And no, I’m not referring to Cthulhu’s role in the best part of the last Hitchhiker’s book.
Last blog post, I described how I got an idea for a world of monsters from my book Murder with Monster. Now I needed to figure out who’s running the show. My idea was having creatures that represented different archetypes, just because I liked the significance of having titles like Lord of the Winged. I might need to work on the names, but the idea was there.
I sat down right in the middle of my role-playing game and passed the time between turns by creating the political structure of a nonhuman world. It beats Candy Crush, y’know? As my friends chattered on around me, I came to the big questions involving monster society: when did this start and why?
For the when, I picked Babylon. Books like Childcraft's The Magic of Words...
and shows like The Real Ghostbusters...
had made Babylon and its myths and monsters cool for me. Why not have the inter-species relations start as soon as humans started to build cities? That’d make the association so old, I’d be ingrained into people; monsters are normalized.
Which leads us to the question, “Why aren’t they eating the humans?”
Firstly, I decided that some still were.
If I’m making the monsters people, than I hold to the principal that some people are dicks. I didn’t nail down exactly how many still preyed on society, though I knew it had to be small. If half of all monsters ate humans, you’d have less of a stable society and more like a tabletop war game of humans vs. beasties. No, it was a tiny percentage, but it had to be there. Like all writers, I needed conflict.
But back to the friendly ones: why don’t they eat us? I gradually thought of Thanksgiving.
In elementary school, you’re taught a simplistic story of a corn-sharing sit-down dinner between Pilgrims and Native Americans. Later, you learn the more complicated, hidden motives for the pilgrims, ones that involve religious power plays, possible hijackings, and an over-riding urge for beer.
And yet the elementary school textbooks still have smiling pilgrims and Native Americans.
No human really knows, I finally decided. There’s the high-minded answers that end up in my world’s history classes, but I thought it’d be fun to keep the real reasons complicated and secret. Most people go about their lives buying into the talk about diplomatic ideals, but a few people wonder, “Why are the monsters being so nice? Why are they keeping us around? Are they waiting for something?”
I do know. You’ll have to wait a few books to find out.
In any case, a sensible world appeared in my head. Now I needed monster to run it.
You should all know something about me. I ran a role-playing game campaign for my friends once that was an 1890s police procedural in New York. I had just read The Alienist, and walked to do some Teddy Roosevelt imitations. We were planning the game when I suddenly became aware of a betting pool.
“What, you guys are betting on the game? What about?”
“Can’t tell you,” they said while grinning at each other. “You’d influence it. There’s money involved.”
Because I’m a nosy git, I gradually pierced together things. Well, that and they kept the betting slips in a stocking. So, what were my friends so sure of that they were willing to throw their cash down over it?
Golems. The bet was over golems.
My friends, knowing that I’m a monster lover, folklore fanatic, Jewish, and me (they knew me very well), were betting how long it would take me to put the animated clay man of my people into our game. I mean, just because I did it in our Weird Wars game, and the Mutants and Masterminds game after that, and…
So, of course, if I’m making the council of nonhumans, I start with the Golem. Someone has to represent the Creations, the Frankenstein monsters, the talking dolls, and stone statues.
Heck, there were Jews in Babylon. Someone made a golem, and maybe he was one of the Founding Freaks.
Setting the deal in Babylon makes things fall into place. They have a legendary merman who taught humans agriculture; he’s our Aquaman. There’s plenty of choice for the animated dead. Are there any famous ghosts, I wonder?
Well, the most famous dead guy in Babylonian lore is Enkidu, the wildman proto-Wolverine. The Epic of Gilgamesh kicks into high gear when he dies (spoiler alert for the literal oldest story). If I need a famous dead guy, Enkidu could be a ghost.
I needed a lord of aerial beings, so I chose someone Babylonian to promote and immediately kill them off. Hey, I want the Jersey Devil on the council; he had to replace someone.
I grab the Wendigo to be more culturally inclusive and because, in any incarnation, he’s cool. Wendigo is probably the least controlled of these Lords and Ladies, I figure. The Jersey Devil might act like Snooki, but everybody’s happy if the Wendigo just sticks to the wilderness and doesn’t eat people.
How about Cthulhu?
I solemnly realize I’m betraying Lovecraft’s core principal of cosmic otherness and alien inaccessibility to humanity. What the hell, though. It’ll be fun. Robert E. Howard had Conan occasionally stab the Great Old Ones, so I could throw them into a murder mystery. Maybe the inhabitants of Rl’yeh didn’t so much as float down from the stars as crash here like Optimus Prime’s Ark, possibly running from something worse. I realize I’m doing something like Alien Nation with shoggoths.
Now, one thing jumps to my forebrain. If I’m using the big guy this way, this is not Lovecraftian horror. This is closer to his science fiction, where you get monsters who are alien scientists while still being horrible, genocidal fascists. Seriously, why anyone casts the Old Ones or the Great Race of Yith as good guys is beyond me.
In the end, why not?
Hell, Lovecraft was a rampaging racist anyway. Maybe the shoggoths and Rl’yehians in his stories are about as accurately portrayed as he portrayed African Americans, Asian Americans, women, and everyone else who wasn’t a white male member of the Colonial America fan club.
Scenes start playing out in my head of what happened when Cthulhu met Tiamat, and that wins me over. I’m saving that part for book two.
Finally, how about devils and demons?
Screw those guys, I figured. Making the forces of Hell nice turned the world from a cop show grittiness to Hotel Transylvania. No, there’s a list of creatures that I absolutely don’t believe in even making good guys, and demons are the in the top four.
Maybe the monsters’ good PR comes from them handling the demons for the humans. Kenneth Hite did good work in GURPS Cabal with his monsters against the interdimensional Qlippoth, after all. My scenarios would be much less covert conspiracy and more a cross between Toho Films and Marvel Comics. Visions of the Wendigo grappling with the Great Beast of Revelation played out in my head…
When I finished, it looked like this.
You can see my protagonist’s character sheet in the background. Also of note is Cthulhu’s “original” name that I almost tried. When I changed the focus from a game character to an actual novel, I quickly came to my senses. If the big guy is in the public domain, if he’s met the Ghostbusters and Eric Cartman, he can be in my book.
Also, I changed “abominations” to “starborn;” Cthulhu’s been around long enough to understand how PR works.
So, now I had a world. It was time to make someone to stomp around in it.