Moving Past Lovecraft

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.

70 replies to “Moving Past Lovecraft

  1. Weird anarchism sounds good to me.

    Lovecraft has become more, to use a loaded term, mainstream, recognizable, and satirized/sanitized. While I appreciate his better writings, I agree that weird fiction (and fantastika of all sorts) needs to mutate and splinter to maintain strangeness and vitality. Lovecraft is an inspiration to many writers but that has lost some power as he and his work have become cultural icons. Ideas become less weird when they are turned into board games and plushies (something I tried to talk about in my piece on Lovecraft awhile back).

    I am in the ambivalent crowd about the use of his visage for a major award.

  2. I love this article. I also found a lot of Lovecraft silly when I first read him. I came to appreciate him more as time went on, and I feel that his idea of cosmic horror is a really interesting contribution to the fabric of the Weird, and bouncing off that idea can sometimes bring about some intriguing fiction. But I’ve never felt that Weird fiction was about Lovecraft. He was just an interesting example of it, among a lot of other writers who were, and are, a lot more interesting.

  3. Steve – that is interesting, in that with ever-more context growing up around him in my reading, I no longer have the same visceral bad reaction I had back in the day. I do still find him hard to read in part because I find the prose to not be alive, if that makes sense. Like, some writers’ prose seems to be alive at the sentence level. His doesn’t to me. But certainly, several writers I really love have been influenced in a good way by him.

  4. I’m permanently wedded to Lovecraft via my first book but I still agree with this, his Mythos now dominates a certain type of fiction to the detriment of contemporaries such as Clark Ashton Smith, and writers whose work he admired, like Hodgson and Machen. The irony is that when he was writing for Weird Tales they never once gave any of his stories a cover feature, despite his growing popularity with the readers.

    My intention when I started illustrating his stories in the 1980s was to try and convey in a serious manner the thrill of otherness that came out of his best fiction; too much of the illustration I’d seen was comical or lightweight. It’s been a disappointment in the ensuing years to see that kind of frivolous attitude become the dominant tone. Is this an American thing? I often feel it is. America seems to deal with the horrific imagination by taming it and reducing its deep and unsettling frissons to a series of cosy tropes: Dracula’s murderous ferocity ends up as the Count on Sesame Street. All those ancient threats from Europe are filtered through Abbot & Costello films and The Munsters until they’re safe enough to be cartoons on cereal boxes. (The cuddlification of zombies is ongoing as we speak.) The same has been happening to Lovecraft’s horrors for the past twenty years. The otherness is still there in the stories – just as it’s still there in Stoker’s Dracula – but some of its thrill is chipped away every time it gets struck by that big dumb hammer of cosiness. It’s one reason why in recent years I keep going back to Hodgson, and forward to writers like Robert Aickman; their work hasn’t been spoiled by being reduced to a series of simplistic generic tics.

  5. That’s a good point about the taming of the strangeness. And when I see your stuff, I feel like it’s original source material or something, if that makes sense.

  6. Ha, thanks. I ought to have also said that much of Lovecraft’s popularity seems to stem from his Mythos – a thing his contemporaries don’t have, although they did contribute to it – and the peculiarities of his personality which makes him easy to caricature. Few writers have a personality/history that’s so distinctive and also inextricably tied to their fiction: Kafka and William Burroughs come to mind. Lovecraft seems to have been a kind of Ur-geek figure for some, the Outsider/small press guy who made good, which is why I presume he ends up as an award statue. That seems odd however when he wrote far more overt horror than fantasy.

  7. I get what you are saying and I agree with it. Weird fiction goes beyond Lovecraft. At the same time, for many of us (I’m talking about international writers and thinking specifically about Spanish-speaking ones), Lovecraft country is a land where we have not traditionally been allowed, where we are just moving into the neighborhood and which we find exciting because it is unexplored territory. It is also, as you say, an easy entry point to a bunch of readers who might not meet us otherwise.

    At the same time, I don’t think a desire for the “good old age” of X does anyone any good since that time period has passed and we have moved on.

  8. Sorry, Bolanos? Do you mean Roberto Bolaño Ávalos?

    The first Lovecraft stories I read were from 1970s translations, so I think he has been easily absorbed into Spanish-reading circles through the years. More easily in Spain and in South America than my own Mexico (most publishing houses translating such material where located in South America or Spain). By the time the 80s rolled in, Lovecraft was being traded around in Mexican literary circles in the north of the country, but he was probably better own in other Spanish-speaking countries. Jorge Luis Borges, for example, for sure read Lovecraft. Roberto Bolaño definitely *knew* Lovecraft (whether he influenced him, I have no idea) because he wrote an essay called “Los Mitos de Cthulhu” (it is a non-fiction essay and Cthulhu has nothing to do with the essay except to maybe maybe an ironic point about the state of Hispanic literature).

  9. I posted on Facebook earlier when you linked there, and said that I absolutely agree with this article, and that’s still true. I’m also enjoying seeing the commentaries here. I would like to point out that as much as the Cthulhu mythos was a big part of what Lovecraft did, he also did a goodly amount of fiction in his dreamlands settings, which were much more like, well, like traditional fantasy and fairytales, but, for me, far more in the vein of the Weird than the works he’s better known for these days. A lot of his works get overlooked because they aren’t so deeply established in the worlds of alien races and an uncaring universe.

    I’ll also say that despite being a fan of Lovecraft’s works, his writing style stymied that affection for a long time. His rhythm is hard to dance to, if you get my meaning. Once I figured out that rhythm, however, it was easier to enjoy the archaic use of the English language that he tended toward.

