Horror of Horrors: Is H.P. Lovecraft’s Legacy Tainted?

NPR, October 4, 2014

Editor’s Note: A longer, audio version of this story is available here.

Each year, the speculative fiction author who wins the World Fantasy Award receives an awards statue that’s a bust of author H.P. Lovecraft.

Lovecraft, famous for his horror writing, was also known for his highly racist opinions, and this has created some controversy regarding the award that bears his likeness.

Laura Miller recently wrote about the backlash in a piece for Salon.com. She says that objections to the use of Lovecraft as the face of the award began to surface when Nigerian-American writer Nnedi Okorafor, who won the WFA for best novel in 2011 for Who Fears Death, wrote a blog post about her discomfort with the trophy after she read a racist poem that Lovecraft wrote in 1912.

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The issue this raises for fans of Lovecraft or any other artist is how much you can separate the artist and their beliefs from their work. Miller says many fandoms struggle with this when something unflattering is revealed about someone they admire.

“Their reaction is . . . to just have this sort of reflexive rejection of it,” she says. Instead, Miller writes in her Salon piece, “You can acknowledge, contemplate and discuss . . . without feeling obliged to reject the work as a whole.”

This year, the WFA will present the Lovecraft-shaped awards, which were ordered back in March, as normal. But the WFA board of directors said they will have discussions about the situation at a series of meetings at this year’s World Fantasy Convention, where the awards are presented.

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  • SolStans

    Though I played Call of Cthulhu for a brief moment back in the late 90’s (c’mon, I was a pudgy, semi-goth “tween”), I never really read HPL until recently. Barnes and Noble had a hardcover collection of his works for $7, so I picked it up, and I’m very glad I did.

    He’s a bit flowery with words sometimes, but the man knows dread. Cold, dark, creeping dread. And he’s not afraid to spell out the savagery of the brown hordes, nor the dysgenic decline of New England.

    I’d recommend him to any horror fans, but especially unapologetically white ones.

    • OS-Q

      He was heavily influenced by Poe and Alfred (Lord) Tennyson. Also he was quite the Anglophile and fan of a literature style that was considered out of date by the the turn of the 19th century, hence his flowery language.

      He was also great friends with Robert Bloch, Clark Ashton Smith, and Robert E. Howard (Of the Conan short stories). An excellent company of writers altogether, they frequently collaborated their stories to the point they are occurring in different eras in the same fictional world – Howard’s in the distant past, Lovecraft’s in the present, and Smith’s in the future.

      • SolStans

        I intended not to disparage Lovecraft’s grandiloquent verbiage. Just forewarning new readers to keep a dictionary nearby.

        • OS-Q

          Oh by all means I didn’t interpret it that way, he did it well and he is excellent for expanding your vocabulary with words like “cyclopean, eldritch, non-Euclidean geometry, or gibbous moon.”

          • SolStans

            I took Latin and German as my foreign languages, so I have a pretty good shot of deciphering most English words, but Lovecraft is like the Crossfit of vocabulary. His writing’s a bit intense to take it all at once.

          • Lagerstrom

            “An eldritch horror.”

      • Zimriel

        Klar-Kashton is a truly underrated genius.

      • propagandaoftruth

        I remember some tentacle porn like story where someone or something ate fat negroes.

        Great stuff.

        RE Howard has fascinated me more than HPL, as a writer. Too bad he offed himself so young.

        • OS-Q

          LOL I can’t remember that one. “The Rat’s in the Walls” had cannibalism and a black cat named “N*gger-Man”

          Reading both of them I’m surprised that Howard committed suicide but Lovecraft died of natural causes. Howard’s characters were more brave and proactive adventurers, Lovecraft’s were cerebral witnesses who yearn for knowledge but can’t handle the horror in the end. Perhaps Lovecraft’s writing took life’s anxiety away from him, but Howard bottled it up.

          Supposedly they did a Round Robin story together, where the main character is turned into a caterpillar like alien, faints, then wakes up, picks up a battle-axe, and takes over the caterpillar-alien civilization.

          • propagandaoftruth

            I heard they were an odd couple, literarily. Probably the opposites attracting phenomenon.

            I greatly enjoyed both, don’t get me wrong. Considering Howard was getting published at 13 or 14 and offed himself before 30…

            He was really starting to develop a third dimension to his writing. And yeah, he was nutty and morose for real.

            You know, perhaps I’ve been falsely attributing tentacle porn to the Nips after all…

            Oh baby!

