“Introduction: Lovecraft Now”
A lovecraftian parody of the american “black lives matter” movement and the “All Lives Matter” response has been making the rounds on social media in the closing months of the 2016 election. Depicting a stylized rendering of Lovecraft’s monstrous tentacle creation Cthulhu—who has apparently entered the Presidential race—the slogan reads “No Lives Matter.”
The meme (Fig. 1) succinctly captures the essence of Lovecraftian “cosmic fear”—the perspective in the fiction of twentieth-century American author of weird fiction H. P. Lovecraft that, given the immensities of space and time, as well as the existence of alien beings such as Cthulhu of immeasurable power, human existence is meaningless. No lives matter because, undercutting human exceptionalism and pricking humanist pretensions, all human existence is inconsequential in the larger scheme of things.
At the same time, however, the meme also foregrounds what many have increasingly found objectionable in Lovecraft: the sense that, to riff on Orwell, all lives may be meaningless but some are considered more meaningless than others. As many readers of JFA will know, controversy related to Lovecraft’s notorious racism assumed a new level of cultural visibility in 2014 when author Daniel José Older started a petition to change the World Fantasy Award statuette from a bust of Lovecraft to one of African-American science fiction author Octavia Butler. Older’s position was that while Lovecraft’s legacy was important, he was also both a bigot and a poor wordsmith; these opinions led Older to write in his petition that “it’s time to stop co-signing [Lovecraft’s] bigotry and move sci-fi/fantasy out of the past” (Older). Taking a strong position against racism, Older told The Guardian, “includes not championing a vile racist” (Flood).
Older’s petition elicited strong feelings on both sides of the debate, with some arguing vigorously that the face of fantasy’s most prestigious award shouldn’t be that of a man with such reprehensible views, while others—most notably Lovecraft expert S.T. Joshi—rose to Lovecraft’s defense, asserting that he was a product of his times, that his views and his works could be separated, and/or that his contributions to speculative literature overshadow his dim views of “colour.” Lovecraft’s defenders lost—in November of 2015, it was announced that the bust of Lovecraft will be dropped and a new award created. As of this writing, the replacement is not yet known.
What the WFA dust-up, together with “No Lives Matter” parody, makes clear is that, while the Cyclopean vistas of deep time may reduce all human achievements to lone and level stretches of sand, in the near term, human lives do matter and art and politics (and art as politics) are implicated in establishing and contesting those standards of meaningfulness. Our interest here in the World Fantasy Awards controversy over Lovecraft’s image and legacy, as well as in contemporary appropriations and redeployments of Lovecraftian motifs and themes in media that didn’t even exist while Lovecraft was alive, has to do in particular with the ways in which they help to establish and inflect the meaningfulness of “Lovecraft” himself: to help establish who he was and what he stood for. What the WFA debate (which actually received coverage on America’s National Public Radio and in many prominent publications, including The Guardian, The Atlantic, Salon.com, and The LA Review of Books) did perhaps more than anything was to make still more people aware of Lovecraft—a relatively obscure author at the time of his death in 1937 from cancer at the age of 46. The debate in this way helped to crystallize a trend in process for over seventy years now: the “mainstreaming” of Lovecraft. But which Lovecraft?
The origins of this JFA special issue on H. P. Lovecraft predate the WFA controversy when in 2011 we began to discuss the curious and unprecedented ubiquity of Lovecraft in contemporary American popular culture. From South Park to Facebook memes to videogames to plushy Necronomicons, Lovecraft was seemingly popping up everywhere—and not just in anticipated venues such as weird fiction, horror fiction, and cult film, but also in much more mainstream contexts. Our question “why Lovecraft, why now?” became the focus for a call for papers for a book collection that would address Lovecraft’s popularity and role in twenty-first century culture. Unsure of how many proposals we would receive and hoping for enough to constitute a volume, we were a bit stunned then to get 70 of them—diverse, intriguing, and substantially more than any book collection could accommodate.