    All that aside, again, great article, Jeff. It’s given me a good deal to contemplate. Thanks!

  10. Pingback: On Lovecraft’s shadow « TENTACLII :: H.P. Lovecraft blog

  11. Lovecraft for me is an isolated island in the sea of weird possibilities. Its shores call to many but there are plenty more places to go, or to come from. I do like some of the Lovecraftian ideas and even some of the writing but as James says above, it’s not an easy read. Many authors have written better of similar things, although perhaps with less authenticity (if authentic racist bigotry is what you’re aiming for). But their nightmares are different from HPL’s so why should they sail the same waters?

    That said, the insinuation of tentacles across Western culture has put the weird on the map and those who discover Lovecraft might well find other things on the journey.

  12. Pingback: Lovecraft and Writing in Revolt « An Adversary Spills His Guts

  13. I understand that the perception of Lovecraft as the centre of all things Weird can be frustrating. Still, I think his influence, particularly in contemporary media is undisputed. Many readers come to the Weird through Lovecraft, simply because his themes and particular aesthetic is so pervasive. He’s a conduit. And in my mind, an important one.

  14. Lynne: I understand that this post might raise some hackles, but I’m talking about balance, really. I think the reassurance you’re looking for is already in my post.

  15. The uncritical worship of Lovecraft (which is abundant these days) annoys me — particularly in regard to the willingness to overlook or deny his racism, but also in regard to the willingness to overlook his quite-often clumsy dialogue. I think books like THE WEIRD certainly help by casting a far wider net for the weird fiction. The wider we cast the net, the more likely it is we’ll put HPL in his proper context.

    Still, I think HPL’s influence is broader, deeper, and more important than what Jeff suggests. Without HPL we wouldn’t have had Arkham House and all of their contributions to the field. Perhaps more importantly, without Lovecraft we may not have had the fiction of Thomas Ligotti.

    I say this not only because of Ligotti’s comments in interviews that when he was young he wanted to be a writer “in the fashion of Lovecraft”, or that because “The Last Feast of Harlequin” was dedicated to HPL, but also because — more recently — Ligotti spent a fair bit of time discussing Lovecraft’s contributions to the weird in his nonfiction book THE CONSPIRACY AGAINST THE HUMAN RACE. The chapter “Autopsy on a Puppet: An Anatomy of the Supernatural” makes a case that Lovecraft was a key figure in a certain kind of ground-breaking atmospheric approach to horror, an approach which Ligotti champions.

    But then again, maybe I’m guilty of uncritical worship of Ligotti. ;)

  16. Eloquently put, Jeff. I completely agree. I enjoy some of Lovecraft’s work, but confess that I have never been able to finish an entire collection of his (though I intend to eventually). Thank you for championing the work of the many excellent other writers of weird fiction toiling away in this Golden Age of Golden Ages.

  17. Jeff — no hackles on this end :) I will however say that, from an academic perspective, Lovecraft is currently entering a new cycle of discussion alongside, in particular, Poe. I’m confident that new and alternative takes on Lovecraft’s work (and on Lovecraft himself) will continue to be addressed.

  18. Terrific piece, Jeff.

    While Lovecraft remains an influence and inspiration for me, I am in agreement with you about the weird being a truly global literature. That is part of the beauty of this field.

    Even when I am writing a “purely” Lovecraftian story, which I do enjoy, I strive to evoke a sense of the numinous, the cosmic, the awesome, rather than trying to slavishly create something inside the box of his pantheon. And as you point out, Lovecraft certainly did not invent cosmic horror. I think S.T. Joshi’s BLACK WINGS anthologies and Ellen Datlow’s LOVECRAFT UNBOUND contain fresh and interesting supernatural tales that are, in the best sense of the word, Lovecraftian. It’s unfortunate that this brand of Lovecraftian fiction disappoints some of the devotees who complain about a lack of Elder Ones, grimoires, or tentacles. Each to their own, I suppose.

    Personally, I would rather place Lovecraft within the global tapestry of the weird rather than position him at the centre of it.

    Best,
    Richard

  19. Just as a kind of global response to some of these comments: although Lovecraft is at this point an international phenomenon, the centralization is magnified looking at it from a US perspective. And we of course magnify what we write about. If we write about Lovecraft *without knowing what else is out there* then we’re doing everyone a disservice.

  20. I have had a reviewer, at a magazine I will not dignify by naming, call my work “Lovecraft-worshipping tripe.” This incenses me. Lovecraft was only ever a minor demigod to me, not a full-on deity. :) I cannot agree more with those who have posted that Lovecraft would have never wanted to be at the center of anything

    All writers draw from influences vast and various, and the less catholic their tastes/views on literature as a whole are, the richer the canon becomes. Influence is a self-feeding assembly line, but as any toothless, anemic cannibal will tell you, living on one kind of food only does not bode well for any body.

    I own Lovecraft’s whole oeuvre. I first read him when I was about five. But even his own Mythos outgrew his own hands a long time ago, and there are a hundred different things that can be done anywhere near that world, some of which look like his style, and some of which may seek to blow the dust from it, bring it into the modern era, or even in some cases (ie, my “By The Rivers Of Babylon” in Polluto #6) bring the perspective of women and minorities to that lens, for a change.

    Short answer: Lovecraftiana enriches the canon. It cannot, and should not, define its boundaries. IMHO.

