Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
Lovecraft often employed fictional reference works in his supernatural horror fiction, a process also used by other fantasy authors like Jorge Luis Borges and William Goldman. The first explicit mention of the Necronomicon occurred in Lovecraft's 1923 story "The Hound", but hints of it (or similar books) occur as far back as "The Statement of Randolph Carter" (1919). However, there are those who believe in the existence of an actual ancient text called the Necronomicon fitting the description given in Lovecraft's fiction.
What influenced Lovecraft to invent the name Necronomicon is not clear—Lovecraft himself claims the name came to him in a dream, but possible influences include Edgar Allan Poe's "The Fall of the House of Usher" and an unfinished first century astronomical poem by Roman poet Marcus Manilus titled the Astronomicon. Some suggest that Lovecraft was influenced primarily by Robert W. Chambers' collection of short stories, The King in Yellow, but it is now believed that Lovecraft did not read that until 1927.
Lovecraft originally titled the book the Al Azif (Arabic, the sound of cicadas and other nocturnal insects, said in folklore to be the conversation of demons) and said that it was written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred, containing among other things an account of the Old Ones, their history, and descriptions of how they might be summoned.
A number of translations were said to have been made over the centuries. The Greek translation, which gave the book its most famous title, was made by a (fictional) Orthodox scholar, Theodorus Philetas of Constantinople. Olaus Wormius (an actual historical personage wrongly located by Lovecraft in the thirteenth century) translated it into Latin and indicated in the preface that the Arab original was lost at the time. This translation was printed twice, once in the fifteenth century, in black-letter, evidently in Germany, and once in the seventeenth, probably in Spain. The Latin translation called attention to the Necronomicon and was banned by Pope Gregory IX in 1232. The Greek translation, printed in Italy between 1500 and 1550, is believed to be completely lost since the burning of R. U. Pickman's library in Salem. The Elizabethan magician John Dee was supposed (at the suggestion of Lovecraft's friend Frank Belknap Long) to have possessed a copy and to have made an English translation of it, of which only fragments survived.
The book is now mentioned in various places in fiction but always as being very rare; there are supposedly secret or hidden copies in the British Museum (now held at the British Library); the Bibliotheque Nationale de France; Widener Library of Harvard University in Cambridge, Massachusetts; the University of Buenos Aires; and the library of the fictional Miskatonic University in the equally fictional Arkham, Massachusetts. The book is dangerous to read, being almost inevitably destructive of one's health and sanity, and is kept under lock and key in these libraries. However, many books entitled Necronomicon have appeared in publication since Lovecraft's death, capitalizing on his popularity and the notoriety of the fictional tome.
Many later fantasy and horror writers have mentioned the Necronomicon in their own stories: two examples are a passage in Gene Wolfe's novel Peace, in which a book of necromancy being forged by a character is not named but suggests at an influence by the popular image of the Necronomicon, and Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett's humorous version, the Necrotelecomnicon — the book of phone numbers of the dead. Other examples abound: Andrzej Sapkowski mentions a Polish translation of the book titled Źwierzcyadło Maggi Czarney Bissurmańskiey in his short story "Tandaradei!", and it is mentioned under its original title in his novel Boży bojownicy (God's Warriors). The Necronomicon is used also by Sergey Lukyanenko in his novel Day Watch. It also made an appearance in the Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Anton Wilson and Robert Shea and it was the central plot device for the movie trilogy The Evil Dead.
Lovecraft cites the meaning of the title as translated from the Greek language: nekros (corpse), nomos (law), eikon (image): "An image of the law of the dead." A more prosaic (but probably more correct) translation, is via conjugation of nemo (to consider): "Concerning the dead." Another etymology that has been suggested here is "knowledge of the dead," from Greek nekrós (corpse, dead), and gnomein (to know), on the apparent assumption that the g could be lost); the person so suggesting thinks this "seems to fit better with the subject treated in the book."
Another possible meaning is "The Book of the Law of the Dead Gods."
Greek editions of Lovecraft's works have commented that in Greek the word can have several different meanings when broken at its roots. More specifically:
- The Book of the Law of the Dead, derived from Nomicon (Book of Law).
- The Book of Dead Laws.
- A Study or Classification of the Dead.
- Image of the Law of the Dead.
- Book Concerning the Dead.
- Law of Dead Images.
- The Book of Dead Names, derived from onoma (name).