As with any such process of selection, there were proposals better suited to our focus or more to our taste than others, but there were so many varied and strong ones that we began to contemplate a second volume, the materialization of which can be found in these pages. The process of allocation was facilitated by the fact that the essay submissions broke upon an obvious fault line: we received a group of submissions that explored Lovecraft’s work in light of contemporary theoretical paradigms such as object-oriented ontology and posthumanism—these became our book collection, The Age of Lovecraft, published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2016; and we received a group of submissions that considered contemporary “appropriations” of Lovecraft—his influences on contemporary makers of popular culture, allusions to him to modern works, and extensions of his writings into other genres. These essays are the ones that appear here.
The question of what explains Lovecraft’s contemporary prominence (one that we explore in much greater depth in the introduction to The Age of Lovecraft) of course is an overdetermined one, but to a certain extent reflects a process of genealogical inheritance in which a burgeoning weird family tree reflects Lovecraft’s expanding sphere of influence. A prolific letter writer, Lovecraft during his lifetime encouraged the aspirations of young writers including August Derleth, Robert E. Howard, Robert Bloch, and Fritz Leiber. Both during his lifetime and after, these authors and others participated with Lovecraft in developing what has become known as the Cthulhu Mythos, a shared fictional world finding its basis in Lovecraft’s work. After Lovecraft’s death, Derleth and Donald Wandrei established the publishing house Arkham House in 1939 for the purpose of preserving in hardcover Lovecraft’s fiction. Lovecraft, together with these other authors, then influenced Ramsey Campbell, Stephen King, and Clive Barker, who in turn helped shape Neil Gaiman, China Miéville, Alan Moore, and Caitlín R. Kiernan. In film, Lovecraft’s writings first influenced Roger Corman and later Ridley Scott, John Carpenter, Sam Raimi, Stuart Gordon, Joss Whedon, and Guillermo del Toro. As fantasy and science fiction have moved mainstream and these latter figures have become the central makers of popular culture, they have brought Lovecraft along with them. In keeping with this expanding sphere of influence—and the central focus of the authors collected here—the ways of encountering Lovecraft have now shifted and expanded.
Stephen King discovered Lovecraft after his mother found a box of paperbacks left behind by her estranged husband. In the past, Lovecraft often appeared through such accidental means; some might argue that he was best experienced that way, surreptitiously, almost unconsciously. For decades, those few who valued Lovecraft championed him through finding friends willing to help to preserve the pulpy writings and to publish them for a wider audience. But Lovecraft—for better or worse—no longer lurks only in boxes of forgotten treasures; he now enjoys a significant place in the larger convergence culture of the twenty-first century. Aspects of his life and his fiction regularly feed the expanding mélange of commercial products, including a wide array of textual adaptations or appropriations. All these materials allow audiences a range of opportunities to rethink, expand, and play in a world they once thought limited to a handful of stories. Consider, too, the multiple internet memes such as the one which with we started, along with YouTube videos, plush dolls, action figures, fan fiction, fan art, and tentacle-ridden ski masks that populate the online marketplace. Lovecraft-inspired board games likewise provide a means of recreating—and experiencing—approximations of Lovecraftian spaces. Many popular games, including those with no obvious connection to Lovecraft, include some version of Lovecraft’s monstrous creation Cthulhu in expansions, special editions, and so on.
All these permutations and expansions of Lovecraft challenge conventional approaches to adaptation that typically focus on what happens when literary texts are adapted for the big screen. Even though film adaptations are significant in their own right, the turn to other media may shed light not only on the process of adaptation but also on the way the Lovecraftian weird functions. As two of the articles in this issue demonstrate, Lovecraft’s fiction is quite well suited to graphic novels. Adaptations of Lovecraft’s work into comics began with a 1950 retelling of “In the Vault.” Since then, weird tales have appeared intermittently in comic form; in the last ten years, however, multiple comic adaptations have appeared, suggesting that comic writers and artists are championing Lovecraft more than ever. An adaptation of At the Mountains of Madness by I. N. J. Culbard appeared in 2010. Culbard also adapted The Case of Charles Dexter Ward (2012), The Shadow out of Time (2013), and The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath (2014). Self Made Hero, a comics publisher, has also released two volumes of The Lovecraft Anthology (2011 and 2012). The stories that made up Batman: The Doom that Came to Gotham, which originally appeared in 2000 and 2001, were collected and published in a single volume in late 2015. Mike Mignola, the author and cover artist for those Batman tales is also the creator of Hellboy, a comic series (and movie franchise) deeply indebted to Lovecraft’s Cthulhu Mythos. Alan Moore, whose Neonomicon (2011) is discussed below, has long commented on Lovecraft’s influence on his large body of work, including such texts as Watchmen, V for Vendetta, and From Hell.
