‘Lovecraft Country’: Not Very Lovecraftian

HBO’s exciting and scary new series seems to miss the point of Lovecraft’s work

H.P. Lovecraft didn’t win much public recognition or commercial success during his lifetime. He didn’t live like a king. At his lowest points, the struggling writer had to get through days at a time on scraps of food. Some posit that a poor diet overly reliant on canned beans helped cause his death at just forty-six. How little Lovecraft could have imagined, when turning out stories for Weird Tales and other low-paying pulp magazines in the 1920s, that a century later you couldn’t walk down the street in some cities without seeing his name painted in big stylish letters, or open a newspaper or go online without finding references to him.

Imagine if he were alive now. Lovecraft was a man of vast intellectual curiosity whose antiquarian tastes existed in harmony with an interest in scientific and technological advances. Surely, Lovecraft’s shock upon learning of the advent of a cable program called Lovecraft Country, and seeing it discussed and analyzed on a website, would pass. This wouldn’t be the real kicker.

Lovecraft could hardly have begun to envision how the writers and producers of the new HBO program, Lovecraft Country, would use, or decline to use, his distinctive fictional subjects and tropes. The decisions and choices made by Matt Ruff, author of the novel on which the program is based, and the program’s creators, showrunner Misha Green and executive producers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams, are nothing if not inventive.

Lovecraft Country
Photo by Michael Washburn.
A Modern-Day Odyssey

Lovecraft Country is a series of linked narratives about a young black man in 1950s Chicago named Atticus Freeman (played by Jonathan Majors); his father, Montrose Freeman (Michael Kenneth Williams), who is missing at the outset; his bookish and sympathetic uncle, George Freeman (Courtney B. Vance); his spunky love interest, Letitia “Leti” Lewis (Jurnee Smollett); and myriad supporting characters, ranging from members of the extended Freeman family to vicious redneck cops looking for an excuse to arrest and beat black people, to sinister members of a secret order, to ordinary whites whose casual racism comes across as subtly as a dentist’s drill.

Early in the first episode, Atticus reads a note in what may be his long-missing father’s handwriting and resolves to set out with George and Leti on a road trip from Chicago to a location in Massachusetts where the father may be. As they make their way east, the three run into monsters of both the fantastic and the human variety. The former include horrific, slobbering beasts that can rip victims apart, and the latter are whites who never miss a chance to belittle, tease, assault, and in some cases hunt down any black citizens who cross their threshold.

In the course of their travels, the protagonists meet Christina Braithwaite (Abbey Lee), an icy white woman affiliated with the weird and sinister Sons of Adam, and her right-hand man, William (Jordan Patrick Smith), and have many adventures and brushes with death before winding up back in a Chicago neighborhood where the enmity of white neighbors reaches nightmarish levels. In one episode, young white punks burn a cross on the family’s lawn, tie a brick to a horn in a nearby car to keep it blaring all night, and break into the home with baseball bats, looking for targets. Overt racism is everywhere. Forget about fine distinctions. The swath of U.S. depicted here might as well be called the “Jim Crow North.”

 

Lovecraft Country has attractive and (mostly) likable protagonists, exciting chase and fight scenes, and effective scares. There is lush photography and interesting period detail, including some lively musical numbers. And a bit of the dialogue, particularly between Atticus and his uncle, is fairly literate, making reference not only to Lovecraft but to Lovecraft’s contemporaries in the weird and speculative fields. (If you don’t know who Clark Ashton Smith was, you should. Maybe the program will make people want to go and look him up.)

The program weaves together personal drama, social history, and fantastic, nail-biting scenarios. But it’s likely that Lovecraft would question certain choices made by the show’s creators, and he’s not the only one. To put it bluntly, the creators of Lovecraft Country don’t appear particularly interested in what Lovecraft and his work are about.

Getting Lovecraft Right

Any book, film, or program with Lovecraft in its title raises certain questions. Good and authoritative books, articles, and movies exist. But there is so much misinformation, ignorant commentary, character assassination, and blatant misappropriation—so much garbage—that one looks uncertainly at new works, wondering on which side of the divide they will land. Lovecraft was a complex man and a challenging writer about whom many have made and continue to make galling and ghastly mistakes, and those who purport to analyze and explain Lovecraft, or works about or inspired by Lovecraft, are often the worst offenders.

On August 7, the New York Times published a lengthy article by Alexis Soloski about Lovecraft Country and about the work and life of Lovecraft himself. Reading it, one wonders whether Soloski has read a word of Lovecraft or bothered to gain any acquaintance with the biographies and critical commentary.

Soloski begins by calling Lovecraft “the widely cited if narrowly read pulp writer from the early 20th century,” and slanders her subject as a writer of “turgid prose.”

It’s quite true that more people cite Lovecraft than read his work and get him right, and Soloski’s article is a prime example. One stupefyingly ignorant and false statement follows another. She writes that “blatant racism and sexual phobias blight much of his work.” Soloski does not provide a jot of textual evidence for these sexual phobias.

As for racism, yes, some of Lovecraft’s letters and juvenilia express ugly sentiments. In that regard, he was a man of his time. But the literary scholar and author S.T. Joshi, widely recognized as the world’s leading Lovecraft expert, and author of the 1,200-page biography I Am Providence, has carefully analyzed the writer’s corpus of stories, novellas, and sketches in numerous articles, essays, and blog posts and has concluded that racism is central neither to Lovecraft’s work nor his thought. Lovecraft’s work conveys a philosophy of atheistic materialism, and a deep concern with man’s place in the cosmos, and the few racist sentiments Lovecraft expressed here and there are an incidental distraction from his artistic and philosophical concerns.

Yet Soloski is determined to ridicule and lampoon Lovecraft as a bigot. In an August 11 tweet linking to her own article, Soloski quips, “H.P. Lovecraft: racist, nativist, xenophobic, weird about sex and tentacles, probably not posthumously thrilled that a Jewish lady is writing about him in the New York Times. But ahead of ‘Lovecraft Country,’ here’s a primer on the man and his influence.”

