Some Thoughts on HPL, on the Occasion of His Birth

LovecraftOther than the Dublin Ghost Story Festival (which I can’t afford to attend), there’s not a lot happening this weekend of any significance.  Which is fine, because there won’t be much to distract from observing HPL’s birthday today.  I intend to read something by him later, provided both the two-legged and four-legged people in the house will leave me alone.

I thought I’d mark the occasion by sharing a few thoughts.  It’s become particularly fashionable in recent years to bash the Gentleman From Providence.  While this is nothing new, it seems to have gained momentum.

When I was younger, the most common complaint I heard was that Lovecraft’s prose was too purple.  I didn’t pay that much attention to the criticism at the time because I was more into science fiction.  It was only as my interest in fantasy began to eclipse my interest in SF that I really started getting into his work.  I’ve always found his writing to be readable.  While there is some merit to the complaints about Lovecraft’s style being outdated (which to a large degree boils down to matters of taste), they’re not a deal breaker for me. 

Nor are the complaints about his racism.  I’ve not read much of Lovecraft’s writings on race except where he deals with race in his fiction.  In other words, I’ve not read much from his correspondence.  But from what I’ve seen, he probably would be considered a racist, even by the standards of the day.The Outsider

This does not bother me.  While I certainly don’t share his views, I am mature enough to look at them in the context of when and where he wrote.  Which is more than can be said for some people.  It’s perfectly okay if you don’t like a writer’s work or his views.  Or even the writer herself, if she’s still living and you’ve met her.  It’s your choice not to read that writer if you choose not to and for whatever reason you choose.

Don’t scold the rest of us if we choose to read that writer and enjoy his/her/its/their works.  Different people place different priorities on different things.  If I choose not to read (or at least purchase) any books by a writer because of public statements they’ve made or actions they’ve taken, that’s my choice.  My list of Authors I’m Not Gonna Waste My Time And Money On grows every year.

But I’m not going to say anyone else can’t or shouldn’t read that writer’s books/stories/graphic novels/grocery lists/etc.  Nor am I going to bloviate and virtue signal in public about what a horrible person a writer is because he or she holds certain views.  And I’m certainly not going to do that if the writer lived and wrote in a different time, place, or culture than me.Lovecraft Sarnath front

I’m going to consider the context of when the work was created.  I’ve lived long enough to see words and attitude go from being considered progressive and enlightened to being considered completely offensive and unacceptable in polite society. The standards of what is acceptable today will be what offensive tomorrow.  I can take that into account.  If I find the material too offensive, I’ll put put the book down.  Everyone’s standards are different.

I can balance the things I don’t like with the things that appeal to me in Lovecraft’s work.  His racial views aside, I have some deep philosophical differences with the man.  Rather than detract from his work, I find that this can add to it.  It gets me out of my echo chamber.  As long as he doesn’t interrupt to give me a lecture on how I need to broaden my thinking or something, I’m going to enjoy the story first and foremost.  How Lovecraft puts his ideas in the story in a way that doesn’t interrupt is of more interest to me than what those ideas are.

I think there’s still a lot to be gained by reading Lovecraft, especially if you keep the context of  his times in mind.  He was arguably the most influential horror writer of the 20th Century.  I want to know what it is about his work that has so impacted people, in hopes that maybe I can have a smaller but similar effect in my own writing.  If you aren’t willing to read him, well, that’s your choice, and I’ll respect it.  Just leave those who choose to read and enjoy him alone.

6 thoughts on “Some Thoughts on HPL, on the Occasion of His Birth

  1. John Bullard

    Well writ, Keith! I first started reading HPL back in the early ’70’s with the many adaptations in the Marvel horror comics. I finally decided to try and track down his actual stories to compare them to the comics, and found an anthology at my school’s library which had 1 of his stories in it (“In The Vault”). Not only was that story every bit as good and better than what I was prepared for at 12 years old, but I also got to read my first REH story in the same book for a fantastic bonus! I then went and bought the Ballantine paperback of “Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos, Vol. 1”, and besides further cementing my love of HPL, I was also introduced to the other great writers in that collection, and I’ve never stopped chasing their works down, reading, re-reading and enjoying the stuff that HPL helped ignite by either directly corresponding with the others in his circle, or the writers being so affected by his work that they tried their hands at writing tales they hoped he would approve of, and added to the body of horror, fantasy, and horror-science fiction.

    The current modern PC idjits can gnash and wail and shake their fingers at me all they want, but I’m happy with what HPL has given me starting back those many years ago, and I’m more than certain that if Western Civilization doesn’t fall in the next few years, HPL will still be read while the approved new writers of the SJWs will be long forgotten, and rarely if ever read in the decades to come.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks, John. I’m with you. Each year I become less and less interested in reading the newer stuff. I got hooked on Ray Bradbury pretty early, and he was my gateway drug, which led me to Kuttner, Moore, Brackett, Beaumont, Howard, and then Lovecraft. We moved between my 7th and 8th grade years. The school library when I was in 7th grade had a number of anthologies that Robert Silverberg edited, I think back in the 60s. That, in addition to Bradbury, a large part of where I developed my love of short fiction. Plus I discovered a bunch of great writers such as Leiber, Anderson, and many others.

      But I digress. (I’ll continue that paragraph in another blog post.) I’ve not read nearly everything Lovecraft wrote. The more I read him, though, the more I appreciate him as a writer. I think you’re correct that he’ll be remembered long after the current crop of critically acclaimed darlings have faded into obscurity. He and Howard are beginning to get the recognition the deserve. It’s a good thing to see.

  2. Fletcher Vredenburgh

    Good stuff, Keith.. Sharing a birthday with him, I’ve always felt an affinity for the old gent. I’ve been reading him for nearly 40 years now, and his stories can still give me the creeps. Yeah, I appreciate his racism, and plain old all around nuttiness, but then he’s not my friend. And yeah, like you, I have plenty of things in addition to his racism to dislike him for. If I stopped reading people who said stupid/offensive/crazy things, I’m not sure I’d read much contemporary genre writing at all.

    For his stories, the ideas that inspired them, his importance to helping other great writers, for those things, he’ll be remembered long after most of the current crop of writers are long forgotten.

    1. Keith West Post author

      Happy belated birthday, Fletcher. You make a good point about stopping reading people who say offensive things. Even so, I find myself wanting to read fewer contemporary authors because of some of the things they say and do publicly. It’s easy to forget how important Lovecraft’s legacy of helping other writers has been to the genre and the long-reaching impact he had. For instance, he corresponded with a young writer named Henry Kuttner, when he was just starting out. Kuttner not only went on to marry C. L. Moore and produce some of the greatest science fiction and fantasy collaborations of the 1940s, but he was a mentor to two other writers held in high esteem in these parts. Leigh Brackett, creator of some of the best space opera ever written, also wrote screenplays for some of the greatest films in Hollywood history, such as The Big Sleep, Rio Bravo, and the first draft of The Empire Strikes Back. Brackett and Kuttner together helped another young writer break into the pro markets, a chap by the name of Ray Bradbury. That’s quite a legacy.

  3. David J. West

    Great post keith, you sum up so much of what I’m thinking with these and others like it.

    And man, I love that cover for The Outsider and Others – they don’t make them like they used to!

    1. Keith West Post author

      Thanks, David. I agree, the older covers certainly had something about them too many of the new ones are lacking.


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