Why Lovecraft Country book, HBO series are named for a racist - Los Angeles Times
|Los Angeles Times 13 Aug 2020 at 17:35|
Lovecraft’s bigotry is most evident in his voluminous correspondence. (He wrote somewhere between 10,000 and 100,000 letters in his lifetime, according to Klinger.) In his letters, he candidly expressed contempt for Jews, Black people and non-white immigrants and voiced an overwhelming fear of “miscegenation.” He praised Southerners for “resorting to extra-legal measures such as lynching” in their efforts to keep the races separate. “Anything is better than the mongrelization which would mean the hopeless deterioration of a great nation.”
But Lovecraft’s racist views are also easy to discern in his creative writing.
In 1912, he wrote a poem called “On the Creation of [N-word],” which imagines Black people as “beast[s]” wrought by the gods “in semi-human figure filled with vice.” (He also had a cat named [N-word] Man.)
Even Lovecraft’s most committed apologists have struggled to defend “The Horror at Red Hook,” a short story about an Irish detective investigating a sinister devil-worshiping cult of immigrants on the Brooklyn waterfront in which he uses explicitly racist language. (He refers to the “Asian dregs wisely turned back by Ellis Island” and “squinting Orientals.”)
Racist sentiment also seeps into Lovecraft’s more celebrated tales, say his critics. His novella, “The Shadow Over Innsmouth,” follows a student who gets stuck in a strange seaside village populated by monstrous fish people who try to kill him; he survives by impersonating their movements. “It’s his not-very-subtle way of dealing with race-mixing,” says Ruff.
For many decades after Lovecraft’s death, the genre was “dominated by white folks and white critics [who] tended to just completely overlook the racist aspects of his fiction,” Ruff adds. “Of course there were always Black science fiction fans as well but their voices weren’t necessarily heard. They just sort of had to deal with the fact that they loved this genre that didn’t love them back.”
Author N.K Jemisin has been critical of Lovecraft.
Lovecraft’s record has come under heightened scrutiny in recent years amid a larger conversation about racism in science fiction and horror. Like many other contemporary debates about problematic figures from the past, it all began with a statue — or, to be more precise, a trophy.
For decades, the World Fantasy Award — dubbed the Howard, after Lovecraft — was a stylized bust of the writer. In 2011, World Fantasy award-winner Nnedi Okorafor wrote of her conflicted feelings after realizing the extent of Lovecraft’s bigotry. “A statuette of this racist man’s head is in my home. A statuette of this racist man’s head is one of my greatest honors as a writer.”
Writer Daniel José Older started a petition to replace the Lovecraft trophy with a statue of the late Black author Octavia Butler because, he wrote, “It’s time to stop co-signing his bigotry and move sci-fi/fantasy out of the past.”
In 2015, a new trophy — — was introduced.
But a backlash to the backlash predictably ensued. Lovecraft biographer S.T. Joshi, who is Indian American, returned his two “irremediably tainted” World Fantasy awards in protest and called the decision “a craven yielding to the worst sort of political correctness.” A white nationalist publisher also responded by creating a Lovecraft literature prize for writers “who transgress the boundaries of political correctness.”
And controversy over Lovecraft’s legacy continues to rage within the world of genre literature. Author George R.R. Martin when he hosted the virtual ceremony for the Hugo Awards for science fiction and fantasy and kept talking about Lovecraft (while mispronouncing the name of winner Rebecca F. Kuang).