Since the birth of my son, I’ve been a bit hard-pressed to make time for reading, and it is with regret that it took me several weeks longer than expected to finish Edgar Cantero’s new novel Meddling Kids, a mashup of Scooby-Doo and H. P. Lovecraft that earned rave reviews from critics earlier this summer. I found the book to be enjoyable, but a little less impressive than the critics made it out to be. Meddling Kids is a book I wanted to love, but it was one I liked instead. And to be frank, I think TV is ruining novels for me. It’s hard to pretend that 300 pages of a one-off novel can rival the hundreds of hours I spend with characters on TV series over the years of their runs. It takes, what, 20 hours to read this book, while, for example, a throwaway TV show on a similar theme like Teen Wolf has 100 hours of content spread over six calendar years. Perhaps that’s why I just don’t feel the same connection when I read reviews about how realistic and detailed the book’s characters are. I barely got to know them before they were gone. Each had, I believe, one personality trait. It seems like the CW’s Riverdale was more of a fresh and darker take on Archie than Meddling Kids is for Scooby-Doo
The story concerns a team of teen detectives who return to their hometown more than a dozen years after their last big case, when in 1977 they unmasked the Sleepy Lake Monster in the summer resort town where they spent their school vacations. Now adults in 1990, they are slightly skewed versions of the Scooby Gang, to the point that I needn’t really describe them except to say that Cantero has taken the most popular readings of Scooby-Doo’s subtext and promoted it to text—the Shaggy analog is insane and on drugs and hears voices, Velma and Daphne (here remixed into two hybrid characters) are a butch lesbian and a sexually fluid femme. Fred’s dead. Their new names for this novel don’t really matter. I rarely thought of them as anything other than the Scooby Gang. Yes, there is a dog.
Our heroes gradually realize that the man they fingered as the mask-wearing Sleepy Lake Monster was in fact a stooge, and something horrible happened to them in 1977, a real horror that they couldn’t suppress completely and which has destroyed their lives. If you thought that the horror involved abuse or even terrible violence, you would be wrong. Instead—and this gives nothing away since it’s on the cover—the real horror is Lovecraftian, a tentacled monster that someone is trying to free from under a shunned house. The Scooby Gang goes back to Blyton Hills to uncover the truth, and they stumble into a rather heavy-handed combination of “The Thing on the Doorstep” and “The Lurking Fear.”
Before we go any further, I need to address what most reviewers failed to mention, probably because middle-aged book reviewers don’t keep up with semi-recent cartoons. The plot of this book is not dissimilar to Scooby-Doo: Mystery Incorporated (2010-2013), and at times the echoes, down to the buried Lovecraftian horror waiting to emerge beneath a seemingly idyllic resort community where a team of teen investigators only think they’ve unmasked pretend monsters, are uncomfortably close. The TV show colored its horror with humor and with Zecharia Sitchin’s ancient astronaut theory, while the book hews toward Clark Ashton Smith’s wizarding version of Lovecraftian lore, but they both dance around the same story, in what I doubt is entirely a coincidence.
Elements of the book were wry and funny. The best joke in the entire book is also one of the first, with the town of Blyton Hills sitting on the Zoinx River. But that cleverness doesn’t permeate the entire book, and it leaves the characters in an uneasy place between cartoon and fully formed human. Similarly, the world of Blyton Hills is merely sketched and incomplete, with a small handful of limited locations, a suggestion of a setting like the infamous Hanna-Barbara Repeating Forest (to steal a Futurama joke). It was as though the author imagined an old cartoon’s storyboard, where the need to paint backgrounds necessitated a restricted set of backgrounds. If the story had leaned into a full parody of Scooby-Doo, this might have been part of the joke, but Cantero wants us to take the characters seriously, so the cartoony setting doesn’t quite support the emotions we are asked to believe.
One reason for that is that Cantero sets the story in Oregon in 1990 but seems to have no firsthand knowledge of either. Cantero is a native of Barcelona, working in Catalan, Spanish, and English. Although Meddling Kids was written in English and is set in the United States, it has just enough of a remove from the deeply intimate knowledge we would see in an American native that at times it doesn’t quite capture the depth that might have taken this cartoony novel to a higher plane. Like me, Cantero was 9 years old in 1990, and so far as I know he has never been to Oregon. The lack of specifics from either the time period (aside from a list of hit songs) or the geographic location leaves the story suspended in a never-never-land that, again, would be appropriate for a cartoon parody but which rings hollow in what is supposed to be a better rounded and realistic—though I use the word loosely for a story about an evil wizard—take on Scooby-Doo archetypes.
The Lovecraftian elements did not come out particularly well. Something, it seems, was lost in translating Lovecraft to Scooby-Doo via Catalonia. Cantero name-checks Lovecraftian elements such as Arkham, the Necronomicon, and Nyarlathotep, but the existential despair of true Lovecraftian fiction is here reduced to an action-adventure that just happens to feature tentacles. To that end, could really have been any magical material used in place of the Lovecraftian.
