Lovecraft Apologists and the World Fantasy Award
About three years ago, World Fantasy Award-winning author Nnedi Okorafor wrote an essay about Lovecraft’s Racism and the World Fantasy Award Statuette. Earlier this year, author and editor Daniel José Older started a petition to change the World Fantasy Award trophy to Octavia Butler. There’s been plenty of other discussion, but those are two of the pieces that stood out to me, and seemed to generate a lot of awareness and debate.
There is now a counter-petition to keep Lovecraft and fight back against the forces of the Social Justice League, or something like that.
I’m not sure we should make Octavia Butler the new WFA statuette, in part because I’m not sure any specific individual is the best image for an award meant to represent the world of fantasy. But I am 100% on board with getting rid of the trophy we have now.
First of all, I’m sorry, but I find the trophy to be almost obscenely ugly. I get that it’s intended to be a caricature, and artist Gahan Wilson is obviously a skilled sculptor and artist. But Wilson’s style is described as “fantasy-horror” and “playful grotesque,” and I just don’t think one of the top awards in our field should be embodied by the word “grotesque.”
As numerous others have pointed out, there’s a deeper level of grotesqueness. Lovecraft undeniably influenced the fantasy and horror genre. He was also undeniably racist. In Nnedi’s blog post, she quotes Lovecraft’s 1912 poem “On the Creation of Niggers“:
This isn’t the only example of racism in Lovecraft’s work, though it’s one of the more blatant. Phenderson Djeli Clark has an essay examining Lovecraft’s racism at Racialicious.
Steven Stevenson disagrees, and posted a counter-petition to “Keep the beloved H.P. Lovecraft caricature busts (‘Howards’) as World Fantasy Awards trophies, don’t ban them to be PC!”
The very first sentence describes Lovecraft’s “racism” in scare quotes — because sure, the guy’s writing was full of references to “subhuman swine” and the “negro problem” and “sneering, greasy mulattos” and how blacks are “vastly inferior” and “negro fetishism” and a cat called “Nigger Man” and so on. But let’s not leap to conclusions and label such things racist.
Stevenson admits that some of Lovecraft’s personal views were “less than ideal.” But he quickly explains that Lovecraft was a product of his time.
This excuse is, to use the technical term, bullshit.
Lovecraft was a product of his time, and spewed an awful lot of hateful, racist shit in his fiction and in his personal writing. There are a lot of other authors who were a product of that same time, and they somehow managed to avoid dousing every page in fetid, over-the-top racism.
This isn’t to say Lovecraft’s contemporaries were perfect. L. Frank Baum wrote a nasty editorial regarding the Sioux nation. I could barely finish Edgar Rice Burrough’s first Tarzan novel. But while it is important to acknowledge historical and cultural context, Lovecraft’s bigotry is pretty extreme, even when examined within that context.
Samuel Bowers co-founded the White Knights of the Ku Klux Klan, and was convicted of murdering several civil rights leaders. He was a product of his time. You know who else was a product of that exact same time? Mister Rogers. Any given time will produce a whole range of people, from amazing, kind, compassionate human beings to frightened, hateful cowards.
There’s no need to deny that Lovecraft was an influential writer. And nobody’s saying you’re not allowed to read or even enjoy his stories. (Though you might want to check out How to Be a Fan of Problematic Things.) But let’s not pretend the man didn’t hold and espouse some despicable views on race.
Stevenson hits other tired buzzwords and phrases in his petition. It’s just the “humourless PC crowd” who want the trophy changed. Arguing for that change is suggested to be a “fascist act.” He also throws in an attack on “the misandry … promoted by many self-described ‘feminist authors’.” Because if you’re going to play Defensive Apologist Bingo, you want to fill the whole damn board!
The complaints about Lovecraft and the World Fantasy Award aren’t about “diminish[ing] him for being male and Caucasian.” It’s about wanting something other than the bulging decapitated head of an over-the-top racist to embody one of the highest honors in our genre.
So yeah, if I haven’t made it clear before, add my voice to the crowd calling for a change. I don’t know that the trophy should be any specific individual, but at this point, I think just about anything would be an improvement. (Please don’t take that as a challenge to come up with something worse.)
October 8, 2014 @ 9:45 pm
I am a big fan of HPL’s stories (which I started reading as a child) and I wholeheartedly agree with you. He’s definitely problematic at best and no way to honor the genre.
