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New Notes on The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft

[1]4,119 words

The New Annotated H.P. Lovecraft: Beyond Arkham
Foreword and notes by Leslie S. Klinger
Introduction by Victor LaValle
New York: Liveright, 2019

It doesn’t take much to confuse me, I guess. Having enthusiastically reviewed Leslie Klinger’s previous The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft,[1] [2] I now find he has put out another New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft, distinguished only by the subtitle, Beyond Arkham (which sounds like a graphic novel). Apparently, New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft is now a series title, like The Penguin English Library or, perhaps fatefully, Roots of the Right: Readings in Racist, Fascist and Elitist Ideology.[2] [3]

Our audience here at Counter-Currents will find this book self-recommending, both for the text – Lovecraft! – and for the annotations. As for the former, the tales collected here – based on the texts established by S. T. Joshi for the 2006 Barnes and Noble Complete Fiction – span the length of the first half of Lovecraft’s short career, from 1917’s brief tale of terror, “The Tomb,” to 1927’s Dream Quest of Unknown Kadath, Lovecraft’s last effort at fantasy. These tales precede his development of “cosmic horror,” and unlike the tales in the earlier volume, make no mention of Arkham or the Miskatonic.[3] [4]

As for the latter, the annotations – here as in the previous volume, and others[4] [5] – Klinger does a superlative job providing three kinds of needed annotations: glossary, historical and cultural background, and inconsistencies in narrative. There are two hundred illustrations, and the “Additional Material” section includes four appendixes: “Outline of the Life and Career of Howard Phillips Lovecraft,” “The Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, in Order of Writing,” “The ‘Red Hook’ Incantation,” and “A Compleat Lovecraft Gazetteer.”

As with the previous volume – and all such modern Lovecraft editions – the real question for our audience here is, how does it deal with the indigestible fact that Lovecraft was racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant, and an outright “white supremacist,”[5] [6] at least as those terms are defined in today’s debates?[6] [7]

That’s one way to put it; [7] [8] another is simply that Lovecraft was a man of the Right;[8] [9] and another way is, Lovecraft was right.[9] [10]

But in today’s climate, one is unlikely to see a volume that takes that road (outside of plucky little upstarts like Counter-Currents; please donate here today).

The strategy here – one that I like to call “The Sorrow and the Pity” – is adumbrated, appropriately enough, in the Introduction by one Victor LaValle, an author of some accomplishment, although unknown to me.[10] [11]

To judge by his Introduction, he’s long-winded and a little soppy. It’s short but filled with tangents and too much information, usually about himself, in the ladies’ magazine style of most of today’s journalists (he can’t mention CRISPR [12] without telling us about the Hastings Center conference he attended, where it was held, and all the swell folks he met there).

Eventually, he gets to some personal details that are actually relevant, and relates an experience familiar to many of us:

I fell in love with H. P. Lovecraft when I was ten. In 1982 Del Rey published his stories in a series of paperbacks with these beautiful, lurid painted covers [13]. In one, a monk has pulled open his black robes to reveal his body is . . . a skeleton! Maybe this sounds cheesy now, but I fell hard for it when I was kid. (I still do, honestly.)

But this childhood idyll was shattered when, at the ripe old age of 15, he reread Lovecraft and, well, the shock is best conveyed by giving it its own, Lovecraftian paragraph:

I realized that H. P. Lovecraft had been a racist.

The horror! And what was this moment of epiphany? “The Rats in the Walls.”

This time I wasn’t a child. [and] I actually registered the name of the narrator’s cat: Nigger-Man.

He briefly wonders if “somehow my old copy had been switched out,”[11] [14] but to no avail. Reality is too powerful:

By the end of the tale I felt pummeled. I hardly noticed the plot or the language or the

mood of the tale. This time the only horror in the story was that cat.

