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Maps of Time, Space, and Words in Lovecraft
March 18, 2011 12:15 PM   Subscribe

While constructing a free ebook of the complete Lovecraft stories, Cthulhu Chick made a wordle of Lovecraft's corpus, and notes on word frequency. (Surprise: he only used "squamous" once.) Another fan has made a geopolitical map of Pangaea c. 252 million years ago. The Cthulhu Mythos Timeline explains what's going on.
posted by Zed (52 comments total) 45 users marked this as a favorite

 
I'm a little surprised about the squamous revelation. And more so to see that Nyarlathotep gets more mentions than Cthulhu. The frequency of unnameable, unutterable and the like among the many other adjectives is no surprise; a comedian friend of mine sums up Lovecraft's prose style as, "it was indescribable -- let me describe it for you."
posted by ricochet biscuit at 12:28 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Lovecraft was a raging white-rights racist. And it shows up in his stories, too.
posted by Ironmouth at 12:32 PM on March 18, 2011


Golly. That totally puts a whole new spin on "The Horror at Red Hook."
posted by Zed at 12:34 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


This is so cool and I love that there's a kindle version. But I can't figure out how to move the downloaded file to my android kindle app. The instructions page is leaving me with a sort of "step 3: profit" feeling.
posted by crackingdes at 12:44 PM on March 18, 2011


(Yeah, what crackingdes said. Except in my case, I'm trying to move the download from my MacBook to a Kobo.)
posted by AsYouKnow Bob at 1:08 PM on March 18, 2011


Ironmouth: "Lovecraft was a raging white-rights racist. And it shows up in his stories, too"

Is the whole "white-rights" thing more of a modern spin? I thought Lovecraft was just a plain old "white racist".
posted by charred husk at 1:26 PM on March 18, 2011 [7 favorites]


When I saw "Cthulhu Chick" I instantly thought of "Chick Tracts" and wondered what Cthulu Tracts would be like.
posted by pointystick at 1:39 PM on March 18, 2011


Wonder no more!
posted by Zed at 1:46 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


So the very first thing I did when I bought my Kindle a few weeks ago was to buy a Lovecraft anthology. I don't think this one is complete though. This has only 63 works in it and the Lovecraft collection I bought has 101 stories plus his poetry..
posted by Deflagro at 1:47 PM on March 18, 2011


63 is about right for the solo adult stories. To get to 101, they probably included revisions from The Horror in the Museum, juvenalia, and maybe some of the oddments from Miscellaneous Writings.
posted by Zed at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2011


I don't think this one is complete though. This has only 63 works in it and the Lovecraft collection I bought has 101 stories plus his poetry..
[Cthulhu Chick] did not include collaborations or revisions because some of those works may still be under the co-author’s copyright.
posted by zamboni at 2:00 PM on March 18, 2011


Ahh okay. That makes sense.
posted by Deflagro at 2:05 PM on March 18, 2011


Is the whole "white-rights" thing more of a modern spin? I thought Lovecraft was just a plain old "white racist".

Yeah, I think Lovecraft's racism was pretty mild for his day. Not that that excuses it, but it does put it in context. He wasn't any kind of "white rights" zealot, more of a casual racist.
posted by qxntpqbbbqxl at 2:32 PM on March 18, 2011


Never let a Lovecraft post go by on MetaFilter without mentioning that he was a racist. This accursed duty we must bear through the cyclopean years, that his noisome loathing of the swarthy, though antiquarian, may not be ... unutterable.

My satisfaction waxes gibbous at this eventuality.
posted by adipocere at 2:32 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


A wordle is apparently a word-frequency graphic.
posted by Eideteker at 2:37 PM on March 18, 2011


Interestingly, Chaucer also used the word "squamous" exactly once...
posted by You Can't Tip a Buick at 2:43 PM on March 18, 2011


Yeah, I think Lovecraft's racism was pretty mild for his day. Not that that excuses it, but it does put it in context. He wasn't any kind of "white rights" zealot, more of a casual racist.

