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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

Investigating the Origins of the Necronomicon

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.

Necronomicon Prop
Photography by Staffan Vilcans

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.

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Featured Horror Books Horror Mystery and Lore

The Necronomicon and Other Ancient Tomes

What is the Necronomicon

While it’s true that the Necronomicon is a fictional book, there has been so much lore built up around about it that it has taken on a life of its own. H.P. Lovecraft imagined an ancient tome that accounted for the primordial cultures and lore of the universe he imagined along with them. This universe of course exists concurrently with the world that we are aware of, as if these locations and creatures that might cause someone to have an existential crisis just for knowing about them, exist just beyond our understanding. If this book really existed the way Lovecraft imagined it—and not just as a recreation of Lovecraft’s original idea—would be traceable and we probably would have seen the world end several times over by now.

Abdul Alzahred’s book was originally titled as “Al Azif,” in reference to the noise made by insects at night—although some scholars (both real and fictional) say that it may also correlate to the sound of demons howling—since it’s not a real tome, it sadly cannot be verified from an original source. Perhaps it’s due to the notoriety of this fictional book that has caused it to come to a point where it has almost become a real entity—or perhaps it was simply an inevitability that multiple people would eventually produce books titled Necronomicon in a way to cash in upon the gullibility of those who didn’t get such an elaborate inside joke. To those seeking the true Necronomicon, Lovecraft was truthful—he admitted that he invented the idea of this book as a prop for his incredibly involved tales of cosmic horror—but it remains such a dynamic symbol in the genre that many people are simply unwilling to accept that it was no more than a fictional creation.

Even though Lovecraft wanted to eventually write the Necronomicon himself, it seems that he considered it too great of a challenge—then at one point he also thought of writing an abridged version of the book, if only to put on display the bits that wouldn’t drive the readers mad. Shortly after he first mentioned the Necronomicon, it began to appear in the stories of his peers, other authors that wished to explore the idea of Lovecraft’s cosmos—this led to his fictional book to become more widespread and seem more authentic.

Who Was Abdul Alhazred?

Alhazred was a world traveler—born in Sanaa, Yemen, he was said to have thrived during the period of the Ommiade caliphs—lived in Damascus during the 8th century—and explored most of the Middle East and Europe. As a traveler, he visited the ruins of Babylon and the subterranean secrets of Memphis, then spent ten years alone in the great southern desert of Arabia

He was a remarkably intelligent person and an adept at learning and translating languages, it would be fair to say he was a scholar—if not an avid drug user. Alhazred would meditate while inhaling fumes from incense that included exotic ingredients—such as opium—and wait for knowledge to “fill him,” essentially alluding to the fact that his source of information for his historical tome is said to have been the cosmos itself. It’s possible that his moniker of the “mad Arab,” came from this unorthodox method of researching the universe. Lovecraft wrote of the Roba el Khaliyeh, or “Empty Space,” of the ancients as well as the Dahna, or “Crimson” desert of the modern Arabs—it was said to hold the protective evil spirits and monsters of death.

Many claims that Alhazred was simply mad, that there was no truth to his stories, but those that believe say that he visited the fabulous Irem—the City of Pillars—as well as having ventured into the nameless city that sat atop ancient ruins which housed a secret race older than all of mankind. Those who pretend to have explored out into this desert, tell tales that are strange and unbelievable, but in his last years Alhazred dwelling in Damascus, where the Necronomicon was initially created was the location of his final disappearance in 738 A.D. Concerning his disappearance—or his perceived death—there have been many conflicting and terrifying stories have been told. Being considered indifferent to the religious experiences of the people of his world, he instead worshipped entities he called Yog-Sothoth and Cthulhu. Ebn Khallikan, a twelfth-century biographer tells that Alhazred was seized by an invisible monster in broad day-light and it

The real story behind the mad Arab is that H.P. Lovecraft invented the name Abdul Alhazred while imagining himself on adventures of Andrew Lang’s Arabian Nights when he was five years old. So as far as we know the most famous and diabolical mystical book of spells was created from the mind of a five-year-old boy that was born and raised in New England. Interestingly enough, later on in Lovecraft’s career, he was able to give the book some type of footing in the realm of plausible mythology, by referencing the Necronomicon in the same paragraph or sentence as other authentic books on the occult, such as The Book of Dyzan as well as Poligraphia.

History and Media Culture of the Necronomicon

The Necronomicon is a popular source of original stories—there is just so much information there to work with, both in a comedic and a horrific sense. We see on television that the book pops up most frequently within cartoons, where there doesn’t have to be an involved main story that it is referenced in. Some of the cartoons that are known to have referenced are shows such as, Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Metalocalypse, The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, The Real Ghostbusters, and The Simpsons. It makes sense that whenever a show requires a creepy book in the plot-line, the Necronomicon is the most obvious choice and it would probably thrill Lovecraft to no end to know how popular his creation had become. To know about more of the media culture that surrounds Lovecraft’s infamous tome, check out our article about the Seven Times the Necronomicon Appeared in Cinema.

When it comes to the lore that suggests the Necronomicon is anything but fiction, it probably stems from the fact that Lovecraft put so much detail into it—as if he was creating a character sketch—that it became convincingly real. Lovecraft wrote letters about this book to a fellow author and peer Clark Ashton Smith; in one such letter, he claimed that Theodorus Philetas translated the Al Azif from its original Arabic text into Greek in 950 A.D. where the name of the book was also translated into the Necronomicon. He also wrote that most of the copies of the original book were burned after several nasty incidents, where people—intent upon harnessing the power of the Old Ones—experimented with the text.

