ART OF THE NECRONOMICON
H.P. Lovecraft’s Book of the Dead inspires a century of artists and film makers.
1924 – The Necronomicon first mentioned in Lovecraft’s short story The Hound
Howard Phillips (H.P.) Lovecraft: Providence Rhode Island, USA. (August 20, 1890 – March 15, 1937)
The Necronomicon is a work of fiction dreamed up by dark fantasy writer H.P. Lovecraft as a “Grimoire” or magic book of spells. It is said to have been penned by a mad Arabian poet named Abdul Alhazred. The book is based on the “Cthulhu Mythos” which is about a fictional universe where ancient, extraterrestrial beings called “The Old Ones” once ruled the Earth, and could return to destroy us, and, apparently to even look at the pages of the Necronomicon could be enough to drive one to insanity.
Although there are many fictional works that appear in the Cthulhu Mythos, the Necronomicon is by far the most famous. Although it is ostensibly an ancient work, the first mention of the Necronomicon was in the Lovecraft story The Hound in 1924. Lovecraft said the title meant “the book of the customs (or laws) of the dead”. It has been cited in 18 of his books and has become so well known that many people believe it to be real. However, the actual book does not exist at all. Lovecraft did write an essay called The History of The Necronomicon. It mentions the fictional Necronomicon author Abdul Alhazred and was published in 1938. Supposedly Lovecraft had intended to write the Necronomicon, but unfortunately for his fans that never happened. His gothic science fiction has become quite legendary and his work has inspired generations of writers and artists, and has been used many times in books, film props and as an inspiration for great pieces of art. Lovecraft wrote many books referencing the Cthulhu Mythos and the “Old Ones”, so why is the Necronomicon so famous? He said the title came to him in a dream, and what a dream that must have been, because my guess is that the Necronomicon is so famous to this day because the name is just so cool. Try saying it out loud. NEC-RO-NOM-IC-ON. It just rolls off the tongue, doesn’t it? It is obviously also famous because of the amazing descriptions Lovecraft bestows on his characters. In his book The Call of Cthulhu, he describes Cthulhu as “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”. You can see why his characters have tantalized the imagination of artists. So, let’s talk about some of the amazing artwork that has been inspired by The Necronomicon.
1977 – H.R. Giger publishes his illustrated book – H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon.
Hans Rudolf (H.R.) Giger: Switzerland. (1940 – 12th May, 2014)
In H.R. Gigers book HR Giger ARh+, he writes that the first he heard of the Necronomicon was when he was asked to illustrate some stories for a journal called Cthulhu News published by the Zurich writer Robert B. Fischer. Through this he began to develop a interest in Lovecraft. In 1977 Giger had produced a series of images and was looking for a title. It was suggested to him to name his book Giger’s Necronomicon. Giger was a seriously talented and multi talented artist. He was a painter, sculptor and set designer who is best known for his “biomechanical” (a fusion of the organic and the mechanic) images of humans linked with machines. This surreal imagery is very beautiful, but not for the faint hearted! This is why his nightmarish designs ended up being perfect for a new Hollywood project.
1979 – Director Ridley Scott uses an insectoid-like creature from Giger’s book as the alien design for the movie Alien.
In 1979 Director, Ridley Scott was looking for inspiration for the creature in his new movie Alien. He needed something so unsettling that it could make you psychically sick. Nothing seemed to fit. I read that he even considered The Cruxificion by Irish Artist Francis Bacon’s, and I’m not surprised because it is pretty unsettling! Giger’s Necronomicon artwork was given to director Ridley Scott during the pre-production of the film Alien (1979). Scott was astounded by Giger’s work and chose Gigers print of a grotesque mechanical insectoid-like creature from Necronom IV for the design of the Alien creature. Scott also hired Giger to produce artwork for the film. Giger produced almost thirty pictures for the Alien project and travelled to England to supervise and execute the décor at Shepperton Studios.
Giger worked with award winning creature maker Carlo Rambalde, who is famous for creating the title character from E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial. Giger created a mock-up of the Alien with mechanical parts from a Rolls Royce car, and human and animal bones such as skulls, femurs and vertebrae. Rambalde followed Giger’s designs closely to create an animatronic head of 900 moving parts, including the famous tongue that extends from the mouth within a mouth.
1980 – the movie Alien wins Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects due to Giger’s Alien creature design.