  21. I am an obsessed Lovecraft fanboy who writes book after book of Lovecraftian weird fiction. I think, however, it may be time to find a new face for the award, preferably one that pays homage to a genre woman such as Joanna Russ. Of course, Lovecraft does represent, more than many, the main facets of genre writing: he wrote fantasy, horror and pioneering sf. In that respect he certainly deserves huge admiration. Having studied the acutely intellectual studies of E’ch-Pi-El’s Works by such writers as Robert H. Waugh, S. T. Joshi, and essays by Thomas Ligotti, Robert Bloch and others, convinces me that Lovecraft is a great writer. His grotesque racism has always been a painful point for me (personally so because of my Jewish heritage), but while I may think HPL does not deserve to be on a postage stamp because of his racism, I think it is a fascinating and potent component in his writing. HPL has given me my life as an author, a life that brings me so much keen and nameless joy. For that I am eternally and eldritchly grateful.

  22. I’ve read Lovecraft since I was a kid, & yes, his writing has influenced me, but I’ve also read anyting else I can get my hands on and many of those have equal if not greater influence. I’m not sure you could really describe Lovecraft as an outstanding writer (except, maybe, for his letters). His tedious prose and long-winded archaic sentences drives me to distraction — yet. Yes. I think he did something to enrich a field so that cosmic horror comes into play in so many genres and media — not merely the fantasy area. He is amongst others who have helped place ‘the weird’ within the common as well as the academic realm, and I think that’s a good thing. But the ‘worship’? Erk. No. Never been there. I get annoyed with pastiches and people writing merely with some of his greeblies instead of taking cosmic horror to be the flip side of cosmic wonder.
    For me, his reading of the earth itself is what is fascinating, not his characters which tend to be a wee bit cardboard-ey at best.
    He drew on fascinating influences himself and like others, I find Machen, Blackwood & Hodgson a tad more disturbing, but as part of the tradition, Lovecraft deserves honour. He did something different with it — even if even some of that was at least a little derivative. But no, not deification! Uh uh. So, can understand the annoyance. But I will say that Lovecraft himself would probably be utterly gobsmacked by it all :-)

  23. I’m just happy commenters are not seeing this as an attack or polemic.

  24. I recognize that Lovecraft has become the go-to ‘face’ of the Weird due to his influence and increased public profile over the last few decades. I’m neither pleased or displeased by this fact; it’s just the way things (currently) stand. The genre is a slippery and elusive thing and resists attempts at definition and easy categorization, if it’s even a genre at all as that in itself is debatable. You know it when you see it and Weirdness is in the eye of the beholder.

    As is often the case with creative people, Lovecraft’s personal neuroses fed into his art and without them he would’ve been a very different writer. Writ large, his intense and reflexive xenophobia gave birth to the Mythos with its ideas about hostile forces threatening the order of things from the outside, and we can be thankful for that. However, this same irrational fear alas gave rise to a number of disgusting sentiments being expressed elsewhere in his body of work towards certain ethnicities — and let’s not forget the issue of his misogyny; it’s perhaps a merciful relief that he tends to avoid having female characters featured in his stories so we are spared much of what would’ve been his opinion toward them. Now, it can be argued that Lovecraft was his own worst enemy and that the attitudes arising from his mental state did greater damage to himself in his personal life than to any of unfortunate readers given offence — but this only goes so far; what he set down in writing cannot be excused.

    Nnedi Okorafor is a writer of African descent and has an interesting blog-post about her ambivalent feelings regarding her World Fantasy Award statuette, featuring as it does the visage of Lovecraft. I’m sure many to read this post and comment on it are aware of this post already. For what its worth, I think the appearance of the award should be altered. I do not think this equates as an act of censorship per se. It’s just a decent and a long overdue step to take.

  25. When I first read Lovecraft, in my forties, I found his mythos interesting and his cosmic horror perspective revealing. Yet I could not help but make the connection to Poe, claimed by Lovecraft as his master. In the end I agree with Borges’ assessment of the gentleman from Providence, “…a writer who I have always considere an involuntary parodist of Poe.” (My translation.) Borges wrote “There Are More Things” in his honor, and moved on.
    To obsess on Lovecraft is doing him a disservice. It would be like having a science-fiction review obsess on H.G. Wells with pastiches of his works.

  26. When I first read Lovecraft, in my forties, I found his mythos interesting and his cosmic horror perspective revealing. Yet I could not help but make the connection to Poe, claimed by Lovecraft as his master. In the end I agree with Borges’ assessment of the gentleman from Providence, “…a writer who I have always considered an involuntary parodist of Poe.” (My translation.) Borges wrote “There Are More Things” in his honor, and moved on.
    To obsess on Lovecraft is doing him a disservice. It would be like having a science-fiction review obsess on H.G. Wells with pastiches of his works.

  27. I have always thought of Lovecraft as a great ‘idea man’ but his execution never grabbed me. His dialogue aside (which I cannot abide as a reader), I think the main reason I am unable to just dive into his fiction is that it seems the cosmic scale of his subject matter should be balanced by a more direct and understated prose, a la’ Hodgson (whose work I find much more believably ‘atmospheric’).

  28. I’ve never encountered anyone who worships Lovecraft uncritially, nor have I encountered anyone who’s chosen to ignore his racism. The subject has been given more than enough attention from a variety of very intelligent writers (S.T. Joshi and Michael Houellebecq spring to mind).

    Lovecraft is a very important figure in weird literature, though I wouldn’t say he’s the one and only. He’s simply one of the most recognizable, and, I think, one of the clearest visionaries.

  29. As a Rightist, I’ve always found the conflation between “Non-Progressive” and “Stale” problematic. It’s a false choice, & like most false choices, it’s there to support biases of one sort or another. Most of us are at least somewhat aware of Rightwing Modernists ( I’d include Lovecraft somewhere within earshot of these authors, btw). I see no reason why a work couldn’t be utterly repugnant in it’s socio-politics to a Leftist ( “Progressive”= “New, good.”) and not be something a) Good and b) utterly novel .

