You probably know what the Necronomicon is. If you don’t, go read a book, philistine! But assuming you do, either from reading the works of Lovecraft and the mythos or maybe just from watching Evil Dead and Army of Darkness, you know that it’s a book of ancient knowledge that can send a man mad from its eldritch revelations. But what about the other tomes? There are so many in the Cthulhu mythos, and many are just as madness inducing as the Necronomicon itself. Today, I’d like to introduce you to three different works, all by men named Robert.
The first work is the mostly scholarly tome of Friedrich von Junzt, Unaussprechlichen Kulten, or as it’s usually translated in English, Nameless Cults. A better translation might be Unspeakable Cults or Unpronounceable Cults. This book was actually created by Robert E. Howard, better known for creating Conan the Barbarian. The book itself is modeled after the real life work of Margaret Mead, noted cultural anthropologist, who traveled the world and wrote extensively about native cultures and their traditions. The fictional von Junzt did much the same, except instead of local tribes, he investigated cults and their practices.
The book was published in 1839, with a badly translated English version going to press in 1845. A better translation, highly expurgated (censored, in layman’s terms), was produced by Golden Goblin Press in 1909. Most of the first editions of the 1839 German work and the 1845 English work were destroyed, but the 1909 version, while uncommon, is not difficult to acquire. This is why most investigators of the mythos have a copy of this work, or run across it early in their (usually limited) careers.
The King in Yellow
The King in Yellow is not precisely a tome, but instead is a play by an unknown author about three characters, Cassilda, Camilla, and the titular King in Yellow. The first act of the play is unremarkable, but the second act drives those who merely read it insane. Were it ever actually performed, the world might well end. There’s no specific information about what’s in the second act, but it’s know that it deals with lost Carcosa on the shores of Lake Hali, and involves He Who Shall Not Be Named (Hastur). The King wears a mask with the Yellow Sign, which can also drive men mad merely by seeing it.
The play is an invention of Robert W. Chambers based on names borrowed from Ambrose Bierce. There’s always been (intentional) confusion about what the play is actually about – Carcosa may be a city on another planet, or a family name, or possibly a fourth character. Hali may be a lake, or a city, or the planet. Hastur may or may not be named explicitly (and the whole “He Who Shall Not Be Named” comes from this – suck it Harry Potter fans, this was published in 1895!). The Dead Milkmen used the name of this play for the title of their 2011 album.
De Vermis Mysteriis
In English, Mysteries of the Worm, this work has the distinction of being just and hideous as the Necronomicon itself. In fact, it was De Vermis Mysteriis that was first described as having an edition with human body parts involved – the Necronomicon in Evil Dead is said to be bound in human flesh and inked in blood, De Vermis Mysteriis was said to be made of sheets of human vellum and bound with hasps of human bone. Ludwig Prinn, the author of this tome, was a medieval wizard, and his lineage eventually made their way to Salem, Massachusetts during the infamous witch trials. The author himself was also burned at the stake.
This book of ancient evil was created by Robert Bloch, best known for being the author of Psycho, Alfred Hitchcock’s masterpiece. This work has shown up in many other stories, including Jerusalem’s Lot by Stephen King. The first Hellboy movie also made reference to this book, with Rasputin using it to open a portal to the Ogdru Jahad. Lovecraft himself referred to the book as, “repeat the most hellish secrets learnt by early man.”
And there you have it, the books of Robert, all equals to the might Necronomicon, and in the case of the last entry, possibly its greater. There are many, many more tomes that can be found in the mythos, and even the authors above created other works. Robert E. Howard’s Book of Skelos for example, which appears both in his Conan stories and in his mythos tales, and was referenced in the movie Conan the Destroyer (as the “Scrolls of Skelos”). The books grew to become more than their original intent as various authors added to their mystery.
Just like the Necronomicon, many people thought these books were quite real based on the detailed backgrounds and the way they appeared in multiple stories by separate authors. Of course, now you can find books by these names which are collections of short stories by the creators of the fictional works – Chaosium, for example, has a book titled De Vermis Mysteriis which is a collection of Robert Bloch’s mythos tales. This just further obscures whether there were ever real books with these titles. Add to that the fact that often the mythos writers would reference actual books, like The Golden Dawn and the Witch-Cult in Western Europe, and you have even more confusion.