This issue, which focuses on Lovecraft’s influences and adaptations of his literary work into other media, begins with Amy Ransom’s “Lovecraft in Quebec: Transcultural Fertilization and Esther Rochon’s Reevaluation of the Powers of Horror,” an article that explores Lovecraft’s three short trips to Quebec, his recorded impressions of the province, its history and culture, and his influence on key French-Canadian authors such as Michael Tremblay, Daniel Sernine, Yves Meynard, and, especially, Esther Rochon. Ransom argues that each of these authors delve into Lovecraftian space in ways that not only pay homage to the Cthulhu mythos, but that also find ways of expanding it, questioning it, and revising it. Ransom shows how Esther Rochon, attuned to the same sort of discomfort expressed by those signing the petition to have Lovecraft’s face removed from the WFA statuette, reverses the “affective charge” within the tried-and-true Lovecraftian tropes in order to transcend some of the limitations Lovecraft seemed to place on the possibilities of understanding race, abjection, and Otherness.
From tours of Quebec we shift to journeys through intertextual space as Rebecca Janicker’s “Visions of Monstrosity: Lovecraft, Adaptation and the Comics Arts” examines selections from the two volumes of the comic series The Lovecraft Anthology to shed light on our understanding of adaptive practices. Whereas many scholars focus on film adaptations of Lovecraftian texts, Janicker demonstrates that comics may be a better medium for capturing and expanding Lovecraft’s moods, his stories, and his weirdness. With this in mind, Janicker foregrounds Lovecraft’s exuberance for the visual arts, especially his youthful enjoyment of illustrated texts and his allusions to painters and paintings in his fiction, to underscore the important connection between word and image in Lovecraft’s work.
Janicker’s discussion of comic adaptations then sets the stage for Adam Kozaczka’s analysis of Neonomicon (2011), Alan Moore’s sexually charged Lovecraftian graphic novel. In “H. P. Lovecraft, Too Much Sex, and Not Enough: Alan Moore’s Playfully Repressive Hypothesis,” Kozaczka discusses the complex ways Moore brings sexuality into his representations of the Cthulhu Mythos in order to comment on sexual politics, repression, and heteronormativity. Even though Neonomicon ultimately privileges a heterosexual, reproductive sexuality, it does so in ways that nevertheless critique the themes, plots, and characters typically associated with Lovecraftian horror.
Lovecraft’s popularity fuels an industry that uses his creations to develop games, Internet memes, toys, music, movies, and parodies. There is also a significant fan culture using these items. Justin Mullis’s “Playing Games with the Great Old Ones: Ritual, Play, and Joking within the Cthulhu Mythos Fandom” draws on insights from anthropology, religious studies, and fan culture to comment on the ways this large fan base creates an “as if” world to make sense of the problems and challenges of daily life. Fan practices, Mullis concludes, reflect the same kinds of hopes and aspirations as traditional religious communities.
The final piece in this issue, David McWilliam’s “Beyond the Mountains of Madness: Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror and Posthuman Creationism in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012),” addresses the film’s use of Lovecraftian pessimism to posit a universe in which human beings are not only insignificant but also irrelevant. Prometheus, according to McWilliam, offers a nihilistic form of posthuman creationism that undermines assumptions about the sanctity of human life by revealing a universe in which anthropocentrism gives way to the realization that humans are simply experimental subjects in an inscrutable alien plan.
This final proposition—that humans are simply experimental subjects in an inscrutable alien plan—brings us back to Cthulhu and the slogan “no lives matter.” Though the Lovecraftian parody is amusing, the essays included here highlight the point that, at least in terms of human time, lives do matter, but that the meaning of those lives is never fixed and set. Instead, there is a perpetual contest over meaning and the process of becoming. This is as true of “Lovecraft” as he is invented and reinvented by critics, artists, and readers, as it is of the ethnicities represented within his work.
