The Necronomicon is the title of a fictional book created by H.P. Lovecraft and often featured in stories based on the Cthulhu Mythos inspired by his works. However, some people believe in the existence of an actual ancient text called the Necronomicon which may or may not fit the description given in Lovecraft's fiction.
Lovecraft often referenced fictional works in his horror fiction, a practice common among subsequent fantasy authors like Jorge Luis Borges and William Goldman. The Necronomicon was first mentioned in Lovecraft's 1923 short story "The Hound", though hints of it (or similar books) appear as far back as "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (1919). In the stories, the book is dangerous to read because it is often harmful to the health and sanity of its readers. For this reason, libraries keep it under lock and key.
Capitalizing on the notoriety of the fictional tome, real-life publishers have printed many books entitled Necronomicon since Lovecraft's death.
Origin and fictional history
How Lovecraft conceived the name "Necronomicon" is not clear—Lovecraft himself claimed that the title came to him in a dream. Perhaps he was influenced by Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and an unfinished first century astronomical poem by Roman poet Marcus Manilius titled the Astronomicon. Although some have suggested that Lovecraft was influenced primarily by Robert W. Chambers' collection of short stories, The King in Yellow, it is now believed that Lovecraft did not read that work until 1927.
Lovecraft originally titled the book the Al Azif (from Arabic, meaning the sound of cicadas and other nocturnal insects, which folklore claims is the conversations of demons) and said that it was written by the Mad Arab Abdul Alhazred. Among other things, the work contained an account of the Old Ones, their history, and the means for summoning them.
According to Lovecraft, Alhazred wrote the original text in Damascus around 730 AD, but a number of translations were made over the centuries. The Greek translation, which gave the book its most famous title, was made by a (fictional) Orthodox scholar, Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople circa 950 AD. Olaus Wormius (an actual historical person wrongly placed by Lovecraft in the thirteenth century) translated it into Latin and indicated in the preface that the Arabic original was lost. This translation was printed twice: In the fifteenth century, evidently in Germany in black-letter, and in the seventeenth, probably in Spain.
When the Latin translation called attention to the Necronomicon, it was banned by Pope Gregory IX in 1232. The Greek translation, printed in Italy between 1500 and 1550, was probably lost when fire destroyed R. U. Pickman's library in Salem. The Elizabethan magician John Dee allegedly had a copy (an idea suggested to Lovecraft by his friend Frank Belknap Long) and is thought to have made an English translation, of which only fragments survive.
Some critics accuse Lovecraft of using the Necronomicon as deus ex machina in his stories, having it mentioned whenever the narrator makes an occult reference, no matter how unlikely it is that the narrator has delved into the occult. However, this practice is far more common in the pastiches of his imitators than in the stories of Lovecraft himself. With the possible exception of the protagonists in "The Dunwich Horror", all of the characters in Lovecraft's works who read the Mad Arab's book come to horrific ends.
Some note that in At the Mountains of Madness virtually all the characters on the Antarctic expedition have read the Necronomicon, although it is unlikely that a diverse group of geologists, biologists, and engineers would have had reason to read such an unusual book. The explanation may lie in their connection with Miskatonic University. The university is renowned for its occult library, which holds a copy of the famed Necronomicon—a book likely to be of interest to both students and academics alike, especially those who value knowledge and experience outside their fields. Consequently, it may not be a coincidence that all the members of the expedition have read the Necronomicon—reading the dreaded book ultimately ties in with their fate in the Antarctic. Furthermore, Danforth, who has read the book cover-to-cover, suffers a worse fate than the more casual readers.
Appearance and content
Lovecraft made frequent reference to the Necronomicon but was very sparing with actual detail of its appearance and contents. That it is a substantial tome cannot be questioned as Wilbur Whateley of Dunwich comes to Miskatonic University to find the page which would have appeared on the 751st page of his own inherited, but defective, Dee edition by comparing it with the University's copy ("The Dunwich Horror").
However, other than the obvious black letter editions nothing else is known of its physical dimension or appearance although it is commonly portrayed as bound in leather of various types and having metal clasps. Editions are sometimes disguised, as Mr John Merrit discovers to his disquiet when pulling down a book labelled Qanoon-e-Islam from Joseph Curwen’s bookshelf and discovering it actually to be the Necronomicon in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
The three direct quotes by Lovecraft from the Necronomicon are as follows:
- From "The Nameless City":
That is not dead which can eternal lie,
And with strange aeons death may die.
(Later versions of the same quote always read "even death may die".)
