My friends will tell you that I’m something of a fan of Lovecraft. A week doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t post something to my wall on Facebook that’s Lovecraft related (most recently was the Kthulhu-Aid man, “OH RY’LEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEH!”). Many of my t-shirts have some sort of Mythos theme to them, I won a fake mustache competition for my Cthulhustache, and my favorite tie tack is a curled up tentacle. The Cthulhu Mythos has greatly impacted my own writing and the themes that appear in it. The first time my name appeared in print (book form) was Cthulhurotica. Cthulhu is, and always will be, one of my favorite monsters/villains.
And sometimes I have a problem with it.
Recently there was a discussion on FB regarding the works of Robert E. Howard, a fellow writer and friend of Lovecraft’s. During the discussion I mentioned that I have difficulty reading REH’s Conan stories because of how over-the-top misogynistic and racist many (ok, most) of them are. For me, I can’t get past the dissonance created by REH’s views, which were culturally appropriate for the time they were in (even if they were still incredibly wrong), and my own liberal and feminist views. Someone then pointed out that while REH was pretty racist, he wasn’t as racist as Lovecraft.
Which, I’d argue, is pretty true.
Lovecraft’s racism is pretty well documented, both in personal papers and letters as well as the way he portrays people who aren’t white in his stories. His views, if he were to express them now, would get him excoriated at least and most likely relegate his works to the fringes of publishing because of how much they don’t agree with how we see the world. His opinions are offensive, they are backward, and they’re pretty much at odds with my own views of equality.
And when you get down to it, at least in spirit, they aren’t that far off of another author whose personal views I despise: Orson Scott Card.
To say that I disagree with Orson Scott Card is a vast understatement. I find his views regarding people who are homosexual abhorrent and his most recent slip into Glen Beck political garbage does nothing to lessen my opinion that, as far as human beings go, he’s pretty far down on the list of “people I’d chose to save if the house they were in was on fire”. While I have purchased his books in the past, those purchases were before I knew about his views and so, for the foreseeable future, he joins authors like John C. Wright and John Ringo whose works I will never support (which is a shame because I actually like Ender’s Game as a story and would’ve loved to see the movie).
But if it is true that Lovecraft and Card both held/hold views that are counter in almost every way to my own, why is one ok and the other not? That’s the conflict I’m currently debating with myself.
Part of it is that Lovecraft is long dead, had no children, and so he isn’t really benefiting in anyway from the purchase of any stories of his. Sure, by purchasing his books he continues to stay relevant and his fame, of a sort, endures but does that matter? OSC, on the other hand, would directly benefit from any purchase of his books and, in theory, would benefit from the ticket sales of his movie as he’s a producer. I don’t want a lick of my money going to him, to help him further promote what I consider to be his hate.
There’s also the consideration of the actual impact of Lovecraft’s work. Sure there are some people who will purchase or have purchased his books because of his racist views, and that’s not good, but I would be willing to put money on the fact that the number who do is pretty small and those people were quite possibly already racist to begin with so its not like Lovecraft’s work had a negative impact there. On the other hand, Lovecraft’s stories have been used to discuss racism in older literature and to highlight how negative and harmful it is, which I believe has a positive impact (at the very least they can serve as a “if you don’t want to be a racist author, don’t write like this” lesson). While discussions regarding race, class, sexuality are not limited to older books or the works of dead authors, the distance of time and the fact that Lovecraft is dead help make his works a “fixed point” to examine, where OSC could, but most likely not, change his opinions and so doing readings of his works to look for his own person views/biases (and what he says about society) wouldn’t be as reliable.
Still, despite all of this, sometimes it’s hard to tell if these are legitimate reasons of why one is ok and the other isn’t or if they aren’t just justifications so that I can like something by someone who I wouldn’t normally support.
Is it possible to like and appreciate the works of controversial creators like Roman Polanski, Orson Scott Card, and, in this case, H.P. Lovecraft while not supporting the creator? Does liking such works say negative things about you? Does the creator’s views or actions, in a way, taint their works or are the works their won thing, having their own merits and flaws and so should be considered on their own apart from their creator?
Questions like these are being hotly debated and I’m not certain that I have yet reached answers that are personally relevant to me and so I will continue think about these topics while I enjoy Lovecraft’s works for now, if a bit uncomfortably.