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These cycles of experience ... all stem from that worm-riddled book
June 12, 2014 9:55 PM   Subscribe

Phenderson Djèlí Clark details H. P. Lovecraft's racism (earlier version with links to recommended reading/listening). Daniel José Older situates HPL's racism within a more general aesthetics of disgust. Silvia Moreno-Garcia engages with racism in both HPL and Robert E. Howard through work such as co-editing a multicultural issue (pdf) of Innsmouth Magazine (formerly Innsmouth Free Press) and a new Sword & Mythos anthology. Balogun Ojetade explains how confronting racism in HPL and REH spurred his participation in the sub-genre of Sword and Soul.
posted by Monsieur Caution (47 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite

 
Oh, FFS. First MZB, now this.
posted by sourcequench at 11:02 PM on June 12 [2 favorites]


Uh, it's not like HPL's racism is a secret, or even poorly-known. Hell, it's one of the most famous things about him.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:08 PM on June 12 [29 favorites]


As a fan of Lovecraft's who fits neatly into the "privileged white male" pigeonhole that much of his fanbase resides in, I'll be the first to agree that Lovecraft and his contemporaries had morally reprehensible beliefs that, thankfully, reside much farther at the margin than they did a century ago. The subversion, reinvention, and/or retirement of Lovecraft's tired themes of "racial purity" (I'm looking at you, Innsmouth fanboys) is much needed and, for my part, enthusiastically welcomed.

That said, there's a basic ugliness that weird fiction too-often acts as a beard for. Consider, for example, the increasingly explicit demonization of sexuality and overt sexual violence present in the second generation of mythos writers (e.g., Y'golonac). Any reactionary worldview can be, and often is, leveraged effectively to produce horror and weird fiction for a corresponding audience. This is not to say that all weird fiction is necessarily a reflection of reactionary views; merely that toying with reactionary ideas is an easy (read: lazy) strategy for playing on the "cosmic fears" of that audience.

For my money, one of the most entertaining confrontation with the emotional dynamics of racism and disgust in weird fiction is Paul Di Filippo's "Hottentots," published in The Steampunk Trilogy. Its plainly-unsympathetic 19th-century protagonist is so bafflingly racist (driven to near-panic-attack levels of distress) that even his contemporaries are made uncomfortable, and he employs purple-prose narration that is a delightful send-up of Lovecraft's profound horror in the face of banal circumstance.
posted by belarius at 11:08 PM on June 12 [5 favorites]


Yeah, I have known this for years. I'm not really into Lovecraft, but I really like the Arkham Horror boardgame, so I read a couple of his stories. "The Shadow over Innsmouth" strikes me as a story about how interracial marriage leads to disaster.
posted by Pendragon at 2:08 AM on June 13


Yeah, I love most of the ideas in Innsmouth (town with a secret! evil cults! fishmen! a decaying village! reliable information from a completely unreliable source!), but the realization that the underlying horror is miscegenation is just uggggh.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:13 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


As Pope Guilty implies, everyone knows this.

You know, that piece-of-shit racist "joke" poem that the first link talks about was written he was a young person, really. (Yes, it was in his early 20s, but he basically spent about 10 years in some kind of mental-illness-triggered seclusion, and only started doing when he was 28 what everyone else starts when they are 18; you can pretty much subtract 10 years from his age for every life milestone from then on.) It was well before he really started writing stories, 14 years before "The Call of Cthulhu." The young Howard Lovecraft believed and said some offensively awful things.

But you know what, he got better. By the 1930s he had cut way back on fiction because he had completely turned his politics around, and was spending nearly all his time denouncing his former conservatism, and writing lengthy essays promoting the Left social justice movement of his time. (Although there's plenty he still got wrong! Like a whole lot of American liberals he only heard the Hitler: The Good Parts story, until the mid-30s when he had a long conversation with a Jewish woman who'd fled Germany, and he changed his tune radically.)

