Friday, November 13, 2015

In Re Lovecraft

On the one hand, I’m sad that the World Fantasy Awards will no longer feature the bulbous head of H.P. Lovecraft. I like traditions, and am reflexively annoyed when genre stuff changes, even when it happens for a good reason. [1] I’m also a long-time fan and reader of Lovecraft – I wrote my college thesis in large part on him, and got it published in Lovecraft Studies #21. [2] And I’m a big Gahan Wilson fan, so I love that ugly old statue – maybe even more because it is ugly. [3] Finally, I feel a little proprietorial towards the Lovecraft Head, because I was a WFA judge myself, once upon a time, and because I got to accept the award for Marvin Kaye’s anthology The Fair Folk that same year. [4]

So I’m really close to being the kind of guy who would harrumph very loudly on this topic on the Internet, and probably say some stupid and irrevocable things.

Luckily, I have another hand. And that hand is well aware that Lovecraft was deeply racist – see my Twitter rant about him from around this time last year, preserved on this blog – and that any “man of his time” arguments are deeply specious and wrong. (Short form: Lovecraft was amazingly racist, in really weird ways, even for the 1920s. Seriously. It's not worth trying to argue against it; the man wrote hundred-page letters all about racial groups he loathed and wanted dead.) So I get why people wouldn’t want his head on their trophy, particularly if they were in groups he considered sub-human. [5]

No one is actually making the "awards have to be named after shining paragons of virtue, and no one else" argument, so I won't try to prop it up to chuck mud at. But there does seem to be a lurking sense that personalities rather than art is of primary importance, and that makes me uneasy in a literary-award context. If the argument was that Lovecraft was a minor weirdo writer with only a tenuous connection to the modern fantasy field, I'd be happier with it. (And that line of attack is nearly as true as the one about his racism -- it's arguable, at least.)

I just don’t like to see cool things that I enjoy changing, OK? I apparently had some lurking hope, deep in my heart, that I would someday get back into the SFF world and win a Wilson/Lovecraft head before I died. Now, that stupid hope is clearly shown to be a lie. And I do have a suspicion that whatever replaces the Head of Lovecraft will be dull and uninteresting, because I am middle-aged and all new things are horrible. (I may be exaggerating slightly for effect.)

Still, it is nice to see the WFA committee realizing that a big swath of the genre is really offended by the Font of Rugosity and is willing to move with the times. Old grumpy people often don’t move as quickly as young angry people want, but sometimes they do move – and even in the right direction.

And if the new statue is something equally ugly and disturbing from Gahan Wilson, I will be the first one to cheer and grin.

But I really don’t expect that -- it'll be something dull and tasteful, nothing like a human being and as inoffensive as possible. That's sad, because great art is deeply human and unconcerned with offense, and the WFAs are supposed to -- usually do, in fact -- fearlessly promote great art.

I may be wrong, of course. I would love to be wrong.

[1] For example, I’m still not sure if I consider the Kitschies to be a “real” award, since it started after I started working in the genre. (Actually, it started after I stopped working in the genre, which is even worse. No changes ever!) I don’t claim this is a good metric or a smart one, but it’s the one stuck in my head.

[2] My bragging is very lame. Pity me.

[3] And, yes, it is ugly. Very ugly. Wonderfully, amazingly ugly, as only Wilson could make it. Losing it as a major award in the SFF field will be a blow, and don't anyone forget that.

[4] Marvin, dear man that he is, pooh-pooed my protestations that asking a sitting judge to accept an award should you win could, just possibly, look a little shady. I still think someone else should have accepted, for appearances' sake, but I deeply enjoyed having custody of a Lovecraft Head for about a week.

[5] Then again, he consider just about everyone sub-human. Lovecraft liked male WASPs from Providence with suitably upper-class backgrounds and had problems with just about everyone else. Note that I’m not sure which side of the battle I’m arguing here.

1 comment:

Bill Peschel said...

In the last year of his life, Lovecraft recanted many of his racist beliefs. He no longer believed that the Nordic race was the greatest and that Jews were to be feared. He refused to allow republication of a letter stating his various viewpoints from 20 years before because he realized they were wrong and that they sprang from his feelings of failure and inferiority.

He also never allowed those beliefs to hurt others (they were expressed in private correspondence, and he modified them--particularly his religious beliefs--when he was writing to religious people).

One could even speculate that had he not died at 48, he would have continued to modify his beliefs.

If the World Fantasy Convention organizers refuse to recognize a man who contributed so much to the common culture, it reflects their ignorance and intolerance.

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