Posted by M. Asher Cantrell on Sep 11, 2013 in Apex Publications Blog: Matters of SF, Fantasy, and Horror | 2 comments
In the last decade, we’ve had a surprising number of films of the “giant monster coming out of the ocean” genre. Call them kaiju or Godzillas or “oh hell, another one of these,” but with special effects making huge creatures cheaper and easier, they’re only getting more common. From Godzilla (the Matthew Broderick one) to Cloverfield to Pacific Rim and back to Godzilla (yep, another one) again. That’s not even mentioning the zillion Syfy Originals that have come out in that time.
After seeing Pacific Rim this summer, it occurred to me how much kaiju films and the stories of H.P. Lovecraft have in common. Giant creatures from under the sea who want to murder us all and generally just do not give a damn. Okay, so it’s not an exact parallel. Lovecraft’s monsters are ancient aliens who drive men mad and prefer to work behind the scenes of human society. Kaiju are giant anti-nuke PSAs who just like to mash shit and breathe fire. But still, there’s gotta be something there, right?
Obviously, Lovecraft came first, beating out the first Godzilla films by 30 years or so. However, Lovecraft wasn’t exactly wildly popular until several decades after his death, and it doesn’t appear his work was even available in Japan at the time.
Furthermore, consider that when Godzilla debuted, giant monsters and sapient sea creatures weren’t new to Japanese folklore by any means. See, for example, the infamous The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife woodcut (NSFW), where intelligent mollusks have their way with a fisherman’s wife, who is hopefully not around to see that going on. Then there’s the legend of Ryujin, the Japanese sea deity who was a giant dragon with the power of the ocean and his own underwater city called Ryugu-jo. (Sound familiar?) His minions include anything you can find under the sea, like octopuses, jellyfish, and turtles.
And yet Lovecraft, who was wildly xenophobic and grew up in New England, probably never had access to any of those legends. His influences, so far as he mentioned them, were exclusively white, English-speaking dudes. In fact, he attributed many of his ideas to his dreams.
Isn’t it odd, then, that half a world apart, and within just a few decades of each other, we have two separate mythologies involving giant creatures from the sea that seemingly have no overlap? Not exactly. It happens a lot in the sciences and mathematics, where it’s called multiple discovery. Isaac Newton and Gottfried Leibniz both independently discovered calculus, for example, and thousands of other scientists have encountered the same thing throughout history, and naturally, it happens in the arts as well.
If this were a Lovecraft story, of course, that would mean that he dreamed of real creatures that Japanese people had forgotten throughout time, and that they were ready to rise once more. That’s silly, obviously. Why, there’d have to be all kinds of natural disasters and oceanic pollution scares and radiation concerns and mysterious sounds from the deep and… oh. Oh no.
Well, uh, happy Wednesday!
Ashe was born in Nashville, TN and received a B.A. in English/Writing from Middle Tennessee State University. He now lives near Nashville in an apartment that is smaller than the inside of many automobiles. He has been featured on sites like Cracked and Mental Floss, and his first book, The Book of Word Records, is available soon from Adams Media.
You can contact him (work offers welcome) by e-mailing firstname.lastname@example.org or, if you’re lucky and within about a 100 yard radius, you can try shouting his name loudly.