As an aside, I have had a similar argument about the overt racism in his work several times at gaming conventions, where I play and run a lot of Call of Cthulhu. There will invariably be some white dude going on about how all fans of the game should read HPL’s fiction, often to an audience including women and POC, while brushing aside the deep racism and misogyny. It gives me the creeping horrors to think of how many people have been driven out or made to feel unwelcome due to that advice.
Alana Joli Abbott
October 8, 2014 @ 10:05 pm
Agreed. I don’t think changing the name of an award says to anyone that Lovecraft’s work wasn’t pivotal and incredibly influential. I’ve read bits about how his work was essentially always intended to be public domain, so that people could borrow from the Cthulu mythos for their own fiction, and that’s, in my opinion, pretty darn cool and forward thinking. It doesn’t counter his backward views on race and gender, but you can acknowledge both things.
I’d also in general prefer that awards be not in the shape of someone’s head. I read on the MFA jury where the award is in the shape of a lion (http://www.tolkienlibrary.com/press/images/Aslan.jpg), and I think the Hugos have done an awful lot with the rocket base for the award shape. I’m not sure what kind of fantasy object/creature I’d choose for the World Fantasy Award trophy, but there are plenty of good icons in the genre. I’m sure we can find *one* that would make the majority content, if not happy.
October 8, 2014 @ 10:17 pm
Hmm, couldn’t get much more iconic than a dragon for a fantasy award.
October 8, 2014 @ 10:36 pm
I wouldn’t mind seeing a change, but I give more credence to the fact he’s a product of his time. Just because other authors from that era didn’t lace their pages with racism doesn’t mean they didn’t have the same views. Almost every white man born in 1820 would have similar beliefs. Especially given post-civil war tensions. And while the poem is awful, I wouldn’t be so quick to file “negro problem” under a racist thing. Remember that in the last couple of decades 3+ million blacks had been set free, but given nothing to enjoy that freedom. So there most certainly was a problem and the blacks of that day would probably have agreed. Of course, within context he may have meant as racist given he was prone to such things.
Also, I think it’s understating it to simply call Lovecraft influential. The shared mythology he created is still extremely popular. There’s constantly new Cthulu and Miskatonic anthologies being published. Lovecraftian mythology was even the theme of the latest Scooby Doo television series. His visions have infected the work of nearly every horror author working today.
So, to recap. I agree he’s a racist. I disagree that his time period shouldn’t be taken into account. I also think he’s more influential than most people on Jim’s side of the debate give him credit for.
I’m sure I’ll be called an apologist by somebody now. Maybe I am, but it’d be fallacious to dismiss someone’s argument based soley on that assessment.
Lastly, and this is important, I don’t really care who or what’s on the statue. I’m not all that bothered by the current statue, though it looks silly. But I’d also be fine with a dragon or something similar. (A goblin?)
October 8, 2014 @ 10:36 pm
I’m never quite sure how to feel when I read one of those ‘counter petitions’. At a glance they come off as a high schooler’s attempt to write Swiftian satire, but then I realize that the writer actually believes what he’s writing, and I suffer one of those sanity-blasting lapses of ignorance that Lovecraft was on about.
As a statuette, I think the current award is hilarious. To me, it looks how I imagine one of his ‘blasphemous’ idols might, and turning that around on him fills me with unpleasant amusement. As an award… no. In some ways, he’s really kind of a symbol for segments of the fandom that would prefer it to remain a bastion of straight, white guys.
If people are so set on keeping him a part of the symbolism, make the statuette Cthulhu, or a cat. Aslan, as mentioned, would be a good figure, or something un-gendered like a dragon or treasure chest.
October 8, 2014 @ 10:48 pm
That is really, really fugly. Even if he wasn’t racist, I don’t think I’d want that on display. Hugos and Nebulas are at least pretty.
If he must continue to be honored (for… reasons?), let’s have a Cthulhu. I think we’d all rather see a non-human representation more even than Octavia Butler’s decapitated head; though if we gotta have a bust, she’s best.
A non-cutesy dragon would be good too.
October 8, 2014 @ 11:00 pm
Does the award has to be a statuette, or even a trophy? Why not make it a witch’s / wizard’s pointy hat, to be given to the winner to wear on stage, à la Miss Universe crowns, perhaps :-)? A pointy hat is perhaps the most powerful totem of the fantasy genre and it is (as far as I know, please correct me if I’m wrong) gender neutral as well.
If a trophy / statuette is obligatory, I really like the idea of a dragon as suggested in a couple of posts above.
