Other 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 While there is some merit to the complaints about Lovecraft’s style being outdated (which to a large degree boils down to matters of taste), they’re not a deal breaker for me.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.
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.
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.