The selected works edition I have states that he started and wrote non-fiction for racist publications.
posted by Ironmouth at 2:46 PM on March 18, 2011


Racist or not, Lovecraft was one of the most imaginative authors ever to emerge, and the universe he created still continues to inspire today, basically a century after he was active (and he wasn't even that widely known when he was active).

I've never found his racism to be that extreme given his context, but apparently a person's personal views can be enough to overcome any artistic merit that person may contribute.

Thank god we've driven Shakespeare and Dickens from the pantheon of respected authors because of their anti-Semitic depictions! Or Twain for his repeated use of the word nigger to describe Jim. And... and... and...
posted by hippybear at 3:10 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


Lovecraft was a raging white-rights racist. And it shows up in his stories, too.

I look forward to your equally shrill, pointless contributions to the majority of the literary canon of any culture.
posted by rodgerd at 3:18 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


As a big fan of what HPL called "alienage" and "decay," and the Decline of the West and so forth, this is why I find his stuff fascinating. He has become a kind of unreliable narrator for his own work. If his narrative voice says, "Things have learned to walk, which ought to crawl" - well, who is he to say who ought to crawl? Squamous creatures and/or things with tentacles, insofar as they exist, have never done unprovoked harm to a human, whereas square-jawed white men, in his time, laid waste to whole countries, and are just getting reined in. This knowledge - and to be fair, HPL couldn't have learned the worst of it in his time - adds a layer of interest to me.

These observations were made earlier by me in regards to some ongoing work that is forehead-clutchingly nerdy, and may or may not be headed for the Projects page in a while.
posted by Countess Elena at 3:30 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


I would be remiss not to link to HPPodcraft.com in this thread. I just finished going through the last of 71-episodes-to-date.

Good stuff.
posted by Decimask at 3:45 PM on March 18, 2011


Lovecraft's xenophobia and racism are absolutely central to his oeuvre. So much of the horror in his stories lies in the descriptions and not the actions--that actual, specific menace in Innsmouth, for example, is pretty vague. And then there's Arthur Jermyn...

I'd argue that a progressive, liberal-minded fellow couldn't possibly have written the Mythos. Without the gibbering terror of folks who are Different Than We Are, you just have Mos Eisley, not R'yleh.
posted by Squid Voltaire at 3:47 PM on March 18, 2011 [5 favorites]


I've never really thought about it that way, but Squid Voltaire has a point.
posted by Decimask at 4:15 PM on March 18, 2011


I'd argue that a progressive, liberal-minded fellow couldn't possibly have written the Mythos. Without the gibbering terror of folks who are Different Than We Are...

I'm tired of that racist Ridley Scott, too. Also, George Romero. I mean, c'mon, is there a better depiction of 'There Goes the Neighborhood?'

Seriously? I mean, seriously? Is there no end to how much better progressive liberal-minded fellows are than the rest of humanity? Maybe a scary story can just be a scary story sometimes and not an acting out of your repressed, projected fears about things.
posted by umberto at 4:29 PM on March 18, 2011


The wordle adds empirical certainty to my longstanding feeling that HPL grossly overused the word "two".
posted by gurple at 4:40 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


Yeah, the guy up there who misspells "R'lyeh" has a point, but it's the point that gets made in every Lovecraft thread these days.

Yes. Dude was racist. Just making that observation was worthwhile when no one ever talked about that -- say, back in 2005. Then, for a while in 2007, it was interesting to talk about how his racism related differently to 1920s American culture than it would to today's society. Then, when people talked about that, the observation that his racism was essential to his work was worth some discussion -- let's call that late 2009.

In March 2011, it would take a 50-page, well-footnoted dissertation on Lovecraft's racism, complete with newly-unearthed primary texts and a birth certificate of his mixed-race love child, to add anything to the discussion.
posted by gurple at 4:46 PM on March 18, 2011 [6 favorites]


Thanks for the link, the ebook reader on my phone was decidedly not eldritch enough.

