YMMV / H.P. Lovecraft


  • Accidental Aesop:
    • Considering H.P. Lovecraft's general xenophobia and racism, it's likely he intended the final revelation in "Facts Concerning the Late Arthur Jermyn and His Family" — that one of the title character's great-great-great grandparents was some sort of pre-human 'ape-goddess' — to be legitimately horrifying enough to justify his fatal Heroic B.S.O.D.. Ninety-odd years later, when what amounts to almost literally the exact same revelation about a huge swath of the current population is met with a profound 'meh' outside of the scientific community, the really disturbing thing about the story seems more to be how truly fragile poor Arthur's sense of proportion and grip on reality are.
    • Fragile grips on reality are an overwhelmingly common theme in Lovecraft's fiction, though. So that may be part of the intended effect, even if few contemporary readers share the author's fixation on racial purity.
  • All Germans Are Nazis: The U-boat captain in "The Temple" is portrayed as a heartless racist monster, so extreme he considers Rhinelanders too soft to serve the Fatherland properly, and he violates the Law of War just as any caricaturish movie Nazi would do. (He is also well punished for his heartless killing of a Greek untermensch; those who read Lovecraft as a simple crude Nazi-type himself would do well to read this story. It should also be noted that "The Temple" was written in 1920, before anyone knew who Adolf Hitler was, and that Lovecraft died in 1937, only four years after Hitler came to power.)
  • Complaining about Shows You Don't Watch: Any online discussion of his racism will have commenters decrying his racism and proudly proclaiming they have never read him because of that, often insisting that he should be forgotten. This will happen even on blog posts and interviews by minority creators who say they are inspired and influenced by his work but detest his virulent bigotry.
  • Fair for Its Day: Averted with Lovecraft. Even if his xenophobia did come from a pathological fear of the unknown, and even if he was briefly married to Sonia Greene (who was half Jewish) and had Jewish friends, he was a racist and white supremacist, even by the standards of the 1930s.
  • Family-Unfriendly Aesop: "The universe is a fundamentally indifferent and horrifying place, full of Eldritch Abominations, Starfish Aliens, minorities and seafood, and ignorance of its true nature is the only thing keeping us from madness."
  • Fandom Heresy: Bringing up Lovecraft's racism is a surefire way to raise the ire of diehard Lovecraftians, though more sensible fans will admit he was a huge bigot. To a lesser extent, liking (or, Nodens forbid, preferring) Mythos stories by other authors can still get this reaction. (August Derleth can be a real Berserk Button for a lot of fans given what he did with HPL's material, and how he treated HPL's literary executor Robert Barlow.)
  • Harsher in Hindsight: While the racism in his work (see Values Dissonance below) would have already have been harsh to some contemporaries, but considering that this line of thinking would lead to The Holocaust (and for that matter Lovecraft had also offered some praise to Hitler ("The crazy thing is not what Adolf wants, but the way he sees it & starts out to get it. I know he’s a clown, but by God, I like the boy!" –Letter from Lovecraft to Donald Wandrei, November 1936), it makes many protagonists, who tended to be Author Avatars for Lovecraft (who died well before the worst horrors of the Nazis' genocidal campaign would be known to the world), in his stories far less sympathetic.
  • Hilarious in Hindsight: Retro nerds may be entertained by the fact that his very early story "The Beast in the Cave" is set in the Mammoth Cave, which also inspired classical Interactive Fiction game Colossal Cave.
    • He was also profoundly concerned that the then newly arrived Irish, Italian, and Portuguese communities would irreversibly change the face of the then very WASPy New England; today those groups are considered to be an integral part of New England states like Massachusetts and Rhode Island, contributing very positively to their culture.
  • Mainstream Obscurity: Lovecraft is a known and familiar by Pop-Cultural Osmosis (and even then only belatedly and in certain genres) than he is read, and in the global Anglophone, Lovecraft is still far less famous than Edgar Allan Poe (who benefits by being School Study Media) and other Victorian horror (Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, Mary Shelley) who benefited from sundry Lost in Imitation adaptations.