    I don’t see the Weird Tales “debacle” involving Conservative, or Rightist elements. Being not-sufficiently Politically Correct doesn’t make one a de-facto Reactionary*. It could be a kind of tone-deafness, poor taste, etc. That the author of the book has claimed her intentions were “anti-racist” points me toward believing she’s actually trying to be “progressive” in terms she understands. She’s failed of course, but the real problem to the Progressive lies in her writing a book that looks racist. Such is the monolithic nature of Progressivism in all forms of literature today. After all, there is nothing innately offensive about speculation about a future in which white people might be an oppressed minority. That could play out in many, many ways.Offense at the very concept suggests a belief that either a) White people are so amazing that they could never fall so far, or b) Westerners are particularly, pathologically evil; that no other race of people is capable of doing anything like the “evil” we’ve done.
    The only relationship the “debacle” has to the Lovecraftian tradition is that it also makes Leftists & egalitarians feel icky.
    So what is being posited here is that Progressives feeling about what they’re doing, and what “we” are doing trump actualities . It’s hard not to read as a kind of in-group affirmation; it’s waving a flag, directing troops toward one territory while seeking to let opponents ( proponents of ickiness) that, well, they just aren’t cool.

    So how do we be cool? This Progressive dogma demands we disavow the clear, obvious Western Heritage of Weird Fiction in the hope of…well, what exactly? That by severing ourselves from the ickiness of old dead white guys who weren’t sufficiently guilt-laden & self-hating we’re making “room” for others? Does anyone know of an editor working anywhere in genre fiction that wouldn’t jump at the chance to publish work by “marginal” ( i.e, not among the 4.5% of the worlds population that we call White Males.) Or is it that Westerners won’t read Lovecraft and feel inspired to participate in something they feel cultural kinship with, but will instead read an Aboriginal folk tale and create something sufficiently “Progressive”?
    But yes, maybe if we just try to feel like we aren’t Westerners we will win the approval of a wise woman writer, thereby contributing to paying off some quantitative debt , to , uh, somebody or other. (btw, I wonder if she’s ever written a good Conservative White guy, or if her work has been called “too vaginal”.)
    The irony, of course, is that this urge to create a universal space in which the bad kinds of ickiness are forbidden is an essentially Western phenomenon. It’s as essentially Western ( read: White, European) as the Weird Tale itself. Other cultures simply do not feel this pathological need to apologize for being successful. ( Maybe they don’t have such an exaggerate sense of their importance & thereby don’t attempt to create universal systems ( Christianity, Secular Humanism) to be foisted upon others. )
    The cognitive dissonance Lovecrafts’ Rightism causes among “Progressives” leads to these attempts at sanitization, these affirmations of a “new direction”, that even an author who doesn’t claim direct Lovecraft heritage wants to make happen.We still want the savages to find “enlightenment”, it seems. Not because their beliefs or behaviors effect us directly, but because it makes us feel bad.

    I don’t feel bad. We should be absolutely unashamed of any connection to Lovecraft. We should be grateful that we get to participate in this great Western Culture that has produced the Weird Tale. For all the contorted apologetics and the icky feelings, most of you are of and by the West. All the “marginal” folks you wish to champion aren’t going to think of you as anything but; most of you are going to end up old, white & dead too, remember. You should be thankful.

    I wish the publisher of Weird Tales would publish radically Rightwing works.

  30. I think you’re more responding to the stuff I linked to. My main points are more general.

  31. I don’t understand why you aren’t telling us how I’m wrong. I don’t believe I was disrespectful, and obviously I think my critique is coherent . What’s the deal?
    I can’t help but think the cold-shoulder illustrates pretty well who is truly being marginalized . I guess some are more equal than others in these “Progressive” spaces…

  32. I’m not being disrespectful in reply. I just think you’ve missed the point of what I said, preferring to focus on peripheral material I included links to.

  33. Here’s what I think you wrote, paragraph by paragraph. This is what I believe I responded to in my initial comment.

    paragraph 2: Weird Tales has gone from being good (“unclassifiable”, “modern”) to something bad (Conservative).

    p3: The new Weird Tales is Nostalgic , because it’s “conservative”, so it won’t do the Progressive thing and won’t “confront” what is “problematic”, i.e, not being suitable “Progressive”.

    p4: Continued adulation of Lovecraft is hindering progress. “Originality” is equated with not being of “the dead past”, i.e Conservative. We don’t want these new readers to get funny ideas about not being “Progressive” by over-valuing Lovecraft.

    p5: We can like Lovecraft, but being Conservative makes some people feel bad. Be Progressive.

    p6: We’re letting you know that we’re going to publish suitable “Progressive” writers ( or at least ones that make us feel “Progressive”)

    p7: We’re not going to publish anything that fails to treat ideas we don’t like as “problematic”. We will publish stuff influenced by old dead white guys, but the ones that “confront” the “taboos” we’d like to see “confronted , i.e, we’ll publish old stuff if we think Rightists, Traditionalists, Non-self-hatingWesterners, Religious People, etc. might be made to feel icky by it. The right old dead white guys, basically.

    p8: Let’s pretend what we call “Weird Fiction” has no definite history, and, like those jerks who (almost) published the book that looks really racist but isn’t, we want to distance ourselves from it. Not that it exists in a way that “applies” to anything a decent, interesting person might want to write about today.

    p9: We’re a bunch of White Westerners who feel really bad about that fact. Can we pretend we’re not operating in a white Progressive echo chamber and find some black or brown people ( who meet our “Progressive” criteria, of course.) to publish? Or is just saying it enough to convince ourselves that we’re the overseers of a magical rainbow of views/ethnicities? Do we all feel good (“progressive”) yet? Can I go back to worshipping Kafka ( the other white meat) now?