What frustrates me about the argument in that first article is that it starts with (1) here's some racist shit he wrote at a younger age, (2) here's something from decades later where he uses the word "negro," therefore (3) HPL never changed or grew. What frustrates me even more about the argument in that second article is that it problematizes a whole range of deep human emotions and visions as tainted by some vague metaphorical/philosophical similarity to actual, hurtful racism.

It's not like we fans of Lovecraft don't get pissed off with the way this garbage ruins his writing. I like his work and I'm a "miscegenated Jew." The biggest name in Lovecraft studies is Sunand Tryambak Joshi. And Joshi (who's also done work in feminist and atheist history) has written extensively about HPL's philosophy, which includes his racial ideas and how they evolved. What P. D. Clark sees as denial of the obvious is more an unwillingness to do H. P. Lovecraft 101 again.

Here's the core of what I'm getting at: if you can learn to deal with the adjectivitis, the occasional purple prose and empty bombast, the italics, and, yes, the dipshit racist ideas when they pop up ... you can get beyond all that to experience the incredible, indescribable effects of what H. P. Lovecraft achieved at his best: the yawning gulfs of cosmic space lurking so close to us, the jewel-like dolls-house dream-view of the world and the peoples within it, the language which evokes what none of his imitators can approximate.

I just don't get the point of "calling out" and "zero tolerance" and "refusing to give a pass" (what are you, a hall monitor?) to all these old writers and artists. To my mind, it's already easy enough to stay confined to the padded cell of modernity; instead your goal as a reader should be to change yourself to be simpatico with the magical, undiscovered, but harder-to-approach back stacks of the library. The second article seems to suggest that putting people like Lovecraft in one's literary pantheon is the root cause, or at least an enabling factor, of Science Fiction's failure to Grow Up Already.

It sucks. But part of liking HPL is confronting his literary faults, which are really pretty obvious and discussed absolutely everywhere, even by his own contemporaries writing at the time he was alive. I don't think I'm engaging in "the gymnastics of mental obfuscation that occur as fans of Lovecraft attempt to rationalize his racism," so much as I'm trying not to lose sight of what's more important.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 2:46 AM on June 13 [47 favorites]


For the record, I wasn't impugning the post in any way, just the comparison to Marion Zimmer Bradley.
posted by Pope Guilty at 2:49 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


The Sword And Soul links are way more interesting than the same old Lovecraft arguments. That genre looks AMAZING.
posted by Potomac Avenue at 3:14 AM on June 13 [5 favorites]


Some of his statements calling for the extermination of üntermenschen were written in the 1930s; a long way from him being a dumb young guy. And while those wishing to salvage his fiction seize upon any evidence of him distancing himself from his unpalatable earlier views, the truth is that such evidence is rather thin on the ground. HPL was no Adam Yauch.
posted by acb at 3:45 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


HPL was no Adam Yauch.

The young HPL could sound like Adam Yoshida, if anyone remembers him.
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 3:53 AM on June 13


When I used to play "Call of Cthulhu" with my friends, we would usually say something like "And then there was something that was painfully racist, because he was a racist old man." And then we would move on, maybe after making a syphilis joke.

However, now that I have a list of Sword and Soul recommendations, I am deeply delighted. Because I always want to read more, but I just never know where to look and I just don't have the energy levels to read bad books.
posted by Katemonkey at 3:56 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


I spent a lot of time tracing HPL's route when he'd visit Salem, Marblehead, and other North Shore locations. Based on his letters, dude was nuts and not in the "old auntie Mabel says oldtimey racist stuff" way but in the "what the fuck is your problem" way. One minute he'd be going on about a cat he found, the next railing against the Polish taint infecting once-fine Anglo-Saxon neighborhoods, all before listing his favorite ice cream flavors and/or some vision of demonic maw opening up in an old house he saw.

I often wonder what Frank Belknap Long thought reading letter after letter. Did he get tired of this weirdo writing him pretending to be some ancient Roman grampa? Was this his 'paying his dues' he needed to do to get ahead in the writer's circle? Or did he actually look forward to the correspondence?
posted by robocop is bleeding at 4:02 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


Lovecraft's racism is not fresh or interesting inasmuch as it comes as an attack or mitigating factor on the man. It's been well discussed over the last 40 years, and no one should be shocked by it unless they are a neophyte.