    • Not one of his works has resulted in a successful theatrical film adaptation or a successful TV series or even a Treehouse of Horror adaptation. In a large sense, his popularity and readership really increased in the Internet era and resulting spread of memes, and online fandom and geek culture.
    • Likewise for most of the 20th Century, Lovecraft's influence (which was at times highly contested by the likes of Michael Moorcock among others), was restricted to Periphery Demographic such as science-fiction and pulp horror, which only belatedly entered the mainstream, and even then only indirectly (such as the Cthulhoid monsters in multiple films and superhero comics and TV shows.
    • Perhaps this The Unspeakable Vault (of Doom) comic (itself a parody of the Cthulhu Mythos) sums it up: in a comic pondering what would happen if Lovecraft was alive today, all his works (in all the printed languages) fit on a tiny bookcase, whereas the bookcase containing works by other authors writing in the mythos is easily four times as big (and Lovecraft claims it's a small sample), and is outright dwarfed by the room full of 'merch'.
  • Narm: Due to the epic, incomprehensible nature of much of the themes and creations Lovecraft dealt with, he often resorts to a storytelling style some might find... melodramatic.
    • There are a few points where the racist elements are so over the top (case in point: the excerpt from "Medusa's Coils" on this page) that some readers can't help but laugh.
    • In the opening sentences of "Beyond the Wall of Sleep", Lovecraft briefly shakes his fist at Freud's "puerile symbolism".
  • Nightmare Fuel: Like saying that grass is green.
  • Reality Subtext: Many of the stories have hidden dimensions if you know something about the author's life, but most disturbingly in "The Dunwich Horror".
  • Science Marches On: At the time Lovecraft was writing based on the latest science of the day, and strove for accuracy. Nevertheless, scientific progress has since overtaken him:
    • Lovecraft identified the Semitic god Dagon with his Deep Ones, based on a then-widely-accepted etymological link to the Hebrew word for "fish". Modern anthropologists consider this a coincidence, and the historical Dagon is now believed to have been a god of agriculture.
    • The stories "The Colour Out of Space" and At the Mountains of Madness are also heavily affected by eighty years or so of progress since they focus on scientific investigations of strange phenomena. Most notably the fact that there are no Alien Geometries mountains or giant, albino penguins in Antarctica - darn it.
    • Whenever referring to human evolution, one of the first hominids to be mentioned is Piltdown man, which, of course, turned out to be a hoax.
    • On the other hand, progress has sometimes backed Lovecraft up on matters that were mere speculation in his day: For example he supported and included the Continental Drift Theory in his stories, which is of course widely accepted nowadays but was then rejected by most scientists. Also, he wrote about a ninth planet in our solar system mere months before Pluto was discovered.
  • Seinfeld Is Unfunny: Thanks to his influence, many of Lovecraft's themes have become horror clichés although on account of Mainstream Obscurity, it still largely has its effect.
  • Squick: Some of the details of Lovecraft's upbringing are rather...awkward, to say the least. (For the record, L. Sprague de Camp's biography of Lovecraft has been discredited, but it formed the dominant image of the man for a few decades.)
  • Tear Jerker: The Reveal of "The Outsider".
  • Values Dissonance: Lovecraft's racism was known for slipping into many of his works and some, such as Michel Houellebecq, have argued, that his fundamental worldview of man's lack of purpose in cosmos is largely the projection of a white man recognizing the inevitably of a multicultural world where he would not have the same central position of privilege and autonomy. Incidentally, his racism ultimately led to a fantasy award formerly named after him to rebrand itself after much protest.
    • "Medusa's Coils" is the most notoriously racist of all Lovecraft's works, and treats the revelation of a generations-ago Anglo-Saxon/African marriage to be something as utterly horrific as the various alien ghoulies that tend to show up in Lovecraftian horror. Many readers in the modern era tend to find the final statement (copied below) to be Nightmare Retardant.