Another traumatic experience was At the Mountains of Madness, a novella that some consider to be Lovecraft’s masterpiece. Here, in our first callback to CRISPR, our young reader notices that:

The shoggoths, the race of genetically engineered slaves, were not who the narrator empathized with. Instead, he seemed to sympathize with the Elder Gods, whose chattel, at some point long ago, had risen up and resisted their enslavement.[12] [15]

Finally, as if to prove the gods themselves hate us, he notices one of Lovecraft’s juvenile bits of doggerel, “On the Creation of Niggers”:

So at fifteen I stopped reading H. P. Lovecraft.

If you’ve ever loved an author, felt the effect of his or her imagination right down in your DNA . . . you’ll understand the heartache I felt as I threw away those Del Rey paperbacks.

“So” indeed! And O, the heartache; Come back, Shane! Where’s Old Yeller?

And actually, I’m not sure how to feel anything right down in my DNA, but that’s just LeValle shoehorning in another genetic reference. Now it’s time for him to tie all these together, like the obscure little hints of unspeakable horror sprinkled throughout one of Lovecraft’s tales:

One way to deal with a writer like Lovecraft is to, effectively, CRISPR him out of the canon. Cut him from the Cosmic Horror corpus.

Of course, this is exactly what the Goodthinkers are doing, starting with, as Klinger later observes, dropping his likeness from the World Fantasy Awards.[13] [16] LaValle, however, calls this “impossible,” while also denying us so much “worthwhile” writing. I’m not sure why he thinks it’s “impossible,” but it does lead him to his own suggestion:

So if we can’t CRISPR him, if we reject a designer literary tradition, then what is the alternative?

Include Lovecraft’s tales, and a healthy critique of them, too.

Lovecraft will never be canceled, but the folks who dismiss, or try to drown out, any criticism of the man and his work are as preposterous as climate change deniers. Both are telling you to disbelieve your lying eyes.[14] [17]

You can love something, love someone, and criticize them. That’s called maturity.

Well, I can’t argue with that, and I heartily endorse LaValle’s proposal, both for Lovecraft and for literature in general, even though he takes a long, strange route – perhaps trying to inoculate himself from the PC harridans – to get there.[15] [18]

And fortunately Klinger takes the same tack, leaving the texts alone but letting his “healthy critique” pop up throughout the annotations. As a bonus, he says he has “resisted the urge to apply psychoanalytic or deconstructive techniques to Lovecraft’s work, preferring to approach the tales as thrilling entertainment.” So far, so good.

Klinger’s three kinds of notes are informative and interesting, without overwhelming the text itself. As for his “critique,” one might question how “healthy” it is; it certainly checks all the boxes of political correctness.

Given the relatively small number of tales here, the concerns begin to appear a bit obsessive as the same issues get raised about the same tales, over and over. “The Rats in the Walls” seems to stick in everyone’s craw; Klinger is almost as traumatized as the teenage LaValle:

The narrator’s early pro-slavery upbringing is further made apparent by the insensitive naming of his cat. The name shocks the modern reader, but it was unfortunately consistent with white, mainstream depictions of African American life in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. [Some are] prepared to give HPL a free pass for sharing the dominant attitudes of his era, but we should not: Lovecraft knew well the impact of the word.[16] [19]

One cries with Melville, “Give it up, poor sub-sub, give it up [20]!”[17] [21] But this doesn’t prevent Klinger from going on to make a valuable observation:

The casual racism of de la Poer is not disagreeable to HPL; rather, as he tells the tale, de la Poer’s ultimate downfall is not who he is but his failure to embrace that heritage.

A lesson for White Nationalists! Ironically, I myself had never paid much attention to how much Lovecraft makes out of de la Poer’s Virginia slavocrat background; I must reread it now.

Klinger considers “The Horror at Red Hook” as Lovecraft’s’ “most racist story,” which is quite an achievement! Why not “The Rats in the Walls”? Does this indicate a shift in the Pokémon scale, with anti-immigrant sentiment trumping, if you will, racism?