Olaus Wormius, a priest in 1228, translated the original Arabic text into Latin, soon after Pope Gregory IX banned both the Latin and Greek translations, then the church officials seized and burned as many copies that they could find. There is additional lore that claims that Dr. John Dee, an Englishman and magician, in 1586 discovered a singular long lost copy of Wormius’ Latin translation of the Necronomicon. It’s said that Dee and his assistant, Edward Kelly, attempted to translate the work into English, but no fully finished text was ever published again.

The Real and Fallacious Ancient Occult Tomes

With Lovecraft’s writing, he intentionally referenced many different tomes—to give more authenticity to his own fake ancient creation by showing that it was by no means the only such thing in existence. Instead, he threw in both legitimate books, as well as fictional ones in order to build a mythology that might make people question what was real and what was not.

Old Book on Display
Photography by Hatice Yardim

Fake Ancient Mystical Books

  • Cultes des Goules
  • De Vermis Mysteriis
  • The Book of Eibon
  • The Pnakotic Manuscripts
  • Unaussprechlichen Kulten

Authentic Ancient Mystical Books

  • Ars Magna et Utlima
  • Poligraphia
  • The Book of Dyzan
  • The Daemonolatreia
  • Wonders of the Invisible World
  • The Book of Thoth
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Featured Horror Books Scary Movies and Series

The Necronomicon in The Evil Dead Franchise

After Lovecraft introduced The Necronomicon (1927), it traveled far and wide within horror-lore and culture. This book has now been used in horror franchises over the last forty years; in the very spirit in which it was created, it has appeared with the interest of expanding upon a universe that develops something truly ancient and terrifying. Less than a week ago we discussed the origins of The Necronomicon as well as investigated whether or not the book had any basis in reality and we were surprised to find what we did.

The History of the Necronomicon Book (1927)

Essentially an extensive chronology of the origin of the Necronomicon book, The History of the Necronomicon (1927) creates a detailed timeline of a book that floats through time with limited translations; an ancient tome that is understandably considered a forbidden text within the context of its own interesting unknown universe. It created a solid foundation for the mythology that would include the text within each story-line, as not only a prop, but a symbol of darkness, madness, and destruction.

It’s been pointed out that Lovecraft made sure to name drop the book within his stories, so that it would stay ever-present on the minds of his readers, but that it seems to be doing the same with modern culture and not just within horror culture–but we can talk about that later.

That is not dead which can eternal lie…

Abdul Alhazred

The Evil Dead Franchise

Within the Woods (1978)

A franchise that has become somewhat legendary in horror culture started with a production budget of $1,600. Within the Woods (1978) started the franchise and although it wasn’t written as a prequel, that’s what it eventually became. It was really Raimi’s proof of concept short horror film to help to build interest of potential investors, but even though he had cast his friends and operated under a severely low budget he was able to convince a local theater to screen the film with The Rocky Horror Picture Show in the normal grindhouse manner. This initial production inspired a larger budget remake that Raimi also directed, The Evil Dead (1981)

Sam Raimi started something when he developed a story based around Lovecraft’s book and regardless if it was something that Lovecraft would have approved of as far as the content of the story, it did bring a different perspective to the cosmic horror that Lovecraft was so famous for. Then again, that’s what we’re all about here at Puzzle Box Horror, we’ve found inspiration through the works of others and now we want to give other people a place to find their own source to create and be inspired.

The Evil Dead (1981)

Here I continued my research undisturbed by the myriad distractions of modern civilization and far from the groves of academe. I believe I have made a significant find in the Candarian Ruins. A volume of Ancient Sumerian burial practices and funerary incantations. It is entitled Naturom Demonto – roughly translated, ‘Book of the Dead’.

Straight out of a Lovecraft tale, The Evil Dead (1981) features a quote through a tape recording of a long-dead professor.

Within the context of The Evil Dead franchise, the Necronomicon is considered the foundation of the darkness that follows the characters throughout –at one point, The Evil Dead (1981) it even had the working title of Book of the Dead. While it didn’t exactly go with Lovecraft’s narrative that the book was something that could be lost on the shelves of some ancient library, forgotten and dusty, it still provided a much-needed foothold in modern horror culture.

In the movie, this ancient tome actually appears as a kind of abomination as a book bound in human skin, the words inked in human blood, nothing that Lovecraft would have ever dreamt up. Suffice it to say, it’s a memorable look for a book that is said to drive the reader insane–it became quite a cultural phenomenon and seems like it will continue to be one.

Evil Dead II (1987)

By this time, the franchise realized its slightly comedic take on a story about possession and evil as the result of playing a recording of a passage from the evil texts of The Necronomicon. So instead of a serious horror, they essentially parodied their original movie. Regardless of the initial popularity, Evil Dead II (1987) has acquired a quite large cult following on a global scale.

Army of Darkness (1992)

Officially considered the third installment of the Evil Dead franchise, Army of Darkness (1992) was released as another horror comedy, where our protagonist from the first two movies is trapped in the Middle Ages and it’s almost like the third Back to the Future, ridiculous but somehow still worth the watch. The book has a larger role in this film, where it serves as a means of time travel.

Evil Dead (2013)

The Necronomicon has a renewed appearance in the newest remake of Evil Dead (2013), where they stepped up the game in removing the book from its archaic and unholy origins of antiquity to being a prop filled will awful images and obscenities, but it doesn’t come across as a remake, as much as it does a soft reboot and a continuation of the original and not as a comedy, but a hard horror movie.

Ash vs. Evil Dead (2015 – 2018)

This television continuation of the original comedic horror was a three-year run that was filmed for the Starz network, where Bruce Campbell reprises his role as Ash. It’s considered a sequel, of sorts, to the original trilogy, but was canceled after the third season