To me, it is inescapable given that Lovecraft was a relic of an old New England aristocracy that no longer existed. His family was dissolute, he was a failure at getting into college and at marriage, and more generally at life. His virulent racism was part and parcel of that identity. His fantasies were about degeneration and decay and death; they were not heroic, and reflect the disappearance of the WASP clan he represented.
posted by graymouser at 4:19 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


Look, this is someone who named one of his big bads Shub-Niggurath. (And a bit more disturbing, to me, that he did so at a time when minstrelsy was still accepted as part of American culture, is that Id Games decided to use Shub-Niggurath as the final boss in Quake.)
posted by Halloween Jack at 5:01 AM on June 13


Love Lovecraft threads, love learning that Sword and Soul is a genre. Thanks MeFi!
posted by fraxil at 5:08 AM on June 13


"The Shadow over Innsmouth" strikes me as a story about how interracial marriage leads to disaster.

[spoilers]

I may have misread this as a kid, but I thought it actually celebrated embracing one's otherness. That ending where the narrator finds his REAL "people" under the sea who are great and horrifying and powerful, then is all "IA! IA!" read as triumphant to me. It was a little creepy, yet uplifting at the time.

It happened to play to a fantasy of shedding the burden of trying to fit in as the only person of a particular race in a community and just letting loose. I find it plausible that maybe HPL identified with the Deep Ones (or whoever they were in this particular story) as well as the snooty pure white New Englanders. Then again, perhaps he didn't think of that at all. If so, this is why art is kind of awesome.
posted by ignignokt at 6:18 AM on June 13 [8 favorites]


So Sword & Soul doesn't seem to be much of a genre yet -- worldcat lists exactly 3 copies of Changa's Safari worldwide, and google isn't giving me anything interesting in search results. But the kindle copies of these are pretty cheap, so at least they're easy to get ahold of.
posted by curious nu at 6:20 AM on June 13


Come to think of it, The Outsider had the same vibe in a shorter package.
posted by ignignokt at 6:22 AM on June 13


A little more digging turned up this review of the Griots S&S anthology, and also - by the same authors - an anthology called Steamfunk! I was kind of dreading that this stuff was being written by more white dudes fetishizing some exotic, deepest darkest Africa... but it's African-American men (and at least one woman) writing it, so, hmm!

It'll be interesting to read some of these in comparison to HPL and REH.
posted by curious nu at 6:27 AM on June 13


And if I'd read more of the Soul & Sword links in the FPP I'd know all this, but I kinda skimmed it and just found the good reads link, so, uh.. read those links up there, too. -.-
posted by curious nu at 6:36 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I hate just dropping & leaving & expecting someone else to do the work [the usual 'i'm working' lame excuse], but China Mieville has done a lot of the kind of deeper looking Harvey Kilobit is talking about. (Please someone else link & everyone else favorite them.) Mieville's less concerned with the history & likes to argue that there's a fundamental racism to the work, but he also seems to think that's one of the things that makes it powerful. I found his ideas about Lovecraft to be challenging to how I thought about literary figures and their work in general.
posted by lodurr at 6:53 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


Yeah, I think everyone who is at all into Lovecraft knew about this. He still wrote some good stuff though, although as I always like to point out, Clark Ashton Smith mined the same seam far more effectively.
posted by Decani at 7:21 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


I find it plausible that maybe HPL identified with the Deep Ones (or whoever they were in this particular story) as well as the snooty pure white New Englanders.

So you're saying that the overwrought disgust heaped at the outsiders could be an instance of self-censorship, much like writing a pornographic book and transforming it into a morality tale by tacking on a chapter in which all participants are punished grieviously for their exciting sins in the preceding chapters?
posted by acb at 7:26 AM on June 13


I knew Lovecraft was a big old racist, but I never actually thought that Shadow over Innsmouth was about the dangers of breeding with the inferior races. I always though it was just about a poisoned community, like the Ganados in Resident Evil 4.

