Saturday, August 13, 2011
The Kardashev Scale is a famous projection of a civilization's development. Analyzing H.P. Lovecraft's Great Old Ones, including Cthulhu, requires unorthodox means. Since Kardashev's estimates include wonders from a lowly industrial age up to godhood level, perhaps his futurist fantasies deserve a closer look in the Lovecraftian arena.
The Kardashev Scale: Power Ranking Civilizations
Generally, the Kardashev Scale endorses four civilization types based on how much energy an advanced society harnesses. Type I civilizations can successfully utilize the power of an entire planet. For our purposes, this scale is the most tangible from where humans sit today. Its beginnings are best observed in the fevered dreams of utopian media, like William Gazecki's film, Future by Design.
Type II beings have tapped into the energy offered by an entire solar system, presumably through advanced cosmic engineering constructs backed by even headier principles. Type III is greater yet, wielding almost unimaginable power on a galactic scale. Finally, the scale tops out at Type IV, where an all consuming power controls all the energy available in the whole universe. Think about the near omnipotent architects in Michael Moorcock's The Dancers at the End of Time series.
Pinpointing the Powers of the Great Old Ones
So, where does Cthulhu and the nefarious cabal he belongs to fit in? Presumably, Cthulhu's power is nearly unlimited. The ability to move through and manipulate multiple dimensions, soar through the cosmos, and use energy on a wide scale for warfare with other extraterrestrials makes him seem godly in comparison to mankind. Particularly, the meek post-Great War civilizations of Lovecraft's own day, which hadn't yet split the atom.
Not that nuclear power does much for humanity. Even a tripling of nuclear power plant input wouldn't put us anywhere close to a Type I society on the Kardashev Scale. It's not an effective defense against Cthulhu either, based on the imaginings of many writers. The Greatest Old One (or at least the best known) is hit by a nuke in August Derleth's The Trail of Cthulhu, and manages to survive without a breaking a runny green sweat.
However, is Cthulhu actually all he's cracked up to be? Clearly, Cthulhu may not be a Type IV being, let alone something greater, since he is subject to well known limitations. Virtually imprisoned in R'lyeh until the stars are right, Cthulhu was on the losing side of an ancient battle with alien forces that were seemingly even more powerful than he is. Multi-dimensional or not, it's hard to imagine any real Type III or Type IV power getting bested. Even Azathoth, who often appears superior to Great Cthulhu, seems little more than a stunted Type II being or less.
Then again, it's worth remembering that the Kardashev Scale is meant to measure civilizations, not individuals. If Cthulhu and the other Great Old Ones are merely high ranking members of an immense civilization that spans several universes, they may well be in the Type III-Type IV range. A better estimation will remain elusive, and only based on the unapproved works by subsequent Mythos writers. Lovecraft's lasting gifts are horror and mystery, despite his frequent forays into sci-fi territory, not detailed scientific histories that give away the secrets of his most famous terrors, as S.T. Joshi notes in The Weird Tale.
In the end, the Kardashev Scale is an amusing thought experiment, but doesn't say much about the Great Old Ones. Not without liberal boundaries and much imagination, anyway. Trying to apply these measurements to Lovecraft's most nightmarish beings seems impossible for boosting any serious artistic or literary analysis, but the clumsiest efforts to classify them are still fun.