Readers might get the impression that Lovecraft was pretty much your quintessential blueblood bigot. One would never guess that in 1924 Lovecraft married a Jewish lady, Sonia Greene, who believed in him and his supposedly overtly racist writing enough to support him financially during their marriage. Sadly, their union ended in 1926, but it’s still a peculiar choice for a closed-minded anti-Semitic bigot to have made. Soloski also appears ignorant of the fact that, as Joshi has pointed out on his blog, Lovecraft voiced his admiration for the Hasidic Jews of the Lower East Side because they strongly upheld their religious and cultural heritage. Moreover, Soloski blithely disregards Lovecraft’s acknowledged importance in the intellectual lives of such non-racists as Joyce Carol Oates, Jose Luis Borges, Umberto Eco, and Ramsey Campbell.

In a conversation with this writer, Joshi offered the following critique: “The chief deficiency of the article, all apart from a total failure to grasp the nuances of Lovecraft’s views on race, is the flatly wrong and simple-minded assertion that Lovecraft is just a ‘pulp writer’ whose primary purpose is to scare the reader. Soloski has failed to grasp the enormous volume of critical and scholarly work done on Lovecraft over the past fifty years or so, which has displayed the profound depths of Lovecraft’s fiction and its emergence out of his complex philosophy of atheistic materialism.”

Joshi also rightly objects to Soloski’s disparagement of the literary merits of Lovecraft’s work. Again, one wonders how much Lovecraft Soloski has sat down and read. If she had done even minimal reading, she would have encountered passages of tremendous resonance. Joshi states, “In fact, Lovecraft wrote some of the most vibrant, musical, and poetic prose in the entire range of Anglophone literature. He is a master of English prose, working in a well-defined tradition of ‘Asianic’ (i.e., flowery, richly textured, and evocative) prose that stretches back to at least the 16th century. If Lovecraft is ‘turgid,’ then so are Henry James, William Faulkner, and Gore Vidal.”

While acknowledging the popularity of Lovecraft Country and other pop-culture works referencing Lovecraft, Soloski appears not to know or care that one of the world’s greatest publishers, the Library of America—our equivalent to France’s esteemed Pleaides series—has seen fit to include Lovecraft’s works in its eminent list of titles. In Soloski’s article, there is no attempt to explain why the Library of America has chosen to immortalize Lovecraft over scores of other American writers. One gathers that the editors of the venerable series have a taste for turgid prose and that they have no literary judgment at all compared to Alexis Soloski.

This is the kind of nonsense you get when a New York Times reporter in 2020 tries to apply her woke sensibility to a profound and accomplished thinker and writer.

Ghost Story Writer?

Another common error, made by fans and detractors alike, is to mischaracterize Lovecraft and his artistic concerns. For example, a press release put out by the University of Kansas in 2016 regarding a faculty member’s new book on Peter Straub referred to “the great American tradition of ghost stories established by Nathaniel Hawthorne, Henry James and H.P. Lovecraft.”

That’s a whopper. Lovecraft most definitely did not write ghost stories. Myriad weirdos and villains populate his tales, but they are not at all about dead people returning as ghosts to haunt the living. The tales are largely about a universe in which races of beings displaced and sent into exile long ago seek to regain their dominance of the earth, with all the hellish consequences for humanity that this entails. Cthulhu, Yog-Sothoth, and other Lovecraftian deities are not, repeat, not ghosts. This is no hair-splitting point. Someone labeling Lovecraft a ghost-story writer is rather like a sports writer calling Barry Bonds one of the all-time great pitchers in baseball history, or a music critic calling Jimi Hendrix a pioneering drummer. Ouch!

Just as some people misuse “Kafkaesque” to refer to anything a little strange, others misuse “Lovecraftian” for anything related to horror and the supernatural. Which brings us back to Lovecraft Country.

Elementary Mistakes

Lovecraft Country

Here, alas, is the trap into which the makers of Lovecraft Country have fallen. They appear to have no particular interest in or knowledge of Lovecraft, and have packed the show with all manner of horror tropes ranging from trite to silly.

In an early episode, after racist cops stop the three travelers in a remote place, and several grotesque and bloodthirsty beasts interrupt the arrest by driving everybody off into the woods, one of the protagonists asks whether someone bitten by a vampire will turn into a vampire. The question seems out of place in a show with this title. Lovecraft was no more a vampire story writer than a ghost story writer.

In another episode, a bunch of children using a Ouija board receive strange and ominous messages, including a reference (spoiler alert!) to one of the original trio who set out from Chicago and who has since been killed off. Again, here is a generic horror trope that could turn up in any scary movie. Ouija boards were the subject of a cheesy teen horror franchise kicked off by a Michael Bay-produced shocker, Ouija, in 2014. At least the makers of that lowbrow entry had the taste not to try to cash in on Lovecraft’s legacy.

In yet another episode, we find an even more blatant example of a non-Lovecraftian conceit at work. During the aforementioned home invasion by the racist white punks wielding baseball bats, an elevator, seemingly possessed by a demonic force, rushes from floor to floor at speeds high enough to decapitate anyone dumb or clumsy enough to stick his head into the shaft. The camera lingers at length on the bloody aftermath of a decapitation. Here’s a scene that recalls the kind of horror Stephen King wrote, in short stories like 1972’s “The Mangler,” about an industrial laundry press taken over by a demonic force, and in novels like 1983’s Christine, about a possessed 1958 Plymouth Fury.

Other episodes of Lovecraft Country depict characters donning, and later shedding in spectacularly grisly fashion, the skin of another person, often someone of a different race, rather like the alien in the Scarlet Johansson vehicle Under the Skin—a familiar horror trope. It is not in any sense Lovecraftian.

