It is true I hold a soft spot for H. P. Lovecraft; his stories are among those that made me want to write. It is an unfortunate history, then, fraught with caveats; this is the problem:
First, Lovecraft―who wrote “The Call of Cthulhu,” “The Colour Out of Space” and other influential tales of madness and “sentient blob[s] of self-shaping gelatinous flesh”―is one of weird fiction’s most celebrated authors. He is enshrined in the Library of America. Stephen King calls him “the twentieth century’s greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.” The author of the novel “Psycho,” Robert Bloch, once wrote, “Poe and Lovecraft are our two American geniuses of fantasy, comparable each to the other, but incomparably superior to all the rest who follow.”
Second, as Lovecraft’s letters―and, to a lesser extent, his stories―reveal, the guy harbored a fierce loathing for almost all non-WASPs. Blacks were “greasy chimpanzees,” in Lovecraft’s words. French-Canadians were a “clamorous plague.” New York’s Chinatown was “a bastard mess of stewing mongrel flesh.” And so on.
Phillip Eil’s explanation, for Salon, of the final distribution of Howards for the World Fantasy Award does, indeed, follow the gravity of the tale. It only goes downhill from there.
We can try making what excuses we want; he was a misanthrope, he was crazy, he was an extreme product of something whatnot whonow … er … right. It’s possible to do the five stages; I recommend skipping tracks to acceptance. Then again, neither do I know how many of the generation that comes after me even bothered with Lovecraft, so maybe my own years of reflecting on the question really are as useless as they have always felt.
Still, though. Sigh.
No, no, I’m not fretting for the trophies. It’s just, you know, it’s just one of those, This is why we can’t have nice things! feeling. Lovecraft, Koestler, Cosby. Sometimes it just hurts to face up to what all goes into the art we love, y’know?
But it’s true, he was a miserable, sickly, repulsive sort of genius.
Image note: H. P. Lovecraft in undated photo via Wikimedia.
Eil, Phillip. “The ghost that haunts American literature: The genius & the repugnance of H.P. Lovecraft”. Salon. 21 November 2015.