Reinventing Lovecraft at Tor

A fresh spin brings new life to a controversial horror legend.

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Arguably, HP Lovecraft is one of the fathers of modern horror (the grandfather would probably be Edgar Allen Poe). Rhode Island native Lovecraft, who lived from 1890-1937 created a bleak, horrific mythology that was both seamless and Howard_Phillips_Lovecraftexpansive. His creatures included the now iconic Cthulhu. His monsters were both alien in origin and Earth-evolved races that rose and fell long before Homo sapiens wandered off the savannnas.

What made Lovecraft a master of horror wasn’t necessarily his prose — it was his outlook. The monsters in his world were not remotely like us. In fact, they considered us no better than we would consider a nest of ants. It’s the theme that we don’t matter one bit to the universe that makes Lovecraft so horrific.

But Lovecraft is not without controversy. Today he’s widely derided as sexist and racist. His works are criticized for their fear and revulsion of the other. His critics have a point; I’ve always been hesitant to proscribe modern mores to past characters, though I wouldn’t let them off the hook.

This controversial aspect of Lovecraft has kept him at arms length from contemporary writers, which is a shame, because once you extract his personal views, there’s much gold to be mined from his works.

Leave it to Tor.com, one of my favorite (and free) sites for the latest in modern speculative fiction. They recently published a (long) short story, The Litany of Earth by Ruthanna Emrys. The writer brilliantly uses Lovecraft’s mythos to create a new world that, while it relies heavily on Lovecraft, removes all of his detestable aspects. Instead of reviling the other, Emrys’s world is about the other.

My point? Just because a writer/artist/actor/politician is a jerk in real life doesn’t necessarily mean we have to disregard all their efforts. Emrys’s short story is proof of this.

Here’s an intro to the story:

The state took Aphra away from Innsmouth. They took her history, her home, her family, her god. They tried to take the sea. Now, years later, when she is just beginning to rebuild a life, an agent of that government intrudes on her life again, with an offer she wishes she could refuse. 

Read the whole story here at Tor.com.

And, for an interesting take on Lovecraft’s controversial elements, read this blog post from the editor at Tor.com who decided to buy Emrys’s story. It’s fascinating to watch him grapple with his own mixed feelings.

(Art copyright © 2014 by Allen Williams)

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