The Cthuugle Search Site

It is with some reluctance that I recommend this. Lovecraft was important in science fiction and all, but the little I’ve read of his also stinks of racism, and not just the n-word southerny Mark Twain thing, but a true disdain for all that is not Mighty White. (This would be a case where rewriting would improve and not do damage, in my opinion.)

Anyway, this is a cute search engine. Just be careful how you use it. You would not want to awake …. anything.

Comments

  1. #1 Joshua Zelinsky
    February 16, 2010

    Unfortunately, one would need to a do a lot more than just rewrite. Lovecraft rarely used derogatory words. Far more often, the plot is racist or xenophobic. Look for example at the Call of Cthulhu where he introduced the most famous entity. Cthulhu is worshipped in remote locations by primitives. The only worship occuring in the US is in the deep south by people who are more less superstitious creoles. Similarly, in the Innsmouth stores the worship of Dagon was brought to Innsmouth by the captain who learned about it from people on some island in the Pacific. And the threat in Innsmouth is inbreeding with the Deep Ones who corrupt human blood lines. Yeah, that’s not subtle at all.

  2. #2 Lorax
    February 16, 2010

    If this were a different thread, I would point out that I enjoy HP Lovecraft and truly despise the fact that Greg called me a racist. Oh and he should apologize.

    But since its not a different thread, I wont.

  3. #3 Aquinas Dad
    February 16, 2010

    C’mon, guys. It is a lot more complicated than that. He also spoke of ‘White trash’, disparaged Whites who lived in remote areas even though (or because) they were pure Dutch descendants, had highly sympathetic Hispanic characters, heroic Blacks, etc. I’m not claiming he was immaculate, just that his views were obviously complex (as evinced by his Jewish wife).

  4. #4 DuWayne
    February 16, 2010

    I tend to take the attitude that writers are products of their time and culture, accepting that it is perfectly ok to enjoy their writing, while understanding the underlying paradigm is repulsive. To dismiss writing because the underlying cultural paradigm is racist/mysoginist/classist requires one to dismiss the vast majority of writing before the 1960’s. Even where it doesn’t really apply, such as romance poetry, is only because that aspect of culture wasn’t relevant to the poet’s descriptive.

    We are talking about ideas that were not only pervasive, but which were also completely uncontroversial in their cultural context. While it is sad, when Lovecraft was writing, it was taken for granted that non-Caucasians were subhuman. At the time it was assumed – mainly because early “lost” communities were occasionally being discovered where inbreeding had trashed the population, that hill people were inbred creatins. And of course the creoles were primitive savages – they bastardized “civilized” languages and many of them were not purely Caucasian. These were just not controversial ideas at the time, they were assumed to be the reality – at least by those in “civilized” society.

    And for the record, I love Sir Arthur Conon Doyle, John Keats, Lord Byron, both Percy and Mary Shelley, Coleridge, Victor Hugo and many other products of cultures with beliefs similar to these. Not all of them covered these attitudes in their works of literature, but all of them had some fairly strong degree fo these attitudes – as did virtually everyone in their time and social station. I am not going to dislike their work because they happened to follow the prevalent thinking of their cultural paradigm, I am going to read their work with the understanding that that is what drove those attitudes.

    This is also how I can read histories of empires, read about the absolutely ahorrent, yet common practices of war without being ill. I do not accept the actions or attitudes as valid, I just accept that these are things that happened in war and that if I want to understand the overarching topic, I need to learn about the cultural paradigms that allowed these atrocities to happen.

    I love Lovecraft because his descriptions of horrific events take the tone of an academic accounting. I despise most horror, because the goal seems to be to scare people – make them tense, when I have plenty of stress already. With Lovecraft, approaching these horrors seems a lot like approaching a history of a particular Roman battle, or a description of a particularly earth shattering discovery in science.

  5. #5 Greg Laden
    February 16, 2010

    I’m actually in the process of a (slow moving) detailed study of race in Holmes.

  6. #6 Stephanie Z
    February 16, 2010

    There is, of course, a difference between noting with distaste but not too much concern that what you’re reading is a product of an uglier time and sending someone else to engage with the material without warning them.

  7. #7 D. C. Sessions
    February 16, 2010

    Look for example at the Call of Cthulhu where he introduced the most famous entity. Cthulhu is worshipped in remote locations by primitives.

    The key part there is the “remote locations.” Bear in mind that this was still the day when the Lost Island with King Kong didn’t require nearly as much suspension of disbelief. The “primitive people” simply followed from that, on the grounds that you had to account for the “unknown society” somehow. The alternative to “primitive” is pretty much “highly advanced” in the Atlantis/Shangra La sense, and “highly advanced” is harder to explain away.

  8. #8 DuWayne
    February 16, 2010

    I am actually considering the implications of this discussion in the context of my discussion of cultural progressions – how we got here from there. While this specific cultural context is not in the backgrounds of all of us, variations on it are – even those who come from the receiving end.