Lastly, Mr. Hines, about that last parenthetical in your post. It’s a little scary how well you know teh interwebz. 🙂
October 8, 2014 @ 11:03 pm
The pointy hat would indeed serve many types of fantasy (high, dark, whimsical) AND would join the proud tradition of the Campbell Tiara.
October 8, 2014 @ 11:35 pm
So… the existence of a genuine problem of how to gainfully employ 3 million people justifies calling them subhuman swine. Gotcha.
I would never pretend to say he’s not hugely influential. I see Lovecraft references EVERYWHERE. But I also don’t think that’s sufficient excuse. I don’t want Tolkien’s head or Gary Gygax’s for the award either, and those two have equally hefty influences on the genre, without nearly as much racist awfulness.
October 9, 2014 @ 12:34 am
Regardless of politics, that statue is hideous. But seriously, a dragon or a nice pointy hat would make so much more sense.
The more I think about it, the more I like the idea of a wearable award hat. By winning this award, the writer is now officially a Wizard/Witch/Whatever pointy-hat-wearing title they prefer.
October 9, 2014 @ 12:37 am
Just please, no unicorns,okay?
October 9, 2014 @ 12:41 am
I agree with the Cthulhu statue. Why not that? It’s supposed to be a World Fantasy award. Why not something that reflects the “world”?
October 9, 2014 @ 12:43 am
I like the idea of Gandalf’s hat, for example. That sounds cool. Or maybe the Hogwarts Sorting Hat. It’s completely gender neutral.
October 9, 2014 @ 12:52 am
I’m a WoC and a huge fan of the Cthulhu Mythos but (and this is a distinct difference) not a fan of H.P. Lovecraft. I prefer to read books written in the Mythos that are written by everyone else but him.
I started reading him when I was about twelve and knew none of this about him. I also remember being completely unimpressed with his writing style, so I haven’t read all of his works and that is reason enough not to be a fan of him. But I love The Mythos he created and that’s my way of getting around the writer himself being problematic. It’s true that other writers in that genre may be just as racist but I’m thoroughly ignorant of who they might be so that’s an idea that not bothering me right now.
That said, I think the statue should be changed to truly reflect the entire genre. I don’t think the disembodied head of any human being is appropriate for such an award.
October 9, 2014 @ 12:59 am
How about a unicorn riding a dragon?
October 9, 2014 @ 1:21 am
I agree with the others who have said that being a product of one’s time is not a justification for the kind of vicious sexism and misogyny that Lovecraft exhibited. Yes, the norms were different back then, and most people had different views than we do, but regardless of whether some other writers from that era were secretly racist (or who had some unfortunate stuff in their writing that wasn’t badly meant), there was something about Lovecraft that made it come boiling out.
I think of Tolkien as an example. Was he racist and sexist? By modern standards, certainly. Was he a product of his time (an era when patriarchy and European colonialism was widely regarded as Good Things)? Certainly. And his writing did reflect his values. He had few female characters of interest, and no people of color. And his orcs were dark skinned. But there’s no reason to believe he categorically hated women and people of African descent. In fact, he loathed apartheid, even though he’d been born in South Africa.
Having the cartoonish bust of a man who vehemently and openly hated people of African descent (and probably women too) is going to make some people feel uncomfortable, as if the genre doesn’t welcome them. But as some have pointed out, the choice of another iconic figure might make other people uncomfortable. I agree with the others who say that no person’s bust should be used as an award as broad as this one. Fantasy is a genre for everyone, and some iconic symbol (whether it’s a dragon, or a wizard’s hat, or something else of that nature) might serve the genre better.
More Lovecraft WFA Brouhaha | A.W. Hendry
October 9, 2014 @ 4:09 am
[…] widely respected fantasy author Jim Hines posted an article yesterday on his blog about the brouhaha and, in particular, about a counter petition to keep the World Fantasy Award as […]
October 9, 2014 @ 6:18 am
I wasn’t aware of any misogyny in Lovecraft’s work? Racism aye, I’ve written about that plenty myself recently, but I don’t recall any misogyny. Whilst women are certainly under represented in his fiction I honestly can’t think of anything similar to his racism with regards women.
D. D. Webb
October 9, 2014 @ 6:53 am
Honestly I’m a little late to this debate because I don’t personally like Lovecraft’s work on its own merits, without even getting into his views and attitudes. I have heard about his racism, it just never affected me at all as I didn’t read his work; I’ve never had occasion before to realize how severe it was.
