Monsters exist all over folklore. Dragons, vampires, werewolves, etc. And usually, they start out as Always Chaotic Evil
as they come, or even just mindless beasts who destroy because they don't know any better.
Except, as a particular monster gets more popular, it has a tendency to get less... monstrous. Dragons
- which at least in Western mythology were once giant, winged, fire-breathing lizards that burned villages and were slain by knights - first got more intelligent, then more likely to be a "not really a monster" subversion, until, in the modern era, stuff like Dragonheart
and Pete's Dragon
are nothing to bat an eye at. Similarly, orcs
- who were invented for The Lord of the Rings
to be bred evil
(and mostly stupid) often appear as "noble savages
" after just eighty years.
There are also cases where said monster is modified in order to appeal to younger demographics by making him more cute, huggable, and so forth.
In short, this trope is Villain Decay
on the species level - what happens when Our Monsters Are Different
turns the exception
into the rule
See also You Sexy Beast
, Lovecraft Lite
To avoid ranting, examples list should only be those contained to be a single franchise or canon:
- Drizzt Do'Urden has fast-tracked the taming of Dungeons & Dragons' Drow; although for the most part they're still evil antagonists, Chaotic Good renegade dark elves are a trope of their own by now.
- Godzilla began as a horrible monster and nuclear bomb metaphor. Later on he became a protector from the other monsters, albeit one you don't want to have to use. So it's still a nuclear bomb metaphor.
- There are Cthulhu plushie dolls (as shown in the page image). Not to mention Hounds of Tindalos, gugs, Mi-Go. Moreover, recent fiction is much more likely to play these guys for laughs rather than straight.
- In-universe example for Sam & Max. Turns out that back near the beginning of our planet's existence, molemen were powerful, destructive creatures who could successfully fend off Eldritch Abominations. They didn't evolve well.
- Werewolves have this problem, on and off. Old folklore describes them as vicious animals, at best, but contemporary works tend to humanize them more. They still get cast as vicious animals, but their humanity is still more pronounced. Some traditions have werewolves as a type of witch who sold their soul for their ability to transform, so even as human beings they were evil. Modern werewolves tend to either be innocents who contracted the curse by being the victim of another werewolf, or having been born that way (and usually possessing some degree of control). Either way, they can't help what they are.
- The softening of the Werewolf dates back as the 12th Century where Marie de France writes the tale of the Bisclavret who was trapped in his Wolf form by a treacherous wife after revealing his secret and is captured then kept as a pet by the King who he remains loyal to, even as a Wolf.
- Vampires can be more or less human, and more or less hostile to non-undead, depending on the writer. In recent times, with growing popularity of Vampires Are Sex Gods, they've gotten a bit softer.
- The oldest tales of Dragons (in the Western world) describe them as very large, very vicious reptiles, who may or may not have a penchant for eating maidens. The idea of sentient, sapient dragons that are not necessarily hostile to humanity is new, and might be consequence of cross-cultural pollination from Eastern conceptions of dragons. There has always been the occasional dragon that could talk, in legendsóat least back to the Migration Period in Europeóbut they mainly used the ability to boast, make demands, or trick heroes. However, in some of the older versions of the St. George legend, he doesn't kill it, but baptizes itómeaning that dragon not only isn't a brute monster, it has free will and an immortal soul.
- The softening of Dragons likely more has to do with them being seen as symbollic representatives of an area or people, like the Red and White Dragons of the Britons and Saxons, and thus symbols of indomnitable spirit that represented independance and freedom for the people as a whole and the legitimacy of their reign rather than cross-pollinisation with the East, sort of like how the Lion stopped being a scary murder beast and became a symbol for soldiers and nations alike.
- The trope namer, grues, first appeared in Infocom's classic Zork games as the unseen (and, because they never leave pitch-dark areas, unseeable) monsters who would eat adventurers careless enough to wander in dark places without a light source. Later works such as Wishbringer and Zork: The Undiscovered Underground would play grues for laughs; Wishbringer featured a grue lair with a refrigerator whose light goes out when you open it and a mother grue with an apron, while Undiscovered Underground had a grue convention where grues would discuss topics such as 'Surviving the lean years'. The grues were still dangerous, but played less seriously than in earlier works.