"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
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.