    Greg –

    I would be very interested to hear more about that. I actually spent some time going through the letters of Byron, the Shelleys, Keats and other romance poets, looking for cultural differentials and am actually rather intrigued by them. The thing that I find most interesting is that what we see as casual racism was to them just accepting the general knowledge of their time. Learned men had concluded, with “evidence” that other races were inferior and that was enough for most people. The racism lacked any malice whatsoever and in some cases people truly believed that they were doing these “Others” favors by taking them in and feeding them in exchange for labor at little or no pay.

    I think it parallels nicely with what I am “reading” right now (I managed to get more than half way through one on my 350 mile drive through a blizzard yesterday), the Dune prequels. One of the planets of the league of nobles was dealt a crushing blow by revolting slaves – people who because of religious preferences refused to fight alongside other humans to defeat the machine minds. They are enslaved, taken from villages on backwater planets where they live in relatively primitive conditions. The people of that planet cannot begin to comprehend why their slaves might not be thrilled to have the opportunity to live on a civilized world and help the cause of humanity – while the slaves can’t comprehend why they should see any difference between being enslaved by the machines or other humans.

    Stephanie –

    I was more responding to Greg’s distaste, than the warning.

  9. #9 Stephanie Z
    February 16, 2010

    I understand, DuWayne. I mention it because it’s one of the things I notice as a writer. There are a bunch of people who have to tell others about the books, movies, etc. that they hate and how no one sane could possibly like them. It’s easy to come across something like this and read it that way and feel defensive about liking something, so I thought I’d throw a flag out to (maybe, possibly, assuming anyone reads and remembers that comment) point out there’s something else going on.

  10. #10 Lassi Hippeläinen
    February 17, 2010

    Was there anyone that Lovecraft liked? He may be more blatant about foreigners, but his treatment of his own New Englanders isn’t nice either. Much of his writing was inspired by the witch hunts of 17th century Massachusetts.

  11. #11 Azkyroth
    February 17, 2010

    the little I’ve read of his also stinks of racism, and not just the n-word southerny Mark Twain thing, but a true disdain for all that is not Mighty White.

    Or, more precisely, Mighty Anglo-Saxon. He wasn’t too thrilled about the Irish either, from what I remember of accounts I’ve read by people he associated with.

  12. #12 travc
    February 17, 2010

    Greg (et al) need to read more Lovecraft. His stories are all over the place with respect to these issues, so a small sampling won’t be representative. He also did a lot of very extensive edits and rewrites of stories sent to him by others, which makes it even more complicated.

    More often than not, his stories with “primitive” peoples have those cultures holding some true knowledge or memory which the “civilized” world has forgotten (or never knew). That knowledge is typically awesome and horrific (but not always)… kind of a warped version of the noble savage myth.

    Anyways, product of the times and all that is true enough. But in the case of Lovecraft, he was eccentric enough to highly atypical on a number of fronts even in his on time.

    BTW: Oversimplification of the views of writers is very common and quite annoying. Most writers we would bother talking about were pretty deep thinkers who held rather nuanced views. Another example would be Olaf Stapledon’s views on eugenics. Well worth reading if you want a perspective which is probably more deeply considered than the grossly oversimplified views typically held today.

  13. #13 DuWayne
    February 17, 2010

    travc –

    Did you actually read the comment thread? If you did, you would note that we are, most of us, rather keen on taking a deeper look into the thinking of authors. Indeed, not only have a read everything Lovecraft wrote, I have also read a couple biographies. I have also read several biographies of Keats, as well as biographies of Byron and Hugo. And I have delved into the published correspondence of most of the people I listed in previous comments.

    Btw, the noble savage myth, is still a racist paradigm – right there with talking about what wonderful athletes that brown skinned people tend to be. I think you are making quite a stretch to claim that “primitives” described in Lovecraft stories are painted in some glorious light.

    Ultimately, I think that Lovecrafts assumptions about other races were in line with the thinking of his time. Beyond that, Lovecraft had a generally dim view of humans in general.

    As for Stapledon’s views on eugenics, I agree with you. I think it is exceedingly frustrating to try to have a reasonable conversation about eugenics, because most people equate eugenics with genocide and forced sterilization. But if one takes a reasonable look at Stapledon’s writing, it is exceedingly obvious that he is talking about something very different – pretty much the same ideas that Heinlein and Herbert both explored in different ways.

    I think it is sad when people take a superficial view of selectivist eugenics – because while the underlying principles may still be flawed, it speaks to something that most people engage in quite regularly when it comes to mate selection.

    But the bottom line problem I have with your comment, is the idea that we’re all taking a superficial look at anyone. Greg was providing a warning to people who might find some of Lovecraft’s work rather offensive and rightfully so. And while yes, Greg is taking a superficial view of Lovecraft, he is not generally inclined to do that.

    Indeed, one might accuse you of taking a rather superficial view of what has been discussed in this post and comment thread. Were you really paying attention, you might have noted some rather nuanced views being expressed here. But apparently the nuance of several people who are also rather deep thinkers, seems to have passed right over your head.

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