The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft
Foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger
Introduction by Alan Moore
New York: Liveright, 2014
The canonization of Lovecraft continues apace. After Joshi’s definitive texts, the Penguin Classics, the Library of America entombment, and Joshi’s upcoming “variorum” edition (presumably giving us every last textual variant for our academic or geeky pleasure), we now have a more popularly oriented annotated set of selected tales.
An introduction by Alan Moore attributes to Lovecraft, “[A] posthumous trajectory from pulp to academia that is perhaps unique in modern letters.” Well, perhaps not so unique, as I’ve suggested on this site.
Moore then gives us a gently nuanced look at why reading the old bigot still seems necessary today, despite his “problematic stance on most contemporary issues,” defined as “racism, alleged misogyny, class prejudice, dislike of homosexuality, and anti-Semitism.”
I’m not sure why Moore bothers to qualify the misogyny as “alleged,” the language of local TV news readers; I suppose he means to insinuate that the other categories of hate are confirmed. He later adds the sin of immigrant hating, noting that it is supposedly a response to, “The largest influx of migrants and refugees that the immigrant-founded nation had heretofore experienced.” It’s nice that Moore, quite accidentally (note the “immigrant-founded” elbow in the ribs, hypocrite lecteur!), lets slip that the influx was unusually large and “afflict[ed] an extremely broad swath of conventional American society”; therefore, quite possibly worth some well-founded anxiety over the possibilities and consequences of assimilation.
That it may have been well-founded is a function of his virtues as a writer. As I have asserted here many times, the key to Lovecraft’s talents at writing intensely detailed, damnably believable weird fiction — as well as his ability to cock a snoot at our modern shibboleths — was his intense concentration on the real life before him.
So, Moore finds Lovecraft to be “an almost unbearably sensitive barometer of American dread”; his “fears” were “precisely those of the white, middle-class, heterosexual, Protestant-descended males”
It’s remarkable how quickly Moore — who seems like a pleasant enough chap, at least compared to the PC goons that increasingly infest the “fantasy” world — constructs his straw man. Why this unitary figure? Did not feminists like Margaret Sanger despise immigrants and Negroes, and promote birth control — and eugenics — to curb their oppressive numbers? Did not immigrant Catholics and native Negroes, then as now, despise homosexuals?
There may well be considerable numbers of people, then as well as now, to whom the litany of prejudices Moore assigns to Lovecraft are only partly objectionable, making him perhaps only half or two-thirds evil. Can we not pick and choose our own outrages?
It seems as if, the PC worldview being a seamless garment, there must needs be a unitary bogey-man to oppose it. As we’ve speculated before, the problem the Lefty has with imagining his “fascist” opponent is that, between Leftist cultural dominance and self-selection, he doesn’t actually know of any; he must, therefore, fall back on his own resources, delivering an unconscious self-portrait of Liberal Tyranny.
Anyway, this entire hubbub is really beside the point. Consider an example from another part of the canon. David Constantine has commended Goethe for presenting only Werther’s side of his correspondence, subverting the dialogue into monologue and eschewing the supposed advantages of presenting the views and opinions of several participants, as in other epistolary novels such as Clarissa:
We don’t go to novelists for a fair and balanced view of things [that’s for Fox News] but for the felt truth, however partial, of viewing human in particular circumstances.
Or, as Lovecraft himself put it, the imaginative writer
Devotes himself to art in its most essential sense. It is not his business to . . . . point a useful moral, to concoct superficial “uplift” stuff . . . or to rehash insolvable human problems didactically. He is the painter of moods and mind-pictures — a capturer and amplifier of elusive dreams and fancies – a voyager into those unheard-of lands which are glimpsed through the veil of actuality but rarely, and only by the most sensitive. . . . Most persons do not understand what he says, and most of those who do understand object because his statements and pictures are not always pleasant and sometimes quite impossible. But he exists not for praise, nor thinks of his readers. His only [desire is] to paint the scenes that pass before his eyes.
In Lovecraft’s case, those “particular circumstances” are those of what Moore calls “the absolutely average man, an entrenched social insider unnerved by new and alien influences from within.” (Lovecraft an insider? I just that’s his “white privilege” showing up. We’ll see that “insider” come up again.)