I’m not surprised to see people jumping on his bandwagon, though, and I don’t mean to imply that those people are racist, necessarily. This is just human nature; we’re wired to seek simple solutions and to conform the reality we perceive to our expectations. The human brain is a pattern-recognition engine, basically, and as such we all tend to get defensive about people whose work we like, even to the point of becoming apologists for some of their worse habits. It’s simple psychology.
With that said, I’ve never found the “product of his time” defense acceptable. I’m a product of my time, and I don’t hate any of the acceptable targets around me. Living as I do in the modern West, it is socially acceptable for me to be suspicious and hostile toward Muslims, toward any immigrants to my country, to object to marriage equality for LGBTQ people and to regard it as a fine and normal state of affairs that women don’t receive fair compensation or an equal power to participate in most professional fields. If I subscribed to any of those views, I would hope that history would judge me as a small-minded, willfully ignorant person whose moral failings cast a shadow across anything I achieved.
Racism is not a social view or a personality trait; it’s a form of hate, and evidence of a seriously twisted mindset. It is not okay just because it occurs in a place and time where a lot of other people share it. I’d argue that it is LEAST okay under those circumstances.
You can like Lovecraft’s work, or anyone else’s, without subscribing to his views. I like authors I don’t agree with politically or philosophically. When it comes to putting someone’s face on an award that represents a genre, though, more than his contribution to that genre need to be considered. The fact that a man was an avowed racist is immediately relevant, and should result in him being taken off that trophy.
October 9, 2014 @ 7:55 am
If they want to keep the Lovecraft connection why not a globe with tentacles coming out of random places reaching around the Earth and some touching down half way round the planet. That would also show the reach that fiction has.
If we forgive people for being a product of their time then every date rapist who can claim to be a product of rape culture must also be forgiven for not knowing that the absence of a no is not consent and I’m pretty sure nobody wants to go down that road.
October 9, 2014 @ 8:04 am
And if anyone has any doubt about precisely how deep in horrible Lovecraft at his worst could be… well, they should give this quiz a go: http://www.beesgo.biz/horp.html
October 9, 2014 @ 9:34 am
The trophy looks like it would be more at home for a horror genre award. So even if you don’t find the man morally problematic you have to admit the trophy really doesn’t represent fantasy. So really I’m thinking those against the change are just trying to take down a perceived threat, because if they let the trophy be changed without a fight. They lose, I guess?
What might make a cool trophy is to take some iconic symbols from different fantasy books and incorporate them into a non-human based trophy.
October 9, 2014 @ 10:50 am
The Campbell winners also get a plaque, since the tiara has to be returned for the next winner, IIRC.
October 9, 2014 @ 11:33 am
That is a pretty silly looking award. My question is, how are you supposed to even know that’s Lovecraft by looking at it? Not only is it a caricature, but Lovecraft isn’t exactly in the top 100 most recognizable faces in history category. I sincerely doubt the average person today, even someone who enjoys Lovecraft’s work, would look at that and go “well obviously that’s H.P. Lovecraft.” It just looks like somebody tried to sculpt an homage to Munch’s painting ‘The Scream.’
I don’t think the award should look like any particular person no matter how influential they were to fantasy, because with authors you don’t have to know what they look like to appreciate (or not) their work. This statue in order to appreciate it fully you’d have to already know that’s supposed to be Lovecraft. Octavia Butler or J.R.R. Tolkien or anyone else they chose to sculpt likely would have the same problem. Otherwise it’s just a weird-looking sculpture of the head of a dude who looks like he’s possessed. Not exactly a Mozart bust.
The fact that Lovecraft was deeply racist doesn’t help his case to remain as the face of the award. I would hate to think a future winner of this prestigious award would want to hide it rather than display it because it represents someone whose views were derogatory towards them.
October 9, 2014 @ 11:41 am
Jesse the K
October 9, 2014 @ 11:48 am
Also the Tiptree Tiara
October 9, 2014 @ 12:17 pm
Hard-hitting and hilarious. Now I feel foolish I didn’t know the facts you listed about all those authors. Indeed, a fantasy award could be composed of so many different things, there’s no need for any of them to resemble a hate-spewing bigot. We’re fantasists, for pity’s sake. Let’s use our imaginations.
October 9, 2014 @ 12:20 pm
An exceedingly ugly statuette, of an author with some exceedingly ugly racism.
If they really want to honor his work, make a chtullu statuette, it would be vastly more recognizable.
