H.P. Lovecraft wrote fantastic cosmic horror from his morally corrupt world view
If anyone has ever considered themselves a horror literature fan in the slightest, they have probably heard Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s name at some point. Many will tell you he was a fantastic 20th century science fiction author. Many will also point out the guy was one of the biggest racists ’round these literary parts. He revealed many of these aged and offensive opinions in some of his most iconic work.
Do we love the art, but not the artist? Do we boycott his work as we did the dark lord’s name after he tried to kill baby Potter and shove his soul into him?
With HBO and Jordan Peele’s new adaptation of Lovecraft Country, a novel by Matt Ruff, this issue is being addressed headon in the plot of the show. How bad was he though?
Lovecraft Wrote Literal Racism
The time period Lovecraft inhabited was one drenched in racism and ignorance towards any human rights issues whatsoever. However, as the Los Angeles Times puts it, these views were: “even the intolerant standards of his era.” They then go on to highlight one of his most…direct pieces? A 1912 poem entitled, On the Creation of [N-word]. Yup, quite literal racism he was proud of and flaunted to his writing buddies.
He went on to write other charming pieces and anecdotes, referring to asian immigrants as “orientals” and the overtly racist The Horror at Red Hook. He really was charming, wasn’t he? Yet, despite this, he wrote some great stuff, groundbreaking even, in the sphere of literature up until that point in time. Does it outweigh or excuse him? Absolutely not. Does it warrant constant scrutiny and mention? Honestly yes, it does.
Writers are transcribers for their time. They are examples of how society viewed others through their description and stories. So it’s hard to give a pass to writers like Hemingway (also racist) and Lovecraft, when they were supposed to be leading literature into the future. Whether they liked it or not, they were role models and still are to some writers who admire their artistry. This means we need to acknowledge their mistakes too.
He Was Kind of in Love with Hitler
The title of this section is not an exaggeration. Vox pointed out that Lovecraft penned letters singing his adoration for the guy. Not to mention, his approval of lynching and what not. Lovecraft spoke against other races and gays, even though a lot of people believe he was probably gay. Internalized homophobia, much?
He even shared a similar mindset to the dictator. He viewed immigrants and non-white people as threats, monsters that needed to be feared and punished. This comes out in full force when reading pieces like The Shadow Over Innsmouth in which he parallels immigrants with half-fish monsters.
Lovecraft: What Should We Do?
The sci fi horror genre actually owes a lot of its ideals and concepts to Lovecraft’s work. The idea of uncertainty and the insignificance of humanity is present in a lot of iconic work, including Alien and the videogame series, Mass Effect. (Just the trilogy, we don’t talk about Andromeda.) The Thing, The Abyss, and anything involving darkness and tentacles really, owes somewhat of a royalty to Lovecraft’s work.
The conflict between cancel culture and important literary work is muddled. It’s also a controversial decision to make in today’s music and film industries. Musicians doing or saying heinous things and directors rightfully getting prosecuted for heinous things. Even J.K. Rowling has come under fire for her transphobic, TERF-like twitter rants. There is not enough polyjuice potion to hide her from all that backlash.
Yet, these are modern artists. What about Lovecraft and Hemingway? Should we boycott dead people’s work? This is all up to the reader and their personal beliefs. There is no harm in reading these authors’ books and poems. They won’t benefit off of the revenue coming in.
No one will kill you for reading The Call of Cthulhu, and everyone should read it anyway, because it’s iconic. No one will judge you for liking Dagon or The Rats in the Walls. Just don’t get mixed up in the views of the wretched man holding the pen.
By John Castro