This past Sunday, the World Fantasy Convention presented its last trophy to bear the likeness of H.P. Lovecraft, responding to a petition signed by 2,500 members that criticized the author for being an "avowed racist" who promoted white supremacy and nativism in his fiction and personal life. Despite such support for the change, many Lovecraft fans have taken to social media to protest.
Most vocally, Lovecraft biographer ST Joshi returned his two World Fantasy awards, stating on his blog, “Evidently, this move was meant to placate the shrill whining of a handful of social justice warriors who believe that a ‘vicious racist’ like Lovecraft has no business being honoured by such an award.”
Daniel José Older launched the petition last year, explaining in an interview with the Guardian, “If fantasy as a genre truly wants to embrace all of its fans, and I believe it does, we can’t keep lionising a man who used literature as a weapon against entire races. Writers of colour have always had to struggle with the question of how to love a genre that seems so intent on proving it doesn’t love us back. We raised our voices collectively, en masse, and the World Fantasy folks heard us. Today, fantasy is a better, more inclusive, and stronger genre because of it.”
This discussion needed to happen, obviously, although Joshi should be a part of it. Lovecraft's supremacist and nativist attitudes were normal for white Americans of the early 20th century. For example, the revival of the Klan in 1914 was a mainstream movement, widely accepted among churches and government offices across the nation. As Kelly J. Baker, author of Gospel According to Klan: The KKK's Appeal to Protestant America 1915-1930, explains, the Klan was populated by doctors, lawyers, politicians and preachers at all levels of American society, far from a "fringe" organization.
White Protestant cultural conservatism developed in the 1920s amid what Bill Bryson describes in One Summer: America, 1927 as a complex of concerns including discussions about eugenics, fear of immigration, political isolationism, post-war political strife with Europe, hedonism brought on by a booming economy, Prohibition, declines in church membership and early civil rights and worker's rights conflicts.
Baker succinctly describes the importance of viewing the Klan as mainstream within its historical context: "Analyzing the Klan as a legitimate component of the American conservative movement illuminates the continued presence of intolerance and exclusion in American nationalism and how Protestantism still provides the moral compass to cultural guardians."
This is an uncomfortable truth to be sure. The Klan's enemies were based largely on the concerns of white populations in different regions: Blacks, Jews, Catholics, European immigrants, Hispanic and Chinese laborers, etc. To address these fears of the past is to do so now, and not the result of "smug, self-righteous liberal sacks of sh--" as one fantasy writer categorized it. That can only be the perspective of the self-proclaimed protectors of white nativism, which obviously does not represent the true diversity of fantasy culture.
Lovecraft, writing from 1917-1937 in Rhode Island, was immersed in this burgeoning movement of reactionary white conservatism. His terror of the Other derived from real psychological fear, sometimes stated blatantly, as in his poem On the Creation of Niggers. His likeness should be removed from the World Fantasy award trophy, but fantasy lovers should not turn their backs on Lovecraft. His contribution to fantasy and his place in U.S. history inform us where we now live, and to relegate him to the fringe would be to ostracize the monsters we harbor within us.
Above image from Silberius.
Jamie A. Duncan is author of the forthcoming fantasy series Fire of Norea.