          • Rhialto

            In “Rats in the Walls” the cannibals were upper grade Englishmen.

            Robert Howard was mentally ill; he had manifested suicidal inclinations for some time. As his mother was dying, he killed himself. Apparently he had delayed his suicide only to spare his mother the grief.

    • Sick of it

      He was not only referring to foreign racial blood in the way that people would today. I could tell he was not fond of Southern Europeans.

      • SolStans

        Then the 3/8 of my blood that draws descent from the Romans will have to take issue with HPL on that, while the other 5/8 heartily agrees with him.

    • I didn’t know he was a racist, but now I am even happier I have a pretty good collection of his work here at home.

  • John Smith

    Yea sure, NPR with its audience of 1,000 or so white leftist, progressive “anti-racist” dolts.

    • Whiteplight sees the Emperor N

      Don’t kid yourself, there’s millions of them.

  • Tim_in_Indiana

    And what historical figure in any field did NOT have “racist” viewpoints by today’s standards?

    If you define a new “normal,” then anyone who conformed to the old standards can now be defined as “abnormal.”

    • E_Pluribus_Pluribus

      Indeed! Here is “The Great Emancipator” himself in 1862 trying to convince a group of blacks at the White House to embrace his plan to colonize freed blacks in either Africa or to Central or South America:

      “Why-should the people of your race be colonized, and where? You and we are different races. We have between us a broader difference than exists between almost any other two races. Whether it is right or wrong I need not discuss, but this physical difference is a great disadvantage to us both . . . If this be admitted, it affords a reason at least why we should be separated. It is better for both, therefore, to be separated.”

      SOURCE: “What Shall We Do with the Negro?: Lincoln, White Racism, and Civil War America” by Wake Forest University history professor Paul Escott.

  • LHathaway

    How did we go from a society in 1950 where all you had to do is not be a communist, to a society in 2014 where you have to be a communist, because any less commitment to justice taints anything you do or say?

    • anony

      The long march through the institutions was very successful.

      • Sick of it

        It helps when the enemy appears white but does not consider himself white.

      • bilderbuster

        And not very long either.

  • anony

    “…wrote a blog post about her discomfort with the trophy after she read a racist poem that Lovecraft wrote in 1912.”

    Can’t wait to read that poem!

    • LHathaway

      It would have to make one curious. I was hoping to read it here too.

    • ElComadreja

      The poem really tells it the way it is.

  • Adolf Verloc

    As a follower of the H.P. Lovecraft Historical Society, I’ve been well aware of this controversy. I have tried to steer clear of arguing “What’s wrong with racism?” (generates lots of heat and little light) and have tried to point out that Lovecraft’s racial views were common among educated people of his time, including some of the most distinguished social scientists and geneticists. I’m beginning to grow weary with some of the idiots, and have started to move further in the “What’s wrong with racism?” direction.

    Lovecraft was an extremely talented author who helped make the supernatural horror genre what it is today. Contemporary authors such as Stephen King often discuss their debt to the Old Spook of Providence. If any of the WFA award recipients are uncomfortable with their awards, I cordially invite them to return them, or better yet, insert them where the sun don’t shine.

    • LHathaway

      “I’m beginning to grow weary with some of the idiots, and have started to move further in the “What’s wrong with racism?” direction”.

      I wouldn’t face such a conundrum. I would say whites were victims of racism in 1930, too. Don’t let them dehumanize you. There are always whites who are victims of racism when we have to share with others. Only our race has to deny this, that is the racism. Or, more of it. Heck, maybe, that was all Lovecraft was facing up to.

      • Whiteplight sees the Emperor N

        Racism is first the recognition that race exists and next that it means that there are differences between people that cause their cultures and traditions to be as they are. Last is the notion that one may be superior to another, even though that one is considered first and only by those who fear any discussion of the facts.

  • Paying attention to things like this gives them power.

    Lefties stir up stuff just for the sake of it. It’s in the Saul Alinksy playbook. It’s hard to see any of the masses caring about this issue, but it gives lefties a chance to feel morally superior. Let them feel how they want while we race realists go on winning over the hearts and minds of the masses.

  • JP Rushton

    Here is the poem:

    On the Creation of N****** (1912)
    by H. P. Lovecraft

    When, long ago, the gods created Earth
    In Jove’s fair image Man was shaped at birth.
    The beasts for lesser parts were next designed;
    Yet were they too remote from humankind.
    To fill the gap, and join the rest to Man,
    Th’Olympian host conceiv’d a clever plan.
    A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
    Filled it with vice, and called the thing a N*****.

