The Kawaii-Drift of Cthulhu

My friend Nancy Overbury recently posed this question over at her blog:

Cthulhu Fans… What happened to all the Evil?

Cthulhu FigurineA valid question and one that has come up within the Lovecraft Community on a number of occasions. Among others, Chad Fifer, Chris Lackey and Andrew Leman discussed this on the side once in an episode of the H.P. Lovecraft Literary Podcast. The H.P. Podcraft team mentioned the Cthulhu plushies in particular. Back in 2006 when I was writing my master thesis on the Cthulhu Mythos I stumbled upon the plushies for the first time and incorporated them in the paper, of course. In fact, I’ve got a plush Cthulhu and a plush Nyarlathotep sitting on my nightstand and I guess sooner or later either one of the two or both will migrate into my son’s bed.

The plushies are only one facet of the overall tendency to turn the entire Cthulhu Mythos into something rather cute.
So, today’s topic (and the name of the hypothesis to explain the phenomenon) is:

The Kawaii-Drift of Cthulhu

A quick stock take of the elements of Cthulhu Fandom or the Mythos inspired subculture as a whole shows the following picture (again, this needs a deeper look into)
On the horror side of Call of Cthulhu:

  • The fiction by Lovecraft, his collaborators and their modern successors.
  • The Call of Cthulhu Role Playing Game
  • some Youtube videos
  • Lovecraft inspired adaptions in various forms of media (comics, videos, movies, audio plays etc.)

On the far less evil side:

Cover of the first collection of The Unspeakable Vault (of Doom)

My first impression: The humorous part has in recent years eclipsed the horror part in productivity (i.e. output of material measured by volume) and is also the more visible part. I have also observed a tendency of light-heartedness in the respective role-playing community (and not only regarding Munchkin Cthulhu).

Plush NyarlathotepThe question I ask is this: What motivates the Kawaii-Drift? If you take a broader perspective, you will notice that Cthulhu or rather the Cthulhu Mythos as a whole is not the only horror topic affected this way. A lot of monsters of the olden days have had an image change of one sort or the other.
Take for example the Peter Jackson adaption of King Kong. Peter Jackson’s King Kong is not a monster. He is actually a hero and mankind is the real villain.
Dinosaurs, one of the staples of monster-movies since the dawn of film itself have had quite a renaissance and are also available as toys and plushies. OK, the toys have been around for a while but in popular opinion, Dinosaurs have come a long way from the dull, hulking brutes they were still perceived as in the 1970’s (oh dear, that’s 40 years ago…)

Dragons, too, have had quite an image shift. They are no longer the maiden-eating, peasant-terrorising monsters but range from sophisticated leaders (Dragonheart) to pet (Harry Potter).
And then the vampires and werewolves… Don’t get me started. Their proud and fearsome heritage has been blemished by the abominable, sanity-shattering works of… STAKE EDWARD!
Excuse the outburst.

I thus speculate the Kawaii-Drift of Cthulhu is not a phenomenon only affecting the denizens of R’lyeh, Sarkomand and Dunwich. It is a trend concerning horror as a whole. Of course this needs more looking into and I could fall victim to confirmation bias, here.
The fact that so much non-evil Cthulhu material is appearing, very likely more than in any other comparable movie/RPG/literary subculture maybe is explainable thusly:

The works of Lovecraft attract a certain type of person, possible with above-average whacky tendencies. They also tend to be more creative and driven, almost like a cult and the Cthulhu Mythos is an idea with a lot of stickiness to it.
So, “Cthulhu Cultists” turn their creativity towards the Mythos and make all kinds of stuff out of it. Since the overwhelming majority of real world Cthulhu cultists are genuinely great and fun people, they turn out great and fun stuff. (This last statement is, quite obviously, not biased at all.)
And here are some visuals I’m sure you will enjoy:

Well, Iä! everybody, have a great day and disturbing dreams of non-euclidean cities beneath the sea!