I remember trying to find his stuff back in the late 80s and early 90s... not easy; I could never find current paperbacks and there's no way I could afford Arkham House reprint hardcovers. Even interlibrary loan was little help as HPLs books seem to have been stolen a lot...

If the common knowledge of his racism (which mustve caused some cognitive dissonance on his falling in love with and later marrying a Jewish woman) has brought us anything, it's brought us his wonderful appearance in the Planetary/Authority special, which I won't ruin here.
posted by jtron at 4:56 PM on March 18, 2011


I'd like to think I'm a progressive, but I sure do have a lot of suppressed fears. Acting them out in a story can be cathartic. I think it's a bad idea to use those fears to make political decisions, so I try to avoid it. It helps to admit to having those fears, and taking inventory of them to see how they might sway my decisions.
posted by LogicalDash at 5:01 PM on March 18, 2011 [2 favorites]


there's no way I could afford Arkham House reprint hardcovers

All of Lovecraft's prose fiction is available relatively affordably in physical books in these three Penguin collections (with annotations by S.T. Joshi and containing corrected text) and the Del Rey trade paperback The Horror in the Museum.
posted by Zed at 5:09 PM on March 18, 2011


I really feel like I should contribute something here. I tend to go with the 'his fear of the unknown made his stories scarier' but I think I'm going by an essay I read ages ago that made that point. I think he was probably pretty racist, and when I got my little bro into Lovecraft I explained it. You can be aware of it and not let it affect you.
posted by Lovecraft In Brooklyn at 5:19 PM on March 18, 2011


Chtulhu chic?
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 5:19 PM on March 18, 2011


Lovecraft's racism was more mainstream in his time (as a guy who was born in 1890 and died in 1937), though that doesn't excuse it.

The wordle surprised me with how banal the words were -- reflecting more Lovecraft's tendency to overwrite (see how prominent "one" is, a sign of circumlocution) than the eldritch vocabulary he's stereotyped with.
posted by bad grammar at 5:45 PM on March 18, 2011


So Lovecraft still used "squamous" more than Arthur Conan Doyle used "Elementary, my dear Watson"? Good to know.
Besides being incredibly racist and having a messed-up personal life, Lovecraft was paid by the word (that is, when he could sell his work at all) and his work certainly seems to reflect that as well.
posted by marakesh at 6:26 PM on March 18, 2011


Argh, another Lovecraft-was-a-racist derail. My own knowledge of Lovecraft's racism has been improving lately (and some things I said in past threads may well be inaccurate, or not reflect my current opinion). So throwing all that out and judging by what I think right now:

1. He was anti-Semitic, but (as she pointed out to him) he married a jew. That seems to indicate almost a for-show kind of racism. Considering his affectation of himself as an old English gentleman, that makes a kind of sense.
2. He wrote a few stories (Arthur Jermyn, Horror at Red Hook, The Street) about the inferiority of other races. Some of these are pretty horrible today (and not in the good way). One can ignore them pretty easily.
3. He did seem to come out of it later in life, especially under the influence of his surprising number of friends. They must have seen something redeemable in him.
4. In life, Lovecraft was almost pitifully powerless. If he had some importance while alive then maybe he could have done something awful with those racist statements; or maybe he felt that he could make them precisely because he knew they mattered not one whit to the world. I don't know, but I get the sense it's the latter.

He died before World War II, but in the lead up to the war I seem to recall hearing that he was not exactly cheering Hitler on.
posted by JHarris at 6:56 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


(Where are the other Lovecraft people this time out?)
posted by JHarris at 6:57 PM on March 18, 2011


Oh, one more thing:

Lovecraft wrote letters. Thousands and thousands of letters. It's entirely possible that he could have gained a reputation for using specific words more from his letters than from his works.
posted by JHarris at 7:07 PM on March 18, 2011


2. He wrote a few stories (Arthur Jermyn, Horror at Red Hook, The Street) about the inferiority of other races.

That's understating things more than a little; the horror of race-mixing between European humans and those other, darker, baser things shows up a helluva lot (it's pretty much the entire plot of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, doncha think?), and the inherent evil of ape-like tribal primitives is also well-represented.