Examples of these generic horror tropes pile up and pile up until the viewer wonders whether the show’s makers could have called it King Country, or Straub Country, or Koontz Country, or even Barker Country—Clive Barker sets much of his work in America—and with roughly the same amount of fealty to the supposed progenitor of the horrors depicted.

There’s a hokey feel about the whole thing. Absent from Lovecraft Country is the distinct ambiance of Lovecraft’s work. Gone is the sensitive, eloquent cosmicism, the sense of isolation in a strange cosmos full of vast unknown and unsuspected depths, that inspired none other than Joyce Carol Oates to write, “There is a melancholy, operatic grandeur in Lovecraft’s most passionate work … a curious elegiac poetry of unspeakable loss, of adolescent despair, and an existential loneliness so pervasive that it lingers in the reader’s memory, like a dream, long after the rudiments of Lovecraftian plot have faded.”

Ugly Depictions

In the five episodes of Lovecraft Country that HBO made available for screening, you’ll find many bigoted, evil, greedy, scheming, callous, brutal, and murderous white characters, and not a single good one or a single positive interaction with a white person.

The white racism depicted here is universal. It doesn’t matter whether Atticus and company are traveling through the woods on their way to Massachusetts, or sitting in a diner in a small town, or at home in Chicago. The woods are full of redneck cops who threaten any black person within municipal limits with arrest or worse if found there after sundown.

A racist diner employee disappears into a back room in order to call a bunch of armed good ol’ boys in a pickup to come after the black interlopers. The whites in Chicago turn cheerfully to harassment, intimidation, and finally violence to terrorize and drive away their black neighbors, and cops smugly refuse to do anything about it. The best that one can say for the whites in Lovecraft Country is that some of them are more passive in their racism than others; they condescend rather than actively seeking to harm.

One doubts that the Maoist Revolutionary Worker newspaper on a bad day would print such a baldly preposterous caricature of white citizens and of race relations. The show doesn’t acknowledge inconvenient realities like the fact that, in a roughly contemporaneous period of American history in the 1960s, white-majority cities in both the North and South were electing black mayors. An awful lot of racists must have unlearned their deeply ingrained racism pretty fast. Lovecraft Country shows no interest in the complex and intimate interrelationship between blacks and whites all through the last century in the places it purports to depict or in the long and proud tradition of Northern abolitionism and involvement in the civil-rights struggle.

The show’s philosophy seems to be that if you’ve been exposed to racism, it’s okay to be racist yourself. In scene after scene, the protagonists openly dislike and resent whites. I wasn’t quite sure how to take it when one of them refers to a female character as a “cracker bitch.” Does he call her that because she’s white or because she’s really a demon? It may be that in the idiom of this show, they’re the same thing.

Many people respect executive producer Jordan Peele for having crafted a perceptive, nuanced portrait of white liberal racism in his 2017 film Get Out, where a wealthy white family showers ostentatious and condescending flattery on a black guest. It’s not widely acknowledged that someone else did this much earlier, and better. From a certain point of view, Get Out is a genre derivative of Richard Wright’s 1940 novel Native Son, in which a wealthy Chicago family, the Daltons, infuriate their new driver, Bigger Thomas, with a constant show of condescending generosity and kindness. Peele’s new creation, Lovecraft Country, doesn’t even rise to the level of derivative intelligence and perceptiveness that Get Out achieved. The vision of race relations in the Chicago of Lovecraft Country is propaganda.

If you want to read gushing reviews of Lovecraft Country, there are plenty of those available elsewhere on the web. It is unlikely that any of these quibbles will make much of a difference to the millions of people who will watch Lovecraft Country.

But thinking people really should reserve their acclaim for work that carries on what is finest in the tradition established all those decades ago by the gentleman from Providence, and avoid lavishing undue praise on a depressing work that is neither insightful as social commentary, nor in any real sense Lovecraftian.

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Michael Washburn

Michael Washburn is a Brooklyn-based writer and journalist and the author, most recently, of The Uprooted and Other Stories (2018), When We're Grownups (2019), and Stranger, Stranger (2020).

45 thoughts on “‘Lovecraft Country’: Not Very Lovecraftian

  • August 23, 2020 at 3:53 am
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    Why is it that Lovecraft scholars always act like he was a personal friend of theirs who needs his character defended against every little criticism? Reading Lovecraft scholarship in the 21st century is like listening to a neverending argument between schoolkids about whose dad could beat up whose, with the difference being that they’ve never actually met the guy they’re arguing about because he’s been dead for 75 years. If I never read the phrase “the gentleman from Providence” again I’ll be able to die happy. Lovecraft is dead, man–he’s not going to invite you over for dinner. Some people like what he did, some don’t; no amount of foot-stamping or breath-holding is going to shift the calculus in that equation. Do you really think an argument like “the Library of America published something, therefore its excellence must objectively be acknowledged” is a dog that hunts? They published the works of James Fenimore Cooper, too–do you want Mark Twain’s estate to retract the nasty things he said about the Leatherstocking Tales? And while we’re at it, they’re putting out several works by Octavia Butler next year–I’m certainly looking forward to reading the well-reasoned, logically-consistent takes you and Mr. Joshi put out on the merits of that decision.

    Reply
    • August 23, 2020 at 9:54 am
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      Why Lovecraft scholars are acting like scholars, you ask? Well, because they are scholars, you moron.

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      • September 28, 2020 at 10:48 am
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        Thank you for that lol. Some people point out their own stupidity in an attempt to sound smart. They smell their own farts a bit too much.

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        • October 1, 2020 at 3:41 am
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          You shouldn’t write.

