HP Lovecraft and his muse

H.P. Lovecraft was a racist. This is an undeniable fact. He wasn’t just your run-of-the-mill, everyday racist, who does not like people of different color, he actually despised everyone that was not your average WASP; so apart from black people, it’s probably safe to say he hated other Caucasians who happened to be not white, Anglo-Saxon and protestant. (Don’t forget, the KKK in the beginning really did not approve of Catholics, either.)

He also wrote some really good pieces of fiction. His style of the dark, sinister and unknown forces bearing down on our protagonist really resonates with people who read him; after all, what is scarier than a monumental, incredible power that will squash you like a bug without even noticing you? Because, for Cthulhu and his kin, that’s what we are. They do not try to corrupt us, like Lucifer; they simply don’t care. For them we are of as much consequence as the fly that gets caught on your windscreen while you drive. A mild annoyance, perhaps, but the odds are they don’t even notice. I really like his style; he truly is one of the best authors in the horror genre. There are issues I have, of course: his stories tend to be repetitive, and I really don’t like the passivity of his protagonists. I much prefer Howard’s pro-active heroes, who refuse to lay down and give up. Reading Lovecraft’s stories many times you think they could do something to avert their fate. Yet they just persist in their passivity, preferring to allow things to happen to them, instead of, dunno, run the hell away? Or pick up a shovel and go down fighting? Nevertheless, these stories are dark, depressing and scary- everything you want from a horror story. But it’s always a bit cringe-worthy reading his fiction; kind of like listening to your great-uncle’s casually racist remarks when you take him out for a dinner to an iHop. It was always a source of conflict for me; after all I really like his stories, but I cannot possibly recommend him for my black friends, can I?

Apparently, a lot of people are up in arms about trying to defend their favourite writer, claiming he wasn’t really racist, he was merely a product of his time. (Don’t forget, Adolf was already active around that period; perhaps we should not be hasty dismissing racism.) They also try to separate his personal life from his art. I think they are mistaken. You cannot, and you should not separate them.

This whole conflict between Lovecraft the story-teller and Lovecraft the racist got me thinking. I think most people are racist because they are afraid of the unknown. They are afraid of change; afraid of things and people who are different; racism is just one facet of this aversion from change. Lovecraft really hated the fact that America was changing from an idealized all-white country (which never really existed) into a mixture of races and cultures. He took to Providence as the safe haven away from the sinful New York, where he did not feel at home any more. He talked about this in his personal letters, and expressed his displeasure that blacks, Asians and non-acceptable whites (meaning: non-English whites) were coming in increasingly large numbers, tainting the land. Sounds familiar from somewhere? Haven’t we read something similar in his stories?

I think Lovecraft’s fiction is great because he was racist, and not despite of. His racism is inherently tied to the stories he wrote. I think he did something really interesting. He managed to turn his hatred of change, hatred of difference into a creative force, instead of a destructive one.

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