A Brief History of the Necronomicon
I should worn the reader before they continue… I, Ashley Darrow, am not liable for any damages, physical or etheric, incurred by research into the Necronomicon. Nor am I to be held liable for one’s taste in movies becoming scientifically better by the viewing of Evil Dead II or Jason Goes to Hell: Final Friday. You have been warned.
There might not be any other book with as much eerie clout as the Necronomicon. It’s in every other Horror movie/game/book/t-shirt and tales of its daemoniacal power are beleaguered by its presence on the shelves of every Barnes & Noble in the upper midwest and beyond. But where did this malevolent tome get its start and how did it break out into the popular consciousness?
Howard Phillips Lovecraft, the eccentric, Providence writer who created Cthulhu, gave us the Necronomicon. While that arcane info might be common fare, it’s worth looking into how Lovecraft’s writing style made such an infectious tome. Lovecraft’s writing style was one of research first. He wrote by “establish[ing] the diegesis before starting the narrative discourse” (Price 239). Whether crafting a tale in an historic setting or in a contemporary location, Lovecraft would mill over the minutia of ancient naming conventions or the details of the latest scientific craze. To this end, he even wrote a mock history of his Necronomicon.
Appropriately enough, Lovecraft’s own “History of the Necronomicon” was “written with no intention of publishing” (Price 239). It was part gag and part guide for his amateur-author friends—part of his Yogsothothery. It’s fitting that the first “fourth wall break” of the Necronomicon was an in-joke tinged with historical accuracy. Lovecraft begins his mock treatise on the Necronomicon’s history with a litany of pseudo-historic information: “Composed by Abdul Alhazred, the mad poet of Sanaa, in Yemen, who is said to have flourished during the period of the Ommiade Caliphs circa A.D. 700” (Lovecraft 240). The “Ommiade” Caliphate is an alternate spelling of the Umayyd Caliphate which matches with Lovecraft's suggested date of A.D. 700. The rest of the mock historical information also checks out. Lovecraft was careful to scrutinize his histories in order to secure the most believable fiction.
One of the major a-historical pieces of information is the name Abdul Alhazred, iteslf. Abdul being chronologically appropriate, but Alhazred being wholly fictitious. Noted Lovecraftian scholar S. T. Joshi makes the assertion that the most likely source for this name was from Lovecraft's childhood: “It was then [After reading a translation of Arabian Nights] that I invented for myself the name of Abdul Alhazred” (Lovecraft qtd. in Joshi 19). Joshi does make note of a minor point of contention. The name “Abdul Alhazred” might not have been Lovecraft’s creation, but that of his family lawyer, Albert A. Baker. A letter from Lovecraft suggests he did not accurately remember the name’s true origin and it could have been Baker’s design. (Joshi 19). In either case, the name was, most likely, a nickname for young Lovecraft. The name being a pseudo Arabic jumble of the English phrase: “All has read”—a reference to Lovecraft’s voracious reading habit. Lovecraft's style of writing, incorporating heavy historical fact into otherworldly fiction dotted with personalized twists, primed the world to receive the Necronomicon as both a Horror gimmick and as it’s own folkloric tradition.
The Necronomicon quickly gained a life of its own. Perhaps inspired by Lovecraft's founding conceit that good fiction is based heavily on documented fact, the Necronomicon has survived as both a Horror trope and as a Folkloric tradition. Famous pranks have found the blasphemous tome in the call cards of Harvard's library and the manifests of booksellers. Daniel Harms mentions what could be the first incursion of the Necronomicon from the world of pulp fiction to our reality. “The first sign of this may have come in the 7 July 1945, issue of Publishers’ Weekly” (Harms and Gonce III 32). That issue featured New York’s Grove Street Bookstore requesting a copy of the Necronomicon along with other, extant, books. While the Necronomicon could have spent its time in this endless void bouncing around as part prank, part plot point, a few blasphemous writers took it upon themselves to bring the tome into its own.
One of the first texts to go by the moniker “Necronomicon” was Mark Owing’s 1967 The Necronomicon: A Study. Largely a catalogue of Lovecraft’s reference to the dreaded book, Owing’s Necronomicon also employs Lovecraft’s technique of weaving fiction with fact. Owing’s book purports to be a proof that the Necronomicon is a real book, cataloguing Necronomicon hoaxes as “real” appearances. However, in the spirit of the good sport of Yogsothothery, Owing pulls back the curtain: “He lets his readers in on the joke in the end, citing the aforementioned catalogue of hoaxes as proof of his claim” (Harms and Gonce III 34). Much like Lovecraft’s own fiction, Owing used a measure of fact to bolster his own fiction.
After Owing broke the seal on books titled “Necronomicon” the eldritch floodgates burst open. De Camp’s Al Azif, H. R. Giger’s Necronomicon, The Simon Necronomicon, The Hay Necronomicon, Merlyn Stone’s Necronomicon, The Carter Necronomicon, Robert M. Price’sNecronomicon themed anthologies (which contain both obvious fictions and additions to the Necronomicon-as-real mythology), and the occult storm of “Necronomicon” pages that can be found on online artist’s storefronts were unleashed upon the world like the Great Old Ones some of these texts warned us about.
The Necronomicon became a text of cultural ubiquity with it’s cinematic appearances only adding to its infamy. Roger Corman’s The Haunted Palace (1963) is the first appearance of the Necronomicon on the silver screen. Corman, being clearly a man of refined taste, brought the Necronomicon back for his 1970 adaptation of The Dunwich Horror. It wasn’t until Sam Raimi’s 1983 hit Evil Dead that the Necronomicon would gain wide circulation within Horror at large. Post-Evil Dead, the Necronomicon has appeared in everything from Archie comics to the Friday the 13th franchise to a plush pop-up book.
For better or for worse, the Necronomicon has defused into every corner of Horror culture. Rue the day that some enterprising occultist realizes that one may scan and upload the Necronomicon to a Tumblr post.
Harms, Daniel, and John Wisdom Gonce III. The Necronomicon Files: The Truth Behind the Legend. Red Wheel/Weiser, LLC. 2003.
Joshi, S. T. H. P. Lovecraft: A Life. Necronomicon Press. 1996.
Price, Robert M. Editor. The Necronomicon: Selected Stories and Essays Concerning the Blasphemous Tome of the Mad Arab. Chaosium, Inc. 1996.
Lovecraft, H. P. “History of the Necronomicon” Robert M. Price. pp. 239-41.