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    • August 28, 2020 at 1:43 pm
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      Lovecraft scholars are quick to defend him because he is all too frequently reduced to a caricature and people who have clearly not read him try to argue that the core theme of all of his work is racism. These sweeping generalizations ignore both the complexities of Lovecraft as a human being and the various non-racist themes that are explored in his work. Yes, Lovecraft’s racism is abhorrent and it should be criticized, but there’s more to Lovecraft that could be analyzed, and it’s tiresome how most modern discussion of Lovecraft is obsessed with his racism.

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      • August 29, 2020 at 1:24 am
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        It’s not just intellectually dishonest to portray those critics of Lovecraft’s racism as having “clearly not read him,” it’s cowardly. There’s no way you could pay even a little bit of attention and honestly believe that critics like Michel Houllebecq, Jeff VanderMeer, or Alison Sperling haven’t read Lovecraft–they very obviously have, and they came away with a different read than the one you seem to endorse. But it’s easier to dismiss them as having never even read the work, and thus as being unworthy of serious attention, than it is to engage with their arguments in good faith and attempt to dismiss them honestly. I suspect that’s because a part of you that worries you might not be able to.

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        • September 7, 2020 at 4:53 pm
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          You’re blindly assuming that I’m dismissing every critic who has ever critiqued Lovecraft’s racism, and that is not the case. I was referring to the people who turn Lovecraft into a one-dimensional caricature and argue he should be completely dismissed because of his abhorrent racism. Houllebecq is not one of those people; his book on Lovecraft is a thoughtful examination of Lovecraft’s personal beliefs and struggles. He thoroughly discusses Lovecraft’s racism, but he also looks at the other aspects of Lovecraft and never argues that Lovecraft should be dismissed. As for VanderMeer, he has publicly admitted that he hasn’t read “The Colour Out of Space” and has never been a fan of Lovecraft, so it’s funny that you’re holding him up as an example of a Lovecraft critic who has thoroughly read Lovecraft’s work. I mean, “The Colour Out of Space” isn’t some minor story that only hardcore fans know about; it is one of the most widely acclaimed and influential stories Lovecraft ever wrote, so I really wonder how much of Lovecraft VanderMeer has read. And as for Sperling, I hadn’t heard of her until you brought her up.

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          • September 10, 2020 at 10:09 pm
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            I’m not blindly assuming anything. I’m responding to what you said, which was “people who have clearly not read him try to argue that the core theme of all of his work is racism.” The people I cited are among the most prominent to have made that argument–with Houllebecq being probably the foremost–and they’ve all clearly read the man’s work. “Well, VanderMeer never read ‘The Colour Out of Space’ and he admits he’s not a fan” is a far cry from “He’s never read any of his work and he’s just trying to make Lovecraft into a caricature.” The idea that you should be a fan of something to critique it is too ridiculous to even address–this whole article was a critique of something the author didn’t like. As to his not reading “Colour”…so what? I’ll talk your ear off about Melville for as long as you like, but I haven’t ever gotten around to Billy Budd–and that’s an author whose work I enjoy. You don’t have to read everything someone’s written to have an opinion on their work. (And yeah, Melville’s work is full of racism too. I can admit that when it comes up without going “But he did so much other stuff, too!”)

          • September 18, 2020 at 12:10 pm
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            @Spider
            September 10, 2020 at 10:09 pm

            I’ll further clarify: in my original post, I was specifically thinking of people who argue the core of Lovecraft’s work is racism and because of this he should be completely dismissed. As I already mentioned, Houllebecq has never argued Lovecraft should be dismissed, and his analysis of Lovecraft looked at numerous aspects of Lovecraft’s life. As for VanderMeer, yes, you don’t have to be a fan of something to properly critique it. I’ll admit that I should’ve chosen my words more carefully in my second post; I wasn’t trying to imply that only fans can critique Lovecraft. Basically, my point about VanderMeer is, he’s no expert on Lovecraft. Of course, you don’t need to read EVERYTHING that an author wrote to properly critique him/her, but “Colour” is one of Lovecraft’s most important stories, and you can easily read the entire thing in about an hour. Maybe I’m being overly critical of VanderMeer, but I really do wonder if he has read more than a small handful of Lovecraft’s stories.

  • August 24, 2020 at 3:09 pm
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    Lovecraft was a racist, and his myopic understanding of race was central to his work. It’s not particularly woke to say that about someone who supported Hitler, considered other races inferior, and wrote about his fear that civilization would be swept away by a tide of savages and immigrants. Or just read his poem, “On the Creation of N_____.” I’ve read most of Lovecraft’s work, and I’ve used pieces of the mythos in my own. I don’t want him to be canceled — not sure how that would work for a man who’s been dead since 1937 — nor do I know any other writers who want him canceled (N.K. Jemisin, among many others, says that his contributions to fantasy have been huge.) There are a lot of writers who were terrible people who nonetheless wrote things we can find interesting and useful. (Actually, there were a lot of writers who were terrible people, period.) His idea of cosmic horror was a big, fascinating concept that resonates with the nihilism and fear people have to face in a world where the truths of a previous generation — church and state, Christianity and the Enlightenment — have been called into question. But we ought to look at him honestly, and reckon with his racism and bigotry, rather than try to ignore it. There’s a difference between appreciation of his work and veneration that does not allow criticism.

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    • August 24, 2020 at 10:42 pm
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      The issue isn’t bringing up his racism, the issue is that people manage to blow his racism out of proportion to turn him into a hateful caricature of who he actually was. Everything else about him gets ignored because of our (understandable) sensitivity to racial issues.

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  • August 25, 2020 at 11:55 am
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    Let me try again, since the reviewer seemed especially sensitive to the lack of good white people in “Lovecraft Country.” The reviewer seems to feel discomfort at seeing only stereotypes and villains with white skin tone in the TV show; to be reduced to a collection of tropes and tics, devoid of any nuance or redeeming qualities.

    Here’s a question: is there a single non-white character in any of Lovecraft’s work that is more than a racial stereotype or caricature? How many non-white characters even have *names*?