Turing now to editor Klinger (who has produced well-received annotated editions of Dracula and Sherlock Holmes), according to his Editor’s Note he has set himself a relatively modest task: first, to provide a glossary of Lovecraft’s obsolete and archaic words, some deliberately so, some simply unfamiliar to modern readers. Second, to provide “historical and cultural background.” And finally, given Lovecraft’s distinctive technique of building his horrors on a background mélange of facts both true and truthy (comparable, Klinger suggests, to Poe’s many hoaxes), he has “attempted to verify Lovecraft’s assertions of fact down to the smallest details and pointed out occasional errors.”
As Klinger describes the results of his labors,
There are over 900 notes and hundreds of photographs, drawings, maps, and illustrations. It’s still almost 380,000 words (that is, I’ve added about 90,000 words to the original text), but there’s so much to say!
Before this Note, Klinger provides a substantial Introduction that gives a history of the weird genre, following much of Lovecraft’s own outline in his Supernatural Horror in Literature, the external events of Lovecraft’s life, the progress of his writing, his philosophy of “cosmicism” and the supposed “Cthulhu mythos,” his posthumous critical reception and his legacy. There’s nothing new here, but it’s a good, relatively brief summary for someone approaching Lovecraft for the first time.
Klinger, of course, has to take his own swing at the racism spitball, saying that Lovecraft was just too stubborn to give it up, even though, “[T]he ‘scientific’ bases for racism and the eugenics that he embraced eroded over his lifetime.” Note, of course, the sneer conveyed by the scare quotes. This is not the language of scientific history but ideological policing; science advances, but no one refers to Newton’s “physics” or Ptolemy’s “astronomy.”
But more interesting is the word “eroded.” It’s an odd word to use in this context. The more usual tone is rather more triumphalist; something like this:
And so the neglected Jewish genius Einstein knocked aside the rotten sticks that propped up Newton’s cozy, capitalist ideology, freeing diversity to express itself in an ever-progressing relativistic universe and demonstrating for all time the stupidity of the “mind” of the goyim.
As usual, the function of the passive voice is to occlude the subject, leaving the insinuation that the process was entirely natural, like water eroding rock. As I’ve argued here before, Lovecraft was right to ignore the “eroding” of the scientific bases of eugenics and “racism” (i.e., racial realism) since the “eroding” was a deliberate conspiracy of Cthulian proportions.
With this and the rise of the National Socialists in Germany, it became clear that White ethnocentrism and group cohesion was bolstered by hierarchic social-Darwinian race theory, and that this was antithetic to Jewish ethnic interests. The overthrow of this theory (and the resultant diminution of white ethnocentrism and group cohesion) was, as Kevin MacDonald points out, an ethno-political campaign that had nothing to do with real science. The “shift away from Darwinism as the fundamental paradigm of the social sciences” resulted from “an ideological shift rather than the emergence of any new empirical data” (CofC, p. 21).
Klinger does, after all, have an interesting idea: as I’ve argued, every intelligent person back then was “racist”; what was actually distinctive about Lovecraft’s racial consciousness (as opposed to being simply an average White American of the time) was that due to his diseased and psychologically fragile parentage and general downward mobility of the family as a whole, there was “grafted onto his consciousness a hostility to virtually all who were not white New Englanders.” That kind of extreme regional prejudice — no Californians, to say nothing of Irish, need apply — does seem purely idiosyncratic, of entirely psychological origin and of no use to contemporary White Nationalists, who can cheerfully reject it.
Perhaps continuing the anti-outsider theme, the selection of 22 tales — supposedly focused on the “Arkham Cycle” — may not be to everyone’s taste. Klinger rightly points out that Lovecraft never imagined any “Cthuhu Mythos” that would justify using that as a principle of selection, but did mention his “Arkham Cycle” based on what I would call “psycho-geography.”
However, that seems to me to be just as arbitrary a principle on which to base a selection of literary works; the results are a grab-bag of the great and the dire. For example, I don’t see any reason to include the whole of the long pulp potboiler “Herbert West, Reanimator” (which Lovecraft himself despised, but it does mention Arkham) other than to appeal to slacker movie fans.
