Games Workshop has announced a new line of children’s books set in the Warhammer universe. The books will be set in both the Warhammer 40K and Age of Sigmar settings, and will feature protagonists in their early teens. It’s an unusual and interesting move by the company.
I understand that it makes sense as a business decision – it opens up a large market and could be used to slowly funnel children into the expensive hobby of collecting the miniatures. At the moment, the hobby definitely skews somewhat older, and it doesn’t have the same chance to gain an early following as something like Star Wars does.
But at the same time, these books are going to have to either ignore a lot of the details of the setting, or run directly counter to them. Warhammer 40K has no good guys; everyone is evil. In your quest for a sympathetic faction, you have the choice between Space Nazis, Space Soviets, several different barbaric and remorseless hordes (an feral orc one, a dark forces of chaos one, one that’s essentially just the monster from The Thing) and sundry others, none of which are morally white or even grey. Life in the forty-first millenium is brutal, cruel, and short; no matter what you do or which master you serve, you will die in agony and be forgotten amongst the endless tides of war.
It makes a bit more sense for Warhammer Fantasy, in which the lines between good and evil are much less blurred. However, it’s still not particularly child-friendly. The major enemies are apparently going to be the Darkoath barbarians. The particular dark oath in question is sworn to the ruinous powers, who delight in perversions and destruction. This is no Skeletor, engaging in cartoonish and bloodless plans; either the books will avoid any details about the antagonists, or they’ll change almost everything about the setting.
In an attempt to make the books age-appropriate, there’s a clear drive towards pacifism in the character descriptions. Four of the six child-protagonists named are described as explicitly anti-violence. That suggests to me that all the dilemmas will be solved with trickery, rather than bloodshed, which is hard in a setting where the stakes are so high.
But at the same time, the descriptions do give some idea of the setting itself; one of the non-pacifist children was raised in a slave camp, which is a rather darker origin than most children’s stories, and several of the character’s details demonstrate the harsh nature of the world – disabilities, homelessness, and prominent facial scarring.
It will be fascinating to see how well this all works out, and the extent to which the setting is bowdlerised to support it. It has to be changed to some extent, but too many changes mean that you might as well not have bothered starting with the setting in the first place.