Or simply have a nice statuette of a “one ring” or if you want to please the dragon and unicorn lovers; have the “one ring” flanked by a rearing unicorn and dragon.
The one ring, would be classy and a nice classic look. Plus, when people think of fantasy, Tolkien is probably thought of before Lovecraft.
October 9, 2014 @ 1:12 pm
The World Fantasy Award isn’t a ‘fantasy’ award per se. It’s for all fantastic writing. The first ever World Fantasy Convention was in Providence, Rhode Island – Lovecraft’s birthplace. The original committee was made up almost entirely of horror writers and fans and they chose the Lovecraft bust because it fitted.
Also Lovecraft wrote a hell of a lot of fantasy fiction, check out his Dream Cycle stories.
Jim C. Hines
October 9, 2014 @ 1:18 pm
“The World Fantasy Award isn’t a ‘fantasy’ award per se.”
Well, the WFA website specifically says it’s an award for fantasy writing. All fantasy is eligible, and yes, horror is included in the fantasy umbrella. But it’s pretty clearly defined as a fantasy award.
October 9, 2014 @ 1:28 pm
But Jim, if you look at the history of the award you see it was *very* horror themed until the early 1990s. To be honest it’s always been one of the things that I’ve liked about the WFA award, over say the Hugo or the Stoker, is that it is broader in its outlook.
Wasn’t the theme of last year’s WFC(the one in brighton) my fellow Welshman Arthur Machen? He’s most definitely a horror writer, and a huge influence on HPL.
Also, I should not that I am totally up for the award being changed and I’m a HUGE Lovecraft fan. I personally think it should be something like a model of a cuneiform tablet bearing the opening lines of The Epic of Gilgamesh which is the earliest recorded piece of fantastical literature. Also it’s Middle Eastern which would piss racist douches off no end. 😀
October 9, 2014 @ 1:29 pm
Really? I though that was well known. He wrote two notable “female” characters in his mythos related fiction. Asenath Waite, who was possessed by the soul of her great grandfather (who could *not wait* to get out of her weak woman’s body and into a man) and Lavernia Whatley, sacrifice to/mother of the spawn of Yog-sothoth, who was described as weak and witless. Re-read The Thing on the Doorstep and The Dunwich Horror, you’ll see it.
I think most telling really, is the absence of women in his stories or their relegation to background devices. His compatriots were writing about lascivious sorceresses and alien love slaves, but at least they had an effect on the plot.
Note, I am not *comparing* his sexism to his racism, just noting that these are both problematic elements to his writing that a modern reader should acknowledge when recommending the work.
October 9, 2014 @ 1:43 pm
Yeah, sorry. I guess I was just niggling over the term misogyny. Actual hatred of women rather than his obvious sexism. Discrimination rather than hatred if you see what I mean?
Incidentally the Innsmouth Free Press is looking for Lovecraftian stories by women about women which sounds like it will be fantastic. I’ve read another collection edited by Silvia Moreno-Garcia and it was fantastic.
October 9, 2014 @ 2:02 pm
Make it the Cthulhu Award for stories that grab you. The award itself could be a statue of a happy face with tentacles.
October 9, 2014 @ 2:41 pm
I was on staff of the 2011 World Fantasy Convention (the one where Nnedi Okorafor won her award). Even before the convention, one of the discussions was on how ugly the award was. At that time, I’d not actually seen the award.
I’ll admit that from the perspective of a staff member, there are other issues with a WFC than just the ugly award statue that is a caricature of a racist writer (and one better known for horror than fantasy – at least when I try to draw the line between the two). But this is the most glaring issue in the public’s eye.
October 9, 2014 @ 3:06 pm
That collection looks neat, thanks!
I see what you’re getting at re: “sexism” vs. “misogyny”, but to me the line between “I hate women” and “Women are OK, but they’re sub-human vagina-beasts and inherently inferior to men” is a pretty blurry line. 😉
October 9, 2014 @ 3:19 pm
1820?! Make that 1890 — same generation as my grandparents.
October 9, 2014 @ 3:39 pm
How about a tripod award: a sword, point downward; a staff or wand, possibly spitting a fireball (note: NOT ACTUAL FIRE but a sculpted one, thanks from the Fire Marshal’s office! *grin*); and a stake or bloody hatchet (again, NOT ACTUAL BLOOD) with the pointy end or hatchet head resting on the base. The sword can represent low magic fantasy, the staff high magic fantasy, and the stake or hatchet horror.
If you want to include science fiction as well, I would replace the staff or wand with some sort of ray gun with its butt resting against the base, with the sword now representing both low magic and high magic fantasy.