I find it especially odd that such an archetypal and well-studied Lovecraft tale as “The Outsider” is missing, especially since Klinger tells us in his peroration that, “[H]is work speaks to the outsider in many readers.”
The annotations themselves seem good, though I can’t vouch for every note; not too many and not too detailed, but just what the reader needs to help him along from time to time, answering questions that come up and even suggesting ones the reader should consider. One plus is that Joshi’s work is taken as given, but other, more recent scholars are heard from, and sometime Klinger provides his own thoughts; all of which provides for some variety and fresh air in the world of Lovecraftiana.
I’ve already found an excellent note that explains Candlemass Day and identifies it with the American pseudo-holiday Groundhog Day, adding some detail about the Harold Ramis’ film. I’m delighted to contemplate a link between “The Dunwich Horror” with Groundhog Day, and imagine that Bill Murray would have been much better than Bradford Dillman in the movie; Klinger, by the way, provides an appendix charting Lovecraft adaptions to film, radio drama, and role-playing games.
Illustrations are nicely chosen, many in color, from family photos (including Sonia Greene Lovecraft) to the usual public domain documentation, to recent photos of the exteriors of Lovecraft’s New York apartments (even Red Hook looks pretty good these days, and unlikely to inspire the sort of white-knuckled fear and loathing Lovecraft recalls), maps drawn by Lovecraft as well as his fans, covers and vignettes from Weird Tales, and, as a welcome bonus, the illustrations from the Visionary Press edition of “Shadow over Innsmouth,” Lovecraft’s only hardcover appearance in his lifetime.
The Kindle is well-produced, seemingly free of typos, with a table of contents accessible from any page and hyperlinked endnotes (essential, one would think, for such a work). The hardcover is a splendid, large-format book: well-made, moderately priced given its size and quality, with a handsome jacket adorned with Traditional Cthulhu-esque tentacles.
“Additional Material” includes both standard items such as a bibliography and a chronology, along with tables showing Lovecraft’s fictions and revisions, as well as some delightfully loopy things, such as a roster of the “Faculty of Miskatonic University” and a “Genealogy of the Elder Races,” both based on Lovecraft’s own sketches.
All told, this is a welcome addition to the Lovecraft library, suitable for someone wants more editorial help than Library of America provides (and at not much more cost) but less detail than Joshi’s definitive text volumes.
1. I compared the literary reception of Lovecraft to the earlier trials of Henry James, who was as forgotten and mocked after his death as Lovecraft ever was, in “The Princess and the Maggot,” here and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014). I cited Maxwell Geismar’s admittedly idiosyncratic Henry James and the Jacobites, which attempted to combat the “Jacobin” usurpers in the name of a “truly” American literature of left-wing and prole provenance. More recently, Michael Anesko’s Monopolizing the Master: Henry James and the Politics of Modern Literary Scholarship (Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012) has quite innocently documented the deliberately plotted resurrection of James’s reputation by post-war Jewish academics.
2. Since, as Steve Sailer has noted, “racism” is essentially the crime of “noticing things,” writers are particularly at risk of, perhaps inadvertently, falling into crimethink. As the French novelist Richard Millet has said, “One novelist violently attacked me, saying ‘He looks at the color of people’s skin’. . . . I read the real, which hides behind all sorts of simulacra, as Baudrillard would say. And it’s this reading of the real that makes me say that non-European immigration is the most important problem for Europe, especially the Muslim element of immigration.” See his interview here.
3. See my “The Horror! The Horror! Reflections on the H. P. Lovecraft Award” here.
4. Moore lists homosexuals as targets of Lovecraft’s wrath. This may be a PC reflex, since I’m not aware of any disparagement of them in Lovecraft’s stories, although I admit I haven’t read every word of his quite fascinating, and voluminous, correspondence. The fin de siècle ghouls of “The Hound” seem pretty gay, but that’s a function of its parody of 1890s decadent tropes. David Haden’s Walking With Cthulhu: H. P. Lovecraft as Psychogeographer, New York City 1924-26 does note that the Lovecraft Circle met at a coffee shop that was a notorious “pick-up spot” in Greenwich Village, lending new meaning to Lovecraft’s poem to the place:
Here may free souls forget the grind
Of busy hour and bustling crowd
And sparkling brightly mind to mind
Display their inmost dreams aloud
—from “On the Double-R Coffee House” (1st February 1925)
as well as these lines in the contemporaneous New York story “He”: “. . . uncommunicative artists whose practices do not invite publicity or the light of day.” (See my review here).