I'm a bit depressed now.
posted by Swandive at 7:29 AM on June 13


Look, this is someone who named one of his big bads Shub-Niggurath.

FWIW I have always interpreted that as mock Ancient Mesopotamian. It doesn't just resonate with "ziggurat", Ninhursag was an earth goddess and Nintinugga a healing deity. Then again, I'm not American.
posted by sukeban at 7:36 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Yeah, pointing out that Lovecraft was a racist is hardly earth-shattering. I wouldn't pick on Shadow over Innsmouth though, considering he also wrote The Horror at Red Hook (or The Street).

Still, at his best, he is very good, and I'm not sure he could have the author he was without his demons.

As for being disappointed with authors, I loved Jules Verne as a kid. As an adult, I read (part of) Away on a Comet. Turns out he had an editor for a reason.
posted by bouvin at 7:50 AM on June 13


> Uh, it's not like HPL's racism is a secret, or even poorly-known.
> Hell, it's one of the most famous things about him.

Yes, I know. That was the joke. I was playing the Orson Scott card.
posted by sourcequench at 8:37 AM on June 13 [1 favorite]


Still, at his best, he is very good, and I'm not sure he could have [been] the author he was without his demons.

I'm hardly a Lovecraft expert. I read Mountains of Madness a long time ago, and a handful of short stories (I think), and of course, I've seen a pile of movies etc that were based on and/or influenced by his work. But the man does fascinate me ... because his stuff very much does get at something important. And that's the point. His work is important. It has stuff of genuine value to teach us, or at least evoke in us. To deny this stuff is to deny the best part of the man's humanity ... even as the stuff in question may be a direct result of the poisons released by the worst part of his humanity.

Would the world be a better place if Lovecraft had just shut up, stayed in the shadows and let this poisonous stuff consume him? I doubt it. Indeed, I suspect the knowledge of his darker impulses/ideas goes a long way to explaining just where his harrowing vision came from and serves, if one chooses to go there, as an illustration of just how complex evil (for lack of a better word) is at its root. Thus the fascination continues ...
posted by philip-random at 8:41 AM on June 13 [4 favorites]


Just to draw out a few points that may be overwhelmed by the most straightforward stuff in these links, the author of the first article begins by saying Lovecraft's racism is a well-known and settled matter (obviously it is, but if there's any doubt, he removes it) and concludes by saying that Lovecraft was a literary genius, so he appreciates Lovecraft, but there's a serious problem of double consciousness for him when reading HPL and interpreting his legacy. And in his earlier draft, he goes on to say that he especially likes stories such as "The Dude Who Collected Lovecraft" by Nick Mamatas and Tim Pratt, because it "draws on Lovecraft’s imaginative genius AND his virulent racism–without omission or apology."

The author of the second non-fiction piece also contributed a story to the multicultural issue of Innsmouth Free Press, and he pretty clearly writes from a position of deep appreciation as well. I think it's a mistake to say he's suggesting people shouldn't read or engage with Lovecraft, because he explicitly says otherwise:
As writers, consumers of weird literature, creatures of imagination and insight, lovers of justice, can we face Lovecraft head-on, taking in his atrocious bigotry, and still find value in his work? We don’t have a choice. The mythos endures, its legacy reaches into the heart of modern speculative fiction; the world we live in is complicated and imperfect, beset by tragedy and weighed down with lies powerful people have told us about ourselves.
And what I found compelling was that he took the undeniability of Lovecraft's racism and productively fit it into an overall pattern of disgust that makes sense of many stories in which racism is not evident on the surface. When I first read stories like "The Horror at Red Hook" and "Herbert West--Reanimator" as a kid almost thirty years ago, I remember being appalled by some of the overt content, but aside from a vague sense that Lovecraft felt otherness and horror were one and the same, I am pretty sure that as a reader I tried to compartmentalize and say, well, only a few stories are problematic, but I thought this piece made a good case for saying all or almost all of them have related issues to consider.