    And that, I suspect, is the point of showing the white characters as an irredeemable mass on “Lovecraft Country.” That’s exactly what Lovecraft did with everything he wrote in his fiction about non-white people. If you feel insulted or angered by the depiction of white people on the show… well, that’s what I imagine it’s like to read Lovecraft if you’re not white.

    It’s not ignoring “everything else” Lovecraft did to bring this up. His racism can’t be separated from the work. It is a part of the work. And as I said before, it’s important to reckon with that.

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    • August 27, 2020 at 4:20 am
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      Mr. Farnsworth, you ask: “Here’s a question: is there a single non-white character in any of Lovecraft’s work that is more than a racial stereotype or caricature?”

      I found not just a single character but a couple of them in my most recent reread of THE CASE OF CHARLES DEXTER WARD. The current inhabitants of Joseph Curwen’s Providence home:

      “The present negro inhabitants were known to [Ward], and he was very courteously shewn about the interior by old Asa and his stout wife Hannah […] Old Asa and his wife were duly excited over their strange visitors, and were properly reimbursed for this invasion of their domestic heath.”

      I’m not out to shatter any preconceptions, but you asked for a SINGLE example, and I’m answering in the most literal way possible!

      Interestingly, Asa & Hanna are painted as the normal ones in relation to our outsider protagonist who’s cast as a “strange visitor.” Their ethnicity is brought up in an almost throwaway manner. There’s nothing to indicate subservience or inferiority. Old Asa & Hannah seem to be a pleasant couple with inner lives and, by virtue of their Providence location, an appreciation of New England aesthetics?

      One of the things HPL valued most in life was intellectual curiosity.

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    • August 28, 2020 at 2:01 pm
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      “Here’s a question: is there a single non-white character in any of Lovecraft’s work that is more than a racial stereotype or caricature? How many non-white characters even have *names*?”

      Since when do two wrongs make a right? The show’s hamfisted, one-dimensional characters aren’t alright just because Lovecraft used racial stereotypes in some of his work. Rather than making the same kind of mistakes that Lovecraft made, the show’s writers could’ve come up with complex characters who expose systemic racism in a nuanced, realistic way.

      Reply
  • August 30, 2020 at 7:15 am
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    If Lovecraft was a racist by today’s standards, then so was Arthur Conan Doyle, Jack London, and so many other novelists that portrayed ethnic mixtures during exploratory scientific expeditions in the XIX and early XXth centuries. What about Moby Dick, hunting the white whale with their colourful introduction of sailors at the beginning, ‘that racist too? It was a pervasive sentiment that African and Asian migrants into northern regions negatively affected their economies and social stability. But they took them in nonetheless, because it was the right thing to do. However, taking them in doesn’t mean that improper behaviour was tolerated or left uncritisized, moreover, doing so held pedagogical as well as civilizational values, and therefore carried a component of kindness and compassion for the -colourless- human being. But instead of recognizing this fact, it is much easier to get carried away by demonstrators and political campaigns during the turmoil generated by Covid19: the perfect excuse during the perfect storm.

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    • August 30, 2020 at 8:00 pm
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      Yes. Those examples you cited were racist too. Are you seriously expecting people to go “Ah shit, if we call Lovecraft a racist we have to say the same about Herman Melville, better take it back in that case?” The conversation isn’t about those other authors, so nobody was talking about them here. Either way, Moby-Dick and The Rats in the Walls are two of my favorite pieces of fiction in the English language, but that doesn’t change the fact that Fedallah and Delapore’s cat are proof positive of their authors’ racism. That’s a subject that’s worth acknowledging and discussing; acting like it’s a mere footnote worth hardly any attention is ridiculous.

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      • September 21, 2020 at 1:49 pm
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        By your standards and definitions, Spider, I would be proud to be labeled a “racist”. Good company indeed. I don’t know what your trying to gain by broadening the definition .. it is the same path that now leads people to ask for more information before casting judgement on an incident described as a ‘rape’, as that term retroactively defines many of our grandparents as rapists due to the age gaps in romances and marriages that were once traditional but are now literally outlawed .. thus making our very existence illegitimate.

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        • September 21, 2020 at 10:38 pm
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          I mean, not a single comment here asked for people to show up and announce that they wish it was legal to fuck kids, but thanks for letting us all know anyway.

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          • November 22, 2020 at 4:56 pm
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            Yeah, by your standards I’m a proud racist too spider, you little cunt. Good for you and the rest of your intellect-less ilk for spreading that sentiment among a not so long ago proud color-blind population. Your cowardice and wormy wording is enough to make any decent person sick with disgust. Jesus, the bad faith and hypocrisy of your particular flavor of 21st century moron is far grosser then past eras. In 100 years you and yours will be remembered with worse furious vitriol then the Nazis of the past. You are worse then them. You may not know it, but Hitler and his followers were far more honorable men then spineless dweebs and turncoats like you.

        • September 27, 2020 at 2:39 pm
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          Obviously, historical context should always be taken into account when talking about old authors, but I don’t see how that context makes those authors not racist. I cannot comment on Jack London since I’ve never read his works, and I feel I would need to learn more about Melville’s personal views before judging him, but Lovecraft was absolutely racist. Stories like “The Horror at Red Hook” and “The Street” are overtly driven by Lovecraft’s bigotry, and he frequently discussed his racist views in his letters. There’s a lot more to Lovecraft than his racism, and I hate it when people use his racism as an excuse to dismiss his work, but it’s utterly absurd to deny that he was racist.

          As for your comment on child marriage: why? Just, why? I mean, it’s true that for centuries many men married girls who would be considered underage in today’s world, but that’s a whole different topic from what is being discussed, and there are a ton of old practices that our ancestors did that have no place in modern society. Like it was legal in ancient Greece for men to have sex with underage boys; would you argue that this pedophilia shouldn’t be criticized?

