It’s Howard Phillips Lovecraft’s birthday today. Considering the extraordinary influence his work has had on my tastes in fiction and, oddly, music, it still surprises me how long it took before I finally read his stuff. The work of Stephen King, China Miéville, Neil Gaiman, and Metallica all have roots in Lovecraft. My world, certainly, would not have been the same without him. My radio play, Comparing Notes at the End of the World, wouldn’t have existed if I hadn’t been exposed to the Lovecraft mythos.
While I admire his stuff, I would not describe myself as a fan. He had a tin ear when it came to dialogue, and his characters in general did not stand out. They were either scholars, or low class, or “other.” There’s also no getting around the racism. His descriptions of non-white people and cultures in his fiction are just embarrassing, and his essays and letters show how deep his tendencies ran. Sure, normal for the time, product of turn-of-the-century New England upbringing, whatever. “Socially acceptable” racism is still racism.
Still, while there are some artists whose work I cannot separate from their personal actions or beliefs, Lovecraft is not one of them. I suspect it has a lot to do with the fact that his work his almost a hundred years old now. His influence is so deep widespread that I was steeped in his mythos long before I ever even knew his name.
If you’re interested, you should totally check out New Cthulhu: The Recent Weird, edited by Paula Guran and featuring stories by Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Cherie Priest, Kim Newman, and several others. My favorite story in the collection is “A Colder War” by Charles Stross. It’s an alternate timeline of the Cold War, in which Lovecraftian horrors are used as weapons of mass destruction. It’s the mundane details of bureaucracy that sell the realism and make the stakes genuinely terrifying. I love it.