H. P. Lovecraft

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Howard Phillips Lovecraft

Howard Phillips Lovecraft (August 20, 1890March 15, 1937), of Providence, Rhode Island, was an American author of horror, fantasy, and science fiction.

Lovecraft's major inspiration and invention was cosmic horror: life is incomprehensible to human minds and the universe is fundamentally alien. Those who genuinely "reason", like his protagonists, gamble with sanity. Lovecraft has become a cult figure for his Cthulhu Mythos, a series of loosely interconnected fictions featuring a pantheon of human-invalidating entities, as well as the famed Necronomicon, a grimoire of magical rites and forbidden lore. His works were deeply pessimistic and cynical, fabricating a mythos that challenged the values of the Enlightenment, Romanticism, and Christianity.

Although Lovecraft's readership was limited during his life, his reputation has grown over the decades, and he is now commonly regarded[1] as one of the most influential horror writers of the 20th Century, exerting widespread and indirect influence, and frequently compared to Edgar Allan Poe.


A common dramatic device in Lovecraft's work is to associate virtue, intellect, elevated class position, civilization, and rationality with white Anglo-Saxons, which he often posed in contrast to the corrupt, intellectually inferior, uncivilized and irrational, which he associated with people he characterized as being of lower class, impure racial "stock" and/or non European ethnicity and dark skin complexion who were often the villains in his writings.

In his poem "On the Creation of Niggers", Lovecraft says:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth;

In Jove's fair image Man was shaped at birth. The beasts for lesser parts were designed; Yet were too remote from humankind. To fill the gap, and join the rest of Man, Th'Olympian host conceiv'd a clever plan. A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure, Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger.

In "The Call of Cthulhu" he writes of a captured group of mixed race worshipers of Cthulhu:

the prisoners all proved to be men of a very low, mixed-blooded, and mentally aberrant type. Most were seamen, and a sprinkling of negroes and mulattos, largely West Indians or Brava Portuguese from the Cape Verde Islands, gave a colouring of voodooism to the heterogeneous cult. But before many questions were asked it became manifest that something far deeper and older than negro fetishism was involved. Degraded and ignorant as they were, the creatures held with surprising consistency to the central idea of their loathsome faith.

In a letter of January 23, 1920, Lovecraft wrote:

For evolved man — the apex of organic progress on the Earth — what branch of reflection is more fitting than that which occupies only his higher and exclusively human faculties? The primal savage or ape merely looks about his native forest to find a mate; the exalted Aryan should lift his eyes to the worlds of space and consider his relation to infinity!!!!

In "Herbert West - Reanimator," Lovecraft gives an account of a just-deceased African-American male. He asserts:

He was a loathsome, gorilla-like thing, with abnormally long arms that I could not help calling fore legs, and a face that conjured up thoughts of unspeakable Congo secrets and tom-tom poundings under an eerie moon. The body must have looked even worse in life - but the world holds many ugly things.[3]

In "The Horror at Red Hook," one character is described as "an Arab with a hatefully negroid mouth".[4] In "Medusa's Coil," ghostwritten by Lovecraft for Zealia Bishop, the story's final surprise--after the revelation that the story's villain is a vampiric medusa--is that she

was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe's most primal grovellers.... [T]hough in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress."[5]

In "The Case of Charles Dexter Ward," there is a somewhat more patronizing description of an African - New English couple: "The present negro inhabitants were known to him, and he was very courteously shewn about the interior by old Asa and his stout wife Hannah." In contrast to their apparently alien landlord: "a small rodent-featured person with a guttural accent"

In the short story "The Rats in the Walls," one of the narrator/protagonist's nine cats is named "Nigger-Man".

As I have said, I moved in on July 16, 1923. My household consisted of seven servants and nine cats, of which latter species I am particularly fond. My eldest cat, "Nigger-Man," was seven years old and had come with me from my home in Bolton, Massachusetts ..."[6]
However, it should be noted that the cat in the story is a courageous and helpful creature; the favorite feline of the story's narrator, so it is difficult to attribute the animal's name to simple bigotry.

