“The most merciful thing in the world, I think, is the inability of the human mind to correlate all its content. We live on a placid island of ignorance in the midst of black seas of infinity, and it was not meant that we should voyage far. The sciences, each straining in its own direction, have hitherto harmed us little; but some day the piecing together of dissociated knowledge will open up such terrifying vistas of reality, and of our rightful position therein, that we shall either go mad from the revelation, or flee from the deadly light into the peace and safety of a new dark age.”
- The Call of Cthulhu
Suppose you were told about terrors so unimaginable that the very thought of them could drive you to madness?
Now look up into the night sky. Does staring into the vast black emptiness of space evoke an overwhelming sense of one's own irrelevance? As the universe continues to expand into the cosmic abyss, the meaning of our own existence in it continues to diminish.
This dreadful emotion that begins to consume us and make us sick to our stomach is called existential dread. It is an emotion that is extremely difficult to verbalize or express, without feeling at least a little out of sorts. No matter how hard we try to define the feeling, it is simply one that can not be entirely understood.
Existential dread is what cosmic horror thrives on. Beyond the scope of terrors, cold blooded murders, and monsters — at its core, cosmic horror is about humanity becoming aware of its limits and insignificance in the universe.
Howard Phillips Lovecraft was an early 20th Century writer who wrote extensively on the subject, and is considered to be the father of cosmic horror. He was, arguably, the premier writer of weird and horror fiction and in his wake, influenced countless others. As a result, “cosmic horror” and “Lovecraftian horror” are often used interchangeably. Lovecraft’s stories explored the inconsequentiality of human existence within the vastness of the universe.
Not only is our very existence believed to be insignificant, but so is everything we have ever conceptualized. Morality, hopes, and dreams, are only perceived to have value. In reality, they are merely social constructs devised to give the illusion of significance to our lives.
As such, one can argue that the monsters in cosmic horror are not necessarily evil, since they do not ascribe to human conceptions of morality. Thus, in the cosmic domain, murdering someone in cold blood could be construed as tantamount to simply crushing a bug. Monsters, after all, have their own moral standards.
“The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear. And the oldest and strongest kind of fear is the fear of the unknown.” - H.P Lovecraft