H. P. Lovecraft

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"I tell you, I have struck depths that your little brain can't picture. I have seen beyond the bounds of infinity and drawn down demons from the stars... I have harnessed the shadows that stride from world to world to sow death and madness... Space belongs to me, do you hear?" — From Beyond, 1920[1]
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Howard Phillips Lovecraft (1890–1937) was an American author of horror, suspense, science fiction, and fantasy stories, including many works in the aptly named weird fictionWikipedia genre. He is best known as the creator of the Cthulhu mythos, which figure prominently in many of his stories.[2]

Much of Lovecraft's writing is concerned with the post-Enlightenment horrors of cosmic irrelevance and the idea that civilization is fragile and fleeting. Many misunderstand the common theme of people going mad upon seeing the alien beings in his work; the idea is that sanity is the denial of the true nature of the world and that seeing the creatures conflicts with one's deeply held beliefs (which takes on a whole new significance when you consider that the man was an extreme racist and xenophobe even by the standards of his day), not that the monster is just that scary.

Lovecraft is considered to be one of the most influential horror authors of the 20th century. His writing and style have been instrumental in inspiring writers in all fields, not to mention many imitators.[3] Notable authors who have owed their success and inspiration to Lovecraft include Alan Moore, Stephen King, Clive Barker and Robert E. Howard (the creator of Conan the Barbarian), to name just a few.[4] Howard and Lovecraft were actually good friends in life and collaborated on more than one story together.

Political views[edit]

Lovecraft had a laundry list of phobias. Besides drawing inspiration for his work from his dreams, the greater part of his work was also influenced by his feelings of discomfort around women, fear of foreigners and people of color, and a severe seafood allergy. He was a raging racist even by the standards of his time (at least for most of his life), which explicitly showed through in several of his writings. Most notably in arguably his best known work Call of Cthulhu, the main character suspects his uncle was dead because he crossed a black person. The Rats in the Walls is infamous for having a cat named Nigger-Man, after Lovecraft's own cat.

Many of his works espoused the sanctity of the Anglo-Saxon people while condemning miscegenation and decrying other races and ethnicities, especially Asians, whom he was convinced would conquer the world. Notable works where he openly displayed his racism include The Street, The Horror at Red Hook, and his surprisingly obscure poem "On the Creation of Niggers".[5]

However, Lovecraft's racism, while real, may have been generally misunderstood and possibly exaggerated. It wasn't uncommon in previous years to give the name "Nigger" to various places and people,Wikipedia including black cats. Scott's expedition to Antarctica, for instance, had a ship's cat named Nigger. Lovecraft seems to have followed the British type of racism rather than the typical American one—where education, behavior, and breeding count significantly. He married a Jew, for instance, saying she was well integrated into American society, and many of his villains are in fact white, though they tend to be poorly educated and are often inbred, or (paradoxically) interbred with some of his nameless horrors of the ocean.

Lovecraft was also very open about his views in essays and the hundreds of letters he wrote during his lifetime. Besides his usual racism and xenophobia, Lovecraft revealed he was very supportive of fascism, white supremacy, aristocracies, and elitism. He believed a society that implemented elements of all that, would create an ideal society to live in.

He greatly despised the American Republican Party. In a 1936 letter to fellow science fiction writer C. L. Moore, Lovecraft said that their ideas and beliefs deserved "the tolerance and respect one gives to the dead."[6] Of course, the Republican Party's policies were very different at the time (the Democrats were known for their advocacy of segregation, not that the Republicans were particularly progressive towards ethnic minorities either). He apparently wasn't a fan of the Democratic Party either, as a lesser known 1929 letter to Woodburn Harris shows.[7]

Despite his unease among women, general xenophobia, and occasional anti-Semitism, he married a foreign-born Jewish woman, Sonia Greene.Wikipedia The two collaborated on a story The Horror at Martin's Beach and for a time lived together in New York City, something Lovecraft came to hate due to the city's tolerance of numerous foreign ethnicities and immigrants. The marriage unsurprisingly didn't last, collapsing after a mere two years. However, this seems to have been more because of financial reasons than anything else, as the two weren’t exactly able to live together for most of the marriage.[8]

