Necronomicon


Necronomicon
   Mythical book of occult lore invented by HPL.
   The work is first cited by name in “The Hound” (1922), although its purported author, Abdul Alhazred, was cited as the author of an “unexplainable couplet” in “The Nameless City” (1921). HPL states that the name Abdul Alhazred was supplied to him at the age of five by “a family elder—the family lawyer [Albert A. Baker], as it happens—but I can’t remember whether I asked him to make up an Arabic name for me, or whether I merely asked him to criticise a choice I had otherwise made” (HPL to Robert E.Howard, January 16, 1932; AHT). The coinage was somewhat unfortunate, as it contains a reduplicated article (Abd ul Alhazred). A more idiomatic coinage would have been Abd el-Hazred.
   HPL cited his book so frequently in his tales that by late 1927 he felt the need to write a “History of the Necronomicon” to keep his references consistent. At that time he noted that the work had been written by Alhazred around 700 C.E. and titled by him Al Azif(a term HPL lifted from Samuel Henley’s notes to William Beckford’s Vathek, referring to the nocturnal buzzing of insects). It was translated into Greek in 950 by Theodorus Philetas but subsequently banned by the patriarch Michael. HPL then attributes a Latin translation of 1228 to Olaus Wormius, mistakenly believing that this seventeenth-century Danish scholar lived in the thirteenth century (see “Regner Lodbrog’s Epicedium”). HPL notes an English translation by John Dee—a detail Frank Belknap Long provided in “The Space-Eaters” ( WT, July 1928), written earlier in 1927 and read by HPL in manuscript (see SL2.171–72). In a late letter ( SL5.418) HPL attempts a derivation of the Greek title: “ nekros,corpse; nomos,law; eikon, image=An Image [or Picture] of the Law of the Dead.” Unfortunately, HPL is almost entirely wrong. By the laws of Greek etymology, the word would derive from nekros, nemo(to divide, hence to examine or classify), and -ikon(neuter adjectival suffix)=“An examination or classification of the dead.”
   How HPL came up with the idea of the Necronomiconis unclear. His first mythical book was the Pnakotic Manuscripts, cited in “Polaris” (1918); an unnamed book is mentioned in “The Statement of Randolph Carter” (1919). Donald R.Burleson (“Lovecraft: The Hawthorne Influence,” Extrapolation 22 [Fall 1981]: 267) notes that an “old volume in a large library,—every one to be afraid to unclasp and open it, because it was said to be a book of magic” cited in one of Nathaniel Hawthorne’s notebooks, which HPL is known to have read around 1920; but recall that among the “infinite array of stage properties” that HPL in “Supernatural Horror in Literature” identifies in the standard Gothic novel were “mouldy hidden manuscripts.” Poe’s tales are also full of allusions to real and imaginary books. Probably no single source is to be identified in HPL’s use of the mythical book.
   HPL’s longest quotations from the Necronomiconoccur in “The Festival” (1923) and “The Dunwich Horror” (1928). Indeed, the book is rarely quoted elsewhere; instead, its contents are merely alluded to. Robert M.Price (“Genres in the Lovecraftian Library,” Crypt No. 3 [Candlemas 1982]: 14–17) identifies a shift in HPL’s use of the book, from a demonology (guide to heretical beliefs) to a grimoire (a book of spells and incantations). Still later, as HPL “demythologized” his imaginary pantheon of “gods” and revealed them to be merely extraterrestrial aliens, the Necronomiconis shown to be considerably in error in regard to the true nature of these entities: in At the Mountains of Madness the narrator notes that the Old Ones of Antarctica were “the originals of the fiendish elder myths which things like the Pnakotic Manuscripts and the Necronomicon affrightedly hint about.”
   When asked late in life by James Blish why he did not write the Necronomiconhimself, HPL noted that in “The Dunwich Horror” he had cited from page 751 of the work, making the writing of such a book a very extensive undertaking. He wisely added: “…one can never produceanything even a tenth as terrible and impressive as one can awesomely hintabout. If anyone were to try to writethe Necronomicon,it would disappoint all those who have shuddered at cryptic references to it.” This has not stopped several individuals over the past twenty-five years from producing books bearing the title Necronomicon,some of which are indeed clever hoaxes but surely very far from HPL’s own conception of the work.
   See August Derleth, “The Making of a Hoax” (in DB); Mark Owings, The Necronomicon: A Study (Baltimore: Mirage Associates, 1967); Robert M.Price, “Higher Criticism and the Necronomicon” LS No. 6 (Spring 1982): 3–13; Dan Clore, “The Lurker at the Threshold of Interpretation: Hoax Necronomicons and Paratextual Noise,” LSNo. 42 (Summer 2001): 64–74.

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