Neither of which seem more than playful. Lovecraft, of course, was rather odd about sex, even the lawfully married sort, so his views, like Evola’s, are hardly to be taken as serious social prescriptions. In line with the views I’ve been hammering home here and elsewhere, Lovecraft would likely view “assimilated” homosexuals (i.e., respectable Boston types like Ralph Adams Cram [see my “Ralph Adams Cram: Wild Boy of American Architecture” here and reprinted in The Eldritch Evola] rather than outrageous queens like Ronald Firbank) as benignly as he viewed assimilated Jews, like his wife, Sonia, and bosom pal Samuel Loveman.
5. For example, Muriel Spark’s Miss Brody, intended to portray a “fascist,” actually reads like a modern, “progressive” educator. See my “The Fraud of Miss Brodie” here. The idea of past American being consumed with “fear” and “anxiety” is partly explained by this as well; it’s really modern, “sophisticated,” Americans who are, as Charles Hugh-Smith describes them, “Jaded, unwilling to sacrifice comfort and convenience for long-term gain, incapable of honest debate, brimming with resentful excuses, insecure, anxious, fearful, depressed, distracted, self-absorbed. These last seven are of course the key traits of permanent adolescence, the state of arrested development encouraged by consumerism.” Note especially “incapable of honest debate;” PC-infected citizens neither want, nor are capable, of arguing for or against anything, and ironically settle for the lazy idea that “people were afraid of diversity, I guess.”
6. The Sorrows of Young Werther by Johann Wolfgang von Goethe; translated by David Constantine (Oxford: Oxford World’s Classics, 2012).
7. “The Defense Reopens!,” an article later collected in S. T. Joshi’s In Defense of Dagon.
8. “Your stupid minds. Stupid, stupid minds!” — Plan 9 from Outer Space.
9. See “Jews and Race: A Pre-Boasian Perspective, Part 1” by Brenton Sanderson, The Occidental Observer, February 1, 2012, here, and my review of David Haden’s Walking with Cthulhu: “Walk a Mile in Lovecraft’s Shoes” here, where I correlate this to Lovecraft’s persistent focus on facts, both scientific and literary.
10. Well, not quite; there’s plenty of inbred “white New Englanders” at least in the earlier tales, to satisfy any Judaic producer looking for more “white trash” material to dramatize.
11. Greg Johnson has suggested that “What is emerging is a generic white American, with a sense of his interests merely as a white. . . . America may be the place where we recreate the original unity of the white race before it was divided and pitted against itself.” Confessions of a Reluctant Hater (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2010), pp. 12–13. More recently, from the same author: “Europeans constitute a distinct race, the white race. Thus to be French or German or Swedish or Greek or Italian or Irish is also to be white.” — “Vanguardism, Vantardism, & Mainstreaming,” here.
12. The tales are: Dagon, The Statement of Randolph Carter, Beyond the Wall of Sleep, Nyarlathotep, The Picture in the House, Herbert West: Reanimator, The Nameless City, The Hound, The Festival, The Unnamable, The Call of Cthulhu, The Silver Key, The Case of Charles Dexter Ward, The Colour Out of Space, The Dunwich Horror, The Whisperer in Darkness, At the Mountains of Madness, The Shadow over Innsmouth, The Dreams in the Witch House, The Thing on the Doorstep, The Shadow out of Time, The Haunter of the Dark.
13. See Haden’s book, and my review, cited in footnote 9 above.
14. See my three-part discussion of the film here.
15. Though not, of course, as nice as Kevin Slaughter’s tentacle and monocle pattern for The Eldritch Evola.