    It would be too hideous if they knew that the one-time heiress of Riverside — the accursed gorgon or lamia whose hateful crinkly coil of serpent-hair must even now be brooding and twining vampirically around an artist's skeleton in a lime-packed grave beneath a charred foundation — was faintly, subtly, yet to the eyes of genius unmistakably the scion of Zimbabwe's most primal grovellers. No wonder she owned a link with that old witch-woman — for, though in deceitfully slight proportion, Marceline was a negress.
    • This is also why it's almost impossible to find copies of his short story "The Street", which follows the development of a street from a Colonial country lane to a crowded slum and treats the slum spontaneously collapsing on itself and killing everyone in it as a "happy ending" because... it's full of non-WASP immigrants who we're told are plotting anti-American revolutions.
    • While it's impossible to dissociate Lovecraft from his racism, one can point out that his prejudice extended to taking as dim a view of rural whites as blacks. It's arguably easier to find an example of a sympathetic minority in his writing (like Dr. Muñoz in "Cool Air," who was "of superior blood and breeding") than a sympathetic white country-dweller (the entire town of Dunwich, for instance). In general, his attitudes towards race, much like many historical racists, coexisted with his attitudes towards class, but then racism is nonsense to start with, so the argument that it must have consistency or seem rational is besides the point.
    • Lovecraft's stories were primarily written during the heyday of Eugenics, during the "nadir of race relations" in the USA where interracial marriage was allowed and forced sterilization of "feeble-minded" was mainstream. Supporters argue that Lovecraft should be seen in the context of his time, but critics note that since Lovecraft often expressed a decadent worldview and despised the modern world, it makes no sense to defend him by putting him in the context of his time, since that was not a defense he would have used.
    • Slightly less noticeable than his racism, but Lovecraft also tended to shy away from female characters entirely. For the most part, they're not present at all, or are only present in background roles. One of the few exceptions is Asenath Waite Derby from "The Thing on the Doorstep," the villain of the story and actually inhabited by the spirit of her father, Ephraim Waite, well before the story begins. Another rare exception is Keziah Mason, the antagonist from "Dreams in the Witch House". This was more likely because Lovecraft was himself rather shy towards the opposite sex and didn't feel he could write up a convincing female character. In fact, he wrote in one letter that discrimination against women is an "oriental" superstition from which "aryans" ought to free.
    • His protagonists tend to lose their grip on sanity from being confronted with just the idea that there are things they don't know as much as the actual new knowledge, or that they aren't somehow naturally superior to all of creation by merit of birth. To a modern reader it seems like none of them are all there to begin with. Which, in many cases, the text explicitly says they're not. You Write What You Know, after all, and both of Lovecraft's parents died in an asylum; his traveling-salesman father, of insanity due to syphilis; his mother's story is more complex, but she had severe anxiety. Lovecraft lived in "genteel poverty" largely as a result of his never having been prepared for any kind of ordinary employment just as a backup to bring money in, as well as his inability to get over his New England pseudo-aristocratic hangover.
    • The narrator of "Pickman's Model" is floored by how the weird artist's ghoul-paintings depict the creatures with the aesthetics of realism. To modern Speculative Fiction fans, who grew up reading scifi, fantasy, and horror novels with more realistically-styled artwork on the covers, his sheer amazement is more puzzling than Pickman's aesthetics. Of course to general readers or people unfamiliar with visual arts (which is most people), it works as a portrait of the layman.
  • Wangst: His lengthy Purple Prose along with his crapsack worldview can come across as an attempt to give a Despair Speech, and in the opinion of some writers, given his palpable racism, as Psychological Projection:
    J. Hoberman: Evoking a sense of a vast, unknowable wilderness, as well as a degenerate present, Lovecraft draws on the Puritan impulse to scare the living bejeezus out of his audience with a mad xenophobia and a deep disgust that perhaps compensates for the (unacknowledged?) knowledge that it was his people who persecuted the Quakers and murdered the Indians. Lovecraft's dread of the Old Ones is suffused with guilt. It wasn't sex that he most feared but the return of a historical repressed.

http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/YMMV/HPLovecraft