The base could be sculpted to resemble a book, to reflect that this is a writing award.
October 9, 2014 @ 3:49 pm
“With that said, I’ve never found the “product of his time” defense acceptable. I’m a product of my time, and I don’t hate any of the acceptable targets around me.”
Thanks you for this. You really summed up what is, in my opinion, the essence of this debate. “He was a product of his time” is such a weak excuse for exactly the reasons you’ve laid out here: hatred is a chosen opinion, no matter what time you live in.
W.E.B. du Bois and James Weldon Johnson were contemporaries of Lovecraft. So different opinions were out there and pretty well broadcast. But he chose to ignore the humanity of black people and it wasn’t for lack of options.
October 9, 2014 @ 4:24 pm
I had prepared a big wall of text about my feelings and such, but I discarded it, just to keep my main point:
I feel like the whole argument for removing Lovecraft’s head (also the statue looks more like a Maoi than anything else) is the fact the he was racist.
I don’t want to sound cold and all but: Who cares? I mean, sure the man was a huge racist and such (just take The Horror at Red Hook), but does that diminish the impact he had on the fantastic genre? (I’m French so I can’t fathom the idea of combining fantasy and fantastic as the same genre). If you just sit back, read some Lovecraft and forget the man behind the words, can you really say “Wow, this is so overrated/bad”? No (Well some people might, to each his own).
The truth is that he had such impact upon his genre that still today many writers are insanely (pun intended) influenced by him.
Wanting to change the prize is fine (and I personally think a prize should be an abstract representation), but a literary prize rewards what you wrote, not what you think. And in that regard, Lovecraft was just plain genius.
October 9, 2014 @ 6:40 pm
Egads, that’s the same as my grandparents too. And while they weren’t paragons of racial harmony (hello, Arkansas), they’d NEVER have used those words in public. They were low-class and tacky. Nice People didn’t SAY those things. When they spoke to black people, they called them “Colored”, which was the polite term then. It was genteel, non-frothing racism. Although they did volunteer to teach at the “Colored” school, since they recognized that the “separate but equal” wasn’t true.
October 9, 2014 @ 6:47 pm
Looks like some sort of headgear and a certificate is a Time Honored Tradition in fannish awards, then. A pointy hat (customizable to be Wizard, Witch, or Sorting, as the winner chooses — stickers?), and a plaque.
I see the Tiptree also gives chocolate; maybe the WFS Hat can come with gummy Cthulhus as a nod to the past.
October 9, 2014 @ 6:51 pm
Or a STATUE of a pointy hat (since people have different circumference of heads/hair), mounted on the base with the winner’s details. Plus candy Elder Gods. Jello dragons.
October 9, 2014 @ 6:54 pm
Cuneiform tablet, with the winner’s name, title, and year following the Gilgamesh text!
October 9, 2014 @ 7:20 pm
Well, “who cares” started at minimum with a black writer who earned the award, and continues through a lot of other people. Way to dismiss their concerns.
October 9, 2014 @ 7:55 pm
” a literary prize rewards what you wrote, not what you think.”
And he wrote really nasty racist stuff.
Jim C. Hines
October 9, 2014 @ 8:21 pm
“I feel like the whole argument for removing Lovecraft’s head (also the statue looks more like a Maoi than anything else) is the fact the he was racist.”
That’s not even the whole argument in my blog post, though it’s probably the primary one.
“I don’t want to sound cold and all but: Who cares?”
A great many people, as it turns out. Several thousand at Older’s petition alone. You’re obviously entitled to your own opinion, and there’s no rule that you agree with those others, but let’s not pretend their concerns aren’t genuine just because you don’t share them.
October 9, 2014 @ 11:57 pm
When I first heard about this, I was surprised to hear that the World Fantasy Award was a bust of Lovecraft. I had no idea and had never seen one. Given that Lovecraft’s main influence has been on horror and that we have horror awards, it didn’t make a lot of sense to me that they would pick A) a bust of a writer for whom the award is not named to be the award; and B) Lovecraft as that bust. But it was done long ago. Certainly that was a decision “of its time.” But you can actually change things, including the look of awards. It’s been done many times.
I also favor having the World Fantasy Award be something that is not a bust of one writer, but instead a symbol of fantasy that would represent the world writers, not just one country. And I also favor Octavia Butler being given her own award, like the Clarke and the Gemmell awards. She certainly earned it as an influence in SF, fantasy (which she did more extensively than I had known,) and fiction in general.
