You’ve come across an ancient book, not just some dust-covered antique that you found at your local bookstore; no, this was gifted to you with the confidence that you would heed the warning on the attached note and stash the book in a lock-box far away from prying eyes that may fall upon the archaic and mysterious pages of this increasingly enticing tome. Its pages call out to you, begging you to gaze upon them and to unleash the horrors that reside within. What would you do? Well, if you’ve seen any horror movie ever, you’d know that the ancient and creepy compendium of nightmares you’re holding is, in fact, what you can single-handedly bring about the apocalypse with–however, just like every horror movie you’ve ever seen, you’re probably going to open that damn book.
Stop it, Pandora. Don’t you dare open that goddamn book.
You opened the book, didn’t you? This is why we can’t have nice things.
Don’t worry, you’re not the first one. That’s part of what makes movies like Evil Dead (1981) so much fun, the horny group of teenagers fall victim to curiosity and another one–or three, or four–bite the collective dust. The curiosity may be unbearable but when it comes to the Necronomicon, a mythical book of demonic power, you should probably leave well enough alone.
What exactly is the Necronomicon?
Depending on where you know the Necronomicon from there may be different lore attached, but legend tells us that the original Necronomicon was written by the mad Arabian poet Abdul Alhazred. After spending a decade roaming the ruined cities of Babylon and Memphis he completed his tome before he descended further into madness and by A.D. 738 was devoured by an invisible monster according to Lovecraft. The actual name Necronomicon is, according to Lovecraft translated to, “the book of the customs (or laws) of the dead,” but other translations include, “the book of dead names.”
It is said that his manuscript was translated into Greek by scholars in the 10th century then burned in the middle ages, which only a few copies were said to survive; which of course allows us all to enjoy the delightfully awful antics that follow the contents being read aloud. Despite being a product of H.P. Lovecraft’s strange and mystifying imagination, it was inspired by real historic texts such as the Egyptian Book of the Dead. It has been said in certain sources that Lovecraft confessed the original idea for the Necronomicon came to him in a dream and he first showcased his idea in the short story The Hound (1924).
What’s Actually in the Book?
In the first appearance of the Necronomicon, it is referred to in passing as two grave robbers steal a jade amulet, which was, “the thing hinted of in the forbidden Necronomicon of the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred.” While Lovecraft may not have been happy with The Hound, it along with The Nameless City (1921) began the universe that would become the center of the Cthulhu mythos.
What else is really in the book though? From what Lovecraft divulges within his stories, Alhazred spoke mostly of the Old Ones and it makes sense that a book like the Necronomicon could only exist in a universe where ancient, god-like beings would bring their wrath by those who sought to wake them. In fact, the book was even said to contain the very passages that would wake the Old Ones and inspire madness just from viewing its pages. In Dunwich Horror, Lovecraft gives us a quite lengthy excerpt from the Necronomicon, speaking specifically about Yog-Sothoth. A much more popular creature, Cthulhu, is also mentioned as a monster who lies at the bottom of the ocean.
In fact, many fans tend to think about the Necronomicon as a sort of bible for Lovecraft’s pantheon of the immensely powerful extraterrestrial beings. The book appears within eighteen of his own stories, more often than any other real or fictional ancient tome that he was known to reference. Later on, with the adaptations of other authors, the book gained more of a reputation as a book of spells and rituals, but Lovecraft’s original intention for the book lay mostly in mythology and origin stories for the creatures that were the foundation of his universe.
Within the context of horror Lovecraft’s portrayal of the history of our world, in the times before man, as a universe controlled by beings so terrifying that just reading about them had to potential to drive a person completely insane. This was the birth of cosmic horror, as many of the stories Lovecraft developed ended with at least one of the characters descending into the depths of madness after flipping through the Necronomicon because these creatures were so beyond human comprehension that even thinking about them could be mentally devastating. It would be interesting to see how Lovecraft might feel to know that eighty-two years later there would actually be people convinced that his Necronomicon was an authentic and evil book of spells.
Is the Necronomicon Real?
The short answer is no, the Necronomicon is a purely fictional book that was brought to life through the creative genius of H.P. Lovecraft. To be fair though, Lovecraft did a pretty great job creating a comprehensive universe with its own history, deities, and forbidden lore, which added the element of cosmic horror to his tales. While in reality, the Necronomicon doesn’t exist, there are more than half a dozen books with the same title that you can find at bookstores–these books are all works inspired by, or containing Lovecraft’s book.
The practice of developing such a rich background in fictional literature would inspire other writers to do the same; renowned author J.R.R. Tolkien would follow suit when he brought Middle Earth to life. Lovecraft’s immersive method caught fire with other writers, such as August Derleth and Clark Ashton Smith, who regularly had exchanges with him and even expanded upon the universe by using the Necronomicon and all of the related Chtulhu mythos in their own work. Lovecraft also included his peer’s creations in his own tales as well, as an example, Smith came up with the idea of The Book of Eibon, which was mentioned within his own body of work. Lovecraft even included Robert Bloch’s De Vermis Mysteriis, a book which was said to have the power to summon demons from alternate dimensions, in his stories The Haunter of the Dark and The Shadow Out of Time.
As an avid letter-writer, Lovecraft quite frequently mentioned the Necronomicon in his correspondences to his colleagues where he suggested that his inspiration was also derived from Gothic writing; Gothic writing often made use of the idea of ancient texts and forbidden literature. There was a tendency among authors of the time to do their best to blur the lines between fiction and reality. An author that Lovecraft quite openly admired, Edgard Allan Poe, would go to extremes in an attempt to convince his audience that his stories were true–he even published his 1844 story The Balloon-Hoax as a legitimate article in the New York’s The Sun. As can be seen, by radio performances likeWar of the Worlds by H.G. Wells in 1938, as well as found-footage movies like The Blair Witch Project (1999), the V/H/S series, and the [REC], it is something that modern horror culture still strives to do.