Monday, April 02, 2007

Curse of Cthulhu

So, now that this whole thing about the Attorney General lying about kicking out prosecutors who were doing their jobs and replacing them with political hack cronies has died down, we can stop talking about Cthulhu and get back to . . .

What’s that?

It’s STILL going on?

Hell’s Belles, let’s talk a bit more about Cthulhu.

The big thing to keep in mind about all the Cthulhian lore is simply this: Nobody makes any money off this stuff.

I mean, lets move through the generations. Generation 0 unfortunately doesn’t count, since they got roped into the mythos after publication, and often after their own demise. Of the lot, Bierce did pretty good, though he is remembered for Pancho Villa and the Devil’s Dictionary. Chambers did better, I think, being the Tom Clancy of his age. Compared to his output, though, saying that he is best remembered for the King In Yellow is enough to unearth his coffin, strap it to the rotisserie and hit the spin cycle.

Lovecraft himself didn’t die broke, but he didn’t do great on the deal. During his life, he never got the cover of Weird Tales, and his last book was pitched to New York Publishers by a very young Julius Schwartz. Sorry, Julius (Superman) Schwartz. Smith went back to his poetry and lived in what even David Byrne would identify as a shotgun shack.

How about Generation 2? Derleth kept things going with a very small private publishing operation that struggled against the advancing darkness that claimed most of the Weird Tales writers (Hands, folks – anybody read any Seabury Quinn recently?). He’s remembered more in that role as preserver than for his own writings. But by his own admission, Arkham House struggled financially through the years, like a monastery in Ireland keeping the true faith together as the lights went out across Europe.

(And while I may rail about Derleth’s handing out team t-shirts to the various Mythos deities, he made those necessary steps forward to defining the mythos, including whose works were a part of it, though Arkham House. If HP was the primary founder of the horrific gospel, Derleth oversaw its Council of Nicea to decide what went into the dark testament).

Generation 3? Lumley and Lieber have their own legacies that are non-Cthulian in nature. Arkham was a summertime vacation. Generation 4’s Chaosium has struggled in the Arkham House tradition, and a lot of its new material is coming from other sources, such as Germany's Pegasus games. And Generation 5's Pagan Publishing surfaces and disappears from the mists regularly like some primeval beast (though they have the Delta Green d20 version coming out this month - Yay!).

Even comics, movies, and music have all hit this glass ceiling of mainstream acceptability, a particular hazard when you’re hawking Cthulhu plush dolls and “Don’t Blame Me, I Voted for Hastur” bumper stickers. I suppose that in part this will account of its continued use as a test bed for new creative works. Particularly now that we’ve hit the 70th anniversary of its creator’s death, and the copyright laws have backed off (Lot of Cthulhu at the Emerald City show. Lot of Frank Baum as well. Maybe the two will team up).

Yet, I don’t think we’re ever going to hit that sweet spot, that over-the-top moment where Cthulhu rises over the western ocean like Pokemon and turns into a national craze. Instead, I think it will enter our popular culture of the “things people know without really knowing”, that Sheldrake/Gaia level where everyone knows that Supes is Clark Kent and D&D uses a Dungeon Master and has levels and hit points. It is mired in its own hobby-dom, the realm of those that more interested in it as a subject than as a marketing plan.

And, all things considered, I’m OK with that.

More later,