The Elder Sign is something that every fan of H.P. Lovecraft knows about. To us, it’s right up there next to Cthulhu himself as one of his most recognizable things. The problem however, is that most of you don’t actually recognize the right thing. Drunken Zadok, from The Shadow Over Innsmouth, is the only person in all love Lovecraft’s writings to ever talk about the sign. In fact, it’s the only time that it’s ever talked about in any of his stories. He does mention the symbol in letters that he wrote to Clark Ashton Smith, and even drew it once. His drawing was that of one long line, with five smaller lines branching off of it, resembling a branch of a pine tree. The same one that is pictured to the left here.
A lot of people don’t recognize this as the Elder Sign though. What a lot of people think of when it’s mentioned is the symbol as created by August Derleth.
Derleth did the same thing that he did to the Elder Sign as he did with the rest of Lovecrafts writings. He ignored anything that Lovecraft ever said about them, and just did his own thing. If there is one thing that he did right, it was his use of the term Cthulhu Mythos (Lovecraft only ever jokingly referred to his work as “Yog-Sothothery”), and helping to popularize the stories. Other than that, he took away the hopelessness and complete irrelevance of the human race and replaced it with a battle of good and evil, then threw in some elemental crap as well. Don’t get me wrong, Lovecraft worked with a group of writers and they all shared ideas and built on what each other was doing. You can even say that Conan is actually a part of the Cthulhu Mythos since Robert Howard worked some of the ancient evils of Lovecraft into his stories. Many of Lovecraft’s friends wrote great stories that fit into the Mythos perfectly, it’s just that Derleth missed the point of what Lovecraft wrote.
One way to look at it is like this. Lovecraft’s writing is like the first Godzilla movie (ignoring the bad effects) or maybe Cloverfield. We don’t know why the monster is here, we just know that it’s huge, terrifying, and we are but ants for it to step on. Derleth’s writings would be more like all the Godzilla Versus Whatever movies. He added all kinds of unnecessary back story, and made it about monsters fighting instead of cosmic horror. It’s a completely different style, but like I said, he did a lot to popularize the original works. He was the one that started Arkham House and published a collection of Lovecraft’s works himself when other publishers declined. So I don’t mind that much if his version of the Elder Sign is what is used in movies and video games. He did a lot of work to keep Lovecraft’s work from just fading away after his death. I may not like his ideas about the Cthulhu Mythos, but I will give credit where credit is due.
There is a third Elder Sign that you’ll see on occasion. The third one comes from the Simon Necromicon. For those of you not familiar with the book, it’s supposedly the real Necronomicon. You see, according to Simon, the Necronomicon is a real book. He writes a bit at the beginning about how the ancient Babylonians talked about Cthulhu, mixes in some of Crowley’s crap, a few words from the Mad Arab, and then fills the rest of the book with a bunch of “Spells”. This Simon, later wrote another book about how his first book is indeed the real Necronomicon. The Simon Necronomicon is to Lovecraft as Transmorphers is to Transformers. It exists solely to be purchased by mistake when people think that they are going to get completely different.
What I find to be rather funny though, is when people get this symbol tattooed on themselves.
Even Vin Diesel sported this. It was only for the movie Babylon A.D., so it wasn’t permanent, and really, it’s the least of that movie’s crimes…
Getting this thing tattooed on you is like going to a Transformers convention, cosplaying as a Gobot, and trying to get Peter Cullen to sign your copy of Transmorphers.