3

The Necronomicon is a fictional book mentioned in a number of Lovecraft's short stories and novellas. And we know a few quotes from it.

In "The Nameless City" (1921), a rhyming couplet that appears at two points in the story is ascribed to Abdul Alhazred (author of the book):

That is not dead which can eternal lie.
And with strange aeons even death may die.

The same couplet appears in "The Call of Cthulhu" (1928) where it is identified as a quotation from The Necronomicon.

Is there an intentional pun with the word "lie"? (telling lies and to recline/being buried)

Proof in Lovecraft's letters, for example?

Or is there any later work from another author (Brian Lumley, Robert Bloch, August Derleth, Clark Ashton Smith) playing with the two meanings of this sentence?


I'm a French reader, and French translations that I've read only take the reclining meaning. And the pun is impossible in French.
_The Necronomicon_ was originally written in Arabic, then translated to Greek and Latin... and the pun is also impossible in these three languages.

  • 6
    Hypothetically, if the couplet was intended to be read as 'lie' as in to not speak the truth, how would it affect its relevance in Nameless City and Call of Cthulhu when they are quoted? – user107907 Jan 7 at 13:26
  • 2
    It doesn't affect the stories. But it adds an additional aura of mystery and details about the entity (Does he recline ? or telling lies ? both of them ? ... Is he active or inactive ? ... ) – Professeur Dronte Jan 8 at 16:48
  • 1
    FWIW, punning is quite common in ancient literature - it's not anything remotely modern. The Hebrew Bible is quite famous for being filled with puns and double meanings that don't translate well to English but that can affect interpretation - one of the reasons why Jewish and Christian clergy study the language in depth! – Columbia says Reinstate Monica Mar 4 at 12:59
8

A pun is more than just a word that has multiple meanings; it's a word with multiple meanings that both/all make sense in context.

I'm a big fan of whiteboards. I find them re-markable.

Since "remarkable" here can mean both "interesting/astounding" and "able to be marked on multiple times" (especially since you literally "mark" a whiteboard with a marker), this is definitely a pun.

While the word "lie" certainly can mean "tell an untruth," it doesn't make a lot of sense in that Necronomicon quote so it doesn't really qualify as a pun.

  • 1
    So instead of 'is there an intentional pun' the question should be 'is there a pun'? The pun might not make a lot of sense (to you), but the question is whether such a reading can be substantiated by the author. How is yours an answer to the OP's question? – Joachim Jan 7 at 18:25
  • "That is not dead which can eternal lie" . Actually, the two possible meanings don't really make sense... It's a cryptic, mysterious sentence. The double meaning adds an additional aura of mystery and details about the entity (Does he recline ? or telling lies ? both of them ? ...). "Pun" is maybe not the exact word. Is "word game" better ? Or simply "double meaning" ? – Professeur Dronte Jan 8 at 16:46

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.