Miskatonic University is an esteemed institution in the heart of beautiful Arkham, Massachusetts. It's not the most popular school, but it is one of the most prestigious, even if they are a bit secretive. Miskatonic is renowned for its Archaeology program, as well as Astrophysic and Cosmic Exploration, but it is also the last bastion of studies that have fallen out of vogue, like Ritual Necromancy, Cocktail Alchemy, and Undersea Bloop Studies. Some of your smarter friends probably went there, but they'll probably only admit it, if you ask them directly.
Not convinced? Okay, you're right. Miskatonic University is fictional... all made up by Howard Phillips Lovecraft. It is mentioned in several of his stories as a convenient source from which various explorers and scientists emerge to (eventually) do battle with the evil entities of Lovecraft's mythos. It's also where the unabridged Latin version of the Necronomicon is kept under lock and key. In "The Dunwich Horror," after Wilbur Whateley's attempts to steal the infamous book from the school library, the librarian Dr. Henry Armitage becomes one of Lovecraft's few victorious heroes and uses the power of science and the occult to vanquish the Dunwich Horror itself. Also from Miskatonic, Professors Lake (Biology) and Atwood (Physics) discover the not-quite-fossils of Elder beings in "At The Mountains of Madness." Their untimely demise, and the research they left behind, is then investigated by the Pabodie expedition, including Frank Pabodie, and, the only "survivors" of the tale, Dyer and Danforth, all from Miskatonic University. In the upcoming film adaptation of the story, directed by Guillermo Del Toro, I expect we'll hear the words "Miskatonic" thrown around a bit, unless he opts to go with something more grounded, like (oh, the horror!) Brown University. Brown is, of course, the probable inspiration for Lovecraft's Miskatonic University, as he lived quite near the campus in Providence, Rhode Island.
There is more to say, though, about this fictional university, and the devil is always in the details! The school's name isn't random, but is a bit meaninful on its own. According to Lovecraft, it sits near the bank of the Miskatonic river that runs through Arkham, thus the name, but there's probably more to it than that. The word "Chthonic" relates to Greek deities of the earth or underworld. These deities have cults and get sacrifices buried or burned in a pit. Chthonic is also used to describe the buried, hidden desires of the psyche... indeed, we use the word to indicate a host of mysteries that are thought of as buried or suppressed. Is it any surprise that a writer whose most famous monster god "Cthulhu" is buried in a tomb and speaks with his followers through the language of the subconscious: dreams? So, maybe "Miskatonic" is "Mis-Chthonic" too.
A list of HPL stories mentioning Miskatonic University, and a few selected pieces from other authors:
- The Dunwich Horror
- Herbert West – Reanimator
- The Shadow Out of Time
- At the Mountains of Madness
- The Whisperer in Darkness
- The Dreams in the Witch House
- Beyond the Threshold by August W. Derleth
- The New Traveller's Almanac by Alan Moore
- The Illuminatus! Trilogy by Robert Shea and Robert Anton Wilson
- The Lurker at the Threshold by August Derleth with H.P. Lovecraft
- The Return of Hastur by August Derleth
- The Fuller Memorandum by Charles Stross
- Alan Mendelsohn, the Boy from Mars, by Daniel Pinkwater
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