  34. — My notepad autocorrected “suitably” to “suitable”.You’ll just have to guess which goes where, I suppose.

  35. And here’s my reply, although I’m not going to reply to everything because you’ve stacked the deck with interpretations that are clearly not interpretations so much as provocations.

    paragraph 2: Weird Tales has gone from being good (“unclassifiable”, “modern”) to something bad (Conservative).

    ****I said Weird Tales had gone back to its original mandate, to publish unique fiction. The new ownership is interested in a nostalgia-fest, a Disney-fied, trapped-in-amber approach. I never used the word “Conservative” in that paragraph.

    p3: The new Weird Tales is Nostalgic , because it’s “conservative”, so it won’t do the Progressive thing and won’t “confront” what is “problematic”, i.e, not being suitable “Progressive”.

    *****This is a distortion as I don’t believe in didactic fiction. Nor did I indicate that this is the sole or even the most important job of any publication.

    p4: Continued adulation of Lovecraft is hindering progress. “Originality” is equated with not being of “the dead past”, i.e Conservative. We don’t want these new readers to get funny ideas about not being “Progressive” by over-valuing Lovecraft.

    *****Equating “dead past” and “Conservative” is part of your problem. I never said that second sentence you’ve put in my mouth re “We don’t want these new readers…”. What I was getting at is that continuing to be influenced unduly by Lovecraftian fiction might lead to stale approaches.

    p5: We can like Lovecraft, but being Conservative makes some people feel bad. Be Progressive.

    *****I don’t even know what to say to this.

    p6: We’re letting you know that we’re going to publish suitable “Progressive” writers ( or at least ones that make us feel “Progressive”)

    *****Nope. That’s not at all what I said. In fact, what I said had a lot of nuance to it and shades of gray.

    p7: We’re not going to publish anything that fails to treat ideas we don’t like as “problematic”. We will publish stuff influenced by old dead white guys, but the ones that “confront” the “taboos” we’d like to see “confronted , i.e, we’ll publish old stuff if we think Rightists, Traditionalists, Non-self-hatingWesterners, Religious People, etc. might be made to feel icky by it. The right old dead white guys, basically.

    *****Sigh. Well, if by ideas we don’t like, you mean racist ideas, then, yes. As for the rest of it, you’re entirely scraping your own distorted and odd interpretation out of the post.

    p8: Let’s pretend what we call “Weird Fiction” has no definite history, and, like those jerks who (almost) published the book that looks really racist but isn’t, we want to distance ourselves from it. Not that it exists in a way that “applies” to anything a decent, interesting person might want to write about today.

    *****To the first part, no that’s not what we’re saying. We’re saying that the history as portrayed is incomplete. And for the rest, I cannot respond to a statement that in the first sense scrambles what I said and in the second applies your own point of view almost in another language.

    p9: We’re a bunch of White Westerners who feel really bad about that fact. Can we pretend we’re not operating in a white Progressive echo chamber and find some black or brown people ( who meet our “Progressive” criteria, of course.) to publish? Or is just saying it enough to convince ourselves that we’re the overseers of a magical rainbow of views/ethnicities? Do we all feel good (“progressive”) yet? Can I go back to worshipping Kafka ( the other white meat) now?

    ******The sarcasm is such that at this point I can’t help but think you’re a troll. I don’t feel bad about who I am – it’s a significant troll development on your part that I even have to state this. And it’s entirely possible to promote all kinds of complex and nuanced work from all over the place – great stories, period.

  36. Look, if you’re not interested in responding in good faith, there’s nothing that can be accomplished here. You wrote that you couldn’t respond to my initial comment because I wasn’t focusing on what you wrote. I was. It was clear that I was. I tried to make it even more clear by writing the paragraph-by-paragraph breakdown, which was meant to help explicate my first comment. The point was for you to re-read the first after reading the second, and to respond to that, not to interpret the second as a reason not to deal with the first.

    If you don’t want to deal with any of it, that’s perfectly ok. I feel I’ve made my point, but I’m in no way a troll & have done nothing remotely trollish. If anything, your cold shoulder and feigned bemusement read like attempts to fish for trollish responses.
    I really liked this website. I have problems with your piece here, obviously, but I thought it could be discussed ( and, please, the sarcastic tone is so obvious and hardly mean. I think it would’ve been met with a different response were I in agreement with you.) in a constructive way. I’m getting the oh so “inclusive” message that I’m not wanted here & I defy anyone reading this exchange to disagree.
    You want to have your cake and eat it. You want to feel “inclusive” & “Progressive” as long as it includes those who agree with you about what “Progress” means.That’s your Progress.. How safe, how boring. I have real weirdness to seek out. Good night.

  37. What we have here is a failure to communicate. When you put words in someone’s mouth and when you do not attempt to understand the meaning of what they said but instead impose your own template of meaning and your own ideology, and make certain words mean something else, then I don’t know what to say to you. You are making clacking sounds that are alien to me and you’re expecting me to (1) buy into *your* terminology in an analysis of something *I* wrote and (2) agree to discuss “interpretations” of my post that twist it out of all comprehension – i.e., you want me to respond to arguments I did not make or did not make in that context or with the word choice you imposed on them (which makes all the difference in the world).

