Tuesday, 8 January 2013

Lovecraft's Book

Richard Lupoff Lovecraft's Book (1985)

It has often been said that in respect of political views, H.P. Lovecraft was simply a man of his time, which is pretty much bollocks unless you subscribe to the notion that Adolf Eichmann was similarly no more than a man of his time. Sadly, Lovecraft was a shocking racist who took a dim view of those not blessed with Anglo-Saxon genes, or at least some tie to cultural traditions harking back to the pastier bits of Europe. The clues are to be found amongst references to all those swarthy and expressly degenerate types forever summoning Cthulhu up from the ocean depths in his fiction, and of course his 1912 poem On the Creation of Niggers might also be considered something of a smoking gun:

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

It seems fair to say that Lovecraft's views were somewhat stronger than just not liking reggae. Happily, whilst such sentiments undoubtedly informed his fiction to some extent, they're most often so deeply buried within the general fog of horror as to be effectively neutered, and certainly there was never a trace of anything that could be described as an agenda - at least none that I ever noticed. Additionally, the man's talents and circumstances were arguably such as to allow us to overlook his being a bit of a twat in some respects, so it's not like reading Lovecraft is quite the same as a reassessment of the oeuvre of Jim Davidson; and, it seems he softened his more unsavoury views in later life as perhaps evinced by his marriage to Sonia Greene - a Ukrainian Jew, and certainly by regrets expressed in  private correspondence and vocal support for the moderate socialism of Roosevelt's New Deal.

Nevertheless, for someone who wrote so many letters, the man remains something of a mystery, and particularly in regard to the evolution of his personal politics. Richard Lupoff attempts to address this, not so much offering an alternate history as a set of pieces which fit existing gaps of the jigsaw puzzle with surprising finesse - a story that almost certainly didn't happen, but could have done.

Lovecraft's Book is in part a spy thriller with actual historical characters connected by improbable but entirely plausible means. Lovecraft is sought by right-wing organisations as the potential author of an American Mein Kampf, a volume to galvanise the masses and supposedly demonstrate why the United States needs to follow in the footsteps of Hitler's Germany and Mussolini's Italy - Lovecraft's naive sympathies being somewhat in that direction, and with his  culturally Anglo-Saxon background likely to grant the title a respectability it might not achieve authored by an American citizen of more conspicuously Germanic or Italian heritage. The story takes in cameos from Clark Ashton Smith, Robert E. Howard and others; casts the mafia as - well, if not exactly the good guys, at least on the right side; and culminates with H.P. Lovecraft and Houdini's little brother battling Nazis in an underwater base. Lovecraft of course triumphs, defeating a plan to overrun the United States with aquatic blackshirts (who would have risen from the coastal waves to seize power) and in doing so is inspired to write A Shadow Over Innsmouth. More importantly, he gets some of his own shit rubbed in his face and duly learns from the experience, as he seemingly did in real life, although perhaps not for the same reasons.

This could have been one of the most stupid stories ever told, but Lupoff's research is impressive, and for all that the whole idea is ludicrous, it works, and it works well - so well that I'm not sure it could be legitimately termed alternate history so much as over-enthusiastic speculation. In any case, it's a damn good yarn of surprising depth, particularly in its dissection of the psychological appeal of Fascism. Much as I've admired Lovecraft's writing, it has never before occurred to me that he might have been overly endowed with redeeming qualities as a person, but Richard Lupoff has given me pause for a rethink on that score.


  1. Friends have been amazed when I told them that sci-fi fans were the main base of American fascism in WW2, but it's not really surprising when you understand the elitism, racial paranoia and cult of the Superman which you see in so many writers of that era.

  2. Good grief! I didn't know that but sadly it makes a hell of a lot of sense, particularly with that whole superman thing that seems to crop up in all sorts of places. There's probably some correlation to be made with the appeal of the Nuremberg Rally dynamic to people who like to have complete sets of things maintained in alphabetical order (which er... I do myself by the way)...

  3. What we see in many of Lovecraft’s tales is a metaphor for his horror of miscegenation. You could read ‘The Shadow Over Innsmouth’ as an example of his fears about the consequences of inbreeding, even if one of the races involved is completely fictional. One commentator has summed this up quite well; if the history of America is a melting pot of different races, then the puritanical Lovecraft would see it more like a witch’s cauldron.

  4. Wow - didn't realise you were following, Ed! Great to see your name popping up here.