- From "The Festival":
The nethermost caverns are not for the fathoming of eyes that see; for their marvels are strange and terrific. Cursed the ground where dead thoughts live new and oddly bodied, and evil the mind that is held by no head. Wisely did Ibn Schacabao say, that happy is the tomb where no wizard hath lain, and happy the town at night whose wizards are all ashes. For it is of old rumour that the soul of the devil-bought hastes not from his charnel clay, but fats and instructs the very worm that gnaws; till out of corruption horrid life springs, and the dull scavengers of earth wax crafty to vex it and swell monstrous to plague it. Great holes secretly are digged where earth's pores ought to suffice, and things have learnt to walk that ought to crawl.
- From "The Dunwich Horror":
Nor is it to be thought that man is either the oldest or the last of earth's masters, or that the common bulk of life and substance walks alone. The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen. Yog-Sothoth knows the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the gate. Yog-Sothoth is the key and guardian of the gate. Past, present, future, all are one in Yog-Sothoth. He knows where the Old Ones broke through of old, and where They shall break through again. He knows where They had trod earth's fields, and where They still tread them, and why no one can behold Them as They tread. By Their smell can men sometimes know Them near, but of Their semblance can no man know, saving only in the features of those They have begotten on mankind; and of those are there many sorts, differing in likeness from man's truest eidolon to that shape without sight or substance which is Them. They walk unseen and foul in lonely places where the Words have been spoken and the Rites howled through at their Seasons. The wind gibbers with Their voices, and the earth mutters with Their consciousness. They bend the forest and crush the city, yet may not forest or city behold the hand that smites. Kadath in the cold waste hath known Them, and what man knows Kadath? The ice desert of the South and the sunken isles of Ocean hold stones whereon Their seal is engraver, but who hath seen the deep frozen city or the sealed tower long garlanded with seaweed and barnacles? Great Cthulhu is Their cousin, yet can he spy Them only dimly. Iä! Shub-Niggurath! As a foulness shall ye know Them. Their hand is at your throats, yet ye see Them not; and Their habitation is even one with your guarded threshold. Yog-Sothoth is the key to the gate, whereby the spheres meet. Man rules now where They ruled once; They shall soon rule where man rules now. After summer is winter, after winter summer. They wait patient and potent, for here shall They reign again.
There exist innumerable other Necronomicon quotes but those above are the only ones written by Lovecraft himself.
In Lovecraft's works, various people and places have copies of the Necronomicon (although it is far rarer than later imitators would have one believe despite its persistent appearances). Copies of the Necronomicon are held by only five institutions worldwide: The British Museum (now held at the British Library); the Bibliothèque nationale de France; Widener Library of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the University of Buenos Aires; and the library of the fictional Miskatonic University in the equally fictional Arkham, Massachusetts. The latter edition is the Latin translation by Olaus Wormius, printed in Spain in the 17th century.
Other copies are kept by private individuals. Wilbur Whateley possesses a copy in "The Dunwich Horror" (1929), which is presumed to have gone to his heirs after his death. Joseph Curwen's copy, mentioned above, was almost certainly destroyed by the raiding party that took his life. Harley Warren's version (which is not mentioned by name but is instead most likely a copy) goes with him to his fate in "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (1919). A version is mentioned as being held in Kingsport in both "The Festival" (1925) and (by implication) The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (1941). The provenance of the copy read by the narrator of "The Nameless City" (1921) is unknown, while the version read by the main character in "The Hound" (1924) is presumed destroyed when all of his charnel goods are so disposed.
Etymology of the title
Lovecraft wrote that the meaning of the title as translated from the Greek language: nekros (corpse), nomos (law), eikon (image) was: "An image of the law of the dead." A more prosaic (but probably more correct) translation, is via conjugation of nemo (to consider): "Concerning the dead." Another etymology that has been suggested here is "knowledge of the dead," from Greek nekrós (corpse, dead), and gnomein (to know), on the apparent assumption that the g could be lost.
Greek editions of Lovecraft's works have commented that in Greek the word can have several different meanings when broken at its roots. More specifically:
- The Book of the Law of the Dead, derived from Nomicon (Book of Law).
- The Book of Dead Laws.
- A Study or Classification of the Dead.
- Image of the Law of the Dead.
- Book Concerning the Dead.
- Law of Dead Images.
- The Book of Dead Names, derived from onoma (name).
