Here at Weirdfictionreview.com we’ve been thinking a lot about “the weird” since the Weird Tales debacle and in the context of other discussions, like the one about whether H.P. Lovecraft should be the face of the World Fantasy Award. In a sense, this entire conversation is surreal and strange to us because from our perspective the weird has never been something with Lovecraft at the center of it. I know that personally it is frustrating to find readers making a connection between my work and Lovecraft’s when he not only wasn’t an influence, but was a writer who bored me silly when I first encountered him. (When I first won a World Fantasy Award, I didn’t know it was a bust of Lovecraft; I thought it was just a depiction of an ugly ghost.)
This feeling has intensified with Weird Tales having gone from a modern expression of “the weird” under this site’s co-founder Ann VanderMeer…to something that is clearly more conservative. The saddest part of this latter aspect is that Weird Tales often championed unclassifiable strange material; in other words, back in the day the cosmic horror of Lovecraft was something new. (Although let’s also not gloss over the truth: a certain percentage of what they published ranged from competent to mediocre in terms of the execution, and one reason some Weird Tales writers aren’t better known now is that their work was steeped in non-progressive attitudes toward race and other cultures.)
To then conceive of a Weird Tales approach that amounts to nostalgia in the present-day is frustrating, especially given that this nostalgic approach seems unlikely to confront either directly or subtextually those elements of “the weird” that have been at times problematic. Our bewilderment that this pull toward the fetishizing of and yearning for the dead past is still an issue for weird fiction in 2012 is matched only by our belief that this is indeed a golden age for weird fiction. But not in the sense of looking back to a Golden Age. A mode of fiction that eats itself, that becomes cannibalistic, cannot be said to be progressive or innovative in any real sense.
Further, regardless of how you feel about Lovecraft and your position on the views of an author versus what’s found in the fiction itself (we feel this manifests differently in different writers and sometimes from story to story) we hope you might agree with us that the continued adulation for and imitation of Lovecraft is at times detrimental to originality in weird fiction. We believe we tried to say as much by publishing Scott Nicolay’s Dogme 2011 for Weird Fiction. The commodification of Lovecraft could be seen as a useful thing in terms of an entry point for readers, raising the profile of this kind of fiction. But to wallow in Lovecraft, to fetishize Lovecraft, to not acknowledge that for all of the expansiveness of the idea of cosmic horror that there is not also an ironic narrowness of vision and repetitive motion in his work…is to be blind to so many other amazing writers and ideas connected to weird fiction—or at the very least to render discussions about weird fiction less nuanced and complex.
This narrowness speaks to issues of inclusiveness, too. Angela Carter famously wrote that Lovecraft struck her as a perpetual adolescent boy—his fiction full of phallic symbols and devoid of any real female characters. While it’s true that riffing off of Lovecraft has created interesting and enduring work—for example, the fiction of China Mieville and Caitlin R. Kiernan, to name just two powerful and original modern writers who have successfully “cooked” Lovecraft’s influence and moved on—our argument would simply be that, again, the balance is off. The shadow of Lovecraft blots out and renders invisible so many better and more interesting writers. The point isn’t to reject Lovecraft, but to see Lovecraft with clear eyes and to acknowledge that weird fiction should not and simply cannot begin and end with one vision, created by a man who passed away in 1937.
Expressing these thoughts is mostly a way of conveying to readers that we want to emphasize other things. Two specific issues with regard to the weird related to this topic became clear to us in editing The Weird: A Compendium of Strange & Dark Stories. The first is just how many amazing writers of weird fiction have been forgotten or marginalized because of attitudes about realism in fiction, or even within the science fiction & fantasy genres because of being too strange or too imaginative. And so it’s important that in addition to highlighting contemporary authors that we also delve back into the past to reclaim and spotlight those who have become invisible. The second issue has to do with weird fiction from places other than North America, the United Kingdom, and Australia. Weird fiction is an international phenomenon, and this impulse to document the uncanny and the hard-to-define within the context of dark stories can be found in many places and periods. Therefore, it is important as a “non-denominational” source for the weird that we continue to seek out material from around the world. This speaks to rejecting the ubiquity of Lovecraft and the Lovecraftian tradition because there are so many other threads and veins of weird fiction both here and around the globe for which Lovecraftianism is not central. This isn’t to say that Lovecraft hasn’t influenced many non-Anglo writers, or that this influence is a bad thing, but, again, that worshipping at the altar provided by Lovecraftianism can rob us of the ability to appreciate other approaches to story and to character.
Weirdfictionreview.com loves traditional storytelling as much as edgy, transgressive fiction and nonfiction and art, but has no interest in promoting problematic past attitudes or prejudices that have at times been expressed through “the weird.” This doesn’t mean we will shy away from publishing difficult and controversial texts—the very philosophy of the Decadents, for example, who were a key precursor to certain types of weird fiction requires a kind of confrontation of taboos and must be seen in that context—but that we do so from a position of not buying into cliché or stereotype, and with our eyes wide open.
Part of moving past Lovecraft’s influence is also to acknowledge that his definition of “the weird” isn’t as applicable to modern weird—that, in essence, we need a new manifesto, even if it is a fragmented and various one: a kind of anti-manifesto in that the need here is to explore the boundaries, the interstices, as well as the center.
Maps of the world, maps of literature, are not unbiased creations. A map can tell you what the map’s creator valued and did not value. A map can also serve to tell a story in one particular way. Inasmuch as Weirdfictionreview.com is a map of, and a clearinghouse for, weird literature, we would like to tell you that our capital is not Innsmouth, our most prestigious institution of higher learning is not Miskatonic University, and our ruler is not Lovecraft. Indeed, we have no emperor or king or queen, but are ruled by a marvelously diverse cavalcade of voices who separately and in unison tell a tale that is not just one story but many stories, united by an interest in, an obsession with, the unknown and with the numinous and the luminous on the darker side of fiction. Our maps are always in the process of being rewritten, and we do not always know our course, or what we may discover in the process of the mapping…and that’s how it should be.