The Lovecraft in Warcraft
H.P Lovecraft was a writer of noteworthy obscurity during his lifetime. Still today, his own works pale in public notoriety to the works of those whom he had influenced. World of Warcraft is apart of this progeny.
I do not mean to say with this, that WoW is only a Lovecraftian world, and its lore is cheaply cut and pasted onto dungeons and dragons. At the surface, this seems to be the case. Indeed, many people I know come to that conclusion.
However, for all its influence upon the WoW story and other stories, the Lovecraftian mythos has always existed in its own state. WoW is an amalgam of its themes and characters, but it has created its own.
Lovecraft’s Early Life
Lovecraft was part of the Lost Generation, and in turn had a bleak outlook on many things. He was himself prevented to join the Great War due to medical reasons. This does not mean, however, that his time was not one of disenchantment for him.
Science had grown into the strong, adult idea we know it to be today. During his lifetime, he would also see the rise of quantum mechanics and the decline of the mechanistic view of the universe which dominated Victorian times. In quantum mechanics is the ultimate ignorance we face when measuring things. Thus, we will see his philosophy and stories are rooted upon the uselessness of knowledge.
His characters are often scholarly, reflecting his own education. In his short stories, researchers and scientists frequently go insane thinking about what they have understood. The root of the cosmos is dark and evil, but more importantly it is unknowable. At this root are the great old ones.
It is odd that Lovecraft thought so lowly of science, given he studied organic chemistry and physics.
The Idea of Unknowable Evil
This is one of the contrasts between WoW’s lore and the Lovecraft universe. In the Call of Cthulhu, the ‘great old one’ is considered beyond Euclidean geometry. Throughout all of Lovecraft’s short stories, a recurring motif in his world is the unknowable power of these cosmic forces. In WoW, this idea is only ever hinted at. Azeroth’s old gods generally emphasize the primordial chaos of the cosmos.
WoW’s interpretation of Lovecraft
Blizzard’s writing team is not necessarily following Lovecraft along philosophical lines. However, there are certain parallels between the universes. For one, the cosmic gods in both realms create insanity.
This insanity comes from the whispers of evil, but in Lovecraft’s original interpretation, the great old ones are passive terrors.
Granted, Cthulu chases the protagonist as if a tsunami. “At the Mountains of Madness” portrays a researcher trying to stop a new expedition to Antarctica. He and his team had years before stumbled upon an ancient city in the snow. He escaped, but the memory haunts him.
This story is adapted by Blizzard just as Lovecraft a century before adapted other mythologies. In Warcraft, Brann Bronzebeard finds Ulduar and discovers the ancient evil lurking there. Instead of wanting the secret and evil to remain unknown, Brann begs us to go back.
Human Purpose in Lovecraft
Lovecraft viewed his ancient powers to be above humanity. He succumbed to the gnawing sense of insignificance that lay at the root of the sciences he studied. Moreover, as a child, Lovecraft believed in the Roman pantheon with such conviction that he abandoned Christianity. The Hellenistic and Roman gods were superhuman. They resembled people, but were ideal archetypes of characteristics. Moreover, they would insight entire wars for their own enjoyment.
Lovecraft’s cosmic gods are also ideals. They represent an impassioned and dangerous power. It is so powerful, no one can literally comprehend how dangerous it is.
It was Sun-Tzu who said strong positions are ones where you know you and your enemy. Yet In the Lovecraftian mythos, we cannot at all understand our enemy. Because of this, we no longer know ourselves. Thus, his characters are constantly fading away under the power of ancient evil, their own minds tormented by what they have seen.
Human Purpose in Warcraft
On Azeroth, the narrative of ancient evil is a bit different. As of now, it has been the titans who have claimed Old Gods cannot be killed, not humans. From Algalon to Ra-den, the keepers of Azeroth have never believed corruption can be avoided once it takes hold. To fight the old gods is folly, for it would destroy Azeroth.
This corruption in Lovecraft is of the mind. The old empires threaten to return and for cosmic chaos to sweep over the Earth, but not yet. The cup never quite spills over with Lovecraft.
In WoW, evil must be confronted. Blizzard’s writers are surely more optimistic than Lovecraft himself. We go into Ulduar and confront death. While in “At the Mountains of Madness,” Lovecraft’s own ‘Brann’ begs people not to face evil.
Good and Evil is dichotomous on Azeroth. Legion broke away from the duality of void and light at the surface, but the philosophy runs deep.
From the old gods to the insignificant quests we take part in, most of our actions follow good heroes stopping bad villains. Good heroes go bad due to corruption, but they are always cleansed by the sword.
When the old gods created the curse of flesh, it corrupted the races of Azeroth. The titan constructs could then hear the whispers of the universe. However, Blizzard emphasizes the need to fight these perversions.
Lovecraft believes to fight is to not see the threat. Once the old ones are seen, you understand. By understanding you do not understand. This lack of understanding torments his characters and leads them often to their demise. Like the fruit of Eden, knowledge is cursed.
At the heart of the two iterations of cosmic evil is a deep respect for the unknown. Warcraft is optimistic in its approach to this unknown. Its heroes charge head on. In Lovecraft, the heroes see the void and they realize their existence too, is voided. Thus, at the center of both is the question:
“Do we have the will to choose?”