In an article in The Guardian today, a reporter reflects on the softening of Lovecraftian merchandise – not its salability, mind you, but rather its hopeless horror being glossed over a bit in favor of a fluffy, cartoony look. This is nothing new: the Great Old Ones have been presented with their hard edges sanded off for many years now, and it certainly wasn’t to teach kids about the Cthulhu mythos – it was to sell. One of the nerdiest properties after Dungeons & Dragons has always been Cthulhu (whether speaking of Chaosium‘s Call of Cthulhu, or just the works of H.P. Lovecraft), and if there’s anything us nerds love, it’s toys and collectibles.
(As an aside, when I ask my 12-year-old daughter what she knows about Cthulhu, she tells me he’s “like an octopus guy, who’s really big, and lives underwater, and eats people, and there’s only one of him.” H.P. Lovecraft? Never heard of him. Yes, I know – I’ve failed to teach her. I know. You’re missing the point.)
Is the “cute-ifying” of all-powerful Cthulhu the makings of controversy, or just clever marketing? These days, there’s cute/plush/Bratz/LEGO/Hot Wheels versions of nearly every popular theme, including zombies, vampires, and demons. An untapped market is hard to resist, especially when the burden of screening and/or explaining the eldritch content is so easily passed to the parents. A Mini Plush Cthulhu (from Toy Vault) was the hot item to send to new gamer parents for a time (Matt Forbeck received four at once a while back), and that (innocent?) trend has broadened considerably since those days. Now Lovecraft fans can select everything from children’s book parodies and dice games to fuzzy Cthulhu slippers and My Little Cthulhu (complete with victims).
Ultimately, selling cute Cthulhu isn’t a bad thing at all. If companies can support Lovecraft fans with products they (or their children) enjoy, more power to them. Just because my daugther grew up around a large plush Cthulhu (which she pronounced “Toolu” until she was 5 or so), it doesn’t automatically mean she’ll be playing through Mansions of Madness anytime soon, if ever. That’s okay. She’s aware of Cthulhu (a startling notion, if you think about it…), and has a vague notion of a larger storyline that she can investigate at her leisure.
If she ever does, though, I’d better teach her more about Lovecraft, or the guys at Chaosium will sic the gugs on me again.