The selected works edition I have states that he started and wrote non-fiction for racist publications.

What edition is that? I'm curious about the racist publications he supposedly started; I haven't seen anything about that before.
posted by mediareport at 8:09 PM on March 18, 2011 [1 favorite]


That last one was for Ironmouth.
posted by mediareport at 8:15 PM on March 18, 2011


That's understating things more than a little; the horror of race-mixing between European humans and those other, darker, baser things shows up a helluva lot (it's pretty much the entire plot of The Shadow Over Innsmouth, doncha think?), and the inherent evil of ape-like tribal primitives is also well-represented.

In more of his stories, like The Shadow Over Innsmouth, the "other" is actually cosmic in origin. And it doesn't quite count when at the end the narrator turns out to be spoiler alert a hybrid himself. And in At The Mountains of Madness, humankind itself turns out to probably be created by the Elder Things, so what does that say about the superiority of any human race? And it's rather a neat turn around in The Shadow Out of Time where the "Great Race" is actually alien. So no, I don't think I'm understating things.

I too am interested in hearing about these racist publications. Of course, material appeared in ordinary publications of the time that we would consider racist today, that doesn't make them specifically racist, as in, selecting for racism in their acceptance criteria.
posted by JHarris at 8:32 PM on March 18, 2011


Did the hashtag "Ph'nglui mglw'nafh Cthulhu R'lyeh wgah'nagl fhtagn" not fit?
posted by oxford blue at 8:58 PM on March 18, 2011


All I can say is that, once you start studying Howard and his writing from the point of view that you need to write a 40K thesis about him (and Poe), the racism thing becomes much more complicated. The guy, like all of us, was a complicated character, who's opinions swayed and changed throughout his life. He also very frequently contradicted himself, as a person, as a writer, and in his work.
posted by New England Cultist at 10:31 PM on March 18, 2011


I'm annoyed when people shout down discussion of Lovecraft's racism. To take another example, E. E. Cummings, a poet I love dearly, was a racist (less so than Pound and Eliot, but that doesn't make it any better). It would never occur to me to whine about people bringing up his racism, which did find his way into his poems on at least two occasions (there might be more, but those are the examples I can recall off the top of my head). When discussing Cummings with people this comes up every once in a while, and I bring it up myself on occasion, because it's worth remarking on. The same goes with Pound and Eliot.

I find it even more galling when people whine about people bringing up Lovecraft's racism because Lovecraft's racism is one of the remarkable aspects of Lovecraft work. As GenjiandProust has pointed out (1, 2) it can combine with Lovecraft's other themes to either horror-heightening effect (The Shadow Over Innsmouth) or to make the modern reader go "WTF, HPL" (Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family). To understand Lovecraft you have to understand his racism. Understanding that he was a racist doesn't devalue all of his writing (the stories containing his most racist drivel are of low quality to begin with) but rather helps the modern reader understand the full extent of his power. I'm not saying that his racism should be celebrated, but it should be kept in mind.

Lovecraft was a racist, undeniably so, but in his work he interrogated his racism, explored the psychological roots of it, and what he found wasn't pretty, in fact it was horrifying. And there lies one of the reasons why he's such a profoundly disturbing horror writer.
posted by Kattullus at 11:44 PM on March 18, 2011 [4 favorites]


Kattullus: "I'm annoyed when people shout down discussion of Lovecraft's racism."

I don't think anyone has a big problem with it being discussed, but there's a certain knee-jerk "HE WAS A RACIST YOU KNOW" that always shows up within 10 to 20 comments in a MeFi discussion related to him, to the point where I'm wondering if there's anyone on MeFi who doesn't know that he was a racist by now.

And I agree with you that it's interesting to consider his (conflicted and paradoxical) racism as a root for a lot of his fiction. I don't agree that it's central to all or even most of his work, though, not as such. HPL's racism seems more to me to be a specific aspect of his general conservatism, and the racist untermensch style ravings might be an attempt to rationalize it.

