Jess Nevins presents a case for and against Lovecraft

Toby Frost

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That's an interesting discussion of his influence on contemporaries, as well as those who followed. It's interesting to see how the biggest interest in HPL appears to be relatively recent.
 
That's an interesting discussion of his influence on contemporaries, as well as those who followed. It's interesting to see how the biggest interest in HPL appears to be relatively recent.

Its a good essay .
 
Though a footnote, this is a nice summation: "Moral people abhor Lovecraft’s bigotry, but there’s an increasing effort among writers to try to separate cosmic horror from Lovecraft’s version of it and create a bigotry-free cosmic horror. I applaud the attempt, but in a very real respect all cosmic horror, not just Lovecraft’s, is the fruit of the poisoned tree of racial bigotry and bias. This doesn’t mean that cosmic horror can’t be cleansed and redeemed, of course—it just means that those who would create works of cosmic horror must be careful about what they say and write."

I don't think Lovecraft's influence will go away soon, but it will attenuate as Lovecraft's direct influence becomes more indirect through the work of current writers who themselves are writing out the biases and prejudices of Lovecraft (and/or replacing them with other biases and prejudices? seems unlikely we get entirely past some form of distorted cultural/social/racial assumptions anytime soon) and may become influential themselves. Note the power of works by writers like Ramsey Campbell, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Laird Barron and John Langan, among others, and what effect they may exert on currently up and coming writers.

Randy M.
 
Though a footnote, this is a nice summation: "Moral people abhor Lovecraft’s bigotry, but there’s an increasing effort among writers to try to separate cosmic horror from Lovecraft’s version of it and create a bigotry-free cosmic horror. I applaud the attempt, but in a very real respect all cosmic horror, not just Lovecraft’s, is the fruit of the poisoned tree of racial bigotry and bias. This doesn’t mean that cosmic horror can’t be cleansed and redeemed, of course—it just means that those who would create works of cosmic horror must be careful about what they say and write."

I don't think Lovecraft's influence will go away soon, but it will attenuate as Lovecraft's direct influence becomes more indirect through the work of current writers who themselves are writing out the biases and prejudices of Lovecraft (and/or replacing them with other biases and prejudices? seems unlikely we get entirely past some form of distorted cultural/social/racial assumptions anytime soon) and may become influential themselves. Note the power of works by writers like Ramsey Campbell, Caitlin R. Kiernan, Laird Barron and John Langan, among others, and what effect they may exert on currently up and coming writers.

Randy M.





In my case , I still like to read Lovecraft and I can separate the man from his work.
 
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Jessica A. Salmonson is quoted:

Dunnet Landing is the most famous non-existent town of Maine & reminds us of Lovecraft’s Dunwich, Massachusetts. The influence of regional fiction from the nineteenth century on American horror writers has long been underestimated, though many of the ghost stories of August Derleth are frank imitations of Mary E. Wilkins Freeman & Sarah Jewett. The idea of a totally invented town was well established among the New England regionalists, & it is safe to say there never would have been a Dunwich or an Arkham had there never been a Deephaven or a Dunnet Landing . . . as for Lovecraft, he may well be regarded as the last of the great New England regionalists; & as is typical of the last of any important movement in art or architecture or literature, “last” implies decadence, in the sense of repeating all earlier themes & modes to splendid excess.

----I think that local aspect was one of the things that I responded to in HPL from the first, his way of evoking a landscape of the imagination and imbuing it with suspense. It's like Conan Doyle's London. Many years later, I thought I caught something of the sort in the expression "the old weird America," though 'weird" there doesn't mean Weird Tales Weird or "cosmic horror." It suggests folkways, a landscape interesting but often sinister, &c., steeped in history made by people who seem more interesting than a lot of people today -- kin to Hawthorne's observations in his essential American Notebooks. (That, by the way, is for me, a keeper indeed. If I had to winnow my library down to 200 volumes, I am certain that Hawthorne's American Notebooks would make the cut even if I had to give up everything else by him.)
 