But the folk doing the petition are not expecting Butler to get the WFA bust. Butler was chosen because they felt she was a very influential writer and more critically, a very good writer, and thus representative of excellence. Whereas they feel that Lovecraft was not only racist and thus quite dated, but despite his influence in gothic style and monsters, not a very good writer and not a good representative of the whole fantasy field. Butler was also chosen because they felt many others who see her as an amazing writer would become aware and support the petition, creating change and discussion, and that this choice would also attract media attention and general awareness among fans if they chose Butler, which it has. They hope simply by doing this to create some change in the award, away from Lovecraft. At the very least, it would raise discussion, which it has done. (Older has explained some of the issues in his Twitter feed, which is more accurate than my summary.)
This of course has led to arguments about Lovecraft’s writing, about Lovecraft’s racism, and both together. The main opponents to the petition are less concerned about the Lovecraft writing issues than that they see this first as a racial battle, with those non-white authors promoting their non-white favorite author to displace white writers of note. And they see it as an ideological war, with those favoring equality and discussion about more uncomfortable parts of our fiction planning to destroy the field and punish white male authors. Which I’m entirely tired of. For people who claim to be so enamoured of free speech, they are deeply determined to repress it under the battle cry of “politically correct.” No change is possible, no discussion of authors’ more complicated bits is possible, and everything to try to open up the field further must be purely to destroy the old, which isn’t true. Lovecraft is not going anywhere, he’s studied in universities and no harm will come to his body of work if he’s not the bust of the World Fantasy Award — which again I and thousands of others didn’t even know he was. Nor will the award necessarily change — a frantic counter charge screams of irrational panic.
But the petition has raised discussion about writers, about our past and change, about Butler as a great, influential writer in the field, and yeah, about how racism holds people back in the field. It’s good that we can have discussions, whether or not you support the petition.
October 10, 2014 @ 12:44 am
Gimme a break.. Obviously I didn’t say what you just accused me of saying. If you want to discuss or debate, please do. But don’t pretend like you’ve made a point by misrepresenting someone.
October 10, 2014 @ 2:26 am
Aye, it is a blurry line for sure. I just get niggly because there seems to be a tendency on the internet to demand that a social failing of a personality be THE WORST THING EVER rather than just a failing.
October 10, 2014 @ 2:27 am
Yup, don’t you think it would be ace??? 😀
October 10, 2014 @ 3:30 am
I know it’s not the only argument, but it is the one that sticks the most (not just in your blog post), nor that their concerns aren’t valid. I know that racism is a Bad Thing.
In France we had the same debate not so long ago about Céline (a very antisemitic, and talented, writer) and “should we do some celebration about him”. I am just wary of the instrumentalisation of Lovecraft’s idea is all.
The point I’m trying to make is that the bust of Lovecraft isn’t saying
“Look, we give you this representation of this really racist man, really some of his ideas were terribly appalling, because you’re such a good writer.”
“Look, we give you this representation of this writer who help define a whole genre and has still an immense influence today, because we think your work is on par with his.”
Maybe the whole issue is that Americans are so scarred by their racist past, that they can’t dissociate the ideas of a man and his work. (This may sound trollish, but it’s the representation we got from this side of the Atlantic). Because if it really were a racist issue, black people wouldn’t win the award in the first place.
And hey, if it makes people uneasy, the only course of action is to change it. I mean the whole thing is supposed to be a celebration and a moment of joy.
October 10, 2014 @ 3:50 am
“Maybe the whole issue is that Americans are so scarred by their racist past, that they can’t dissociate the ideas of a man and his work.”
I do think that the extremity of America’s recent racist history, and the high levels of racism still prevalent in American society, do tend to inform debates such as this. Despite the award being referred to as the *World* Fantasy Award* the discourse is dominated by the US due to American cultural hegemony especially in the English speaking world.
*Which is yet another reason that the form of the award should be changed.
October 10, 2014 @ 3:51 am
“And he wrote really nasty racist stuff.”
Not for the most part.
October 10, 2014 @ 10:30 am
“Maybe the whole issue is that Americans are so scarred by their racist past, that they can’t dissociate the ideas of a man and his work.”
