N is for Necronomicon

Necronomicon: The Wanderings of Alhazred (Necronomicon Series)The Necronomicon, originally titled Kitab al-Azif, is a book of eldritch lore concerning the Elder Gods written in 730 A.D. by the 'Mad Arab" Abdul Alhazred while he was in Damascus. The book details the history of the great Old Ones and how they may be summoned. To read the book is to invite madness, because the learning contained within its pages is not meant for human minds, and will drive them insane. The knowledge contained within the Necronomicon's pages will not only drive the reader mad, but will imperil their very life. Alhazared suffered a horrible fate as a result of his temerity in committing the book to paper: reports variously claim he was either seized by an invisible demon in broad daylight and rent to shreds before horrified onlookers (in 731 A.D.), or abducted by the fanatical minions of Hastur the Unspeakable and then tortured, blinded, had his tongue cut out, and finally executed (in 738 A.D.).

Alhazared's original Arabic manuscript appears to have been lost to the mists of time as no known copies appear to remain in existence. The book was translated into Greek in the 10h century by the Constantinople-based scholar Theodorus Philetas, or into Latin in the 15th century by the Dominican priest Olaus Wormius (who was later condemned and burned as a heretic), and thus preserved. Even so, the book has been suppressed numerous times as authorities have repeatedly tried to round up and destroy all existent copies. Each attempt has failed. It seems that it was translated into English in the 14th century by John Dee, although it seems that only fragmentary versions of that translation have survived. Though it is possible that other copies are in circulation, it is believed that copies may be held by the British Museum in London, England, The National Library of France, Widener Library of Harvard University, The University of Buenos Aires, and the Miskatonic University Library on Arkham, Massachusetts. These are only rumors, however, as any copies that are located are inevitably either stolen by servants of the dark Elder Gods or destroyed by religious authorities.

Okay, did you get all that? Understand how completely dangerous this book truly is? Good. Because it is all a complete fabrication. The Necronomicon was invented out of whole cloth by H.P. Lovecraft in his 1924 short story The Hound. He later fabricated the history of the Necronomicon in other stories, inventing the Mad Arab Abdul Alharazif, the subsequent translations, the putative locations and so on. This has not prevented fundamentalist preachers, wild-eyed with hysteria, from swearing that the book is a real source of ancient arcane and forbidden knowledge before proclaiming the book to be a dangerous menace to all right-thinking people. Of course, these are often the same people who hold forth the idea that the Harry Potter books are a dangerous gateway to real witchcraft, so one can't take them too seriously. Nevertheless, many people often form the mistaken impression that it is a real book: librarians report getting apparently sincere requests for the book (along with a host of requests in jest), publishers have come out with numerous versions of the book (one of which consisted of ten pages of gibberish repeated over and over again), and a card for it was reportedly snuck into the Yale University card catalogue at least once, although the book was always supposedly listed as being checked out to A. Alharazed. Websites can be found detailing (tongue in cheek) the "real" history of the Neconomicon. The book has lent its name to science fiction, fantasy, and horror conventions, and it  has crept into widespread consciousness in cult films like Army of Darkness, where it was the object of Bruce Campbell's quest.


The Necronomicon was not the only fictional book of dangerous arcane lore that Lovecraft fabricated for his stories. He also created and referenced the nonexistent Book of Eibon, the Pnakotic Manuscripts, the Cultes des Goules of Comte d'Erlette, the Unaussprechlichen Kulten, and De Vermis Mysteriis. But none of his other creations captured the public imagination like the Necronomicon. Lovecraft was interested in making his horror stories more effective as tales of terror. To this end, he shared his ideas about his invented mythology, including the Necronomicon with fellow authors like August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith and invited them to use them in their own fiction and the book's often self-contradictory fictional history stems from the fact that multiple authors used it semi-independently in their own works. Lovecraft understood that horror is enhanced by a shared base of mythological references which is probably a major reason why horror writers always seem to go back to the same ground: Lucifer, demons, angels, vampires, and so on. Lovecraft was cognizant of this fact, and had greater ambitions, which led to his idea of sharing his literary creations in order to give them an existence beyond his own fiction. And, as one can readily see, he succeeded beyond his wildest imagination and the Necronomicon has taken root in popular culture with a life of its own. That doesn't change the fact that it was all made up by a guy from Rhode Island in the early part of the twentieth century.

Aaron is not actually a vampire, but he seems to be up all night every night anyway using all the extra time garnered by not sleeping to review science fiction and fantasy books, movies, and television shows. And role-playing games. You can read his musings on science fiction, fantasy, and pretty much anything else that pops into his slightly twisted mind at Dreaming About Other Worlds.

Comments

  1. You've written a very informative article and I enjoyed reading all of it. True or false, reading about the gods is always educational. I loved American Gods by Neil Gaiman.

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  2. Great post. I love H.P.Lovecraft and enjoy many of his stories.

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  3. I liked this, very good research and well drawn out.

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