Tag Archives: H P Lovecraft

What do we do about Lovecraft?

The more I think about the issue, the more concerned I become about the honouring of H.P.Lovecraft in Horror, Fantasy, SF, weird and speculative fiction.

The argument has come to the fore again in my mind because of the furore at Weird Tales, which also roughly coincided with Lovecraft’s birthday. Lovecraft’s racism is not widely discussed even within his fandom, but has come increasingly to the fore, for instance in response to essays like Nnedi Okorafor’s here. But what has really made me consider the seriousness of the issue again is this review of Save The Pearls, the novel at the heart of the Weird Tales nightmare, here in The Guardian (for which I write regularly, by way of disclaimer) which incidentally links to this foul little ditty penned by non-other than Howard Phillips Lovecraft himself. I’m going to repeat this below because I think it is essential it’s read to understand the problem fully, and the click through on links is less than 10% on average.

On the Creation of Niggers (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 Nigger.

Now I don’t intend to rehash the back and forth arguments about Lovecraft. I’m just going to state what at this point I take to be the facts. H.P.Lovecraft held racist opinions which he expressed overtly in rhyme, and which can also be identified in his fiction.

There are perhaps some valid responses to this. As a commentor on The Guardian blog notes, these were such widely held opinions in the early 20th Century that an authoritative source such as the Encyclopaedia Britannica repeated them. Many artists have objectionable opinions which we manage to separate from their work. Lovecraft’s stories are general expressions of deep seated fears, of which racism is one other expression. Often stated arguments, but not ones I entirely accept.

Imagine an average non-fandom type person encountering two facts. One; H P Lovecraft is hailed as a founding figure of weird fiction, thousands of fans still adore his work, hundreds of writers have worked in his Cthulhu mythos, dozens of anthologies are published in his name every year, and the World Fantasy Award goes so far as to give his head away as a trophy, all of which adds up to a remarkable kind of ancestor worship. Two; H P Lovecraft was a racist.

I don’t think it would be unreasonable of that average non-fandom type person to assume those fans are a bunch of racists as well.

Maybe not cross-burning white hooded lynch mob racists. And probably not even overtly ‘we don’t like your kind around here’ racists. But maybe, yes, the kind of racists who insistently claim they aren’t racist, and fully believe their own claims. Maybe the kind of racists that Avenue Q makes fun of in the lyric ‘everyone’s a little bit racist sometimes‘. The humour in Avenue Q’s joke is that everyone is a bit racist, but its the people who lack the self-awareness to identify and prevent their own racism who are the problem.

The problem for the community of people who ancestor worship Lovecraft, and indeed other equally problematic writers and artists of all kinds, is to approach these figures with self-awareness. We need, I believe, to include the discussion of Lovecrafts racism whenever we talk about his life and writing. It needs to be present in those anthologies. It needs to be reflected on and, where necessary, reacted against by writers taking up the Cthulhu mythos. And as for giving his head away as a trophy? Yes, not doing that might be one quite effective way of making it clear that we aren’t a bunch of racists.

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Weird Tales editor has insulted us all

The genres of SF, Fantasy, Horror and other styles of the fantastic have changed a lot in recent years. Those changes, to my mind, have been hugely positive. And if I can identify one cause at the heart of those changes it is this: diversity.

To use the Hugo and Nebula awards as a benchmarks, we have seen a marked increase in both women and black authors being nominated for the sector’s top awards. The discussion of genre writing online has become a great deal more politically aware, and while they were caused by failures in the sector, debates like #racefail highlight a growing awareness in our ad-hoc community. My own experience of attending conventions in the UK and America has been a happy one of encountering more and more writers from many more diverse backgrounds. A diverse SF world is a strong SF world, and should be both celebrated and protected.

But, as in the broader political landscape, not everyone in the SF community is happy about this. And I’m going to hazard a guess that one of the people it displeases is Marvin Kaye, the incumbent editor of Weird Tales, the oldest publisher of weird short fiction in the world. I’m basing this on Kaye’s choice to publish the opening chapter of the insane racist screed Save the Pearls in the next issue of Weird Tales. below is a promo video for Save the Pearls. And yes, that is a blacked up white person.

As if to highlight its growing political awareness the SF community crushed Kaye’s decision under the hammer blow of social media within 24 hours, prompting this complete retraction from Weird Tales publisher John Harlacher. Marvin Kaye himself is at the time of this writing still to comment. Let’s hope he is spending this silent time at some kind of spiritual retreat, learning some humbleness and preparing for the huge and complete apology which is his only remaining option. And even then, the background to Kaye’s decision makes me feel that nothing less than his resignation is likely to resolve the situation.

Weird Tales is one of the oldest publishers of weird fiction. A lot of what we now call horror and science fiction started in those pages. It began the careers of some cult figures in modern SF, not least H P Lovecraft, creator of the Cthulhu mythos and, unfortunately, petty minded bigot and racist. The genres of the fantastic are powerful ways to expose the deep dark human subconscious to the light of day and sometimes what they illuminate is nasty…and not in a good way. Were Lovecraft and other writers of his generation crusading members of the KKK? Probably not. Were many of them unreformed bigots and racists who encoded their fears in fiction? Yes, very sadly. And of course, there are still a lot of unreformed bigots and petty racists out there doing exactly that…do I need to point out that video of the blacked up white girl again?

Under the editorial direction of Ann VanderMeer, Weird Tales consciously steered away from the worse parts of its otherwise distinguished history. Ann found the best weird fiction by the most diverse writers. Weird Tales’ subscriber base tripled. It won a Hugo award. But perhaps more importantly, especially for us writers and core fans, Weird Tales came to symbolise what was good about the changes in the SF community. To put it simply, Ann VanderMeer at Weird Tales was doing good and important things, and those good and important things had only just started…

…when Ann was summarily removed as fiction editor and replaced by the new owner / editor Marvin Kaye. Kaye made it clear in his early statements that he wanted to take Weird Tales back in the Lovecraftian direction from which it had, in his view, strayed. And those of us who knew what that meant feared, it seems rightly, that what Kaye really wanted to do was exert a conservative influence and, in effect, go back to the petty bigotry that had sometimes characterised the magazine in the past.

What is most insulting about Kaye’s decision to publish Save the Pearls is that it was deliberately aimed at all those writers and readers who had loved Ann VanderMeer’s earlier editorial direction. It was an act of vandalism, taking something beautiful and pissing on it simply because you are too ignorant to understand what makes the beauty. It’s become clear the decision was both deliberate and premeditated. Kaye was explicitly warned what the outcome would be, and proceeded anyway because he wanted to deliver his insult to the magazine’s existing readership. There was no reason to publish Save the Pearls except as an an insult, and in the face of such a deliberate insult the outrage expressed towards Kaye is entirely valid and will continue.

Personally I will not be satisfied by an apology from Kaye unless it clearly communicates that he understands why what he did was so deeply insulting. Even then, I can’t conceive of any way I can continue to support Weird Tales in any form with Kaye at the helm, and hope he will find the decency to step aside and hand the magazine back to the community who it truly belongs to.

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