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(Some offensive language is below, but only for the purpose of clarity.)

I found Lovecraft early in my life, and his work fascinated me.  He wrote of horrific gods and monsters that were unlike any mythology I'd read before.  I read some of his imitators as well, and I could easily tell which ones understood his style, and which did not.  

Lovecraft's Elder Gods did not wish to inhabit our nightmares, or gain anything from our fear.  They didn't even wish to be loved.  Sometimes, they had worshippers, but Lovecraft's god didn't care about them at all.  They viewed us in the same way as we might view an infestation of vermin in our cellar.  They didn't wish to communicate with us, they just wanted us gone.

One day I read one of his lesser known short stories that described several tribes that met one another in combat.  One tribe was described as "Aryan" and defeated the other because of their debased, degenerate nature.  When I read the story I started to dislike the themes and suggestions and wondered if he was a racist.  After awhile I decided I shouldn't over-think things and continued reading.

Then I found this work:

On the Creation of Niggers:

When, long ago, the gods created Earth;
In Jove's fair image Man was shaped at birth.
The beasts for lesser parts were designed;
Yet were too remote from humankind.
To fill the gap, and join the rest of Man,
Th'Olympian host conceived a clever plan.
A beast they wrought, in semi-human figure,
Filled it with vice, and called the thing a Nigger..

I read it twice, and felt stunned, then angry.  Then I shut the library book and left it on the table.  That night I went through the books of his that I owned and read them again, trying to understand what I saw.  I wanted to know if I'd missed something I'd read before.  

When I finished around midnight I threw them all in the garbage, and I didn't get another of his books for many years.  When other people brought his work up, I changed the subject.  At the time my feeling was that the work of a racist shouldn't be read or promoted.

I grew up in Florida, and though I appear white and nobody I live near today is aware of it, part of my family was Seminole Indian, and my grandmother was black.  The Seminoles and escaped slaves had frequently intermarried.  My family and I were sometimes referred to as colored.  It's likely that if Lovecraft were a living author who read that work aloud in my presence during that period in my life, he would have had a really bad day.  I doubt he would have made it to the end of the poem.

Years later I attended a group of people into horror and one of them brought up Lovecraft.  I wanted to leave but didn't.  He mentioned what Lovecraft's life had been like.  

Lovecraft was born to a rich family in Massachusetts.  He was a sickly child who grew into a sickly man, nothing like myself in either regard.  He was believed to have suffered from what is now known as night terrors.  His family lost it's fortune and he lived in poverty for much of his adult life.  

He eventually married and moved to Brooklyn.  Initially, he loved New York, but he couldn't find any work, and in time his wife lost the shop she had owned.  She moved to Cleveland while he stayed in New York, and in time he came to hate the place.  His failure to find any employment in the midst of a large immigrant population had to clash with his image of himself as a privileged Anglo Saxon.

Eventually the marriage failed, though it was never officially ended.  He moved back to Massachusetts where he continued to write.  Despite his efforts he grew ever poorer, and eventually moved in with his Aunt.  In 1936, Lovecraft was diagnosed with cancer of the small intestine, as he has was also suffering from malnutrition.  He died in 1937 in Providence.

In Lovecraft's own words, from a note to the editor of Weird Tales, on re-submission of "The Call of Cthulhu:"

Now all my tales are based on the fundamental premise that common human laws and interests and emotions have no validity or significance in the vast cosmos-at-large. To me there is nothing but puerility in a tale in which the human form-and the local human passions and conditions and standards-are depicted as native to other worlds or other universes. To achieve the essence of real externality, whether of time or space or dimension, one must forget that such things as organic life, good and evil, love and hate, and all such local attributes of a negligible and temporary race called mankind, have any existence at all. Only the human scenes and characters must have human qualities.
Lovecraft was familiar with the work of German conservative theorist Oswald Spengler, who believed that the modern west was decadent, and probably doomed to be pulled down by outside influences.  Though economically speaking he was a bit of a socialist, in virtually any other way he was utterly conservative.

The fear of the unknown is present in virtually everything he wrote, even his letters for the most part.  Perhaps the most central theme in his work was that man lived in a tiny sliver of the universe which was safe, and everything around it was filled with horrors which we not only did not know of, but could not understand.  If we found out about the unknown, we would go mad.

When you live in a building, you are not obligated to know the name of the architect who built it, nor do you need to be aware whether it was built by slaves.  Writers suffer in that they leave an easier trail to follow than the architect; we are more likely to learn of their racism or other failings through their art.

When we do, we are left the decision of whether or not to throw their work away.  Whether we do so or not, everyone who has been effected by their work has been effected still, and if you don't know of the forces which made them the people they were, then you will not understand their art.  And art itself, is a reflection of the soul of the society which produced it.

Lovecraft himself was a particularly influential writer.  Stephen King wrote in Danse Macabre that Lovecraft was responsible for King's own fascination with horror, and has called him the twentieth century's greatest practitioner of the classic horror tale.

The history of mankind is filled with both achievements and horrible mistakes, many of them directly connected with one another.  If you try to ignore the mistakes, you won't really understand the achievements, and you will most likely relive them.  That at least, is my philosophy.  If we were all to throw his books in the garbage, then we would be living by Lovecraft's example.  I'd rather not do that.

Immediately after reading his poem I felt as though I had been duped, and I was stupid for not understanding what I saw.  I hated the author.  

Today when I think of how awful his life was, I realize that he had no faith in his own abilities to adapt to a changing world, and he likely felt frightened and alone much of his life.  I read his work sometimes and use it as as a model in my own work, and it helps me to remember that horror comes from fear, as does racism.  They don't have to inhabit the same work, but sometimes they do.  If I'd never picked up his work again, then my writing would be weaker for it.

Originally posted to Martian Expatriate on Sat Nov 24, 2012 at 10:54 AM PST.

Also republished by Readers and Book Lovers and Community Spotlight.

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