The third article offers the straightforward thought that of course it would be fine not to engage with HPL's stuff on those grounds, but the real point of it was that the author was making a different path work by grappling with its problems directly and using them, either to explore the same issues from alternative points of view or to see what interesting new things people can make out of them. The connections to Sword and Soul there were a bit incidental, but I liked Imaro back in the day, and I thought a sub-genre based on it sounded like a blast.

In short, I think there's a lot going on here besides a callout, and I may not have framed the post well enough to make that clear, leaving only the title and the links themselves to suggest there's something complicated and productive at play in them.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 8:54 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


But you know what, he got better. By the 1930s he had cut way back on fiction because he had completely turned his politics around, and was spending nearly all his time denouncing his former conservatism, and writing lengthy essays promoting the Left social justice movement of his time. (Although there's plenty he still got wrong! Like a whole lot of American liberals he only heard the Hitler: The Good Parts story, until the mid-30s when he had a long conversation with a Jewish woman who'd fled Germany, and he changed his tune radically.)

What frustrates me about the argument in that first article is that it starts with (1) here's some racist shit he wrote at a younger age, (2) here's something from decades later where he uses the word "negro," therefore (3) HPL never changed or grew.


The first link addresses this, but cites the letter admiring of Hitler's principles as being from 1936 - the year before his death - and his repudiation of this admiration as occurring the year of. Is this incorrect? Because otherwise I'd say it may be a shame we didn't get to see much of the man he was growing into but that man doesn't represent a large part of his life or life's work. Do you know where to find any material from this era?

Anyway the gist of the piece is - don't pretend Lovecraft's racism was simply par for the course in 1920 because his xenophobia was in fact a consuming obsession for much of his life. None of it is about telling people not to read him.
posted by atoxyl at 11:03 AM on June 13 [3 favorites]


I'd say it may be a shame we didn't get to see much of the man he was growing into but that man doesn't represent a large part of his life or life's work.

Yeah, I didn't like to argue, but the January 1931 letter was one of the worst. Flipping through S. T. Joshi's more-or-less chronological biography, I don't see any mention of that one, but Lovecraft wrote awful things in his 20s, awful things in his 30s, and awful things in his 40s too. The argument that people are complicated may fly, but there doesn't seem to be any way someone could reasonably deny some continuity to this thread in HPL's output.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 11:41 AM on June 13 [2 favorites]


but the realization that the underlying horror is miscegenation is just uggggh.

The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a really interesting case. Several of Lovecraft's early works can be seen in hindlight as studies for later, better known works. Dagon for Call of Cthulhu, The Tomb for The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, and Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family for The Shadow Over Innsmoth.

There's not much to Arthur Jermyn as a story: over-long build-up to the shock revelation that the title character is descended from an act of bestiality (I forget if it was by his father or grandfather) with an ape; he's horrified and kills himself. (And by shock revelation, I mean what was intended to be a shock revelation that a modern reader will see coming from a zillion miles away.)

But in Innsmouth (I'm echoing ignignokt's point above), we have what seems exactly to be the horror-of-miscegenation story that we'd expect from Lovecraft... until the very end, when Lovecraft executes a shock revelation that still genuinely surprises: the narrator realizes (and the reader realizes that this has been set up from the beginning) that he, himself, is a Deep One.

And he doesn't consider Arthur Jermyn's course. The story ends with him looking forward to flying his Deep One flag high.

On the basis of the rest of his corpus, I wouldn't have thought Lovecraft capable of writing that, but there it is. (But please don't misunderstand me to be suggesting that one note in one story undermines Lovecraft's vile racism: Lovecraft was a vile racist.)
posted by Zed at 11:52 AM on June 13 [6 favorites]


If you haven't read any of Lovecraft's works, of course you should, and I'd suggest reading "The Silver Key" as it's rather short and utterly perfect. It remains at the very top of my favorites, is a work of sublime genius and contains no racism.
posted by Catblack at 4:56 PM on June 13


"The Silver Key" ... is a work of sublime genius and contains no racism.