    Weirdfictionreview is devoted to all kinds of nuanced, difficult, experimental, and at times transgressive material. Straight-up stupid expressions of racism as Lovecraft has expressed in some of his stories or Robert E. Howard has in some of his stories *are not that thing*. In other words, *you* are arguing for nuance-less, sometimes half-inarticulate bullshit. While I’m arguing for something more complex. Not something simpler, and not some politicized bullshit. The choice isn’t between championing problematic racism or publishing dishwater dull progressive political tracts. You can decide not to champion racism and stupidity *and* champion very complicated, deep, layered, disturbing fiction.

    If I am now sounding mad, it is because I am. You’re trying to turn something complex into something stupidly simplistic by straining it through your own ideological bent. In other words, we don’t live in a binary world.

    I’m glad you’ve enjoyed the site in the past. Nothing in my post contradicts the kinds of material we have offered up on Weirdfictionreview.com. I hope you’ll continue reading, but I also hope you’ll come to realize that you did not embark on a useful path to criticizing this post.

  38. I’m not asking you to “buy into” my analysis, I’m asking you tell me (if you’re going to respond at all) what you believe to be incorrect about it. My take on your text is not difficult, not strained, not twisted out of all comprehension.
    I no where argued that “straight-up stupid expressions of racism” should be published here. What makes you think I’d want such a thing? You’re being completely insulting.You’re projecting all kinds of bile here & reveals a clear bigotry ( Is that what Rightist means to you? “Racist”? What do you mean by “Racist”, anyhow? ) What makes you think I’m arguing for “nuance-less” work? Lovecraft’s racialism was expressed bluntly here and there, but his racial consciousness, his identity as a Westerner and as a New Englander of a very specific caste informed his work in a deep, total way. You can’t parse the two. It’s this sense of being a part of a living, vital and remarkable culture that opened the door for the very creation deep, meaningful, nuanced & experimental work .I see no reason why contemporary writers shouldn’t follow suit, or why you seem to imagine that works in this tradition would be simple, or not “complex”.It isn’t “dead” because you say it is.Such a thought requires an almost willful lack of imagination.
    In fact, the majority of contemporary works that can be called “Weird Fiction” are derived from this tradition, and thereby a continuation of it. You can’t simply ask that we pretend this is not the case so that your tortured notion of “inclusivity” ( what does that even mean? ) can take hold.
    I’m not trying to rejigger the concept of the Weird Tale to fit my ideology. That is precisely what you’re doing.
    I read many writers who’s socio-politics I find loathsome ( Mieville, for example. Universalist Materialist ideologies are extremely Western, incredibly White.). I’m not arguing for the exclusion of writers , or ideas, that make me feel icky, you are.

    And really, no one is publishing Rightist-informed Weird Fiction anyway! Those of a Rightist bent are less likely to embrace the ethos of contemporary lit , or to deny those thoughts so they might be a part of what’s going on. There is no cultural space for Rightist* literature today. You’re quite clearly on the side of the dominant forces in literature & publishing. I see nothing new in aping the socio-politics of soft-serve-Marxist professors, circa ’72. That anyone over thirty allows themselves to feel like they’re being cutting-edge by embracing it is embarrassing.
    Is that difficult enough for you?
    Fight the power.

    *Do I need to tell you that I’m not talking about being a Republican, or what people call “Conservative” today?

  39. Really, it seems like you can’t imagine a creative space that isn’t Left-encoded.
    Final thought.
    Good night & take care.

  40. Oh, that’s such bullshit. I like any number of writers who in their personal politics are not leftist. And the site will continue to publish work from a variety of writers who I have no idea as to their personal politics, nor do I care.

  41. Well, coming in after Uland K’s downright confusing posts I feel like what I have to say will hopefully be more clear and, heh, a criticism from the progressive side. Perhaps my criticism of the Weird will prove you’re not a closet Marxist Jeff? :-)

    I love this site, and the book, but one thing that does trouble me about the Weird is the tendency to associate that which is evil with those who are deformed or suffer from physical characteristics that deviate from the classic idea of aesthetics. It actually makes me wonder if the Weird, by doing this, ends up being a reactionary force that supports the traditional associations of beauty with Good, ugliness (as defined by a dominantly Western view) with Evil?

    And don’t worry, I won’t ragequit the site if you disagree with me or think I’m completely off my rocker. :-)

  42. I think you do see that thread running through some Weird stories, without the authors attempting to do something with it (like, comment on that issue). But then you also see it runnning through literature at large. And then the other thing is…very few Weird narrators or protagonists come off as shining examples of humanity, since so many are obsessed or driven, etc. So you are often dealing with unreliable narrators who you don’t in their entirety trust or agree with anyway.

    But there’s also that thread of the Weird that’s saying the “grotesque” is beautiful, that is pushing against what you’re talking about. I think a lot of the weird art columns Nancy Hightower has been posting speak to this quite clear.

    Thanks for the interesting question. It might be worth an essay here in the future, too.

  43. Thanks for the reply Jeff. I definitely agree the physical form enjoys a complex relationship with the Weird, and I did enjoy the article on the Grotesque.

    I also like the recent article on the Philippines, The Weird has definitely become my favorite SFF sub-genre with Ann and you at the helm. :-)

    I look forward to the coming article.

