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Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown

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In any poll of Counter-Currents readers, H. P. Lovecraft (1890–1937) would surely rank high among fiction writers. Thus Lovecraft is a regular feature in these pages. For the uninitiated who want a quick introduction, I recommend you start with Frank H. Woodward’s Lovecraft: Fear of the Unknown (2009), a 90-minute documentary on Lovecraft’s life and work.

Even Lovecraft fanatics like me will find much to enjoy here. There are interviews with leading Lovecraft scholars S. T. Joshi and Robert M. Price, Lovecraft-influenced directors Guillermo del Toro and John Carpenter, and Lovecraft-influenced fiction writers Peter Straub, Ramsey Campbell, and Neil Gaiman, among others.

There are many photographs of Lovecraft and his associates as well as places Lovecraft lived (or perhaps I should say haunted). There are also many images of Lovecraft-inspired art (as well as a gallery in the DVD Extras).

The documentary is well-paced, with suitably creepy music. The narrator who reads from Lovecraft’s writings sounds like he was recorded on an old wax cylinder device, a nice touch which imparts a sense of realism.

The only stupid thing about this documentary is the treatment of Lovecraft’s strident racism and xenophobia. Since these are Lovecraft admirers, their tactic is to historicize Lovecraft, to claim that he was merely a product of his times. The documentary also tries to argue that Lovecraft’s views mellowed over time. If only he had lived long enough, we are asked to believe, he would have become an imbecile.

As evidence, the documentary cites Lovecraft’s marriage in 1924 to Sonia Haft Greene, a Jewess. But the marriage was a failure, and there is no evidence that Lovecraft became any less anti-Semitic due to his marriage. Indeed, I wonder if Sonia herself was a self-hating Jew, which would have given her and Lovecraft another thing in common.

Further alleged evidence is the evident admiration of Lovecraft’s narrator in At the Mountains of Madness for the Old Ones or Elder Things, the aliens who created life on Earth. (One could say the same of the Great Race of The Shadow Out of Time.) As Robert Price points out, however, the Old Ones are hardly equivalent to the immigrants Lovecraft despised. In fact, they are analogous to America’s Anglo-Saxon founders, whereas the Shoggoths who rose up to destroy them are analogous to the immigrant masses, which at the time were seething with Bolshevism.

We hear no more of the thesis that Lovecraft “grew” when the documentary comes to The Shadow over Innsmouth, a novella written in 1931 and published in 1936, the year before his death. The Shadow is a summa of all things racist and xenophobic in Lovecraft’s worldview. It can be read as an allegory about the Jewish subversion of America by appealing to the greed of American plutocrats and to their desire for knowledge of ancient mysteries and the power attendant on such initiation.

But the ultimate horror is the narrator’s realization that he too has been contaminated by foreign blood, that one of his ancestors miscegenated with an outsider, and that the growing power of the alien blood within him is turning his loyalties away from his Anglo-Saxon heritage toward the foreigners. I read this as an expression of Lovecraft’s guilt and horror at his marriage to Sonia, and his relief that the marriage ended without issue.

Aside from the clap-trap about tolerance, which is merely a product of our unenlightened times, I recommend Lovecraft: The Fear of the Unknown. It is a useful introduction to Lovecraft which also offers many pleasures to long-time readers.


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One Comment

  1. Posted March 28, 2011 at 5:57 pm | Permalink

    “The only stupid thing about this documentary is the treatment of Lovecraft’s strident racism and xenophobia. Since these are Lovecraft admirers, their tactic is to historicize Lovecraft, to claim that he was merely a product of his times.”

    This is common tactic, but it is good to point it out.

    I must say that, although Lovecraft and his writings have my sympathy, I find it difficult to classify him as a serious writer.

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