Whatever else he was, Lovecraft wrote great horror stories and lavished affection upon his black pet cat whom his grandfather named Nigger-Man and who makes a guest appearance in his short story "The Rats in the Walls".[9]

The worm turns[edit]

Nearer to the end of his life, he moved towards supporting socialism and denouncing fascism as well as capitalism (he himself cites 1931 as the turning point). By the mid-1930s, he showed support for Franklin Delano Roosevelt and the New Deal.[10] In one 1936 letter, he wrote (emphasis apparently his):

[W]hat I used to respect was not really aristocracy, but a set of personal qualities which aristocracy then developed better than any other system … a set of qualities, however, whose merit lay only in a psychology of non-calculative, non-competitive disinterestedness, truthfulness, courage, and generosity fostered by good education, minimum economic stress, and assumed position, AND JUST AS ACHIEVABLE THROUGH SOCIALISM AS THROUGH ARISTOCRACY.[11]

In one 1937 letter, he also denounced laissez-faire capitalism as "dead" and, amidst lines that begin to make Lovecraft sound almost like Karl Marx himself, insinuated that attempting to fuel the continuation of capitalism would lead to concentration camps:

Capitalism is dying from internal as well as external causes, & its own leaders & beneficiaries are less & less able to kid themselves. I'm no economist, but from recent reading I've been able to form a rough picture of the dilemma—the need to restrict consumers' goods & to pile up a needless plethora of producing equipment in order to maintain the irrational surplus called profit—which has caused orthodox economists like Hayek & Robbins to admit that only starvation wages & artificial scarcity could stabilize the profit system in future & avert increasing cyclical depressions of utterly destructive scope. Laissez-faire capitalism is dead—make no mistake about that. The only avenue of survival for plutocracy is a military & emotional fascism whereby millions of persons will be withdrawn from the industrial arena & placed on a dole or in concentration-camps with high-sounding patriotic names. That or socialism—take your choice. In the long run it won't be the New Deal but the mere facts of existence which will be recognised as the real & inevitable slayer of Hooverism. Nobody is going to 'destroy the system'—for it has been destroying itself ever since it evolved out of the old agrarian-handicraft economy a century & a half ago. All this from an antiquated mummy who was on the other side until 1931! Well—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…[12]

Given the Holocaust, that aside about concentration camps may seem very prescient to a contemporary reader, depending on whether you agree with some of his premises (e.g. fascism as an attempt to preserve capitalism). However, Germany was already running camps by this time — such as the Dachau concentration camp (opened 1933) — and these were mainly focused on imprisoning political opponents by that point in time ("First they came ...").Wikipedia The camps for political prisoners were also known about by the public: local German newspapers openly reported on the Dachau camp.[13]

Nonetheless, Lovecraft still expressed some criticisms towards Marxism and Marxists around this point. In particular we find them in his 1936 letters to Kenneth Sterling. In one sent in September he wrote:

I read the old Communist Manifesto many years ago; & even though then wholly out of sympathy with it, was impressed by some of the isolated points it brought out. Today I would sympathise on more counts—but even so, would not give it a 100% endorsement. There is no question of the vast intelligence & far-sightedness of Marx & Engels, & of the basic importance of the large economic principles they discovered & formulated. The only mistake is to think that every ramification they developed, & every inference they drew, is infallibly accurate & worthy of slavishly literal following under every conceivable set of circumstances. … Some people seem never able to realise that no great discovery comes forth without attendant clouds of error & half truth. The biological deductions of Darwin were essentially sound—though they included many minor slips & ignored important factors later discovered. The psychological principles of Freud are fundamentally important—but they are overlaid with provoking amounts of bias & absurdity. So with Marx. … The notion of international commerce as a pacificator is patently fallacious—while the dictum that revolution would come first in a highly industrialised country has been directly reversed by facts. … Actually, no theory ought to be followed in planning the future of a state. Each nation & culture-stream has different desires & needs & habitual methods … If the old plutocrats can keep their senses about them, & realise that they must relinquish their special privileges one by one, there is distinct hope for orderly progress. If they don't, then one must expect that irrational & violent tactics, likely to end in communism, will be used against them. The nations of Scandinavia form a very hopeful sign—for there the plutocrats are gradually backing down under the combined pressure of increased government supervision & the competing system of consumers' cooperatives.[14]

