"Ancient astronauts." "Alternative archeology." "Extraterrestrial Genesis." Each of these terms has become a part of the cultural lexicon over the last few decades. According to Jason Colavito, these concepts don't stem from new, insightful analysis. Rather, they come from the work of H.P. Lovecraft, the early 20th Century American author best known for his horror stories and the Cthulhu mythos.
Colavito's The Cult of Alien Gods not only explores and supports this proposition, it traces and deconstructs the development of various theories that suggest aliens visited Earth during prehistory or are responsible for the origination of the human race. Colavito's thesis is very readable and relatively straightforward.
Lovecraft's Cthulhu mythos was based on a variety of monstrous alien deities that predate mankind. His themes included stories about now-disappeared million-year-old civilizations begun by aliens who created human life as an experiment. In addition to his own stories, Lovecraft exchanged correspondence with a variety of other authors who also contributed to pulp magazines like Weird Tales that Colavito calls "the Lovecraft Circle." These authors — who included Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho, and Robert E. Howard, the creator of the Conan the Barbarian series — incorporated elements of the Cthulhu mythos into their stories, as well as another Lovecraft invention, the Necronomicon, a fictional book of magical knowledge. Colavito then traces how U.S. involvement in World War II brought Lovecraft's and similar works to France and asserts that Lovecraft became a significant influence on European science fiction. By the late 1960s and early 1970s, though, the science fiction purports to move to fact.
The most widely recognized progenitor was Erich von Daniken's bestselling Chariots of the Gods? published in Europe in 1968 and in the United States in 1971. Originally serialized in The National Enquirer, there were more than four million copies of the book in print by 1974. The book's theory is that various archaeological sites and ancient texts were evidence that space travelers had visited the Earth thousands of years ago. Treated as gods by the native populations, the alien encounters gave rise to various religions and the ancient civilizations obtained technology from the aliens that subsequently disappeared with those civilizations.
Colavito lays out a fairly convincing case in tracing the relationship between Lovecraft's fictional lore and the rise of these theories. Yet Colavito recognizes that these seeds could not have grown without fertile soil. According to him, von Daniken's work spurred similar books, which together with related developments in society — such as the Viking space explorers — made 1976 the turning point in the growth and acceptance of such ideas.