It’s interesting to learn of Andrew Lenoir’s suggestion that the story was inspired by the 1924 Johnson-Reed Act,[18] [22] which limited immigration from any one country, banned immigration outright from Asia, and encouraged new immigrants from “the races Lovecraft most admired,” the Nordic (vs. Eastern Europe and Italy).[19] [23] Klinger allows himself a triumphalist sneer: “in a bit of wishful thinking nine years later, [he] crowed, ‘I do not believe this sound policy will ever be rescinded.’”

But again, Klinger make interesting and useful observations:

Even in his anger, HPL’s careful attention to detail is displayed in his inclusion of the history of the city’s Dutch population.

His narrator, Tom Malone, is a precursor to later detective protagonists such as Raymond Chandler’s Philip Marlowe, who similarly venture out onto “mean streets,” albeit with more success.[20] [24]

It’s amusing to note when the virtue-signalers get their signals crossed. We’ve seen that LaValle was traumatized by the eldritch[21] [25] realization that Lovecraft’s sympathy was with the Old Ones rather than with their genetically-engineered slave caste.[22] [26] Klinger, on the other hand, adduces this as evidence that Lovecraft was capable of the kind of mellowing toward liberalism known as “strange new respect”:[23] [27]

He ultimately seemed to have recognized that homogeneous populations could breed weakness as well as strength. This is evident from his later fiction, such as At the Mountains of Madness, in which the demise of the Old Ones may be seen as a sign of the weakness of the slave system their culture instituted.

It’s not evident from this aperçu how this shows a flaw in homogeneous populations; surely it proves the opposite, that introducing an alien (in any sense) population for short-term gain will bring disaster in the long run (Lovecraft’s favorite time frame). [24] [28]

“The Terrible Old Man” bangs the anti-immigrant drum again. Klinger sedulously notes that the murderous crooks have “names that are Italian, Polish and Portuguese,” and claims that the story “unsubtly expresses Lovecraft’s twisted desire for the ethnic cleansing of New England.” But one could just as well read the story as Lovecraft noting that since the bad hombres “were of that new and heterogeneous alien stock which lies outside the charmed circle of New England life and traditions,” they were, like so many of Lovecraft’s protagonists, unable to perceive the danger of the ancient sea captain: “they had more important things to think about than mere idle superstition.” Immigrants, like the “enlightened,” deracinated globalized populations, are easy prey for the occult.[25] [29]

With “Pickman’s Model,” Klinger can put witch-hunting aside and give us some useful information and insights:

“Pickman” means one who picks or one who seizes; in Arabic, (ghūl), an evil spirit that robs graves and feeds on corpses, derives from (ghāla), “to seize.”

Pickman’s paintings result in his ostracism from the “normal” world of art, much as Lovecraft felt that his own writing set him apart from the mainstream of literature.

Indeed, Klinger suggests that “Pickman is in many ways the perfect avatar for Lovecraft: the artist who brilliantly combines realism and a vision of cosmic horror.” The narrator tells us that Pickman

[was] not a fantaisiste or romanticist at all – he did not even try to give us the churning, prismatic ephemera of dreams, but coldly and sardonically reflected some stable, mechanistic, and well-established horror-world which he saw fully, brilliantly, squarely, and unfalteringly.

To which Klinger appends this quote from Kieran Setiya:

“I can think of no better description of his creator. In Pickman we have Lovecraft’s ideal artist – sincere, brilliant, apocalyptic – and it is a tribute to his triumph as an author of cosmic horror that his descriptions of the ghoul-changeling are so readily applicable to himself.”

As for the “Additional Material,” this is a mixed bag, mostly admirably scholarly compilations of information the casual reader will likely just glance through, such as “The Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft, in Order of Writing,” which supplements the alphabetical list in the earlier volume. The real oddity is “Compleat Gazateer,” which alphabetically lists every geographical place-name in Lovecraft’s fiction, real or imaginary. Like the fifty pages of “Mechanical Annotations” in the new, “authoritative” edition of Might is Right,[26] [30] I’m not sure who needs this sort of thing.