  44. Thank you for getting this thread back on track, Saajan. You raise a good point about the difficulties inherent in much of the Weird. I too have been thinking recently about the problems arising from the process of ‘othering’ in horror fiction. Clearly there has to be something experienced there as strange to be felt, to be reacted to. Where you point towards the physically irregular, I’ve been considering the same when it comes to the mind. If one wishes to be touchy about these things, the portrayal of that reliable old standby of the schizophrenic or the otherwise deranged antagonist in many stories could be considered problematic; ‘mad’ characters being habitually presented as both unsympathetic and unrealistic to what we know, objectively, to be the case with real-world mental illnesses. I would say that it is problematic when you consider such work as liable to reinforce existing fears and prejudices but it’s not when one considers that the main point of this type of fiction is to strike a chord with the hind-brain, which has no truck with logic or reason, and is engaged with while our higher faculties of cold rational sense are purposefully relaxed. (The cry ‘It’s only make-believe’ has merit after all.)

    What I’m trying to get at here is that I think the most effective tales do trade in an element of fear-based response which is primal but can be acknowledged as ignorant and unfounded on a deeper (which is to say it takes more time for the mind to process from a neurological standpoint) level of thought. Of course, we know we have nothing to fear from the strangers we encounter 99.99% of the time, yet still we react with a frisson of terror, evolutionally beneficial, indispensable even, should bump into one in the black of night in unfamiliar environs. It benefits Weird/horror fiction to play up the level of danger posed by the unknown although writers run the risk of slurring the unfamiliar groups involved: maybe these representatives of the class below my own (rednecks for example) or that above my own (the Old World aristocracy) really DO have a nefarious purpose? Maybe this exotic group (Haitians, East Europeans) DO wish to sacrifice me, to drain away my blood? It’s a complex issue.

    I do not think that to say writers must be aware of this tension between exploiting stranger-danger fears and not validating them has anything to do with one’s politics. Being a ‘Progressive’ or a ‘Leftist’ doesn’t come in to it. We’re all, or most of us, simply more aware today of what used to be considered mysterious, unknown qualities of those who are not, superficially, like our own selves. (And a good thing it is too, surely.) I guess the answer to these difficulties is that authors just have to move with the times and write better, rise to the nuances and acknowledge and embrace life’s modern complexities.

    Now, as to the World Fantasy Award statuette issue, clearly something has to be bestowed but I see no reason why the trophy has to be in anybody’s likeness. Leaving aside Lovecraft’s poisonous poetry and attitudes, he is too small — however much you rate his work and his influence — to encapsulate an entire field of literature, one to have spawned sub-genres within sub-genres. Nobody is large enough to do that. The problem is what to have in his stead? Were one to contemplate creating an alternative to the current icon, what could possibly suffice? I admit I’d be interested to see what an artist of the calibre of John Coulthart would come up with.

  45. Thanks, Greg. It’s a design problem for which Lovecraft’s head isn’t the ideal solution even beyond his contentious reputation. You couldn’t tie an award as wide-ranging as this to any one writer since fantasy is a very broad field which no single figure can adequately represent. The Hugo Award is the model to follow, that rocket is a great symbol which immediately says “science fiction” whilst having a sleek Brancusi-like appearance. Finding an equivalent symbol doesn’t seem as easy for the same broad field reasons as above: what symbol connects Tolkien, Bruno Schultz, Lafcadio Hearn and Angela Carter? (Don’t say a pen. And anyway, Angela Carter used a typewriter.)

    Offhand I’d suggest a chimera but this shows my bias as a teratophile and lover of the grotesque. The OED definitions of chimera suit The Weird but may be a bit too one-sided for fantasy:

    1. a.1.a A fabled fire-breathing monster of Greek mythology, with a lion’s head, a goat’s body, and a serpent’s tail (or according to others with the heads of a lion, a goat, and a serpent), killed by Bellerophon.

    b.1.b Any fish of the family Chimæridæ; = rabbit-fish. (Cf. chimæroid a.)

    2.2 In Painting, Arch., etc. A grotesque monster, formed of the parts of various animals.

    3.3 fig. with reference to the terrible character, the unreality, or the incongruous composition of the fabled monster: a.3.a A horrible and fear-inspiring phantasm, a bogy.

    b.3.b An unreal creature of the imagination, a mere wild fancy; an unfounded conception. (The ordinary modern use.)

    c.3.c An incongruous union or medley.

    d.3.d Biol. [ad. G. chimäre (H. Winkler 1907, in Ber. d. Deut. Bot. Ges. XXV. 574).] An organism (commonly a plant) in which tissues of genetically different constitution co-exist as a result of grafting, mutation, or some other process.

    So, if not a chimera then (offhand again) I’d suggest something from MC Escher, one of his spheres of nested animals, perhaps, or his Moebius strip, or that print of the interpenetrating planetoids turned into a sculpture. The trouble with this kind of suggestion is the inevitable copyright issues. (And forget the Moebius strip, I just looked and there’s a design award already that uses one.) That kind of idea: a visual conundrum or improbability that’s as simple and striking as the Hugo rocket.

  46. John – useful thoughts about the award. I totally agree Lovecraft’s likeness just doesn’t cover the breadth of stuff out there.

    Greg – I’d argue that the best weird stories embrace the unknown and that they are coming from a perspective of favoring the unknown over the known. That they are arguing the unknown is misunderstood or that human ideas of intent are irrelevant in the face of the unknown. So I’d have to push back against your theory for the most part.

  47. And, further, that the issue is not central to another strand of weird fiction as well.

  48. John – I like the Chimera idea. I’d say it has the edge over any other form of mythic beast, it’s more evocative of the notion of fantasy as a whole. (And if not that, then perhaps the image of a Golden Ass?)

    Jeff – I do agree; I see now that what I claimed does apply to a very limited stand of the Weird.

