Lovecraft Gets Lovable: An Overview of Cutethulhu

Monday, September 24, 2007

“That is not dead which can eternal lie, and with strange aeons even death may die.” So said the famous verse of Abdul Alhazred’s Necronomicon. And when death dies, does it reincarnate as light-hearted humor? This seems to be what has happened with the most famous creation of Lovecraft’s: the slumbering, near-omnipotent High Priest in R’lyeh, Cthulhu. It would be difficult to date the rise of the cuteness craze washing over Cthulhu and other eldritch offspring of the mythos, especially before the development of the internet. Suffice it to say, however, that Cutethulhu has been a force on the internet since at least the late ‘90s.

What does it encompass? In this blogger’s estimation, anything intentionally adding a hearty dose of the adorable and hilarious to the myriad gods and terrors of Lovecraft’s universe qualifies. Quite often, comics, flash animation, outrageous parody, and even fabrics are vehicles for the cutening of Cthulhu. To illustrate this bizarre trend, it is worth examining some of the more well done and popular parodies. And in recent years, there are more than enough of them out there, thanks to the phenomenal growth of a specific type of online humor, probably derived from traditional “geek” fare. The following are some of the most interesting, and even downright kooky.

Nothing says Cutethulhu better than this brief flash animation. The whimsical anime style, chipmunk voices, and absurdity of a tea party with the sanity-blasting being are one of the best summaries of the collective Cutethulhu trend to date. This flash video is also the likely progenitor of the term “Cutethulhu.” The conclusion raises the fascinating question of how HPL himself would react to the rise of Cutethulhu. In the end, the Old Gent from Providence would likely cackle with delight at a few, and find others more “blasphemous” than any of his abominable creations.

Interestingly, the animation also uses the Cthulhu Plushie, a soft, miniature gag gift that burst onto the online scene several years ago. Given the amount of subsequent parodies it has inspired, the doll is a prime instigator and catalyst of Cutethulhu artistic creations in the online community. One of the earliest creative uses of the lovable Old One was featured in this dated, but still amusing live action comic series using other stuffed animals. Today, the plushie continues its existence as a symbol of the Cutethulhu cult. One need only watch a few of the videos showing a puppet version of the doll hosting a talk show over at the “Calls for Cthulhu” blog to see one of the best current incarnations of plushie Cthulhu. It should also be noted different versions of the stuffed horror are sold by numerous websites, and plush Nyarlathoteps, Shoggoths, and others have followed Cthulhu. Oddly, the Zoogs and other potentially cute plushie material from Lovecraft’s Dreamlands remain mostly untapped, perhaps due to the relative obscurity of the Dream cycle tales.

Parodies atop parodies? Believe it, as poignantly revealed by the existence of the simple “Hello Cthulhu” comics. Here, an irritated Cthulhu and some of his cohorts interact with the greatest symbols of Japan’s kawaii (cute) culture: Hello Kitty and friends. “Hello Cthulhu” is just one of many Cutethulhu manifestations utilizing the ever-popular web comics (many of which also seem derived from Japanese influence). Elizabeth’s “The Call of Whatever” web comic cleverly strings out many of Lovecraft’s themes that have become the worst marks of pastiche (freakish names, ominous tomes, cultists, etc), with hilarious results. Finally, “Shoggies” at Goomi’s Unspeakable Vault (Of Doom) satirizes perhaps the greatest number of Lovecraft’s creations in one place. Shoggoths, Nyarlathotep, Deep Ones, Tindalos Hounds, and Great Cthulhu himself are all characters in the comic. It is also the only real Lovecraftian web comic to make it into print. The 2005 release by Pegasus Press of a collection of these comics into paperback only helps cement the position of Cutethulhu as a witty branch off traditional Lovecraftiana.

Cthulhu parodies have marched onto the music scene as well. The HPL Historical Society released several albums with comic and jaunty renditions of old Christmas tunes, with appropriately Lovecraftian lyrics. “Very Scary Solstice” and “An Even Scarier Solstice” are rapidly becoming new Yuletide favorites for Lovecraftians, with all the humor and dark chills one can imagine. Additionally, HPLHS headed the “A Shoggoth on the Roof” project a couple years ago, resulting in a catchy CD and mock documentary about the musical man was never meant to perform.

Still, no overview of Cutethulhu could be complete without noting the wildly creative Cthulhu Presidential campaign last election cycle. Asking “why vote for a lesser evil?” Cthulhuvian sites produced a notable write-in campaign in the 2004 US Presidential election, though it is unknown how many write-in votes were actually received. One of the original websites with the Great Old One’s political positions is still up here. The viral nature of this project allowed Cthulhu to spread his political wings (or tentacles) across the internet, to the point where shirts, bumper stickers, and even a real life campaign rally appeared. Given the continuing affection for the mythos, growth of Cutethulhu, and unsatisfactory choices from America’s major political parties, look for Cthulhu to make another run for President next year. And at the rate it is going, he will probably even run for several offices in coming years, and stand as a perennial candidate for the highest office in the land. Especially the Elder Party, formed from the campaign as a more permanent political vehicle. They are also responsible for the political rally above.

Whatever else, Lovecraftian parodies will remain fertile ground for the foreseeable future, with sometimes shocking results. Some admirers worry Cutethulhu cheapens Lovecraft, and fear the sheer number and character of such lampoons has gone too far. Some of these criticisms are valid, and it may be for the best that serious Lovecraftian horror and Cutethulhu culture remain segregated, even though fans of both frequently overlap. Yet, when one imagines the new readers being drawn to Lovecraft by this breed of humor, it is possible to see Cutethulhu’s purpose in the greater horror community. Love it or hate it, sites like, recently noted here, only underscore the entrenchment of Cutethulhu themes. Like a quirky, batrachian addition to R’lyeh, Cutethulhu is here to stay.

-Grim Blogger

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