As Aaron touched on last week in his posting on the Weird genre in general, you can’t discuss horror fiction–or genre fiction in general, really–without discussing Howard Philips Lovecraft. But what about the man himself? What set him on the road to becoming the architect of an entire subgenre of literature?
First and foremost: he was a miserable, shit-eating racist.
This wasn’t casual racism found in his friend and correspondent, Robert E. Howard (creator of Conan, Kull, Solomon Kane, and others), that you can wave away with a handwave, and intone that he was A Man Of His Time. No, Lovecraft was racist to the point of lunacy. An avowed anti-Semite, frothing opponent of miscegenation, and self-appointed defender of Anglo-Saxon America from the hordes of unwashed, debased outsiders, he went out of his way to be a horrible shit to everybody from African-Americans, to Latinos, to Italian immigrants–for Christ’s sake, he even singled out the Inuit.
This isn’t news to those already indoctrinated into the Kult of the Weird, as he peppers the most hateful slurs imaginable into his stories. But think for a second; the main bulk of his tales involve beings from outside of ordinary experience, with unknowable ways and customs, all bent on violently displacing the people that had ruled the land for oh so long.
I bet Spanish or Polish or Creole sounded like “Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah’nagl fhtagn” to him.
Dovetailing with this was his hatred of urban life. Did the streets of Providence, or New York City, or Boston’s North End look to Lovecraft like the R’yleh he described? Strange contours, turns that went nowhere, alleys that popped up unexpectedly, with no way to orient oneself–that sounds like Sunken R’yleh’s non-Euclidean geometry to me.
Another factor in the development of Lovecraft’s unique literary worldview is progress itself. I think Lovecraft, in a way, was a lot like J.R.R. Tolkien, in a way: both were men enamored of a “time before”. The first decades of the twentieth century, when both were active, saw the First World War, which was essentially science put to the work of turning human beings into burst bags of meat (even though, unlike Tolkien, Lovecraft never served in the military due to chronic health issues, he still saw the societal change the war brought about). Aside from the military effort, science was unlocking the very secrets of the universe. In fact, Lovecraft’s sinister Nyarlathotep, a Trickster who seduced people with displays of electricity, was reportedly based on a demonstration given by Nikola Tesla.
Ever notice that the victims in Lovecraft’s stories are either learned or curious men?
I honestly don’t want to spend an entire post vilifying H.P. Lovecraft; others have done it far more eloquently than I can. The fact of the matter is, despite his Tea-Partier-before-Tea-Parties-were-cool worldview, it took a monstrous imagination to merge all of his experience–whether we find them tasteful or not–into the stories we’ve come to be inspired by. Was he a nice guy? Probably not. would you want to have coffee with him? I suspect that would get dreadful very quickly. But nobody can deny that his shadow falls dark and long on the lands of Science Fiction, and Fantasy, and Horror, and as we walk the trails we blazed, we’re convinced of one thing.
We aren’t alone, and we are not safe.