This week marks the 125th anniversary of H P Lovecrafts birth. As you all know by now, Lovecraft is my number one author. As seems to happen around this time every year, the debate over the evident racism in Lovecrafts work has once again raised its ugly head. So let’s analyse this a little.
Call of Cthulu is often used as an example of the Lovecrafts racist views; and on the surface this would seem to be true. Professor Angells death caused after he was “jostled by a nautical looking negro” would, by today’s standards, be seen as horrendously racist. And in fairness, that judgement would probably be right.
Now I have just shown you part of a single line from just one story with absolutely zero context. Now if you read the rest of this particular work and delve a bit deeper, you will start to notice something. What initially seems to be racism is more akin to the agoraphobia that was commonplace within the U.S. at the time. One needs to only look as far as the Chinese Exclusion Act for evidence of the attitudes of the time.
And that is really what it comes down to. We can’t judge the attitudes of 100 years ago by the standards of today. If Lovecraft was alive today and writing, his work would probably be very different. In another hundred years how will our own work be viewed by the people of that time? What we write is a reflection not only of ourselves, but of the times we live in.
So was Lovecraft racist?
Probably; but no more than anybody else of that time. That’s not intended as an apologist statement, just a social observation.