The narrators in "The Street," "Herbert West: Reanimator," "He," "The Call of Cthulhu," "The Shadow Over Innsmouth," "The Horror at Red Hook," and many other tales express sentiments which could be considered hostile towards Jews. He married a woman of Ukrainian Jewish ancestry, Sonia Greene, who later said she had to repeatedly remind Lovecraft of her background when he made anti-Semitic remarks. "Whenever we found ourselves in the racially mixed crowds which characterize New York," Greene wrote after her divorce from Lovecraft, "Howard would become livid with rage. He seemed almost to lose his mind."[7]

Many states enforced racial segregation and enacted eugenics laws and prohibitions against "miscegenation" which were also common in non-Roman Catholic areas of Europe. A popular movement during the 1920s succeeded in drastically restricting immigration to the United States, culminating in the Immigration Act of 1924, which featured expert testimony to the United States Congress on the threat to American society from the assimilation of more "inferior stock"{fact}} from eastern and southern Europe.

Lovecraft was an avowed Anglophile, and held English culture to be the comparative pinnacle of civilization, with the descendants of the English in America as something of a second-class offshoot, and everyone else below them (see, for example, his poem "An American to Mother England"). His love for English history and culture is often repeated in his work (such as King Kuranes' nostalgia for England in "The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath").

Lovecraft's ideas about eugenics often extended to his white characters. He showed greater sympathy for Caucasian and culturally European groups. The narrator of "Cool Air" speaks disparagingly of the poor Hispanics of his neighborhood, but respects the wealthy and aristocratic Spaniard Dr. Muñoz, for his Celtiberian origins, and because he is "a man of birth, cultivation, and discrimination." The degenerate descendants of Dutch immigrants in the Catskill Mountains, "who correspond exactly to the decadent element of white trash in the South" ("Beyond the Wall of Sleep", 1919), are common targets. In "The Temple," Lovecraft's narrator is a highly unsympathetic figure: a World War I U-boat captain whose faith in his "iron German will" and the superiority of the Fatherland lead him to machine-gun survivors in lifeboats and, later, kill his own crew, while blinding him to the curse he has brought upon himself. However, according to Lovecraft: A Biography, by L. Sprague de Camp, Lovecraft was horrified by reports of anti-Semitic violence in Germany (prior to World War II, which Lovecraft did not live to see), suggesting that Lovecraft was opposed to violent extermination of those he regarded as "inferiors".

One of the foremost Lovecraft scholars, S.T. Joshi, notes "There is no denying the reality of Lovecraft's racism, nor can it merely be passed off as "typical of his time," for it appears that Lovecraft expressed his views more pronouncedly (although usually not for publication) than many others of his era. It is also foolish to deny that racism enters into his fiction."[1] In his book "H. P. Lovecraft: Against The World, Against Life," Michel Houellebecq argues that "racial hatred" provided the emotional force and inspiration for much of Lovecraft's greatest works.

Lovecraft racist antagonism is a corollary of his nihilistic notion of biological determinism: At the Mountains of Madness, in which explorers discover evidence of a completely alien race (the Elder Things) who are credited with the accidental introduction of life to earth, through bioengineering but who were eventually destroyed by their brutish shoggoth slaves. Even after several members of the party are killed by revived Elder Things, Lovecraft's narrator expresses sympathy for them: "They were the men of another age and another order of being... what had they done that we would not have done in their place? God, what intelligence and persistence! What a facing of the incredible... Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star spawn — whatever they had been, they were men!"

These lines of thought in Lovecraft's worldview — racism and romantic reactionary defense of cultural order in the face of the degenerative modern world — have led some scholars to see a special affinity to the aristocratic, anti-modernism of Traditionalist Julius Evola:

Certainly "The Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath" with its grandiose portrayal of the onyx city respires the cool and elegant spirit of Tradition, arraigned against which in several stories is the sink of decadence, Innsmouth, an inbred population made up of the offspring of lustful mariners and sea monsters, the negative force of counter-Tradition. The eternal struggle between the Uranian power of light and the telluric forces of chaos is reflected in Lovecraft's work"[2]

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  1. Joshi, 2001
  2. See letter to J. Vernon Shea, September 25, 1933, No. 648, Selected Letters IV, Arkham House.
  3. H. P. Lovecraft, "Herbert West - Reanimator", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 146.
  4. H. P. Lovecraft, "The Horror at Red Hook", Dagon and Other Macabre Tales, p. 258.
  5. "Medusa's Coil", Zealia Bishop with H. P. Lovecraft, The Horror in the Museum, p, 200.
  6. "The Rats in the Walls", H. P. Lovecraft, "Bloodcurdling Tales of Horror and the Macabre", p, 8.
  7. Quoted in Lovecraft, Carter, p. 45.
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