Cthulhu Mythos, As Imagined By Kids

“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown”
— H.P. Lovecraft

So, I have the good fortune of being friends with some truly awesome people. One such awesome friend is Collen Kennedy who, among other creative musical endeavors, teaches a Children’s Choir in Canoga Park.  Each year she puts together a “retreat” day for the kids, getting together a group of people to lead the kids through a wide range of activities. This year’s retreat day (which ran last Saturday) included a Super Hero themed live game (run by Andy Ashcraft), a drum circle (run by Richard Becker) and, lastly, a drawing/painting visual arts project that I ran.

This was the second time that I have worked with these kids and led them through some kind of painting/drawing project. The group consists of about 16 kids ranging from 8-18 years of age and a wide range of experience and comfort with expression and some of the various mediums of  visual arts. Last time, not knowing the kids or their abilities I tried something kinda weird – I played a range of songs (jazz, r&B, metal…) and had the kids interpret the sounds and lyrics into pictures. I laid out a bunch of different art supplies (acrylic paint, watercolor pencils, crayons, pastel, charcoal) and some different types and colors of paper and just let them use whatever they wanted. It ended up working out very well and the kids and I had a lot of fun.

This time I wanted to try something more structured so I pitched the idea to them that since it was getting on to Halloween how ’bout drawing some monsters? And not just any monsters but creatures from the writing of H.P. Lovecraft‘s Cthulhu Mythos. Now, only two of the kids (the older ones) had any knowledge of who Lovecraft was or had read some of his stories. So, I was able to introduce the kids to these creatures pretty much fresh with no previous imagining of what these monsters look like.

I put on some creepy Lovecraft inspired music and over the course of about and hour I told them synopsis versions of three of Lovecraft’s tales (The Shadow Out of Time, At the Mountains of Madness, The Call of Cthulhu) getting quickly through the set up and on to the descriptions of the monsters.

I hoped, and was glad to see, it work out that with general descriptions of the shapes of these monsters the kids could come up with some really wonderful interpretations adding their own imaginings to the descriptions and creating a fantastic body of eldritch artwork.

The Great Race of Yith from The Shadow Out of Time – In the bodies they inhabited on the Earth, they were tall and cone-shaped, rising to a point with four strange appendages – two terminating in claws, a third in a “trumpet” shaped organ, and the fourth, a yellow globe, ringed with eyes,  which functioned as a sensory organ.

Gallery One – The Shadow Out of Time

The Elder Things from At the Mountains of Madness – Monstrous barrel-shaped creatures with eyes on the end of each of the five points of their star-shaped heads. With five bulging ridges running vertically along torso. In furrows between ridges are wings that fold up and spread out like fans almost seven feet in length. At the base of their bodies there is a ring of tentacles.

Shoggoth from At the Mountains of Madness – A terrible, indescribable thing – a shapeless congeries of protoplasmic bubbles, faintly self-luminous, and with myriads of temporary eyes forming and un-forming.

Gallery Two – At The Mountains of Madness

Great Cthulhu from The Call of Cthulhu – A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings… It represented a monster of vaguely anthropoid outline, but 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 behind. This thing, which seemed instinct with a fearsome and unnatural malignancy, was of a somewhat bloated corpulence…

Gallery Three – The Call of Cthulhu

Here are some pics of the kids at work, thanks Colleen!

As I told the stories the kids would continue to draw and paint their monsters often incorporating more details from the stories (like the little man dreaming of the Great Race of Yith, or the Mountains of Madness and the “cube shaped things” or the Shoggoths) and frequently telling each other to “shut up and let him finish the story!”. They really got in to the fun of the horror and I certainly had a blast trying to scare them!

Now, at some point, I promise to post about non-Lovecraft related projects 🙂

34 thoughts on “Cthulhu Mythos, As Imagined By Kids

  1. Awesome job! Can I post this link to other Lovecraft sites?

    Also, if this happens again, I’d love to show some for the art show at the next HP Lovecraft Film Festival.

    • I know this was a while ago, so Cthulu only knows if you’re still checking your notes, but…
      I work with kids. Do you have copies of your story adaptations, or any advice on what you did to abbreviate them without losing the majesty of Lovecraft’s phrasing?
      You are my hero, dude. Fer Srs.

      • I don’t, sorry. As for preserving the majesty of Lovecraft’s phrasing I think I was pretty harsh to it since I only had about 15-20min to give each story before we had to move on to the next one. I familiarized myself with the stories before I went there (it didn’t hurt that I was listening to the HPLHS’s “radio play” versions that week) and that helped knowing what the main points of the story were. But, really, you just have to give a tiny little intro (so you don’t loose the attention of the kids) and get on with the description of the monster because you want to be telling the story while they’re working out the drawings. Then once pretty much everyone is done you can move on to other stories. Also, I didn’t get bogged down in the exhaustively specific descriptions that Lovecraft used. If I sometimes need a dictionary to know what he’s talking about I would not want to be tied to the text when trying to impart the mental image that comes from a description of the monster to a group of kids. I would want them to get the point and feel equipped with an idea of what it should look like. So, for example, in Mountains of Madness there is a huge description of the dissection of the Elder Things and we get a TON of anatomical details. Is it important to give that much detail to a class of kids? No. What they need to know is – Star shaped heads, barrel shaped bodies, tentacles for feet and wings… Yes, it is not as accurate but it gets the important info that pretty much anyone could render with some level of confidence regardless of skill. I hope this helps – If you do it, let me know how it goes and take some pictures!!!

  2. Wow! Kudos to you for coming up with such an inspired idea. Using HPL’s bizarre creatures was a great way to get the kids to think outside the box. Some of the artwork they created is amazing. Hopefully, this will be an ongoing thing.

  3. Really good drawings! One of the Cthulhu ones looks a lot like Pazuzu.
    Those children have a lot of talent. I mean REALLY a lot!
    The original idea (of yours) was really clever.

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  6. Pretty great! I’m glad you were able to do this and get such fun results. I just wrote a Lovecraft-Carroll mashup called Cthulhu in Wonderland, which I put up on Amazon. That was the result of a lot of hanging out with smart kids who were interested in HPL, so I think it’s good to share the enthusiasm with our new spaw\\\\younger enthusiasts!

  7. This is wonderful! At that age (or any age) I would have been ecstatic to participate in such a project! I am glad there are people like you who enjoy inspiring our youth.

  8. Awesome… I love the musical tie in too! My 5 Y.O. son says that the symphonic wind ensemble that my wife is in sounds like the “Ultimate Chaos” when they warm up…

  9. You;re missing the point if you think this is all about horror and fear and being excited. What’s happening here is that children are learning to interpret words and express themselves. They are following “directions” (the descriptions in the stories) and arriving at a version of it that they feel is correct, and just as correct as anyone else’s different images.
    This is all good.

  10. What wonderful drawings..You really fired up their imaginations and they really grasped the whole concept of the ‘mythos’ and the creeping horror of it all.

  11. Greetings, David. I am a teacher and would love to do this activity with my students. Do you by any chance still have these ‘synopsis versions’ of the stories? Or did you just do it from memory?

  12. Starting kids on Lovecraft in grade school? Not that I’m actually complaining, but it’s just seems very very disturbing…

    • More disturbing than fairy tales/cartoons about wolves eating grandmothers, a step mother demanding a father carve out the heart of his own daughter, or octo-witches stealing souls? More disturbing than the Rapture/End Times/Revelations?

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