The Necronomicon as a real book
Though Lovecraft insisted the book was pure invention (and other writers invented passages from the book in their own works), there are accounts of some people actually believing his Necronomicon to be a real book. Even during Lovecraft's life he received letters from fans inquiring about the Necronomicon's authenticity. Occasionally, pranksters listed the Necronomicon for sale in book store newsletters or inserted phony library card catalogue entries for the book.
This line between fact and fiction was further confused in the late 1970s by the publication of a book purporting to be a translation of the "real" Necronomicon. This book, by the pseudonymic "Simon", has little connection to the fictional Lovecraft mythology but rather is based on Sumerian Mythology. It has later been dubbed the "Simon Necronomicon".
A blatant hoax version of the Necronomicon was produced by paranormal researcher and writer Colin Wilson, describing how it was translated by computer from a discovered "cipher text." It is far truer to the Lovecraftean version and even incorporates quotations from Lovecraft's stories into its passages.
Historical "Books of the Dead" such as the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead or the Tibetan Bardo Thodol are sometimes described as "real Necronomicons." They should not be confused with the Lovecraft Necronomicon, as their contents are meant to be read or remembered by the dead, rather than used by the living to summon the dead. Lovecraft, however, may have been inspired by these books.
References to the Necronomicon
Many fantasy and horror writers have mentioned the Necronomicon in their own stories. The Necronomicon has also become part of popular culture, influencing bands, filmmakers, television writers, and video game developers.
- Various writers in the school of the Cthulhu mythos have "quoted" from the Necronomicon, among them Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth.
- The movie Necronomicon is based on Lovecraft's stories.
- The Stephen King book The Eyes of the Dragon includes a reference to a book "bound in human flesh" that the magician Flagg cannot read for too long for fear of losing his sanity. It is also referenced as a very long book.
- In a passage in Gene Wolfe's novel Peace, a book of necromancy being forged by a character is not named but its form suggests the popular image of the Necronomicon.
- Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett created a parody of the Necronomicon called the Necrotelecomnicon—the book of phone numbers of the dead.
- Andrzej Sapkowski mentions a Polish translation of the book titled Źwierzcyadło Maggi Czarney Bissurmańskiey in his short story "Tandaradei!". It is also mentioned under its original title in his novel Boży bojownicy (God's Warriors).
- Necronomicon was the title of a book of paintings by the Swiss artist H. R. Giger (published in 1978). It was appropriately titled considering his particularly sinister style of blended machinery and flesh.
- In Sam Raimi's popular movie trilogy, Evil Dead, Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness, the Necronomicon Ex Mortis appears as an evil book of magic. In the first film of the trilogy, Ash Williams hears a recording of an academic reading from the book which eventually leads to his later trouble.
- Science fiction author Neal Stephenson derived the title of his book Cryptonomicon from the Necronomicon featured in the Evil Dead movies, not knowing that the name had originated from Lovecraft.
- Metallica's song "The Thing that Should not Be" contains lines derived from a quotation from the Necronomicon: "That is not dead which can eternal lie/ And with strange eons even death may die" (shortened to "Not dead which eternal lie / stranger eons death may die"). Beatallica's "The Thing that Should not Let it Be" is thus also derived from the Necronomicon, albeit second hand.
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Billy steals Grim's copy of "The Bad Book" to raise Yog Soloth.
- In an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock almost gives Meatwad the Necronomicon instead of the Bible.
- In an episode of Justice League Unlimited, Shayera and Wonder Woman come across the Necronomicon shortly after entering Hades' library. Minutes later, Felix Faust casually mentions the book by name.
- In an episode of The Venture Bros., Dr. Orpheus refuses to swear on a Bible before taking the witness stand in court, instead preferring to take the oath on the Necronomicon.
- In a level of the video game Max Payne, Max encounters the Necronomicon and Paradise Lost among people who believe in the somewhat unrelated Norse mythology.
- In Castlevania 64 for Nintendo 64, the option menu is a book entitled Necronomicon. The book also appears in the video games Tales of Phantasia and Tales of Symphonia.
- In Megatokyo, a webcomic, one of the characters finds a book called Necrowombicon, said to be used to make Daikatana. The Necrowombicon has its origins in the webcomic Penny Arcade.
- In the humorous film noir movie Cast a Deadly Spell, Fred Ward plays the private detective H. Phillip Lovecraft, who is hired by a questionable character to retrieve a book called The Necronomicon. The book has been stolen from the latter's personal library.
- In Defense of the Ancients, the Necronomicon is an item that increases the Intelligence statistic and allows the player to summon two soldiers with necromatic powers. It is mainly useful to mages.