I guess my point is, not all fear of the unknown is racism. Not all fear of getting infected by or hybridized with some sort of alien weirdness is fear of miscegenation. It can just as easily be a metaphor for infections, cancer and other tumors, birth defects, or even just simple bodily harm.

When someone is a conservative like HPL was (most of his life, he became something of an elitist technocrat socialist towards the end), any change to the order of things one is used to is probably frightening, and change to or corruption of the body is probably one of the most intimate expression of that imaginable.

He was fond of the existing order of things, tradition, etc., because he was such an enormous nihilist. He realized early on that there's no god, the universe doesn't care about the human species, and our existence is a mere blip on the cosmic timescale. The tradition and heritage was his only, meager comfort.

So, sure he was racist. But I don't think it powered everything he did. People are complex, not caricatures. And while I welcome a serious conversation about his racism and (especially) its impact on his work, I don't think the superficial dismissals are that.
posted by Joakim Ziegler at 1:58 AM on March 19, 2011 [4 favorites]


Am I late for the derail?
posted by Artw at 12:34 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


In after hours trading squamous continued to plunge while gambrel held on to earlier gains though trading volumes were low
posted by fallingbadgers at 1:09 PM on March 19, 2011 [1 favorite]


Now Robert E Howard... THERE was a racist.
posted by kaibutsu at 3:51 PM on March 19, 2011


The selected works edition I have states that he started and wrote non-fiction for racist publications.

Ironmouth, which edition is that? I'd love to find out more.
posted by mediareport at 9:47 PM on March 20, 2011


Lovecraft's writing for the United Amateur is on Gutenberg. And here's something from the first issue of the journal he founded, the Conservative.
That the maintenance of civilization rests today with that magnificent Teutonic stock which is represented alike by the two hotly contending rivals, England and Germany, as well as by Austria, Scandinavia, Switzerland, Holland and Belgium, is as undeniably true as it is vigorously disputed. The Teuton is the summit of evolution. [...]

Tracing the career of the Teuton through mediaeval and modern history, we can find no possible excuse for denying his actual biological supremacy. In widely separated localities and under widely diverse conditions, his innate racial qualities have raised him to preeminence. There is no branch of modern civilization that is not of his making. [...]

The Teutonic mind is masterful, temperate, and just. No other race has shown an equal capability for self-government. It is a significant fact that not one square inch of Teutonic territory is governed save by its own inhabitants.

The division of such a splendid stock against itself, each representative faction allying itself with alien inferiors, is a crime so monstrous that the world may well stand akast.[sic][...]

In a world of diverse and hostile races the joint mission of these virile men is one of union and co-operation with their fellow-Teutons in defense of civilization against the onslaughts of all others. There is work to be done by the Teuton. As a unit he must in times to come crush successively the rising power of Slav and Mongolian, preserving for Europe and America the glorious culture that he has evolved.
I've got another Lovecraft post coming in a month or so. Any guesses as to what the discussion will end up being about?
posted by Zed at 4:15 PM on March 21, 2011


Weirdly when I made a FPP that explicitly mentioned Lovecrafts racism there was very little discussion of it at all.
posted by Artw at 4:22 PM on March 21, 2011


Anyway, here's some thoughts on the matter.
posted by Artw at 4:24 PM on March 21, 2011 [1 favorite]


Question: what does a dead guy's racism have to do with the frequency with which various words were used in his speculative fiction stories? YES HE WAS A RACIST. OMG. Yes. We know. We roll our eyes and giggle about it when we read his stories, and then move on to the interesting parts. I think this was a cool post.

I really, truly don't believe it about "squamous", though.
posted by Because at 6:02 PM on March 21, 2011


I just checked the text of "The Crime of the Century", excerpted above, in Miscellaneous Writings. It has "aghast" instead of "akast" (and "shewn" instead of "shown", "coöperation" instead of "co-operation", and probably several other minor differences.)
posted by Zed at 8:41 PM on March 21, 2011


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