As always, your mileage may vary. As for myself, I rather enjoyed “The ‘Red Hook’ Incantation,” which reprints Lovecraft’s amateur and ad hoc explanation of the “late-ancient or mediaeval illiteracy which probably has no straightforward of syntactical sense” that he copied out of the Encyclopedia Britannica, and then provides a critique of his rather shaky knowledge of ancient languages and mythologies.

If I may be allowed to play the autodidact myself, when Lovecraft says:

Va? I give up. Can’t make head nor tail of it!

the annotation is a bit confused and confusing:

“Va” is a Hebrew prefix indicating past tense, as in “Jehova, previously known as Adonai.” Armen Alexanyan, in “Some Philological Observations on ‘The Horror at Red Hook,’” states that “VA” is “a common Semitic conjunction word meaning ‘and’.”

“Va” or rather, “Vav”(modern) or “Wav (Biblical),” is a Hebrew letter, ו, which is indeed used as a prefix, where we would use the word “and.” It is not used to “indicate a past tense,” and certainly not (as seems to be said here) by adding it to a noun like Jehova[h]; rather, it reverses the meaning of a verb, converting imperfect to perfect and vice versa, thus providing a causal connection in a sequence of verbs (“I came, I saw, I conquered” might literally be “I came, and I will see, and I will conquer,” with the same meaning) as well as introducing some linguistic variety.[27] [31]

On a more positive note, I was amused to read Dr. Chris Heard’s suggestion that the incantation’s ESCHEREHEYE, which Lovecraft tries to trace to a Greek phrase, is actually the last two words of the Hebrew ehyeh asher ehyeh, which “if translated into English would mean ‘what I am’ or (‘what I AM’ if you’re trying to be pious),” since the latter, the pious “I AM,” was a favorite meme of Neville Goddard.[28] [32]

Let us then end on this note of piety. Although a bit pricey – even the Kindle is almost $20! – the pleasant layout and typography, apt and colorful illustrations, and informative notes – with only a smidgeon of virtue-signaling – make this a valuable addition to the library of any Lovecraftian.

Notes

[1] [33]Notes on The New Annotated H. P. Lovecraft [34].”

[2] [35] George Steiner’s 1970s collection of “black books” brought together under the tendentious pretense that there was some connection between Gobineau, Stirner, and Alfred Rosenberg other than being writers that Jews like Steiner don’t like; see my review “The Sad, Sour Spook: Max Stirner & His Proper Ties [36].”

[3] [37] The Tomb; Polaris; The Transition of Juan Romero; The Doom That Came to Sarnath; The Terrible Old Man; The Cats of Ulthar; Facts concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family; The Temple; Celephaïs; From Beyond; Ex Oblivione; The Quest of Iranon; The Outsider; The Other Gods; The Music of Erich Zann; The Lurking Fear; The Rats in the Walls; Under the Pyramids; The Shunned House; The Horror at Red Hook; He; Cool Air; The Strange High House in the Mist; Pickman’s Model; The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath.

[4] [38] Klinger is the editor of numerous similar books, including the bestselling, three volume The New Annotated Sherlock HolmesThe New Annotated Dracula, and The Annotated Sandman.

[5] [39] I think it’s clear that Lovecraft was literally a white supremacist, not merely a White Nationalist – i.e., he believed not simply that white people (Aryans, as he would say) should advocate for their own interests, but that they were simply superior to everyone else, tout court; like most such believers, he even distinguished “Nordics” as the most superior, even to other “Aryans.”

[6] [40] I missed some! In the previous volume, Alan Moore defined Lovecraft’s “problematic stance on most contemporary issues” as “racism, alleged misogyny, class prejudice, dislike of homosexuality, and anti-Semitism.” Most issues!