Further, in a letter the next month:

[M]ost of the motive force behind any contemplated change in the economic order will necessarily come from the persons who have benefited least by the existing order; but I do not see why that fact makes it necessary to wage the struggle otherwise than as a fight to guarantee a place for everybody in the social fabric. The just demand of the citizen is that society assign him a place in its complex mechanism whereby he will have equal chances for education at the start, & a guarantee of just rewards for such services as he is able to render (or a proper pension if his services cannot be used) later on. … The war is not of any one "class" against any other "class". It is of the people—each human being considered as an equal unit irrespective of the amount of so-called "property" attached to him—against anybody & everybody who would obstruct a programme guaranteeing each member of the people security & opportunities commensurate with his skill. This may, of course, mean—in terms of contemporary society—a struggle in which the low-paid wage-worker & the unemployed predominate on one side whilst the highly-paid businessman & inheritor of wealth predominate on the other side; but I think it is more socially wholesome—more favourable to a rational mood & perspective, & better adapted to the psychology of the future order aimed at—to think of the matter in general human terms than to think of it in terms of the present industrial status of the majority of participants on either side. … If the Marxians would lay less stress on the literal hammer & sickle & lay more stress on general circumstance of prevailing inequality & injustice, they would win over more of the ill-paid professors & bankrupt small grocers & corporation-fleeced inventors & booted-around bookkeepers of whose continued capitalistic sympathies they so justly complain. The big mistake of the Marxians is that they blind themselves to all non-economic factors. … If there ever has to be something corresponding to a "class war", it will probably be waged on purely economic lines, & not fall into the incidental tragic pattern of a war of plebeian coarseness & ignorance against patrician taste, intellect, & refinement.[15]

Regarding the ostensible ignorance of Marxists to cultural tendencies presented here by Lovecraft: about this time, the Marxian Frankfurt School had just been emerging. Were Lovecraft to have survived another couple decades, we might have seen some interesting correspondence on these subjects between him and Adorno (whose opinions on music and popular culture might have been just elitist enough for Lovecraft's liking).

See also[edit]

External links[edit]


  1. H. P. Lovecraft, From Beyond dagonbytes.com.
  2. Weinstock, J.R., in Forward to The Call of Cthulhu and Other Dark Tales (2009) Barnes and Noble, page X. ISBN 1435116437
  3. Curt Wohleber, The Man Who Can Scare Stephen King. American Heritage, December 1995.
  4. HP Lovecraft: The man who haunted horror fans. BBC, 22 March 2012.
  5. "On the Creation of Niggers" on Wikisource
  6. Quotations from H. P. Lovecraft's letters on Wikiquote
  7. While We are On the Subject of HP Lovecraft Quotes… 40yrs.blogspot.com, 3 November 2010.
  8. See the Wikipedia article on H. P. Lovecraft.
  9. "The Rats in the Walls" on Wikisource
  10. The Political Transition of Howard Philips Lovecraft. grimreviews.blogspot.com, 18 October 2008.
  11. Joshi, S. T. (1996) (in en). H.P. Lovecraft: A Life. Necronomicon Press. pp. 566. ISBN 978-0-940884-88-5. 
  12. Lovecraft's 1937 Letter to Catherine Moore.
  13. "Himmler sets up Dachau". Birkbeck, University of London.
  14. Lovecraft's September 1936 Letter to Kenneth Sterling.
  15. Lovecraft's October 1936 Letter to Kenneth Sterling.