    • LHathaway

      OK, that’s racist. Whites can only take so much crime and racism against us before we lash out even if only in poem.

      • ShermanTMcCoy

        But it speaks to a subject near and dear to my heart. How can a Creationist like myself explain the existence of this less-developed species of “human?” All the “Christian” explanations just make my head hurt with cognitive dissonance.

        • LHathaway

          How do you explain yourself? Anyway, it shouldn’t bother you that you are clearly less developed, at least, compared to the only ones that matter to you right now.

  • MekongDelta69

    “I see racist people.”

    Run for your lives. Hide under the bed. Lock yourself in the closet.

    I’ll bet none of you knew that this very post is ‘racist’ because it’s hiding in plain sight.

    Lyke OMG – it’s sooooo totally ‘racist’ maaaaan.

    Why?

    Sheesh – Because the ‘print’ you’re reading is black on a White background. Don’t you know you’re NOT allowed to print in black unless you’re black?!? Huh?!? Huh?!?

    [Hey – this is no more idiotic than all the stories AmRen posts about leftist idiots desperately trying to find White ‘racism’ under every bed.]

  • richard garyson

    I have never been much of book reader, but I am a fan of the graphic novel adaptions of lovecraft’s contemporary, friend, and fellow “racist” Robert E. Howard, who created the mighty white warrior: Conan the Cimmerian. REH’s racial views have caused grief for those who carry on his legacy. However, I find it comforting to know that I have views in common with such a magnificent and sadly short-lived writer. Surely, no son of Kush could ever hope to come within a stone’s throw of the greatness of the likes of Howard, Lovecraft, Tolkien, and oh so many more.

    • Zimriel

      Conan is a barbarian archetype. He is not a white archetype. Black hair, not blond; tanned, not freckled. There’s a lot of Comanche in him. And Conan in his travels works alongside mighty warriors of Turan, Shem, Zamora and even Kush.

      Howard was, remember, a Texan; not a Dixie southerner, not really.

      • richard garyson

        I believe REH intended the Cimmerians to be the forerunners to the Celtic peoples. If any Hyborian era race was to be a forerunner/counterpart to Injuns, it would have been the Picts (at least in their comic book depictions they resemble Injuns). REH was Irish, so having his barbarian hero/übermensch be a proto-celt makes sense.

      • Whiteplight sees the Emperor N

        That name “Conan” is Celtic. White people used to live outdoors more and so be more tanned, except in the extreme north. The other names you list are Middle Eastern. The problem with fantasy writers is that they often provide no practical use of their information or even for their sources, J.R.R. Tolkien being the great exception.

    • Rhialto

      Howard would be classified as Racist by the Liberals for his views on Africans. On the other hand, he was not writing National Socialist propaganda; he was writing fiction for a White male audience.

      The Blacks in his stories did what the plot called for. They were seldom bright nor did they show any commitment to “Human Rights”, but their actions were never cowardly or foolish. When confronted with danger and probable death, they did not shriek, “Feets don’t fail me now!”. They faced it with courage that a White man would hope to equal.

      • richard garyson

        Well, I don’t have a problem with REH writing some positive depictions of Kushites. Still, they were never depicted as equals to the white races of men. Conan’s ill-fated lover, Belît, was worshiped as a death goddess by a ship full of Kushites, who lived and died at her command, and never raped

        her (now that’s fiction).

        • HE2

          richard g: Kushites. Still, they were never depicted as equals to the white races of men.

          Depends on the source.
          PBS aired a program last week featuring an Egyptian archeological dig that asserted exactly that. [I have been unable to defeat PBS viewing urges.]

          According to the program, powerful Kushite warriors encroached bit by bit into Egypt, eventually conquering the Egyptians. Once in control, they built incredible pyramids, sired great Pharaohs who ruled for several dynasties.

          Not sure, because I could not continue to the end, but I think the pyramids are pretty much rubble, a little like Detroit.

          I need to check the PBS site and see if any negroid mummies were found.

          • richard garyson

            There is likely some catch to this. NG is likely embellishing “history.” However, even if a few Kushites built architectural achievements, it happened thousands of years ago. Where are their achievements today?

          • HE2

            richard, re the Kushites’ mighty empire.
            The “catch” to anything aired on PBS these days is victimize or uplift the dark races, denigrate the White.

