How Should We Deal with Lovecraft’s Influence in Games?


#1

Content warning for a discussion of racism in horror games and movies throughout the podcast and a mention of rape in horror movies at 1:10:00-1:12:00.


This is a companion discussion topic for the original entry at https://waypoint.vice.com/en_us/article/wj9w39/lovecraft-horror-games-cthulhu

#2

I am in the process of listening to this episode so I do not have anything immediate to contribute other than expressing a desire to have a good conversation about Lovecraft and engaging with his work.

Some personal background: I wrote my college thesis on Lovecraft; my writing on Lovecraft has been published in journals and a book; heck, I am taking a break from writing a paper on the copyright history of Lovecraft’s stories right now; I have been involved in helping to organize a conference in Providence, RI that is devoted to Lovecraft. I say all of this not to humble brag (okay maybe a little) but to say, I have invested just about a decade of my life and a lot of my creative energy towards Lovecraft. I have a lot of feelings about him and his work. An overriding one is a deep loathing towards the person that he was for a lot of his life and the needless hatred that infects some of his best writing–I will say that I disagree with a common belief that hatred is what motivates and is the basis of his horror. That and I absolutely hate how many of his fans are willing to downplay and dismiss that side of him or make that bullshit “product of his time” argument. Lovecraft’s xenophobia was an outlier even for his time. I do not have any main point I am working towards at this time other than I think the more people talk about Lovecraft and authors like him–that is folks we may enjoy in one capacity while recognizing they are truly reprehensible in another (i.e. Wagner)–the better, engaging with these figures and their legacies is the only way to build something better off of their foundations.

Anyway, looking forward to finishing the podcast.

One minor quibble for Patrick: the way we all commonly say “Cthulhu” is probably incorrect. Lovecraft wrote that it was meant to be pronounced Khlûl′-hloo: “the first syllable pronounced gutturally and very thickly. The u is about like that in full; and the first syllable is not unlike klul in sound, hence the h represents the guttural thickness.” However, this is only an approximation as humans are not actually capable of properly articulating the language or reality of this entity. :slight_smile:


#3

I did one of those DNA test things and got like a 4% unknown source on it so as a bonafide Deep Starspawn Of Cthulhu I can vouch for @Alveric’s post being accurate.


#4

I recently watched a video about how he maybe softened in his later years, realizing what kind of damage his xenophobia caused. Have you read about this side of Lovecraft at all in your studies?


#5

I haven’t listened yet so I apologize if this article was already mentioned, but the release of the game made me think of this recent piece: https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/revising-lovecraft-the-mutant-mythos

I think it does a good job of addressing, specifically, ways of moving forward in Lovecraftian fiction and narratives, maintaining the idea of the cosmic horror of alterity while flagrantly and systematically opposing the xenophobia Lovecraft framed this around.


#6

Oh yeah absolutely. One of my favorite quotes from Lovecraft comes from a letter late in life, please pardon the length of it:

I can better understand the inert blindness & defiant ignorance of the reactionaries from having been one of them. I know how smugly ignorant I was—wrapped up in the arts, the natural (not social) sciences, the externals of history & antiquarianism, the abstract academic phases of philosophy, & so on—all the one-sided standard lore to which, according to the traditions of the dying order, a liberal education was limited. God! the things that were left out—the inside facts of history, the rational interpretation of periodic social crises, the foundations of economics & sociology, the actual state of the world today … & above all, the habit of applying disinterested reason to problems hitherto approached only with traditional genuflections, flag-waving, & callous shoulder-shrugs! All this comes up with humiliating force through an incident of a few days ago—when young Conover, having established contact with Henneberger, the ex-owner of WT, obtained from the latter a long epistle which I wrote Edwin Baird on Feby. 3, 1924, in response to a request for biographical & personal data. Little Willis asked permission to publish the text in his combined SFC-Fantasy, & I began looking the thing over to see what it was like—for I had not the least recollection of ever having penned it. Well …. I managed to get through, after about 10 closely typed pages of egotistical reminiscences & showing-off & expressions of opinion about mankind & the universe. I did not faint—but I looked around for a 1924 photograph of myself to burn, spit on, or stick pins in! Holy Hades—was I that much of a dub at 33 … only 13 years ago? There was no getting out of it—I really had thrown all that haughty, complacent, snobbish, self-centred, intolerant bull, & at a mature age when anybody but a perfect damned fool would have known better! That earlier illness had kept me in seclusion, limited my knowledge of the world, & given me something of the fatuous effusiveness of a belated adolescent when I finally was able to get around more in 1920, is hardly much of an excuse. Well—there was nothing to be done … except to rush a note back to Conover & tell him I’d dismember him & run the fragments through a sausage-grinder if he ever thought of printing such a thing! The only consolation lay in the reflection that I had matured a bit since '24. It’s hard to have done all one’s growing up since 33—but that’s a damn sight better than not growing up at all.

