by Audrey Harper
At it’s most basic definition, Eldritch Horror is something that is uncanny, unearthly, and weird in a supernatural way. Most people attribute the themes of Eldritch Horror to H. P. Lovecraft’s fiction, as well as those who’ve come after him and have tried to emulate his work.
The idea of Eldritch Horror comes from Cosmicism. This is the idea that our human expectations of order and what constitutes as good are simply a thin veil of civilization over a deeper chaos that runs throughout the natural and human worlds. What we have come to understand is, in fact, ignorance in comparison to a greater scale.
Lovecraft’s fiction focuses in both natural and unnatural horror, as well as human and inhuman qualities. His less aggressive or supernatural creatures are categorized simply as Lovecraftian Horrors and not necessarily Eldritch. For example, the mass of rats from “The Rats in the Walls” is a natural horror instead of supernatural. What makes them specifically Lovecraftian, despite being written by him, is that for some of the time, these rats are unseen. They are a projection of the protagonist’s own ancestral cannibalistic impulses.
An Eldritch Horror tends to have transcendental qualities that can’t be categorized. They are formless shape-shifters who are also referred to as Outer Gods or the Great Old Ones. These powers, or deities, include creatures such as Shub-Niggurath, Yog-Sothoth, Azathoth, and Cthulhu. They’re often represented in Lovecraft’s writing with a lack of specific descriptors, or are talked about in a roundabout fashion that doesn’t paint the picture quite as clearly as we might wish.
Lovecraftian Horrors and Eldritch Horrors act as an inversion of Freud’s theory on the psychological origin of the monotheist’s God. Instead of taking our own fears and vulnerabilities and projecting them onto a supreme comforting figure who can limit those threats, Lovecraft takes our vulnerability and ignorance in the face of an infinite universe, and personifies it by populating it with radically depersonalized but active powers. Those who could ignore us or erase us on a whim.
What makes them Eldritch is that they aren’t our conventional understandings of constants like time, space, psychological coherence, physical stability, or bodily integrity. These creatures are “abominations” because they continuously expose the vulnerability of human values. From owning our own minds and bodies, to our persistence in being the dominant species, Eldritch Horrors remind us that we aren’t as in control as we would like to believe.