It's a beautiful story--one I first read in 1985--and I second the recommendation. It does however very briefly reify race as a category distinct from culture in a way that was common at the time but that was really unnecessary for the purposes of the story and that to a reader well-acquainted with Lovecraft's predilection for the topic should be noticeable:
They did not see that good and evil and beauty and ugliness are only ornamental fruits of perspective, whose sole value lies in their linkage to what chance made our fathers think and feel, and whose finer details are different for every race and culture.
On the one hand, this appears to be an interesting statement of moral and cultural relativism, the implications of which should run counter to a contemptuous universalizing racism. But it was written in 1926, the same year that Lovecraft wrote a very terrible letter you can find in the linked article about his racism. And, in accord with prevailing attitudes of the time, it's probably meaningful to see in the language of the story that race is posited as a more general fact than culture. Also, just one paragraph earlier in the story, the narrator mentions human descent from a "primal race," further adding to the evolutionary/biological reading of race in this paragraph.

I'm afraid it gets a little worse some paragraphs later:
Amidst this chaos of hollowness and unrest Carter tried to live as befitted a man of keen thought and good heritage. With his dreams fading under the ridicule of the age he could not believe in anything, but the love of harmony kept him close to the ways of his race and station ...
Again, the 1926 letter that asks how any "sensitive and self-respecting white men can continue to live in the stew of Asiatic filth" that New York has become seems on point. When Lovecraft talks about heritage, race, and station, he means it in the strongest terms you can imagine.

The story is also redolent of Lovecraft's childhood fascination with One Thousand and One Nights, for which I can't blame him at all because I love that stuff, but it's easy to imagine a reader who is keenly aware of how the foreign imagination of the Middle East and India has played out taking issue with how they're referenced in the story, both directly and indirectly.

I really should stress I'm not saying people shouldn't read this story or that Lovecraft's racism is super obvious in it. I'm sitting next to a personal collection of around 175 works of Lovecraft/Mythos-related books and 6 feet of Call of Cthulhu material, and I think this is a terrific story. But when one of Lovecraft's best short stories, picked precisely to illustrate an absence of racism, still has this much in it to see, it seems to me the argument that race is a pervasive issue in Lovecraft's oeuvre is at least worth some attention, whether it holds up uniformly or not.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 5:46 PM on June 13 [5 favorites]


"Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn—whatever they had been, they were men!"

My own take: like a lot of shut-ins, Lovecraft had developed a world in his head that celebrated the mind and rejected the physical world. He could celebrate unknowable aliens that had built a civilization, while feeling disgust at the Portuguese fishermen, with their strange ways and smelly food, that occupied his beloved Providence. He was, in a way, like a Ayn Rand enthusiast, who could never reconcile his perfect internal world with the messy, complex reality of life.

It was Lovecraft's strength that he could, knowingly or not, express this anxiety, this dissonance between what we long to believe and the reality of our eyes, that gives his work lasting power.
posted by SPrintF at 8:15 PM on June 13 [3 favorites]


We can all agree that HPL is an awful person.

In his defense, an army of cats rescue him in The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.
posted by ovvl at 9:01 PM on June 13


Thanks, Monsieur Caution. I should have ctrl-F'd the story for the word "race", and I only gave the story a quick skim when I posted that link.

I remember using a yellow highlighter on the old copy of the story I used to have. I feel that The Silver Key is Lovecraft at his most internally autobiographical at points. It sings lyrics to introverts and dreamers. I'll happily amend my recommendation to "contains minimal racism" if it helps guide but a single reader to the dreamlands with it's song.
posted by Catblack at 9:35 PM on June 13 [2 favorites]


I think this is where it's useful to consider Lovecraft in comparison to people like Heinlein. Heinlein's reactionary ideas are largely the reactionary ideas of his own era. Lovecraft was an appalling racist not just by our standards, but by his contemporaries'.
posted by TheophileEscargot at 1:26 AM on June 14 [7 favorites]


I find it interesting how Lovecraft's racism doesn't map to the racism of today, though. I remember there's one story, Beyond the Wall of Sleep I think, where's he's describing a blonde-haired blue eyed man with the same racist contempt as non-white folks in other places. It threw me for a loop. I guess it shows how damn arbitrary racial lines and racial stereotypes are.
posted by Zalzidrax at 2:40 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


I've never read Lovecraft, but am well aware of his racism, but I still want to read him at some point. I'm sort of familiar with his work through hearing about it from other people, (who hasn't heard something described as Lovecraftian?), and so much in popular culture references aspects of his work, so I would love to read and appreciate it on some level.