Though Lovecraft insisted the book was pure invention (and other writers invented passages from the book in their own works), there are accounts of some people actually believing his Necronomicon to be a real book. Even during Lovecraft's life he received letters from fans inquiring about the Necronomicon's actuality.
This issue was confused in the late 1970s by the publication of a book purporting to be a translation of the "real" Necronomicon. This book, by the pseudonymic "Simon," published by Schlangekraft ("snake power", an Illuminatus reference) and then in Avon paperback, attempted to connect the fictional Lovecraft mythology to Sumerian Mythology. The claims made in the preface of Simon's Necronomicon connecting Lovecraft's work to historical Sumerian mythology is entirely a product of Simon's imagination, although the religious and magical systems in Simon's Necronomicon are consistent with confirmed Sumerian or Babylonian material described by reliable sources such as historians H.W.F. Saggs (The Greatness that Was Babylon) and Georges Roux (Ancient Iraq), and sociologists A.T. Mann and Jane Lyle (Sacred Sexuality).
A blatant hoax version of the Necronomicon was produced by paranormal researcher and writer Colin Wilson, describing how it was translated by computer from a discovered "cipher text." It is truer to the Lovecraftean version and even incorporates quotations from Lovecraft's stories into its passages.
Such historical "Books of the Dead" as the ancient Egyptian Book of the Dead or the Tibetan Bardo Thodol are sometimes described as "real Necronomicons." They should not be confused with it, as their thrust is information to be read or remembered by the dead, rather than by the living to summon the dead. Lovecraft, however, may have been inspired by them, either in spite of, or in ignorance of, the contrast.
- Various writers in the school of the Cthulhu Mythos have "quoted" from the Necronomicon, amongst them Clark Ashton Smith and August Derleth.
- Necronomicon was the title of a book of paintings by the Swiss artist H. R. Giger (published in 1978); it was a quite appropriate title for his particularly sinister style of blended machinery and flesh.
- In Sam Raimi's popular movies Evil Dead 2, and Army of Darkness, the Necronomicon Ex Mortis appears as an evil book of magic. (And in Evil Dead, the first of the trilogy that also includes them, hearing a recording of an academic reading from a similar book is blamed for all of the character Ash's later trouble.)
- Science fiction author Neal Stephenson derived the title of his book Cryptonomicon from the Necronomicon featured in the Evil Dead movies, not knowing that the name had originated with H. P. Lovecraft.
- The movie Necronomicon is based on Lovecraft's stories.
- Terry Pratchett's Discworld features an "evil book" known as the Necrotelecomnicon, a parody of the title.
- In The Simpsons, Bob Dole reads from the Necronomicon at the Republican headquarters.
- In The Grim Adventures of Billy and Mandy, Billy steals Grim's copy of "The Bad Book" to raise Yog Soloth
- In an episode of Aqua Teen Hunger Force, Frylock accidentally gives Meatwad the Necronomicon.
- In a level of Max Payne, Max encounters Necronomicon and Paradise Lost, among people who believe in the somewhat unrelated norse mythology
- H. P. Lovecraft: A History of The Necronomicon. Necronomicon Press. ISBN 0-318047-15-2.
- H. P. Lovecraft: The Case Of Charles Dexter Ward. Ballantine Books. ISBN 0-345-35490-7.
- Dan Harms and John Wisdom Gonce III: The Necronomicon Files. Red Wheel Weiser. ISBN 1-578-63269-2.
- Egyptian Book of the Dead
- Tibetan Book of the Dead
- A purported translation of a Sumerian copy of the Necronomican, c.1985
- Fake Necronmicons
- The Necronomicon Anti-FAQ by Colin Low, a spoof FAQ about the "real" Necronomicon
- A rebuttal of the Anti-FAQ, also by Colin Low
- This site contains the text of the Wilson Necronomicon as well as a later project known as the R'lyeh Text.
- The Ultimate Cthulhu Mythos Book List - Listing of all mythos novels, anthologies, collections, comic books, and more.
Commercially available editions of the Necronomicon
- Al Azif: The Necronomicon by L. Sprague de Camp (1973) 
- Necromonicon by "Simon" (1980) 
- H.R. Giger's Necronomicon by H.R. Giger 
- The Necronomicon by George Hay (1993) 
- Necronomicon: The Wanderings Of Alhazred by Donald Tyson (2004) 
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