            The would be pyramids are now essentially piles of rocks and rubble.
            The excuse is they “weathered down.”
            Strange, the Egyptian structures still stand.

          • richard garyson

            And the irony of NG sucking up to blacks is that hardly any blacks are even paying attention. All this does is insult the intelligence of those who know better.

  • Sick of it

    They’re overlooking the real tragedy – A minority hack won the award instead of a capable fantasy author.

    • richard garyson

      I agree. I am no connoisseur of fantasy fiction, but to think that a Nigerian would have won out over thousands of white contestants,who must have outnumbered the black contestants, suggests that this was a an affirmative action award. This Kushite ought to be grateful for the award and honored that it is in HPL’s image. I mean, how many world-class literary awards are named for black authors?

      • bilderbuster

        Are you saying there’s not an Oprah Award or a Maya Angelou Award already?

  • anony

    Oh No! The dreaded N-word!

  • Man of the West

    Really loved his books and stories. His attitudes were pretty much mainstream for the time. The vocabulary is challenging to the modern reader but I think that is primarily a function of modern education and changing literary styles. He was very much a man of the 19 th century even though he lived in the early 20th. Bottom line, He was a great writer and if you don’t want the award, don’t accept it. Besides, anyone who might be offended wouldn’t or couldn’t read his books anyway. No harm no foul.

  • dd121

    Don’t these leftist id iots ever try to put writers in the context of their time and cut people who’ve been dead a hundred years a little slack?

  • Bryce Armstrong

    Was he? Why did he allow them in his inner circle? You sound like Glenn Beck with this bs
    .

  • Zimriel

    I’m hoping Radish will finish the Lovecraft article he started.

  • WR_the_realist

    The poem has a much more plausible explanation for the creation of black people than the Nation of Islam has for the creation of white people.

    • bilderbuster

      It’s Darwin’s “Missing Link”.

  • WR_the_realist

    Most black Americans today are against homosexuality. And they are also against illegal immigration. But 90% vote for the party of gay marriage and illegal immigration. Politics makes for strange bedfellows.

    • bilderbuster

      Most Black inmates (and a large percentage of Blacks have served or will serve time) have homosexual sex and don’t consider themselves homosexual either.
      So what they say and what they do are two different things.

      • Brady

        In prison it’s not considered homosexual as long as you’re the top.

        • bilderbuster

          That’s Negro logic for you.
          Many times it’s the Negro on the top who’s the instigator of the homosexual act while the “homosexual” on the bottom is there against his will.

      • saxonsun

        Come now. Men have been buggering each other since they discovered their dicks. Any hole to stick it in.

        • ElComadreja

          With blacks it’s about “revenge”. Whites are their preferred target for prison rape.

          • bilderbuster

            It’s about revenge with White women too.
            They love raping 80 year old White women before they beat them to death.

        • bilderbuster

          I don’t know how you were raised or what kind of company you keep, but as for myself, I set my standards a bit higher than that.

  • bilderbuster

    And hate their racist fathers hence “The Black Boyfriend”.

  • Lagerstrom

    Well…if I all of a sudden decided to take a strict moral objection to the habits of every writer / artist / musician that I like, the footpath outside would be strewn with a large assortment of just about every media/um you can think of.

  • tlk244182

    I never liked Lovecraft, but now that he and I have something in common, perhaps I’ll give him another try.

  • WR_the_realist

    I’ve never regarded Lovecraft’s work as great literature, but I do see his stories as fun reads. And let’s be honest, most of use who read at all spend more time with the fun reads than with the great literature. As for his “racism” — ho hum. He thought the way 90% of people thought before John Kennedy was elected.

  • Jack Burton

    Cthulhu delights in being fed self-hating liberals, they’re a delicacy.

  • John Smith

    The horror that is Cthulhu doesn’t even compare to that of “diversity.”

  • John Smith

    Many Americans who were socialists at the turn of the 20th Century, like Jack London and Margaret Sanger, among others, were intensely racist and only viewed socialism as something that could work among whites. I’d say that the history of the Nordic welfare states indicates that they may have been on to something.

  • curri

    The Baltimore Sun very quietly discontinued its once-prestigious H.L. Mencken Award a few years after Mencken’s “anti-Semitic” diaries were published. Also, the National Press Club now denies that they ever had a room named after Mencken. That’s even though you can still can find old references to it on the internet.