Contrary to much popular speculation, the Necronomicon is actually a fictional concept, created by Howard Philips Lovecraft, an early 20th Century author of 'weird fiction'. HP Lovecraft said in letters to some of his many correspondents that the name Necronomicon came to him in a dream, as did much of the inspiration for his fiction. With a rough knowledge of Ancient Greek, he parsed the name thus:
- necros - 'dead'
- nomos - 'law' or 'custom'
- eikon, 'image'
So, 'Image of the Law of the Dead'. However, a more informed analysis points to -icon as a generic Greek noun ending, so the name may more accurately be translated as 'Concerning the Ways of the Dead'.
The Necronomicon features prominently in the middle and late period fiction of HP Lovecraft, from about 1926, when The Call of Cthulhu was published, to 1937, the year of his death, according to HPL scholar ST Joshi1, This was when he wrote the stories that are now collectively referred to as the Cthulhu Mythos. The Necronomicon is generally depicted as an ancient book bound in human skin, an English translation of the blasphemous tome Al-Azif2 by the Mad Arab Abdul al-Hazred - a name Lovecraft had used in Arabian Nights role-play in his childhood.
It consists of al-Hazred's account of his travelling quests for forbidden knowledge, his apprenticeship as a necromancer, and his attempts to summon various of the Great Old Ones - a blanket term for the many horrifying multidimensional entities created by Lovecraft, most notably including Cthulhu. The Great Old Ones are also known as, and sometimes confused with, the Old Ones, the Ancient Ones, and the Elder Gods. This confusion over names has arisen due to the addition to, and expansion upon, the Cthulhu Mythos by many hands over the last 80 years.
The idea of the Necronomicon was widely used with Lovecraft's permission by his contemporaries in their own fiction, has been referenced in several films, not all of them relating to Lovecraft's work, and has even inspired a collection of work by the artist HR Giger.
Other Dread Tomes
Lovecraft and his fellow authors and correspondents imagined several similar ancient books, to which they variously made reference in their stories. These include such dread manuscripts as the Book of Eibon, created by Clark Ashton Smith; Mysteries of the Worm, created by Psycho author Robert Bloch; and Nameless Cults, the fabrication of Conan creator Robert E Howard. A comprehensive list of these fictional books, and several genuine occult books referenced by Lovecraft et al, can be found at The HP Lovecraft Archive.
Fiction Becomes Myth
More recently, perhaps in part due to the deadpan narrative voice adopted by Lovecraft and others in Mythos fiction, the Necronomicon has come to be seen as real by would-be practitioners of black magic. This erroneous belief was fuelled in the 1970s by a small group of authors and Lovecraft fans, most prolific among them Colin Wilson, who devised a hoax Necronomicon, published by a small press and purporting to be the reissued transcription of a second century translation of the heretical volume by Simon Magus. Several other homemade hoax Necronomicons have since been circulated, particularly in the United States.
Most likely Necronomicon quote:
That is not dead which can eternal lie, And with strange aeons even death may die.
- The Nameless City, HP Lovecraft, 1921
Least likely Necronomicon quote:
Any resemblance to real events or to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.