Much as I love HPL’s fiction and as much as I generally admire the mind that comes across in his letters, this is the right thing to do and a long time coming. I find Lovecraft’s bigotry infuriating as I do vile: he had a bright, flexible intellect in almost every other area but pigheadedly and gleefully held on to his racism all his life. He had the power in him to be better than that, to have been an unsurpassed inspiration to everyone within the field no matter their background. But no, he’s pissed that possibility away. No one can take away his significance, but we certainly don’t have to make trophies of him. Onwards and upwards. Move on.
2 thoughts on “On That World Fantasy Award Trophy And Lovecraft”
I don’t disagree that it might be an idea to change the trophy: some guy with big ears does not say ‘fantasy’ to me, a dragon or a sword would be more appropriate, all the more so because Lovecraft was an extreme racist. But…
# but pigheadedly and gleefully held on to his racism all his life. He had the power
# in him to be better than that,
But I’m not sure about this. I’m not sure he held on gleefully, and I’m not sure he had it in him to be better. I’ve always had the strong impression that Lovecraft was very seriously mentally unwell. Both his parents died in insane asylums, and I think he believed that this was a genetic condition that he might inherit, and which he thought was due to ‘racial mixing’ somewhere in his family tree. Thus Lovecraft’s fiction is obsessed with madness, ‘miscegenation’ and the collapse of identity. Supposedly “The Shadow Over Innsmouth” was inspired by Lovecraft’s discovery that his great-grandmother was Welsh, but I wonder if that’s misdirection on his part.
Robert E Howard’s racism, if we are to go by his fiction, was very much driven by a feeling of racial superiorty. But Lovecraft’s was not. I don’t have the reference to hand, but I remember reading commentry by friends of Lovecraft who said that he was actually visibly fearful around people of other races. And, of course, despite his racism, he wound up marrying a Jewish woman, at least for a time. That’s… odd, for a racist. Lovecraft’s racism doesn’t seem to quite join up, it’s not consistent and it seems to have a stronger component of outright fear in it than Howard’s.
My feeling has always been that Lovecraft couldn’t have improved himself, because he wasn’t in control of himself. He was just on the right side of insane to maintain his liberty. Robert E Howard wasn’t much better: he did, after all, blow his own brains out at thirty., But I think REH could have gotten over his racism (I don’t know whether he did or didn’t) because it wasn’t core to whatever was wrong with him. But my suspicion is that Lovecraft’s racism grew out of deep-seated mental issues that he would never have gotten over on his own.
All this doesn’t change the fact that he’s not really a suitable person to be the face of fantasy. Indeed it’s unwise to put anyone in that role: who knows what we’ll discover about them later? Well, I guess we’re unlikely to discover anything too shocking about Cthullu, so they’d be a good choice. But I wonder if we should be so judgemental as we commonly are about someone who, perhaps, might have been genuniely suffering from mental illness.
I agree HPL’s racism had a pathological spine to it. A lot of it is very far from received. More… Home grown.
But I think he was capable of challenging himself about it had he have wished. By way of example, he begins enamoured of the NAZI party and of fascism generally, but through reasoning and correspondence realised them for the bully boys and charlatans they were (and faster than some of the more progressive minds of his time). Despite his conservatism he reasoned himself out of religion too which, wherever one stands on the issue, is a hard road to take. He wasn’t afraid of challenging his convictions, not typically.
Which brings us to the question of whether his xenophobia was an insanity and, if it was, does that mean he wasn’t fully in charge of his actions?
It’s a fair argument but I’m not sure it stacks up. For starters there seems to be no congenital ingredient. Lovecraft senior’s lunacy stemmed from him contracting siphalis (after his son was born) and mother’s insanity from contracting syph from Pa. I think HPL was neurotic in many ways, but pretty far from insane. He is, for instance, possibly the most prolific letter writer in US history, capable of corresponding with hundreds simultaneously. For my money, neurosis made Howard very racist, even for the 30s, but his considerable intellect could have dug him out of that pit. He was equally phobic about the cold, but still persuaded himself to visit Quebec. Because he wanted to. But he didn’t want to stop being racist.
But who knows? He died young. I believe, perhaps vainly, he might have got to a higher plane (if you compare his juvenalia to his last work, There does seem an exceedingly lazy upwards arc, certainly not a very conscious one though. He was refining his nihilistic vision and, ultimately, there would have to have been a cognitive dissonance even he couldn’t ignore: what’s the point of racism when all humans are little more than a virus?