          Reply
          • October 24, 2020 at 7:56 am
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            Yes, that comment was fairly random and unwarranted and… strange.

            I wasn’t going to reply at all, but I just want to clarify something – in Ancient Greece, it was legal for older men to have sex with teenagers between the ages of around 12 to 18, and it was called “pederasty”. That is not technically pedophilia but hebephilia and ephebophilia, both of which are more common than the former. Also, the term “underage” doesn’t really have any meaning in the setting of Ancient Greece since it’s more of a modern legal term. I also think that those sorts of relationships are not always so bad compared to pedophilia, especially when we get to the age of 16. The psychological and cognitive difference between 16 and 18 is not great, and if 18-year-olds are legally able to have sex with 30+-year-olds, I see no reason why a 16-year-old can’t. And this is coming from a 16-year-old himself. But… I may be wrong about this and will be doing further research into this topic. I certainly acknowledge that most relationships between 16-year-olds and those over the age of 18 seem to be usually abusive in nature, but those are the stories popular today since society deems such behavior as wrong. I imagine that if the 16-year-old were an emancipated adult, a relationship with one older than 18 might be healthier than if the 16-year-old weren’t…

  • August 30, 2020 at 9:50 pm
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    The point here is “normalising”. This is a very easy concept to understand from statistics: when you want to observe a dataset objectively, the first thing you must do is to substract the mean. Was a dollar worth the same fifty or a hundred years ago than it is today? No, because there’s a little thing called inflation. In the same way, you shouldn’t observe events from last century with today’s eyes without normalising first. I mean, you can, but that’s not scientific. How was society like back then, and how much did some author deviate from it? You might discover some unexpected trends, such as that the deviation was actually occurring in the opposite direction than the one you thought was happening. Of course, there will always be people willing to overlook mathematical truth for political gain, that’s nothing new under the sun. It only seems natural that if we strive for the normalisation of relations between distinct social groups, be it race, gender, religion, or any other, the first thing we should do is to normalise our data too. That is, if we want to use the scientific method. Otherwise, anything goes…

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  • September 2, 2020 at 10:30 am
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    Okay, first…..let’s get this established:
    Yes, Lovecraft was a racist. He would be naturally racist given the time he lived in, and his racism was only augmented by his paranoia, mental health and abusive upbringing(being raised by a mother who calls you ugly is surely going to impact your worldview). His racism even extended to other European groups, as he was uncomfortable of stepping outside of his tiny bubble of Anglo civilization. We know it, we get it, it’s a topic that has been discussed ad nauseam. Lovecraft ultimately joins a pantheon of “problematic” artists, of which there are many. Famed Mexican painter Frida Kahlo was an open supporter of Stalin, a man who killed more people than Hitler. Soul legend James Brown made fantastic music but was also very abusive towards women. Orson Scott Card wrote the brilliant Ender’s Game, but he’s also something of a Mormon fundamentalist with some not-so-nice views on homosexuality. If you want to find an artist who a crystal clear conscience, you’ve got your work cut out of for you.
    Now, onto the subject. Mr. Washburn is correct in his assessment that Lovecraft Country is little more than a platform for woke politics that neither cares nor understands the literary style of its namesake. The show seems a lot like another critical race theory-pimping HBO series, Watchmen. Alan Moore’s original Watchmen was the ultimate subversive superhero comic that asked a lot of questions: What does it mean to be a superhero? Are superheroes genuinely motivated by righteousness and compassion or are they in it for their own self interests? Would a person receiving actual superpowers eventually lose their humanity? While Zack Snyder’s film adaptation did touch on these topics, the HBO show creator Damon Lindelof seemed to have marginal interest in Moore’s vision. Instead, he wanted to make a social justice crimefighter show for the Trump era that was simply about black masked superheroes battling white nationalists. Rorschach, by far the most interesting and morally “superhero” of the Watchmen characters, was turned into a white nationalist figurehead. There’s not a whole lot of depth, there’s just pandering to “current year” politics.
    The same is true with Lovecraft Country. Lovecraft’s cosmic horror is about the insignificance of humanity in the face of greater ancient forces. All of the petty squabbles of humanity-racial bigotry, opposing economic philosophies, military conflict-they ultimately don’t mean much in the grand cosmic scheme of things. Alexis Soloski appears to have been motivated to thumb her nose at fans of Lovecraft as obvious representations of this supposed “white supremacy” that we are told is such an omnipresent threat. Of course she doesn’t get Lovecraft, she never meant to. She just wanted to find a platform to present a trite and shallow Spike Lee-esque message that is being plastered on practically every platform and media these days.
    Lovecraft Country isn’t a genuine horror story. It’s an activists screed, and people are frankly tired of woke activists appropriating things they didn’t create to push an agenda.

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    • September 13, 2020 at 3:58 am
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      Actually both HBO’s Watchmen and Lovecraft Country have received stellar reviews from fans of the original works, critics and other very talented directors and writers who write very different material. They also both have huge audiences. In fact, the only criticisms they receive come from a very vocal minority (yourself included).

      So not only do a whole lot of people enjoy these shows. A whole lot of people who are very good at writing, story-telling, and directing enjoy these shows and praise them for their structure and storytelling.

      So for your view to be correct that these two shows are actually lousy would mean that the only reason MILLIONS of people watch these shows and a whole lot of very talented writers and storytellers love these shows is because of race-baiting.

      Honestly, that could be the stupidest argument I’ve ever heard! Millions of people don’t keep watching something out of a sense of obligation if they don’t enjoy it!

      No boring un-entertaining lecture ever packed a theater regardless of its moral content!

      Whether you like it or not, a whole lot of people, including very intelligent talented creative people enjoy these program and see them as well-crafted works of art.

      They idea that that many people would watch and keep watching un-entertaining shows out of some sense of moral obligation is ridiculous.