Flood, Alison. “World Fantasy Awards Pressed to Drop HP Lovecraft Trophy in Racism Row.” TheGuardian.com. 17 Sept. 2014. Web. 28 Mar. 2016 http://www. theguardian.com/books/2014/sep/17/world-fantasy-awards-hp-lovecraft-racismrow-statuette Older, Daniel José. “Petitioning the World Fantasy Award: Make Octavia Butler the WFA Statue Instead of Lovecraft.” Change.org. Web. 28 Mar, 2016. https:// www.change.org/p/the-world-fantasy-award-make-octavia-butler-the-wfa-statueinstead-of-lovecraft
Introduction: Lovecraft Now
Carl Sederholm and Jeffrey Andrew Weinstock
Lovecraft in Quebec: Transcultural Fertilization and Esther Rochon’s Reevaluation of the Powers of Horror
Amy J. Ransom
Visions of Monstrosity: Lovecraft, Adaptation and the Comics Arts
P. Lovecraft, Too Much Sex, and Not Enough: Alan Moore’s Playfully Repressive Hypothesis
Playing Games with the Great Old Ones: Ritual, Play, and Joking within the Cthulhu Mythos Fandom
Beyond the Mountains of Madness: Lovecraftian Cosmic Horror and Posthuman Creationism in Ridley Scott’s Prometheus (2012)
Ernest Mathijs’s John Fawcett’s Ginger Snaps
Rev. by Aalya Ahmad
Balaka Basu, Katherine R. Broad, and Carrie Hintz’s Contemporary Dystopian Fiction for Young Adults: Brave New Teenagers
Rev. by Lisa Arter
Britte Lange’s Die Entdeckung Deutschlands: Science Fiction als Propaganda [The Discovery of Germany: Science Fiction as Propaganda]
Rev. by Bruce Beatie
Natacha Vas-Deyres, Patrick Bergeron, Patrick Guay, Florence Plet-Nicolas, and Danièle André’s Les Dieux cachés de la science-fiction française et francophone (1950-2010) [The Hidden Gods of French and Francophone sf, 1950-2010]
Rev. by Sophie Beaulé
David Lavery’s Joss Whedon, A Creative Portrait: From Buffy the Vampire Slayer to The Avengers
Rev. by Nellene Benhardus
Aurora Bernárdez and Carles Álvarez Garriga’s Cortázar de la A a la Z: un álbum biográfico [Cortázar from A to Z: A Biographical Album]
Rev. by Jaime R. Brenes Reyes
Christopher Robichaud’s Dungeons & Dragons and Philosophy: Read and Gain Advantage on All Wisdom Checks
Rev. by A. P. Canavan
Helen Conrad-O’Briain and Gerard Hynes’s J. R. R. Tolkien: The Forest and the City
Rev. by Ian Faith
Caroline Webb’s Fantasy and the Real World in British Children’s Literature
Rev. by Melanie Griffin
Judith Wolfe and Brendan Wolfe’s C. S. Lewis’s Perelandra: Reshaping the Image of the Cosmos
Rev. by Carl Kears
Gerry Canavan and Kim Stanley Robinson’s Green Planets: Ecology and Science Fiction
Rev. by Megan Mandell
Javier Ordiz’s Estrategias y figuraciones de lo insólito en la narrativa mexicana (siglos XIX–XXI) [Strategies of the Strange in Mexican Narrative (Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries)]
Rev. by Bret Noble
P. Telotte’s Science Fiction TV
Rev. by Amy J. Ransom
Artur Blaim’s Gazing in Useless Wonder: English Utopian Fictions, 1516-1800
Rev. by Matthew Reza
Jon Towlson’s Subversive Horror Cinema: Countercultural Messages of Films from Frankenstein to the Present
Rev. by Joshua Richardson
Theresa Freda Nicolay’s Tolkien and the Modernists: Literary Responses to the Dark New Days of the 20th Century
Rev. by Don Riggs
Barbara Brodman and James E. Doan’s The Universal Vampire Origins and Evolution of the Legend
Rev. by Cristina Santos
Sebastian Stoppe’s Unterwegs zu neuen Welten. Star Trek als politische Utopie [En route to New Worlds: Star Trek as Political Utopia]
Rev. by Simon Spiegel
Monika B. Hilder’s The Gender Dance: Ironic Subversion in C. S. Lewis’s Cosmic Trilogy and Surprised by the Feminine: A Rereading of C. S. Lewis and Gender
Rev. by Richard C. West