I should also briefly mention that the writing style is sometimes distractingly postmodern, shifting between traditional narrative and screenplay format with no purpose or notice, and using unusual portmanteau words that the author seems to have invented for his third language out of translated parts of the other two.
All of this makes the book seem less enjoyable than it was. It is a fun, if slight, story that seems as though it were written with a potential movie in mind. It was great summer reading, but I doubt I will retain much of a memory of it by the time the leaves start to change.
8/17/2017 12:22:49 pm
Congratulations on the birth of your son. :)
8/17/2017 12:54:05 pm
Gravity Falls is set in Oregon. I wonder if that's why he set his story there. Mystery inc was a masterpiece.
8/17/2017 07:54:41 pm
My son really likes Gravity Falls. It's a good show, entertaining and clever.
8/17/2017 01:44:15 pm
Interesting post! Arkham is also the asylum in Batman, which he would be more familiar with. He also probably watched Gravity Falls, which is a spoof of Scooby Doo, set in one season. Also Robot Chicken did the same gag as in this story and Scooby Doo 2 hinted at the same points in a movie. Curiously the movies starred the original TV Buffy, as and her hubby as Fred. The movie Buffy was a different person. Scooby Doo and the Thelma rthing has been parodies numerous times, including the suggestion she is supposedly gay. In the first movie DVD there is an outtake to that effect. Yes, I know the show started in the 1970s, and everyone knows those 'scooby snacks' were some kind of pot reference, giving Shag and Scoob the munchies. Ha.
8/17/2017 01:51:42 pm
'Scooby Doo but with real monsters' is the least original take on Scooby Doo possible, seeing how its the only thing the official franchise has been doing for decades.
11/6/2017 12:07:50 am
Uh, actually, while 'Fred' (His name is peter) may be dead, he is no where near gone, popping up in multiple chapters to offer snark or torment a character or two, and is rather well written in my opinion.
8/17/2017 01:52:37 pm
Not as familiar with the 2010 cartoon reboot, but if they did go there, using some Lovecraft creature would be cool. Is Fred's Dead a reference to several Fred movies? Freddy's Dead coming to mind, Drop Dead Fred, and others? That would be kind of an in joke, but a 1980s reference. Maybe not.
10/18/2017 02:51:09 pm
Twin Peaks is set in Washington state.
8/17/2017 04:00:51 pm
The main problem is one that occurs whenever you attempt to cross genres. Without firm knowledge of the individual "worlds", it's harder to find an acceptable mix of both.
8/17/2017 08:01:29 pm
The Maine settings really work for King's stories. You can clearly tell that when his characters describe their lives growing up as children in rural Maine towns (as in the novella The Body, for instance) he is drawing on his own personal memories. I enjoy how in most of his tales he works in vague references to other works of his, to make it appear as if they are all remotely connected.
8/17/2017 06:50:02 pm
Jason! You didn't answer the most important question on everybody's lips. Does the dog talk?
8/17/2017 09:05:50 pm
That would ruin a plot point, so I can't tell you.
Seed of Bismuth
8/23/2017 01:34:43 pm
If you'll let me have 3 guess. 1) the Dog is the lovecraftian monster in disguise. 2) the Dog is a different Lovecraftian monster that's used as the books stinger. 3) Dead Fred possesses or is otherwise merged with the Dog.
8/17/2017 07:53:55 pm
Authors and others with only a passing knowledge of Lovecraft referencing his material to be hip is just one reason why I hate that Lovecraft has now become trendy.
8/17/2017 08:15:47 pm
All but two of the original Scooby Doo cartoons had a Real Estate developer as the villain. Anything right a bell?
8/18/2017 01:25:12 pm
Having never watched Scooby Doo (!), when you described a band of former teenagers returning, as adults, to their home town to battle a monster and "a real horror that they couldn’t suppress completely and which has destroyed their lives" the first thing I though of was Stephen King's "It." I don't recall all the details but one of the former teens is also dead.
8/18/2017 07:05:26 pm
Stephen King being a huge fan of his age and genre, watched and read about Nancy Drew, Hardy Boys, Scooby Doo, (which is a Hardy Boys spoof), monster films and scifi movies, and surely knew of that going in writing about 'teenagers in peril stopping monsters'. It is a common thread in Different Seasons, It, The Stand, The The Dark Tower series, Tommyknockers, and others. You can be he read the works of Lovecraft, Poe and others. It was not so much with the Shining, but Carrie, Christine, 'Salem's Lot, Pet Semetary, (the kid spells it wrong), and others were also about a similar town, theme, and monster.
8/20/2017 11:25:14 am
I couldn't get far. It's just seemed wrong and I wasn't enjoying the style or the plot. I'm a bit older and watched Scooby Doo in the late 70s. So, I may have too much emotional investment in it to have the characters warped this way. I didn't have much problem with the live action movies. They were the right kind of stupid fun.
10/3/2017 11:46:37 pm
Hi Mr. Colavito,
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