Cthul--Who?
How Do You Pronounce "Cthulhu"?

by Henry Akeley

copyright © 1982 by Robert M. Price
reprinted by permission of Robert M. Price

 

"About the pronunciation of the Outside word roughly given as CthuIhu in our alphabet --- authorities seem to differ." So said Lovecraft in a letter to Willis Conover (Selected Letters V, p. 302). The worst part about it is that the ultimate authority, Lovecraft himself, "differed" on the question. He seems to have had at least two distinct pronunciations in mind at different times.

To begin with, we are at a notable disadvantage since "the word is supposed to represent a fumbling human attempt to catch the phonetics of an absolutely non-human word. . . . The syllables were determined by a physiological equipment wholly unlike ours, hence could never be uttered perfectly by human throats. . . ." Great. But HPL was not daunted, and neither should we be.

The actual sound --- as nearly as human organs could imitate it or human letters record it --- may be taken as something like Khlul'hloo, with the first syllable pronounced gutterally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, since the h represents the gutteral thickness. The second syllable is not very well rendered --- the l being unrepresented. (Selected Letters V, pp. 10-11.)

So HPL wrote to Duane Rimel. The version related to Conover two years later is pretty much the same: "The best approximation one can make is to grunt, bark, or cough the imperfectly-formed syllables Cluh-Luh with the tip of the tongue firmly affixed to the roof of the mouth." (Selected Letters V, p. 302.) This pronunciation is reinforced in two of Lovecraft's revision-tales. In "Medusa's Coil", he has an old African woman invoke "Clooloo", and in "Winged Death", Africans are said to refer in whispers to "Clulu".

The matter might seem thus to be settled, except that Robert Barlow recalled that "Lovecraft pronounced Cthulhu as Koot-u-lew. . . ." ("The Barlow Journal" in August Derleth, Some Notes on H. P. Lovecraft, p. xxviii.) While even an eyewitness report must yield in authority to first-person sources such as we have just been examining, Barlow's recollection does receive support from Lovecraft's tale "The Mound". In it, the inhabitants of K'n-yan worship the primeval god "Tulu", a variant form which seems to presuppose an original pronunciation like the one remembered by Barlow.

Readers have surely heard or invented several more possible pronunciations. We have heard "S'tulu" and "K'tulu" from various nondescript individuals. In The Haunted Palace (the film version of The Case of Charles Dexter Ward), Dr. Willet says "Thulu". Our stalwart reviewer C. J. Henderson prefers "Thul-hu". S. T. Joshi is a purist and follows the pronunciation in Lovecraft's letters. But as the alliteration in the title Crypt of Cthulhu implies, we ourselves doped it out long ago as "Kuh-thu-lu." Yes, this pronunciation is heterodox compared to Lovecraft's, but we are not much bothered by this fact.