The last subcategory is h ypertextuality which describes a hierarchy among two texts, one being the hypotext, the other the hypertext. The hypertext derives from the hypotext but without explicitly referring to it, which is the main difference in Genette’s definition of intertextuality. Examples of hypertextuality are imitation, parody, travesty and pastiche.

Genette’s and Porter’s terminologies are very different, but they tackle the same issues, each with a different focus. Genette’s intertextuality and Porter’s iterability both address explicit intertextual relationships, like quotations and plagiarisms, but also more implicit, “unannounced sources” (Porter 1986, 35) like “allusions” (Genette in Martínez Alfaro 1996, 280). Porter’s term focuses on the repeatability of the source material, whereas Genette focuses on the hierarchical co-presence between two texts (ib.). Both authors want also to include implicit but obvious intertextual relations in their term of intertextuality resp. iterability. Completing the trio, one could also bring in Riffaterre because it seems that both terms place a name upon the text-text relations he described, of which the reader is aware of even if there is “no intertext at hand wherein to find comparabilities” (Riffaterre 1980, 626). The reader does not need to be an expert to be able to identify the allusion, he or she does not even need to know the quoted work. It is just “part of the reader’s linguistic competence” (Riffaterre 1986, 373) and “[i]dentifying these signs does not require preternatural insights” (ib.).

In addition to these obvious intertextual relations are more subtle ones that are not obvious to every reader, but only to these that know the hypotext. Genette accounts for these with his idea of hypertextuality. These are “imperceptible quotations, of which not even the author is aware, that are the normal effect of the game of artistic influence” (Eco 1985, 170). They “put into play an intertextual encyclopedia” (172), which the reader must have available to be able to fully enjoy the text. This explains why all of Genette’s examples for hypertextuality are text that are primarily to entertain the audience: imitation, parody, travesty and pastiche (Genette in Martínez Alfaro 1996, 281). To this idea of “encyclopedig competence” (Eco 1985, 171) also belongs knowledge about the genre’s specific topoi (170), as well as knowledge about the real world around the text and the production circumstances (172) which is part of the “‘broadened’ intertextuality” (ib.).

In conclusion the terms that are going to be used in the analysis in Chapter 5. Intertextuality describes in general the relations a text has with other texts. When reading a text, one reads the text on two levels; the naïve mimetic reading and the intertextual reading, in which the intertextual space – which includes the pre-text suggested by the text and other texts too which the text itself is referring to – gives a further understanding of the text that goes beyond what is just written in it. It does so via logical presuppositions. The relationship of a text with other texts can be structured hierarchically, in what is called hypertextuality. The younger hypertext thereby is derived from the older hypotext. Additionally, the references in a text may be more explicit, like in quotations, plagiarism or more implicit, like in allusions or imitations. It is part of the linguistic competence of every reader to recognise the explicit intertextual references, while the implicit intertextual references are reserved to readers with the necessary intertextual encyclopaedia.

3. A Definition of Series

One aspect of intertextuality is seriality, which may be the most popular phenomenon of the time, not only thanks to Netflix and other streaming portals, but also to the ever-increasing production of sequels of successful movies like the Star War Franchise. Nevertheless, telling stories in a serialised way is the anything than but new. The first time that serialised stories were a huge success was in the 18th Century in French newspapers (cf. Hagedorn 2003, 30) and they have not been out of fashion ever since. But what exactly is a series? According to the Oxford dictionary a series is “[a] number of events, objects, or people of a similar or related kind coming one after another.” In addition to this broad definition, there are two further definitions describing series in two different media. Firstly, a series in written form: “[a] set of books, periodicals, or other documents published in a common format or under a common title.” And secondly, a series in electronic media: “[a] set or sequence of related television or radio programmes.” The common ground in all of these three definitions is the idea that the subject matter must be related. What kind of relationship two artefacts must have to be considered a series is not further defined, but it could be that they are in the same format or have the same title when in written form. This Chapter’s goal is to find a definition for the term “series” in order be able to confirm the presumption that the Cthulhu Mythos is indeed a series. In order to do so, the features of a series and its distinction to similar terms have to be worked out.

In the context of television, the term “series” is often used in contrast with another term to distinguish between two types fictional show. The ones repeating the same narrative scheme in each episode are series (Schabacher 2010, 24), whereas the ones continuing a narration across several episodes are serials. Or in other words: “[a] series is [..] similar to an anthology of short stories, while a serial is like a serialized Victorian novel” (Kozloff in Schabacher 2010, 25). This distinction between tv-shows with different narrative schemas is of course justified, but one logical consequence of this separation is that serials are not series, and this can be considered somehow problematic. Series and serials share a lot of features, for both “Episodicity is the crucial trait which distinguishes the serial (and the series) from the ‘classic’ narrative text” (Hagedorn 2003, 28). The “restricted number of fixed pivotal characters” (Eco 1985, 167) a series has, is logically also the case for serials, otherwise a story arc across a whole set of episodes would be difficult to achieve. On an etymological level, a clean separation of series and serial is all the more difficult, for serial being the adjective of series made by adding the suffix -al to series’ word root. Therefore, I suggest seeing serial as a type of series, that does not have a fixed narrative scheme repeated in every episode, but a story arc spanning for a whole set of episodes resp. season. This would make series a hypernym for every artefact presenting a whole in fragments (cf. Schabacher 2010, 25), which is not limited to serials but also includes ‘episodicals’.

Another reason why the line between series and serial is so blurred is that neither narrative forms is an alternative to the other, but two extremes of a continuum of narrative continuity (Schabacher 2010, 27). There are also hybrid forms where “each episode presents one or more problems which are then resolved at the conclusion of the episode […] at the same time there exists at least on other problem […] which is left unresolved from one episode to the next.” (Hagedorn 2003, 39). One example of such a hybrid form is the 1990s series Buffy – The Vampire Slayer. This series has a typical episodical structure with a “monster-of-the-week” that is introduced and defeated throughout one episode (Schabacher 2010, 37). In addition to that there is the “mytharc” that leads to the final confrontation of the show’s protagonist Buffy Summers with the boss villain that plotted against her throughout the whole season (Schabacher 2010, 28).

One of the key aspects that all types of series have in common is repetition. In this context repetition does not mean mechanically repeating something that is already there but “to make a replica of the same abstract type” (Eco 1985, 166). Series exist somewhere between the poles of repetition and variability (Schabacher 2010, 23), though “[i]n this sense, seriality and repetition are not opposed to innovation” (Eco 1985, 175). Every realisation of an abstract type is a new variation of it and can host new innovations. The audience’s joy derives from its “ability to guess what will happen” (168) and the appreciation of “innovations of an old theme” (175). The types of these repetitions can vary, Eco for example names loop-, spiral- or actor-series, which are distinguished from one another by the elements (character, action and actor) that are repeated (cf. Eco 1985, 168-169). Eventually, seriality can be seen “as another term for repetitive art” (166).


Excerpt out of 29 pages


The Cthulhu Mythos as Series
On Literature and Intertextuality
University of Cologne  (English Seminar)
Serialising the Literary Canon
Catalog Number
ISBN (eBook)
ISBN (Book)
Series, Cthulhu, Neil Gaiman, A Study in Emerald, Lovecraft
Quote paper
Niels Brause (Author), 2018, The Cthulhu Mythos as Series, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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