[7] [41] Vincent: “Well, that’s one way to say it. Another way is, he was thrown out. Another way is, he was thrown out by Marsellus. And even another way is, he was thrown out of a window by Marsellus because of you.” Pulp Fiction (Tarantino, 1989). In a way, reading Lovecraft is similar to watching Tarantino’s Once Upon a Time In Hollywood: an unashamed celebration of White America – see Alex Graham’s review here [42] – with the Manson family serving as acolytes of Cthulhu.

[8] [43] See Kerry Bolton, Artists of the Right: Resisting Decadence [44], ed. by Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2012), and Jonathan Bowden’s “H. P. Lovecraft: Aryan Mystic [45],” reprinted in Pulp Fascism: Right-Wing Themes in Comics, Graphic Novels, and Popular Literature [46], ed. By Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2013); for more on Lovecraft at Counter-Currents, see the list here [47].

[9] [48] As I said earlier, “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.” Ibid.

[10] [49] Victor LaValle is the author of The Changeling and The Ballad of Black Tom, among many other books, including an adaptation of Lovecraft’s “The Horror at Red Hook.” He has been the recipient of numerous awards, including a Whiting Writers’ Award, a Guggenheim Fellowship, a Shirley Jackson Award, and an American Book Award.

[11] [50] He doesn’t mention it, but perhaps this is an allusion to the “Mandela Effect,” which Miles Mathis (of course) describes as follows [51]: “For those of you who don’t know, the Mandela Effect is a phenomenon first proposed in 2015, as an explanation for collective false memories. It is named for Nelson Mandela, allegedly an example of these false memories. According to Fiona Broome, many remember seeing Nelson Mandela’s funeral on TV in the 1980s, despite the fact that he died in 2013. Wikipedia dismisses this as mistaken memories shared by many people, but Broome and others claim it is a sign of parallel universes or other strange anomalies. As usual, I have a third explanation, which is the correct one: you are being fucked with by both sides.”

[12] [52] “’Seems,’ madam? Nay, it is; I know not ‘seems.’” — Hamlet (1.2.77).

[13] [53] See my “Reflections on the H. P. Lovecraft Award [54].” Needless to say, neither Lavalle, Klinger, or their publishers is aware of – or would mention it if they were – Counter-Currents’ own “H. P. Lovecraft Prize for Literature,” created in response to the brouhaha.

[14] [55] That anthropogenic climate change (aka “global warming”) is evident to the senses, rather than a vague but fashionable theory propped up by its political usefulness and unending propaganda, is exactly the sort of ideologically crippled thinking that underlies the whole opposition to Lovecraft’s firmly empirical ideas on race, immigration, and other “controversial” matters.

[15] [56] Kandi: Oh yeah. With you, sex is kinda like going on Space Mountain. It’s a good ride, but there’s never any real danger. [Charlie looks a little puzzled] With Alan, it’s like being in the back seat of a car driven by a really smart kangaroo. He may go up on the curb a couple times, but he’ll get you there.

Charlie Harper: Okay. Thanks for clearing that up. (Two and a Half Men, “Golly Moses, She’s a Muffin” [2006].)

[16] [57] As for those “dominant attitudes of his era,” consider such a still-canonical figure as Henry James; for which see the material quoted from James’ The American Scene in my “The Princess and the Maggot [58],” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola . . . & Others: Traditionalist Meditations on Literature, Art, & Culture [59]; ed. Greg Johnson (San Francisco: Counter-Currents, 2014).

