Saturday 13 July 2013

Something R'lyeh different

Detail of "Mark Witton's greasy, flowing mass", for Matt Wedel's Collect Call of Cthulhu
If my Facebook and Twitter feed tell me anything, it's that folks with interests in palaeontology are also very interested in science fiction. Chaps who liberally discuss bird origins and tyrannosaur feeding palaeobiology are likely to also discuss how many tribbles you can stuff into a Jefferies tube or which Imperial Walker would be best for car-pooling to work. Given that a lot of modern science fiction teeters under the weight of ideas borrowed from early science fiction authors, I'm going to take a wild guess that a lot of palaeofiends have, at one time or another, traced these sources back to one of the cornerstones of modern sci-fi: the nightmarish, slimy and tentacle-rich mythos of H. P. Lovecraft.

Matt Wedel, best known in palaeontological circles as a crusader of sauropod vertebrae, certainly has. Over at Echo Station 5-7 he's been musing on the nature of Lovecraft's seminal creation, Cthulhu, and inviting submissions of artwork rendering his hideous visage. A keen emphasis has been made on entrants avoiding the traditional representation of Cthulhu as a guy with squid head through either style or biological interpretations, which I agree with 100%. Lovecraft's descriptions of Cthulhu are undeniably vague, but his suggestion of a greasy, dripping, and ambiguous being is a million miles away from the beefy, green anthropoids we see striding around all too often. Indeed, even Lovecraft's own sketches of Cthulhu seem quite wide of his text:
Cthulhu takes five in this sketch by H. P. Lovecraft himself. Borrowed from the Lovecraft EZine.
Given that I'm not adverse to dipping my toes in Cthulhu mythos myself, I couldn't resist joining the fun. I've had an old, half-finished painting of Cthulhu lying dormant, dreaming, on my hard drive for well over two years, so saw Matt's open invitation as the impetus to wake him up, finish him off, and send him in. The results can be seen in part at the top of this post, but you need to head to Echo Station 5-7 to see the rest. Because I was apparently cursed to write at length about pretty much anything I create in a past life, there's also a typically lengthy explanation for the decisions I made in the rendering process.

If Lovecraftian things are up your street, you also owe it to yourself to read the comments from regular palaeoblog contributors on what they think makes a good Cthulhu, here, here and here. They're not only great demonstrations of how diverse the interpretations of vaguely-understood literary beings can be, but offer some great speculative biology because of the informed scientific backgrounds of each commenter. The discussions at Matt's blog have also spawned an interesting essay on the ecological strategies used by Lovecraft's beings, based on vernal pools, penned by Heteromeles at Putting the Life Back in Science Fiction.

All good stuff, and I've thoroughly enjoyed being part of it. Regular programming - art of old dead things - will be resumed shortly.

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