This was written in a letter to C. L. Moore in February of 1937, Lovecraft died a month later.

As Lovecraft notes, it is pretty pathetic that it took him until he was 33 to start maturing, but, to his credit, he did mature. At the end of his life he was looking more and more like a New Deal Democrat and was even shifting a little away from the nihilism that so influences his cosmic horror.


#8

I wonder how he would have changed if he had lived through World War 2 and witnessed what that kind of Xenophobia leads to.

Thanks for posting!


#9

I’m just here to defend Lovecraft. Yes, he was a racist. But despite what a lot of misguided people believe, racism isn’t that clear a delineator between good and evil. We’d all like to believe such things are so. That good liberal people are always witty, smart, loving and wise. And that ill educated, unwashed racists huddle in the back woods and mate with their sisters like Lovecraft’s depraved cults. But that isn’t so. People are complex and vexing in their inconsistencies. If you were to arbitrarily write off all the racists the world ever produced, you’d be writing off considerable human progress as much as their evils. In Lovecraft’s case, you’re writing off a minor literary genius.

Lovecraft was a product of his time - an era dominated white Eurocentric supremacist view based on narrow understandings of excellence. Moreover, he was a product of his own weird upbringing which made him so much worse than others in that time: living in isolation in an all white area, rarely leaving it and with only the devil’s own platonic shadows to instruct him on the outside world. The fear of the unknown communicated in his stories is palpable because it’s his fear of the unknown. He, like a lot of artists, was a fucked up and disturbed guy. I suppose that ought to be a crime. But first we have to find a normality standard that won’t eventually put everyone behind bars.

Near the end of his life Lovecraft himself said: “What a complacent, self-assured, egocentric jackass I was in those days!..I can better understand the inert blindness and defiant ignorance of the reactionaries from having been one of them. I know how smugly ignorant I was…I really had thrown all that haughty, complacent, snobbish, self-centered, intolerant bull, and at a mature age when anybody but a perfect damned fool would have known better!..It’s hard to have done all one’s growing up since 33–But that’s a damn sight better than not growing up at all!”*

I’ll go out on a limb and say with that attitude he’d fit in nicely with any liberal group you care to mention if he’d lived long enough. Hell, HE might be the one trashing Lovecraft’s racism.

My advice? Don’t sweat it. Take the good in his stories and leave the bad. You are not a better or worse person for doing so.


#10

No he wasn’t. He was an outlier for the time and you can see that in his letters and that he felt particularly comfortable expressing the extremities of his views to select people. He expressed early admiration for the Nazis, there is no way to play that off as anything other than extreme.

There is no denying that his racism, and racism in general, is a complex thing. Lovecraft’s seems born from (economic) anxiety and living through his family’s descent into poverty. He was an incredibly intelligent and gifted writer and yet he failed to graduate high school (something he would lie about his entire life and going so far as to imply he had done time at Brown) and never held a job. He got by basically because of the charity of others. We can get a sense of the context and reasoning that he might embrace a desire to demonize and degenerate an other but that does not make it valid. I for one maintain the position that Lovecraft was personally too smart and well read of an individual to have resorted to this shit; that he did will always be a blight on who he was and who he could have been.

Edit: I should add that calling Lovecraft a product of his time also simply diminishes the man. What makes him so incredible is how out of time he was. While he expressed a deep admiration for the writing, style, and etiquette of the 18th century, he was a man who was constantly looking towards the future with regards to science, exploration and our understanding of the known world. I mean, some of his work is basically a precursor to science-fiction and “At the Mountains of Madness” is radical in part because the first third is very committed to scientific realism. Lovecraft’s efforts to ground his work firmly in reality and then break that perception of reality is remarkable (when it works). He defied the time he lived in just about every aspect of his life.


