Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Embracing Lord Cthulhu

"Devils so work that things which are not appear to men as if they were real" -- This quotation by the early Christian writer Lacantius appears as the epigraph of the story "The Festival" by H.P. Lovecraft. (The Cthulhu Mythos, Kindle Locations 261-262).
H.P.Lovecraft, 1890-1937 (Wikipedia)

Lovecraft is the perfect reading for this week. As the Brits struggle with their racist voting decision, it's comforting to read about unknown aliens from other planets that make unspeakable threats against the pure human species. The worshippers of the unknowable and maybe unpronounceable Cthulhu speak in unintelligible, harsh, consonant-filled utterances. They say: "Iä! Iä! Cthulhu fhtagn! Ph’nglui mglw’nafh Cthulhu R’lyeh wgah-nagl fhtagn.” (The Cthulhu Mythos MEGAPACK, Kindle Locations 5148-5149).

The frightening races of interstellar invaders in Lovecraft's various stories have skin of strange colors, maybe green, maybe dark. They might look like undersea creatures or just malformed humans:
"Into the lands of civilization came Nyarlathotep, swarthy, slender, and sinister, always buying strange instruments of glass and metal and combining them into instruments yet stranger. He spoke much of the sciences of electricity and psychology and gave exhibitions of power which sent his spectators away speechless, yet which swelled his fame to exceeding magnitude." (Mythos, Kindle Locations 27-29)
Switch out "Nyarlathotep" and put in some actual race of foreigners. It sounds like the "leave" proponents' fantasy. Or maybe like Donald Trump. Build a wall against the swarthy, slender, sinister invaders. Hate the Jews who speak of electricity or psychology.

Writing seventy years ago, Lovecraft was a genuine hater of just about everybody that the majority of British voters expressed their hatred for last week. His extra-terrestrial creep-outs resemble everybody Trump hates. It's not surprising that Lovecraft, an American antisemite, racist, and xenophobe invented a paranoid weird fiction that relates so well to the current paranoia. Of course he wrote during an earlier outbreak of racism, xenophobia, and antisemitism -- but he wasn't commenting on the phenomenon, he was reflecting the spirit of his times. And maybe presaging ours.

"To anyone who’s read all of Lovecraft’s fiction plus even a smattering of biographical material, his venomous racism is self-evident; it’s right there on the page," wrote Laura Miller in Slate in an article titled "It’s OK to admit that H.P. Lovecraft was racist."

OK. Maybe we should just embrace Lovecraft's targets and recognize his prejudices as precursors to the worst feelings of our own time. Instead of identifying with the fearful white Christian small-town Americans who have seen the scary aliens, let's sympathize with the aliens and what they symbolize. Instead of feeling sorry for Lovecraft's lonely ineffective academics that probe the memories of a few surviving witnesses to the minions of Cthulhu, I think I'll just identify with the beasts and dream of an America where minority voters have a real say-so. Cthulhu lives!

"In his house at R’lyeh dead Cthulhu waits dreaming.” (MEGAPACK, Kindle Location 8158).

1 comment:

Jeanie said...

I have never heard of Lovecraft. Fascinating. The whole thing in England and here, too, scares the heck out of me. What is happening to people? I just done understand...

Thanks for this one. I always learn something when I'm here!