If you’re a book nerd like I pretend to be, you may have heard the recent ruckus going on about H.P. Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Awards. If you haven’t, the sound bite goes that the WFA is under pressure to change their award, a characterized bust of Lovecraft (Article Here), after a recent Salon article highlighted Lovecraft’s “venomous racism.” (Article Here) While this isn’t the first article to oust Lovecraft as a racist, it’s one that appears to be gaining quite a bit of traction with slacktivists and Tumblr crusaders.
Let me start by stating the obvious: Lovecraft does have some pretty racist stuff out there. The poem he wrote in 1912, “The Creation of Niggers” being the most blatant example of this. If you’re brave enough to click that link, you’ll find a hateful poem which cannot be defended on its own. However, to claim that Lovecraft was motivated solely by racism is a huge misstep, one which S.T. Joshi outlines in a recent blog post. Seeing as the man is the foremost Lovecraft scholar alive, Joshi’s defense of Lovecraft is far more eloquent and better informed than anything I could hope to write. What I found most interesting is that reading through the post shows that Joshi doesn’t deny Lovecraft’s racism, only that some people are blowing it out of proportion under the banner of a misguided social crusade.
I have to say that I agree with Joshi on this. What really gets my goat about this hooplah isn’t the fact that people are pointing out that Lovecraft held some racist opinions, because of course he did. He was born in the 1890s to a high society family in New England where racism would be an unfortunate fact of life. What worries me is that these folks are reducing his entire life, career, and catalogue to the few racist ideas he put to paper. This historical revisionism sweeps Lovecraft’s legacy under the rug, choosing to be offended by his personal opinions rather than awed by the scope of his creativity.
Lovecraft was able to create an entire sub-genre, blending horror and science fiction into “Cosmic Horror” while also helping to found Weird Fiction. His stories have inspired countless writers like Stephen King and Neil Gaiman, directors like John Carpenter and Guillermo del Toro, and even musicians like Blue Oyster Cult and Black Sabbath to name a few. To focus on his faults rather than his contributions to literature and pop culture should do more to harm his critics than the man himself.
If we refuse to enjoy art because the artist expressed an idea or opinion someone found offensive, we would soon run out of art to enjoy. These flaws and opinions should be acknowledged, but we should also be able to look past these and see the beauty in the art itself rather than the ugly parts of the creator. Focusing on Lovecraft’s racism will only blind us to the works of an incredibly influential writer. By removing his likeness from the World Fantasy Award, we white wash the past and refuse to acknowledge or discuss his flaws, his influence, and society’s progress. Instead, we should recognize his opinions as offensive and outdated while continuing to celebrate his works and their continued significance on pop culture and literature.