      Pretty much no-one showed up to the god-awful Atlas Shrugged movies (Every single one of them lost money!) and there are a whole lot of Libertarians who 100% agree with the “moral” of those movies!

      You may have a problem with these shows, but honestly, most people don’t. In fact a whole lot of people really enjoy them and see how well they are crafted/executed.

      There is a whole lot of evidence pointing to the popularity of these work being based upon their quality and nothing supporting your view that their appeal is based entirely upon race-baiting.

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      • September 16, 2020 at 8:52 pm
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        I extend my thanks to everyone who took time to comment here, but you’re really going to have to find a better argument than “a lot of people watch this show, therefore it’s good.”

        A lot of people eat at Burger King – does that mean their food is good?

        I’ve explained why Lovecraft Country falls flat both as social commentary and as a work that attempts to encapsulate or build upon Lovecraftian themes, subjects, and tropes. The show is incoherently written, childishly simplistic in its portrayal of race relations, and a farrago of generic horror cliches. Take Lovecraft out of the title and remove the references to him, and tell me how you’d ever attempt to sell this show.

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        • September 17, 2020 at 4:24 pm
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          The food at Burger King used to be good, or at least I thought it was in 1980

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          • September 17, 2020 at 7:40 pm
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            I wasn’t too discerning in 1980 either. What’s your point?

      • September 22, 2020 at 9:49 am
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        Firstly, your argument fails just on your basic premise. Neither Watchmen nor Lovecraft Country are watched by “millions of people.” Neither show has ever pulled even 1 million viewers for an episode, in a country with more than 100 million “TV homes.”

        Furthermore, it is actually quite funny that you use Atlas Shrugged as an example. Based on the box office performance, the first film drew about the same number of viewers as an episode of Lovecraft Country… yet you view one as a failure while wrongly crediting the other with many more viewers than it actually has.

        Secondly, it is also just silly to suggest that people living in the very heart of wokeness (Hollywood) wouldn’t praise a work just because it is woke. That is precisely what they do. Wokeness is often the primary, if not only, concern for many in Hollywood and its various associates including critics.

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  • September 2, 2020 at 12:44 pm
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    TL:DR. Great example above of Godwin’s law.

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  • September 13, 2020 at 3:35 am
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    People who defend Lovecraft as not being that racist, try to explain his racism away or argue that his racism has been taken out of the proportion all have one thing in common.

    THEY NEVER DIRECTLY REFER TO HIS POEM “On the Creation of N_____.”

    The talk around it, make vague references to the “racist elements” of his “juvenile work”, but NEVER EVER directly refer to “On the Creation of N_____.” by name.

    I mean seriously, there isn’t anything remotely implicit about Lovecraft’s racism, which is clearly and loudly expressed in this poem.

    In my opinion, any written argument defending Lovecraft must start with a pasted copy of “On the Creation of N_____.” and end with a pasted copy of “On the Creation of N_____.” so that the person arguing in defense of Lovecraft is forced to read this poem, directly address it in any of their arguments and not allowed to argumentatively hide or over look this poem in order to argue around it.

    “On the Creation of N_____.” speaks for itself and speaks volumes about the person who wrote it.

    Any attempt to defend Lovecraft that doesn’t immediately start by addressing “On the Creation of N_____.” is like trying to sell someone a bullet proof vest by testing it against everything except an actual bullet.

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    • September 18, 2020 at 5:01 pm
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      Lovecraft was born in 1890, wrote that poem in 1912, and died in 1937. In other words, Lovecraft wasn’t even halfway through his life when he wrote “On the Creation of N_____.” Lovecraft was abhorrently racist, but I find it funny that you’re acting as if some piece of juvenilia that he never published (the poem was uncovered decades after his death) is the ultimate summation of his views and all discussion of Lovecraft should be centered around it. It’s as absurd as arguing that all discussion of Karl Marx should open and close with the antisemitic remarks he made in “On the Jewish Question.”

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      • September 18, 2020 at 9:56 pm
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        Lovecraft wasn’t much more than a teenager when he wrote that abhorrent poem. It’s still deeply offensive, but perhaps not the ultimate summation of what he believed later on, in his maturity.

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        • September 21, 2020 at 11:31 pm
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          And in 1931, when he disparaged the “n____-lovers” who subscribed to Franz Boas’s theories about race as a social rather than biological concept? How old was he then?

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    • September 22, 2020 at 10:10 am
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      You demonstrate precisely why Lovecraft is actually in no need of “defending.” What exactly does that poem have to do with anything? Do you contend that the poem is part of the world created in his fictional works? Does it form part of the mythos found therein? Are we to assume that the “Olympian host” were the Old Ones and they created “n—s” for nefarious ends?

      Yours is the view that an author must be judged based on their personal views, even when their views are largely, if not wholly, irrelevant to the works for which they are known. Do you think Stephen King’s voting record is relevant to any of his works? Should we know whether or not an author recycles before we allow ourselves to enjoy a work?

      Contrast Lovecraft’s irrelevant racism with the racism demonstrated in Lovecraft Country… one is a personal view contained in an early poem never published by the author, the other is central to the very work itself. Lovecraft never made “n—s” monsters in his stories, but Lovecraft Country leaves no doubt that “crackers” are the greatest monsters of all.

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  • September 20, 2020 at 3:20 pm
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    I had my doubts about “Lovecraft Country” when the very first of his works to be named was (and how depressingly predictable!) the notorious “On The Creation of N____s”. Knowing that the programme was supposed to be set in the 50s I smelled a rat. Sure enough the poem wasn’t even known (never mind published) until the 1970s. Yes I know Lovecraft was racist – but it doesn’t say much for the sincere efforts of the film makers that they had to skew both the emphasis (on this single trite item) and the chronology.