I do think that you can read and appreciate a work while acknowledging its problematical aspects. Nothing is perfect after all, and everything carries some of the author's own prejudices. Of course there are levels of problematic, the important thing is that they aren't brushed under the carpet and ignored but actually addressed when people discuss the work.

So I guess I better bookmark a couple of the links here and keep them on hand for when I do, eventually, get around to Lovecraft.
posted by Fence at 3:31 AM on June 14


Am I the only person who is okay with HPL's racism (and, to be fair, I haven't really noticed it when I have read his works, but did in Edgar Rice Burroughs) because it's an artifact of his life at that time and place?

Probably not.

I just think you can't ascribe modern values to this sort of thing, especially since he was essentially a shut in. And his stories are good.

So I guess I better bookmark a couple of the links here and keep them on hand for when I do, eventually, get around to Lovecraft.

Fence, I highly recommend it. Even if it's At The Mountains Of Madness, The Strange Case of Charles Dexter Ward and a sampling of his shorts.

Wordsworth put out some $10 editions a few years back, and a single one might do.

He's a bit like Dickens or Steinbeck, a bit painful to read until you get the vibe, but once you do a lot of pieces fall into place. So many pieces.
posted by Mezentian at 4:32 AM on June 14 [1 favorite]


Mez, one of the points on offer in this thread is that HPL wasn't racist like people were at the time. He was crazypants racist even by 20's standards.

Also, anybody looking to get into Lovecraft, Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre has been continuously in print for 34 years and makes an excellent introduction. Or you can just read all his stories online, since he's been dead long enough and Mickey isn't falling out of copyright again just yet.
posted by Pope Guilty at 11:21 PM on June 14 [2 favorites]


HPL wasn't racist like people were at the time. He was crazypants racist even by 20's standards.

Lovecraft more or less admits this too. In a letter from Oct. 1928 partially reproduced on Scott Edelman's blog, he says,
In the matter of politics—I don’t go much with the younger crowd. I’m more interested in keeping the present 300-year-old culture-germ in America unharmed, than in trying out any experiments in “social justice”. Smith, to my mind, is a direct exponent of the newer-immigration element—the decadent & unassimilable hordes from Southern Europe & the East whose presence in large numbers is a direct & profound menace to the continued growth of the Nordic-American nation we know. Some people may like the idea of a mongrel America like the late Roman Empire, but I for one prefer to die in the same America that I was born in. Therefore, I’m against any candidate who talks of letting down the bars to stunted brachycephalic South-Italians & rat-faced half-Mongoloid Russian & Polish Jews, & all that cursed scum!
So he's well-aware that many people in "the younger crowd" don't agree with his horrifying racism, and I'm hopeful that "Smith" means Lovecraft's friend and fellow Weird Tales great, Clark Ashton Smith, but if so, he's disagreeing even with a close peer who knew better.

Incidentally, if Edelman has the date right, Lovecraft was 38 when he wrote that letter, and a quick count of titles suggests that by then he had completed 85% of the short stories that would bear only his own name. The last 9 would be some of his longest and most famous, and it's fair to hope there was a point before Nov. 1935 (the date for "The Haunter of the Dark") when Lovecraft's views on race changed.

S. T. Joshi's biography does document how Lovecraft's politics softened substantially on economic issues in the 30s, the Great Depression eventually having given him a "jolt" that shifted him toward the New Deal / socialism and away from blind faith in some sort of new aristocracy and/or a fascist plutocracy arising to straighten things out. (Seriously.)