Ridley Scott’s movie Alien was released on 25th May 1979 and was a smash hit. Giger and Rambalde’s work contributed significantly to the success of the movie and, in 1980 they won a well deserved Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects. This movie achieved most of its enormous success due to the superb artwork of H.R. Giger, and what a success it was. It spawned three sequels: Aliens (1986), Alien3 (1992), Alien: Resurrection (1997). Two Alien Vs Predator spin-offs: Alien vs. Predator (2004) and Aliens vs. Predator: Requiem (2007) and Two Prequels: Prometheus (2012) and Alien Covenant (2017).
1993 – Giger republishes his book Necronomicon.
Due to the success of the movie, Alien, H.R. Giger’s book Necronomicon was republished in 1993 by Morpheus International with additional artwork included from Giger’s design for Alien.
1981 – FX Artist Tom Sullivan makes his own version of the Necronomicon for low budget horror move turned cult favourite – The Evil Dead.
Tom Sullivan – FX Artist.
In the low budget horror movie The Evil Dead (1981) FX Artist Tom Sullivan’s version of the Necronomicon is a book bound in human skin and it’s pages written in blood. Sullivan, who also did the special makeup effects for the movie, wanted the book to be so evil that you would not even want to touch it. With this in mind he took inspiration from the 2nd World War Nazi SS Officer Ilsa Koch, known as the “Witch of Buchenwald” who actually made book covers, curtains, and lamp-shades out of human prisoner skin. This really didn’t have much resemblance to Lovecrafts vision, but it did introduce the Necronomicon to a new generation of fans, as the low budget movie became a very popular cult favourite, spawning a sequel – Evil Dead2. I was lucky enough to meet Tom Sullivan at a Fangoria Weekend of Horror and I did indeed touch that creepy looking book!
I believe Tom Sullivan has some replicas of the original Book of the Dead from Evil Dead. Check out this link for more information. http://www.deadites.net/tom-sullivans-evil-dead-products-for-sale/
2008 – A commemorative collection of H.P. Lovecraft’s work called “Necronomicon: The Best Weird Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft”, illustrated by Les Edwards is published by Gollancz.
Les Edwards – Illustrator
In 2008 a commemorative collection of H.P Lovecrafts works titled Necronomicon: the Best Weird Tales of H.P. Lovecraft was published by by Gollancz. This edition was illustrated by professional illustrator Les Edwards. Lovecrafts description of his best known Necronomicon character Cthulhu was the inspiration for the leather bound cover of this book. In the book Cthulhu is described as follows:
“It seemed to be a sort of monster, or symbol representing a monster, of a form which only a diseased fancy could conceive. If I say that my somewhat extravagant imagination yielded simultaneous pictures of an octopus, a dragon, and a human caricature, I shall not be unfaithful to the spirit of the thing. A pulpy, tentacled head surmounted a grotesque and scaly body with rudimentary wings; but it was the general outline of the whole which made it most shockingly frightful.”
This description of an octopus/human/ dragon hybrid has inspired may tentacled interpretations of Cthulhu but this leather bound collection with black cover with letters and cover illustration stamped in gold is a lovely celebration of Lovecraft’s work.
2017 – The work of H.P. Lovecraft captures the imagination of the video game industry.
As I write this blog (in May 2017) it seems that the HP Lovecraft Historical Society will have some Live-Action Role Playing games in the works sometime soon. Games such as “Arkham Sanitarium” and “Cthulhu Lives!” are in the works, so we look forward to checking with them for more info. In the meantime they have a lot of cool information and plenty of goodies for sale on their website. Visit www.hplhs.org for more info.
MAKE IT YOURSELF
There are a few YouTube pages about how to make your own Necronomicon prop but I like this time-lapse one by MudbrainsTvDIY. It looks very doable, and inexpensive. I haven’t tried it myself but when I do, I will certainly post my results here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Efaya4LfeE8
1890 – Lovecraft born
1924 – the Necronomicon first mentioned in the Lovecraft short story “The Hound”
1937 – Lovecraft Death
1938 – The History of the Necronomicon by H.P. Lovecraft published
1977 – H.R. Giger’s Necronomicon published
1979 – The movie Alien released (Dir Ridley Scott)
1980 – the movie Alien wins Academy Award for Best Achievement in Visual Effects
1981 – The movie The Evil Dead horror movie (Dir. Sam Raimi) released
1993 – H.R. Gigers book Necronomicon republished in 1993 by Morpheus Intl. with additional artwork included from Giger’s design for Alien.
2008 – The Best Weird Fiction of H.P. Lovecraft, a commemorative collection by Gollancz’s and illustrated by Les Edwards published.
2017 – The work of H.P. Lovecraft captures the imagination of the video game industry with some games by the HP Lovecraft Historical Society in the works.
- HP Lovecraft Historical Society: http://www.hplhs.org/