The Long Tentacle of H.P. Lovecraft in Manga

Thursday, January 7th, 2010

Despite my youthful interest in all things Japanese and my geek-requisite interest in the sanity-blasting horror of H.P. Lovecraft, I’ve never had much interest in their intersection — that is, in the long tentacle of H.P. Lovecraft in manga, where the New Englander’s distaste for slimy aquatic creatures meets up with the modern Japanese taste for shockingly violent and fetishistic entertainment.

Perhaps most shocking to me though is that classical Japanese artist Hokusai — of crashing-wave fame — has a claim to the tentacle-fetish genre, with his own 1820 woodcut, The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife. (East is East, and West is West…)

On a less creepy note, some elements of Lovecraft’s work don’t quite translate — or transliterate:

One curiosity of Japanese translations of Lovecraft is that, since the Japanese language is phonetic, Lovecraft’s intentionally unpronounceable alien names — R’lyeh, Cthulhu, N’kai, Shub-Niggurath, etc. — are unavoidably made pronounceable.

(The Japanese written language isn’t simply phonetic; its two syllabaries restrict writing to consonant-vowel pairs — ka, ki, ku, ke, ko, etc.)

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