  49. Nice post. I am a fan of HPL — I “met” him when I was 13, in Italy. I have to admit that he really has a literary cult dedicated on worshiping him, a sort of Church of Lovecraftology. Even as a reader it is difficult to separate HPL from the idea of the weird tale. Somehow, I expect Lovecraftian works more often than I should.
    Who is to blame? The reader, always expecting HPL and his style, or the editor, always trying to sell a “safe product”?

  50. I think that your article brings up valid points on the redundant and obsessive images and flow within Lovecraft’s prose but what you have to admit is that the power that holds his literary approach together lies in the fantastic and intrinsic weave of his outrageous and entertaining conspiracy theories. His power of repulsion is based on the sense that you never really know whether or not he might be lying to you and eventually, if you are a devotee, you fall into his web. I am constantly rereading his work because cannot help but be fascinated with his preposterous fabrications that all seem to tie together into one single story when you read them with a global attitude.I myself am a writer of what I would rather call “American Gothic”, rather than what you seem to term as “New Weird” as I am more fascinated with the locked desire for self punishment and the foreboding the anticipation of of the final stroke horror within the subjective view of whatever character’s POV I am creating. I also find interest in using poetry as technique and alternative to the merely prosaic. Below is a sample of a very short piece that uses poetry to codify the typical plot of a typical B grade horror movie. My personal creative methodology most importantly comes from the poetic voice. When I write a short story or novel (yes, I have written one novel so far and about 40 short stories in the last couple of years) if use the same approach. The meaning is both universal and contained as the beginning always leads to perceived end. Many times I will think of a title first and with in that germ of a title I might have the beginning and end, but the challenge of finishing a piece is to create the experience for what happens in the middle, for instance I have one very short story entitled “The Liquid Ate Her: there is no surprise as to what happens at the end in this story now is there? The true excitement in a piece such as this is how I get to that pint and what it means by the time I get there. This is the delight in the process of writing. Moreover, I feel Lovecraft’s approach to the creation of conspiracy theory is something that affects me intrinsically as an artist but his elaborations are something that I am not interested in recreating unless they already exist organically in my approach to subject matter of whatever horrific tale I am composing. Does that
    make sense to you? I hope you enjoy the short piece below and look forward your thoughts in response to my pose.

    Harry Fell on a Chainsaw

    Harry fell on a chainsaw
    It was a damned disgrace.
    He cut off half an arm,
    And the left side of his face.

    I thought I heard him screaming
    In the barn the other day.
    I had to plug my ears
    Before I turned away.

    Did you ever run from a tractor?
    Or follow the trail of broken corn?
    If you find the talking scarecrow,
    You will know why you were born.

    Harry hung on a crucifix;
    He was talking to the sky.
    His tongue was turning circles.
    He only had one shifty eye.

    The cat that scratched the farmer
    Had died two days ago;
    He ate a hole inside a cow,
    Then he got vertigo.

    If you ask me why I left,
    I have but one reply,
    “Harry fell on a chainsaw,
    He was my favorite guy.”

    Mddorsey012712

  51. Pingback: Interview with Helen Marshall « Speculating Canada: Canadian Horror, Science Fiction, and Fantasy

  52. Pingback: Waging War over the Weird: « pstdarkness

  53. My take is that White Liberal Guilt is at such a all time high, that anytime you see someone expressing it, You should punch him/her in the nose so they will feel better.

    Course it’s much more about ego then justice. Being one of hundreds of millions has a way of making one feel insignificant and finding something that helps you stand out against the faceless masses is something inherent in most. Course it really adds up next to nothing unless you add Good(thats Me) and Evil(Thats you) into the mix.

    This is just basic psychiatry. Pot calling the kettle black etc that America has boiled down to meaningless political stances except that it is all Pervasive.

    There are a million of examples why Liberals are just as Pathetic as Republicans and Democrats. But people do rather point the finger at others then at oneself.

    The Unexamined Life is not worth living.
    But if you look to deep, you’ll end up killing yourself anyway.

    P.S. Censorship is the first refuge of the Coward!

  54. And another word, Jeff U have made a career of Weird Fiction.
    Weird Fiction and Weird Tales are as synonymous in English Speaking Countries as say, Jesus and the New Testament.

    And Lovecraft is the face of Weird Tales. If you wish to feel better to distance yourself from him because of his racist views, Then do so but you shouldn’t feel like congratulations are in order.

    Maclolm Shabbazz isn’t celebrated today for the man that refused his Glory and Racist Behavior, Nor is he celebrated for the man who attended masses with all races and renounced the racist he was and the power that went along with it.

    He is Celebrated today as Malcolm X, the bigot who was out for #1.

    Do you think any awards in his racist name should be something to scoff at(its a legit question)
    Do you feel ashamed or guilty to travel down streets named after a racist and upset that the man he became was shot down by his own people and is not celebrated for his immense sacrifice.

    I imagine you see his admitted racist self as something justified and natural, something to be tolerant of. Now compare it to some other things you believe and search for the hypocrisy that lies in all men(and women)

    A Lie is Truth and the Truth are Lies to people with different perspectives.

    Half Truths are the measures by which 99% of the people live.
    And never the two shall meet and exchange views that could make one whole.

    The Whole Truth is the Grail of the age(and the age never ends)

    Anyway. If you think you know, then you don’t.

    Believe non of what you hear, and half of what you see.

    If you vote for someone you don’t even know. Well you might as well vote for Bugs Bunny.

    Thats it Baby!

  55. I cannot think of someone in the weird tales tradition who has written better stories and has been more influential than Lovecraft. As simple as that. Sorry many of you can’t yet understand the depth of his works. But luckily he has a place in the history of literature.

  56. Pingback: 30. Cosmic Horror | Radish

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