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    • September 21, 2020 at 5:04 am
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      Come to think of it, as far as I can recall that racist poem is the only Lovecraft work in the first two programmes actually mentioned by name. It’s as if you were to watch a film about the life of the Beatles which only ever mentioned “Yellow Submarine”. You’d come away with the impression they were children’s entertainers.

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      • September 22, 2020 at 1:17 am
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        Literally sixty seconds prior to the moment you’re describing there’s a close-up of a first edition copy of Arkham House’s “The Outsider and Others.” Maybe five minutes later they name-drop Herbert West.

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  • September 24, 2020 at 5:07 am
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    Actually, besides the out of context vampiric lunar beasts, there’s not much of Lovecraft’s mythos in this show. Most of it is “racist monster of the week” kind of stuff, and then watching coloureds respond with even more violence: road kills, house burning, even butt-heeling. It’s really disgusting and shouldn’t beware the name of the author. Go watch The Colour Out of Space instead. It’s a good adaptation with no racism within. Or that relatively recent TV series about the Fog story, which wasn’t half bad either. Or Annihilation from Natalie Portman. And if you like gore, watch Evil Dead based content instead: it’s much better put together and didn’t take itself too seriously, which is one of the many issues Lovecraft Country has. I’m guessing that whosoever handed them the IP rights hadn’t really looked into the script.

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  • September 24, 2020 at 10:01 pm
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    The only thing “Lovecraftian” about Lovecraft Country is that it was created (poorly) by evil (and untalented) cultists.

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  • September 27, 2020 at 8:24 pm
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    I think you are missing the point of the show, “Lovecraft Country.”

    This show uses HP Lovecraft’s name and there is reference to him and his racist poem, “The Creation of the Nigger” in the first episode. Both Uncle George and Atticus are fans of Lovecraft’s work regardless of the fact (based on his poem) that he would have no regard for them as they are black and N——rs in his eyes.

    The characters go on an adventure to learn the truth about Atticus’ mother’s family and they are entering strange new worlds that could potentially only exist in a Lovecraft story although their adventures don’t have to remain truthful to his work. “Lovecraft” becomes a metaphor for magic, strange and horror.And, I’m not mad at them for that. I like that they have their own voice and they energized a new interest in Lovecraft and brought light to his terribly racist poem.

    You have heard of artistic license, right? I accept this show as a creation to explore science fiction and horror (genres that historically exclude black people when written by white folks) giving a nod to Lovecraft but not solely or wholeheartedly being informed by his work. That is perfectly ok.

    As HP Lovecraft wrote about ugly horrific monsters, the reality of 1940s and 1950s America was a terrifying horror film-like experience for Black Americans.

    Yes, every white person is evil because THEY WERE at that time. They were evil and acted like monsters towards black folks. One could be killed, maimed, murdered, go missing, be lynched, be dismembered and scared at any moment by the whim of a white person. That is F-word-ing scary!!

    We must look at this series in the context of it’s existence. This isn’t 2020 (although unarmed black folks are still killed by police and vigilante white folks). This series is a period piece where evil reigned.

    Talk to black folks who are in their 70s and 80s and you will be amazed that they survived and saddened at the level of pain they endured.

    Lovecraft Country is a great series (albeit strange at times) that juxtaposes the horrors of American racism with literal monsters, magic, and social constructs.

    It is fantasy, it is informed by fantasy and history (references to Jackie Robinson and the recreation of historical photography in episode 1). And we should accept it as a child of Lovecraft yet very different as once would accept a child as being of his/her parents but may be nothing like them.

    What I find interesting, is that Lovecraft “scholars” and fans are more concerned about what a dead racist writer would think than take a moment to view the series on it’s own merits and consider the horrors of American history for what it was while enjoying an entertaining series.

    It is good and worth one’s time. Join me virtually, I watch every episode with a bowl of popcorn and a glass of red wine. What will you have?

    PS: Uncle George can (and rightfully so for comedic reasons and to lead the audience) ask the “Vampire question,” because he READS!! HP Lovecraft was not the only book on his shelf! He is an avid reader and has more than likely read Shelley and Stoker!

    C’mon guys, don’t let your love for HP Lovecraft prevent you from allowing other’s to be creative and have fun.

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    • October 16, 2020 at 7:24 pm
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      Just because this show addresses racism as a backdrop, doesn’t make this a masterpiece. As much as it is very much a trend to avoid saying anything negative about anything that remotely approaches the theme of systemic racism in this country, this show sucks. It’s a dumb monster fest, it it’s not lovecraftian. I am not a snob, I am not a racist, I’m someone who just reads Lovecraft fiction and finds this show way off point. Get off the bandwagon, already.

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      • November 1, 2020 at 1:47 pm
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        One could argue that the racial horror in Lovecraft Country is very Lovecraftian. The black American characters feel insignificant, over looked, and discarded by their country or universe. Not only is America indifferent to their existence, which denies them the very basics of humanity, it often does it with malfeasance to maintain a hierarchy of power. In large this is what cosmic horror is about, the idea that the universe is not for humanity. Simply out, the America depicted in Lovecraft Country is not for black folks. I think that resonates with the Freeman.

        I’m surprised it needs to be said that the book and show are very loosely set in a universe, or multi verse, that could contain aspects of Lovecraft’s fiction. His literature is fiction in this book/show. Also, the idea that white allies need to be portrayed in these stories seems to be seeded in the feeling that whites are some how owned positive press in all stories, even during a dark part of history. So shame on you Washburn. This is a set of stories about black characters that did not have the privilege of white allies. Why you feel the need to have their story line interrupted with your childish dribble is gross.

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        • November 1, 2020 at 5:17 pm
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          It appears you set out to épater me, Zach, and you expressed yourself well. Thanks for reading and spreading the word. Onward!

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  • October 19, 2020 at 5:40 pm
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    Thank you Michael Washburn finally i have seen some with other reflection to Lovecraft country then the most people say about the book and the serie.

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