[17] [60] “It will be seen that this mere painstaking burrower and grub-worm of a poor devil of a Sub-Sub [Librarian] appears to have gone through the long Vaticans and street-stalls of the earth, picking up whatever random allusions to whales he could anyways find in any book whatsoever, sacred and profane. . . . So fare thee well, poor devil of a Sub-Sub, whose commentator I am. Thou belongest to that hopeless, sallow tribe which no wine of this world will ever warm; and for whom even Pale Sherry would be too rosy-strong; but with whom one sometimes loves to sit, and feel poor-devilish, too; and grow convivial upon tears; and say to them bluntly, with full eyes and empty glasses, and in not altogether unpleasant sadness – Give it up, Sub-Subs! For by how much more pains ye take to please the world, by so much the more shall ye for ever go thankless!” Melville, Moby Dick, EXTRACTS (Supplied by a Sub-Sub-Librarian). [61]

[18] [62] “Stoddard can rightly be considered a father of the sweeping Immigration Act of 1924 (aka Johnson-Reed Act).” Margo Metroland, “Lothrop Stoddard’s Reforging America [63].”

[19] [64] In a letter of that year to Clark Ashton Smith, Lovecraft says, “I find it hard to conceive of anything more utterly and ultimately loathsome than certain streets of the lower East Side [of Manhattan]”; cf. Henry James, loc. cit.

[20] [65] See my “Mike Hammer, Occult Dick: Kiss Me Deadly as Lovecraftian Tale [66],” reprinted in The Eldritch Evola, op. cit.

[21] [67] Klinger notes that “eldritch” is “[o]ne of Lovecraft’s favorite words, meaning weird or fantastic. See ‘The Hound’ in the previous volume, pp. 94–102, note 2. It appears seven times in the stories in this volume, eighteen times in the previous volume’s tales.” Cf., of course, in The Eldritch Evola, op. cit.

[22] [68] “The Old Ones, despite being extraterrestrial beings, do not represent alien horrors. By the end of the book, Dyer exclaims, in awe of their civilization: ‘Radiates, vegetables, monstrosities, star-spawn – whatever they had been, they were men!’ The great evil glimpsed by Danforth is the same evil feared by the Old Ones, and it is that which is embodied by the shoggoths.” Alex Graham, “Lovecraft’s At the Mountains of Madness [69].”

[23] [70] Of course, it has to be “evolution” towards the “progressive” side. “Lovecraft’s description of the Old Ones’ government as “probably socialistic” reflects his growing disillusionment with laissez-faire capitalism . . . He uses the term ‘fascistic socialism’ in A Shadow Out of Time.” Graham, op. cit. Lovecraft is an interesting case of someone who, like paleoconservatives, came to think Roosevelt’s New Deal was fascist – and liked it.

[24] [71] “The carvings of the Old Ones became coarse and ugly, a parody of what they once had been. Dyer and Danforth attribute their aesthetic decline to the intrusion of something foreign and alien: ‘We could not get it out of our minds that some subtly but profoundly alien element had been added to the aesthetic feeling behind the technique – an alien element, Danforth guessed, that was responsible for the laborious substitution. It was like, yet disturbingly unlike, what we had come to recognize as the Old Ones’ art; and I was persistently reminded of such hybrid things as the ungainly Palmyrene sculptures fashioned in the Roman manner.’” Graham, op. cit.

[25] [72] “America is not a young land: it is old and dirty and evil. Before the settlers, before the Indians . . . the evil was there . . . waiting.” William S. Burroughs, Naked Lunch: The Restored Text (New York: Grove Press, 2001), p. 11.

[26] [73] See my review, “Mighty Whitey: Might is Right as Holy Writ [74].”

[27] [75] Alright, it’s still confusing. Here’s Wikipedia [76]: “Vav at the beginning of the word has several possible meanings:

(Note: Older Hebrew did not have ‘tense’ in a temporal sense, ‘perfect’ and ‘imperfect’ instead denoting aspects of completed or continuing action. Modern Hebrew verbal tenses have developed closer to their Indo-European counterparts, mostly having a temporal quality rather than denoting aspect. As a rule, Modern Hebrew does not use the ‘Vav Consecutive’ form.).” All clear now?

[28] [79] See, among almost innumerable examples, The Power of Awareness, Chapter One [80]: “I AM.”