- In 1971, science fiction author Larry Niven published a humorous short story called "The Last Necronomicon".
- In the comic Van Von Hunter, there is a book called Notdanecronomicon which when touched without first saying "all clear" summons an undead army.
- In the webcomic Sam and Fuzzy, there is a book called "the necro-deatho-bookikon" referred to as mainstream satanistic garbage.
- In the webcomic Movie Punks, there is a book called the Punkronomicon, which is used for picking up goth chicks in clubs and bars.
- In the 2nd edition Warhammer Fantasy Roleplay core book, there is a very thinly-veiled reference on page 219 to the Necronomicon: "Another such volume is the Book of the Dead, written by the mad Arabyan prince Abdul ben Raschid ... Only the most strong-willed can read these books and retain any sense of sanity. These forbidden tomes tell of the horrible secrets of the beyond, of the dark insane dreams that the dead dream in their eternal rest."
- In the song "Twisted", rapper Tech N9ne threatens to make a Christian read their kids the Necronomicon on Christmas.
- In the Wild Arms video game series, the Necronomicon is a piece of equipment that can greatly increase the user's magic statistics.
- In the fourth of Sierra's Quest for Glory series, Shadows of Darkness, the Necronomicon is set upon an altar, bound in human skin, and written in blood. A derivation from tales of the Necronomicon relate to concentration camps.
- The Nintendo GameCube game Eternal Darkness: Sanity's Requiem is heavily inspired by Lovecraft's works. It features a major item called the Tome of Eternal Darkness, an evil book made of flesh and bone and "bound together with the oddest magickal incantation."
- In the 13-episode horror anthology series Masters of Horror, the Necronomicon is featured in the second episode, an adaptation of Lovecraft's "The Dreams in the Witch House".
- The tombstone on the front cover of Iron Maiden's seminal Live album "Live After Death" contains the quote "That is not dead / Which can eternal lie / Yet with strange aeons / Even death may die"
- In Dan Abnett's Eisenhorn, the Necronomicon (called the Necroteuch) is one of the worst books of Chaos in existence. If someone picks it up, the person holding it will be mesmerized by it and will be unable to do anything but stare at the book. It corrupted and caused the death of the entire Saruthi race. It also distorted the way physical dimensions acted near it.
- Porndeath/Grind band Lividity from USA, have also referred to the Necronomicon Ex-Mortis, as an intro to one of their songs from their Age of Clitorial Decay release. The intro talks about how the book was inked with blood, the same blood that used to flow in all the rivers at that time, and how it got lost.
- The US musical group Nox Arcana released an album in 2004 entitled Necronomicon. The predominantly instrumental music ranges from ominous orchestrations with a Middle Eastern influence, evoking mystical reference to the Mad Arab Alhazred. Vocals consist of various "otherworldly" chants, including ritual phrases from the Necronomicon according to Lovecraft. The Necronomicon cd booklet also contains fantasy artist Joseph Vargo's rendition of Cthulhu and several pages from the Necronomicon book as well as other illustrations of The Great Old Ones.
Commercially available books titled Necronomicon
- Al Azif: The Necronomicon by L. Sprague de Camp (1973, ISBN 1587150433)
- Necromonicon by "Simon" (1980, ISBN 0380751925)
- H.R. Giger's Necronomicon by H.R. Giger (1991, ISBN 0962344729)
- The Necronomicon by George Hay (1993, ISBN 1871438160)
- Necronomicon: The Wanderings Of Alhazred by Donald Tyson (2004, ISBN 0738706272)
- Chaldean mythology
- Cthulhu mythos arcane literature
- False document
- References to the Cthulhu mythos
- H.P. Lovecraft: "A History of The Necronomicon". Necronomicon Press. ISBN 0-318047-15-2.
- H.P. Lovecraft: The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-35490-7.
- Dan Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III: The Necronomicon Files. Red Wheel Weiser. ISBN 1-578-63269-2.
- Egyptian Book of the Dead
- Fake Necronomicons
- "The Last Necronomicon", a short story by Larry Niven
- The Necronomicon Anti-FAQ by Colin Low, a spoof FAQ about the "real" Necronomicon
- Necronomicon as Papercraft, make your own Necronomicon Notebook
- Sumerian copy of the Necronomican, a purported translation, circa 1985
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- Wilson Necronomicon, text of the Wilson Necronomicon as well as a later project known as the R'lyeh Text
- The Ultimate Cthulhu Mythos Book List, listing of all mythos novels, anthologies, collections, comic books, and more
Original Wiki source: Wikipedia