A Thought About Lovecraft

The TombIf you were to pick out who is the most “problematic” character in the SF/Fantasy canon, H.P.Lovecraft has got to be near the top of the list. He is probably one of the most influential voices in the genre, not just touching authors as diverse as Stephen King and Charles Stross, but extending his tentacles deep into popular culture; movies, comics, games, t-shirts, internet memes, music. . .  The influence is pervasive.

And that’s what makes him problematic.

Because he was also a racist and bigot of the first order. This is, in the current age, the primary unforgivable sin. And he made life particularly difficult for any apologists because he wasn’t particularly subtle about it in either his fiction or his correspondence. Not only did he make his views explicit in his letters, any reader with half a brain can look into his stories of the terrifying “other” and see the racism staring right back.

It occurs to me that this is exactly why he is such an important writer. Some others might want to, on one side, remove or minimize his pride of place among foundation authors in the genre, and on the other, minimize his “unwholesome” views to protect his legacy from being tarnished. . . I think both sides miss the point.

What Lovecraft did was take his own personal— and to modern eyes bigoted and racist— fears, and abstracted them just enough to make them universal.  The fact is, however progressive anyone tries to be, there is always “our” tribe and the “other” tribe. Some draw the lines by race, some by class, some by nationality, and some by political affiliation.  We may not like this fact of human nature, but that doesn’t change the fact that it exists.  Lovecraft looked into the darkest part of his own soul and pulled out something horrifying, and very human.

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