#11

This is exactly what I’m thinking worded one million times better than I could ever word it. Lovecraft’s racism was not a product of his time. (EDIT: I think it is extremely unfair to categorize Lovecraft’s racism as explicitly ‘of the time’ when I think about things happening in the 1920s such as the Harlem Renaissance and the explosion african american art and music. My art student is showing. I also might be completely off base here but, hey. That is also not to say that America hasn’t always been hell of racist.) While he may have realized, very late in his life, that he was full of shit in that regard, theres still reams of his writings that are still full of that shit. We can’t just say “meh, thats fine” and get on with it. It’s important to examine and read.


#12

Ichabod Crane was not set in new england. at no time has the hudson valley of new york been considered part of new england.


#13

Ahahaha, I had the same reaction.

Also, contrary to what is said around 45:00, Lovecraft’s work is probably not in the public domain. It is widely available online for free and copyright ownership is very poorly enforced (if at all) but it is probably not in the public domain. I know, that sounds very strange and it is pretty strange thanks in part to how wacky circumstances were after his death and US copyright law. There is a pretty interesting online essay that attempts to explain the copyright question: https://www.aetherial.net/lovecraft/index.html. I do not think what it sets forth is completely correct, and that is something I am writing about now, but it provides a good history of some of the events if folks are interested.

If I am not mistaken this game is somewhat unique as it actually has approval from the Lovecraft estate (also a strange entity).


#14

i realize its a very strange take away from the whole thing, but as someone from upstate NY, it stuck in my craw that a midwesterner just blithely merged our distinctive historical literary identity with the very different new england historical literary tradition. we’ve got our own things! like apple cider donuts, which these heathen new englanders don’t seem to understand at all.


#16

Hell yes the infinite mile between witches and slashers.

Someday someone will dip an apple cider doughnut into coffee milk and it will signal the song that ends the earth.


#17

Pro-Tip: Coming onto a forum for a website with a heavy bent towards leftist ideology and prefacing an argument with “you’re not evil if you’re racist” is a REALLY bad way to introduce yourself. It’s not because of the “racism not evil” part, but because you instantly start your argument by implying everyone that disagrees with you thinks the exact opposite by putting words in their mouth. Keep in mind you’re saying this in 2018, where pretty much every government on Earth is toying with the ideas of concentration camps and genocide threats (or just actual genocide), so tone is REALLY important in a delicate conversation like this.

You’re also basically arguing that we shouldn’t critically read into the man’s word’s and beliefs while also pointing out that he himself did that same thing to become a better person. If anything, you’re pointing out we really should re-evaluate our own views of Lovecraft because the man did that himself to improve as a person. You’re also seemingly trying to argue that people automatically hate all his work if they start reading more into his racist views.

I hate South Park now and especially tire of Matt and Trey’s lacking political understandings to the point they turn queer people into punch lines, but there’s still plenty of episodes I can watch again and enjoy (particularly the bullying episode, The List, The Fight, Imagination Land, ect).

For a lot of people, this is how they view Lovecraft. You can take the good from something while still recognizing the bad.

It’s also not a bad thing to inherently kind of hate a work if the author’s opinions are horrid enough. For example, I won’t ever play Earthworm Jim or any of those clay based games that followed because the main guy behind them is a vocal homophobe, and I kind of hate Attack on Titan now because I found out that the manga creator is both a denier of Japanese war crimes and recently revealed that the entire main conflict is built entirely around the premise of “maybe the Jews were also bad???”

Please keep in mind that racism impacts people, and at its worst, it gets people killed, sometimes in mass. That’s not a thing to take lightly, and works being built with a structure of racism are probably going to appeal less to people who have to deal with real racist views in their daily lives threatening their very well-being.


#18

Well now, today I learned something profoundly disgusting.


#19

Yeah I had a Jewish friend tell me this awhile back, but at the time all that was out was some flashback scenes with a LOT of 1930s era German clothing on people. There was no real conformation, he just figured it was going to do that.

BOY OH BOY WAS HE EVER RIGHT. Check out the TV Tropes character pages, they DESPERATELY try to justify this nasty turn in universe, which is really hard because turns out the Jews did the titans as punishment for the holocaust. I’m not joking.


#20

Is this having any negative ramifications for the reputation, popularity, endless spin-offs and merchandise deals of the series? I know Japan’s actions during WWII are viewed as a “complicated” matter in Japan (as in there is still open and normalized denialism) but what you’re describing sounds like it should at least be career ending in the west.


#21

I expect more impact when the anime catches up.


#22

It is, David Irving is a known anti-Semite and racist who went from historian, (he never was at all, legitimising his work is something I personally disagree with) to being utterly and rightfully discredited in 1996 following the libel trial.