But racism, no. In fact, commenting on a debate in the 30s that Lovecraft had with a friend about Hitler and Jewish influence on America, Joshi writes,
[T]he late date of this discussion emphatically refutes the claims of many of Lovecraft's apologists that he somehow "reformed" at the end of his life and shed many of the beliefs he had spouted in his Conservative essays twenty years before.
BTW, in connection with this debate, Joshi cites the same "Hitlerism--racial-cultural continuity" letter quoted in P. D. Clark's article, and if I'm looking it up correctly, Joshi's footnote says it's from Sept. 1933, not Nov. 1936. However, regarding the friend of the family who came back from Nazi Germany sometime after July 1936 and told Lovecraft what was really up, that seems likely to have happened, but the lasting impact of it is speculative. The source for it says Lovecraft was "incensed," and then Joshi says,
I find, however, no mention in any letters of her abrupt return, nor any expression of horror at any revelations she may have conveyed. But references to Hitler do indeed drop off radically in the last year of Lovecraft's life [1936-1937], so it is conceivable that Lovecraft, having heard accounts from Mrs Shepherd, simply clammed up about the matter in the realisation that he had been wrong. It would be a comforting thought.
And that's certainly true, though it would have essentially no relevance to the themes in Lovecraft's fiction. As anyone can see just from reading it, comforting thoughts aren't what Lovecraft's fiction is about.
posted by Monsieur Caution at 2:36 AM on June 15 [7 favorites]


HPL: I’m more interested in keeping the present 300-year-old culture-germ in America unharmed, than in trying out any experiments in “social justice”.

This brings to mind something a friend likes to say about Lovecraft: He was a 19th century man who wanted to be an 18th century man, trying to write 20th century novels. It shows in his style, which sometimes reads like Charles Brockdon Brown.
posted by lodurr at 4:17 AM on June 15 [3 favorites]


anybody looking to get into Lovecraft, Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre has been continuously in print for 34 years and makes an excellent introduction

There's a free ebook of his complete stories -- the stories as they were originally published are in the public domain* but in recent years Joshi has edited "corrected texts" from Lovecraft's original manuscripts; these exact corrected texts are in copyright (and in some cases the divergence is substantial, as in "The Shadow Out of Time".)

The corrected texts are available in these:

Barnes & Noble has a handsome single-volume hardcover H.P. Lovecraft: The Complete Fiction from 2011. Do not confuse it for their 2008 H.P. Lovecraft: The Fiction - Complete and Unabridged from 2008, which is notoriously full of errors.)

Penguin has three trade paperbacks with the corrected texts of Lovecraft's complete fiction, with annotations by S.T. Joshi: The Call of Cthulhu and Other Weird Stories, The Thing on the Doorstep and Other Weird Stories, The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories.

I'm looking forward to the forthcoming The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft, with annotations by Leslie Klinger this time, not Joshi; Klinger has been a prolific annotator. It's not complete, but has a pretty good selection.

(When we speak of the "complete" Lovecraft, we generally mean the solo adult fiction. There's some survining juvenilia and a host of collaborations and "revisions" from when Lovecraft was trying to make a living by revising other people's work, several of which are pretty much all Lovecraft. The collaborations and revisions can be found in the Arkham House hardcover or Del Rey trade paperback reprint of The Horror in the Museum or a more complete set, with annotations by Joshi, in The Crawling Chaos and Others and Medusa's Coil and Others.)

* Occasionally people like to insist that we don't really know whether the 1923-and-later stories are all really public domain in the US because no one has decisively proven the negative that their copyrights weren't renewed 28 years after their publications... but I think we'd have heard about it by now if someone owned them.
posted by Zed at 12:25 PM on June 15 [3 favorites]


Lovecraft is pretty much exhibit A for "Sometimes I like problematic things."
posted by rmd1023 at 6:22 AM on June 16 [2 favorites]


An ask-Joshi-questions thing that's not an official AMA is in progress at Reddit awaiting one last answer before the moderator posts the results. Joshi's done something like this before.
posted by Zed at 10:13 AM on June 16


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