In my case , I still like to read Lovecraft and I can separate the man from his work.

But if a writer's work is strongly influenced by what he believed and how he viewed other people, how can we separate that? Do we say, "I like this part so that's what we will pay attention to, but this part is not so admirable so we will pretend like he didn't write it?"

It doesn't mean that we have to stop reading his work (he's dead anyway, so what does he care?) but we should at least be honest in how we access it. If his prejudices make it impossible for him to present humanity as it actually is, does that not make his writing much less worthy of admiration than it could have been?
 
At the same time we know that the historical period in which he wrote did have a lot of racism. Perhaps he was worse than some or many for his day, but we know it was there.

Personally I liken it a bit to the more recent Django film. There are loads of racist elements within the film itself, yet it works because the time period it was set in was very racist. Furthermore because its a fictional tale one is able to suspend one's belief that its how we "should live/think" today and transpose ourselves to a different period in time. Perhaps some of the racism is overblown, perhaps some is under represented.

In the end I think that within the worlds of fantasy its important to be able to suspend our real world political views and be able to engage with stories that challenge them; that present a different social and moral structure. Otherwise everything starts to feel like a Narnia story where we have modern people with modern ideals living in different times.


I think one thing we also see with the Cuthulu works isn't just the impact of a writer on the history of writing, but a semi-major work going into general use. When its copyright ends. Now whilst other firms have picked up bit of copyright on it here and there, broadly speaking its "free use". IT also seems to have struck a chord with people recently and been resurrected. We've seen this many times before; consider many of the great artists and musicians of ancient times who today are played everywhere.
 
I'd really like to keep this discussion away from the social politics of HPL + racism and focus on his influence on his influence on the genre, something the original article makes a very good point of analyzing.
 
I think his influence on Horror is undeniable, while his political views are very difficult to handle. Let us be honest, there were not many people free of racism in those days. Humanity still had a long way to go. The tragedy is, that the fear of the unknown, a main driver of horror, was pretty much defined by Lovecraft. Especially with his scenes depicting stereotypical members of other ethnical groups. The skill of the man is the problem. In itself the idea of how people from the pacific are depicted by a guy who never met one is pretty silly. Anyone who took a trip to Samoa or Hawaii knows how creepy and religious fanatic these people are! (Really the most relaxed bunch of people you can meet). But by the point HPL arrives at this scene you are drawn into a cosmos where everything is dangerous, even your thoughts. He was a Master of slowly crawling dread and I believe that was what made him such an influence. The fear of the unknown was redefined by him, by making the unknown really unknown. Alien. Unknowable, actually.
 
I would think Frankenstein was another example of a story that delved into cosmic horror since there is no God to mediate between Frankenstein and his creation.
As for Lovecraft, he also got a boost thanks to movies--The Haunted Palace, Die Monster Die!, The Shuttered Room, The Dunwich Horror. Perhaps the lack of copyright helped in that--as with Poe, they could use the name without concern about royalties.

Lovecraft was obsessed with the idea of a person or society attacked by an alien threat--but it is common to literature going back to Beowulf. Dracula, the War of the Worlds, Moby Dick.... It's hard to think of a pre-20th century story that does not have some concept of the dangers posed by a foreign entity and the value in using observation and experience to make judgements for safety. I'd be curious to know what Lovecraft would have thought of Richard Matheson's themes--where often what is considered feared and alien is accepted by the doomed protagonist as a positive development.

As HG Wells observed: "Every sort of man is disposed to get together with his own sort of people and prefer them to strangers. That is the natural disposition of our species, fair-play to the outsider is one of the last and least assured triumphs of civilization."

I used to think Robert E Howard was fixated on tribalism in his work to an excessive degree but recent news out of Western Europe about sex slavery incidents sounds like something from one of his stories on Turkish harems.
 

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