Or maybe how racist (and sexist and every other -ist) America and the world still is (let’s not pretend that Americans are the only racists, I used to think so myself, until I actually traveled to Europe/Canada/Mexico)? This really hit a nerve with me as I am sick to death of any arguments that hints that America (and/or the world) is post-racial or post-sexist, complete B.S. I will acknowledge that you may not be trying to say that, but that is how it sounded. Anyway, have things changed for the better? Sure, but we have a lot more work to do. For one, witness many folks’ inability to listen to those who are plainly explaining why having HP Lovecraft’s bust for the award is a problem.
Honestly, I think the sharp focus on this has more to do with the fact that there is a big focus right now in America about how the sci-fi/fantasy/geek/con world is not doing a great job being welcoming to POC/women/etc. I’m eager to change this award anyway as it should be changed as it isn’t a great award for a lot of reasons (lots of great suggestions in this thread), but even more eager to do it if the current award is yet another way fantasy is making folks feel unwelcome. We have way too much of that already, this is a relatively simple thing to change, we should do it and then see what else we can do.
October 10, 2014 @ 10:33 am
Given how many Americans are acquiring new scars every day, from a racist present, I think that our response to race issues is associated with a lot more than our racist past. (Obviously, our present is a result of our past, but it’s not like racism is something we used to have here.)
And racism isn’t as simple as “if racism was a factor in the genre then a black author couldn’t win.” Saying “there is racism in the infrastructure and culture of the genre” and “Nnedi Okorafor won a World Fantasy Award,” are not mutually exclusive. Both are true. In the same way that “American voted for a black president” doesn’t negate “America has a problem with racism.”
October 10, 2014 @ 10:34 am
I think I missed a blockquote end tag, sorry. 🙁
Jim C. Hines
October 10, 2014 @ 10:53 am
Fixed! And no problem 🙂
October 10, 2014 @ 7:48 pm
Okay, you live in a country that bans hijab and has ghettos full of Algerians, and the US are the racist ones?
Specks and planks, mon ami.
(apologizes for temporary jingoism. it’ll pass.)
October 11, 2014 @ 1:58 am
Well I live in the UK, right across the water from France, and we do tend to find the racism that comes from the USA to be staggering tbh. I mean, come on, the US makes Australia look like some kind of liberal ideal.
I know that nowhere is free of racism but the US does do it with rather a great deal of aplomb. I note that I never find myself saying “WTF CANADA????”
Richard Lee Byers
October 11, 2014 @ 4:28 pm
If the award is to change (I’m still thinking about whether I believe it should, but anyway, if), let’s not use the likeness or name of a different person. That’s just complicating the process and setting us up for more acrimonious controversy in the future.
Use a damn dragon or something cliched and noncontroversial like that.
Richard Lee Byers
October 11, 2014 @ 4:32 pm
If the objective is to purge the award of any suggestion of racism, not everyone considers Tolkien to be beyond reproach in this regard.
Richard Lee Byers
October 11, 2014 @ 4:36 pm
I think that if the decision is to made to dump Lovecraft, then you should by God dump him. Switching to an image of his most famous creation (or one that is intended to evoke his most famous creation) does not to my mind solve the problem.
October 13, 2014 @ 9:49 pm
Totally aside from Lovecraft’s problematic-ness, that is one hideously ugly statue.
And back to the problematicness, maybe it is time to re-evaluate his contribution. And while it’s good to remember that earlier generations held very problematic views and people are products of their time, we can still hold them accountable, because they are still responsible for the things they said and did.
October 14, 2014 @ 12:33 am
I am a HUGE fan of Lovecraft. I have even defended his awful racism to prospective readers in the past saying: “Yes. Horrible racist. Stay away from, for example, Horror at Red Hook, but if you can avoid/ignore that, it’s SOOO good!”
But you know what? Lovecraft isn’t the only author ever and I’m pretty sure that there are even one or two other authors almost as good as he was. If it would make some people more comfortable to have a different sculpture, why not?
I’m willing to be reasonable and just have every story he ever wrote on my bookshelf… Although that poem I had never read. Strange how that went missing from my Arkham house collection. (Or not. Probably a very good choice on their part.)
October 14, 2014 @ 2:16 am
For those going “But why is a horror author on a fantasy award?”
“The convention is in Lovecraft’s memory. Events include readings by authors; a bus tour of Providence with a stop at Lovecraft’s gravesite; horror art shows; and panel discussions. The highlight was to be the presentation of the first World Fantasy Awards to deserving writers. The awards are busts of Lovecraft sculptured by cartoonist Gahan Wilson.”
Jim C. Hines
October 14, 2014 @ 8:45 am
Several people have pointed out that the first World Fantasy Award was held in Lovecraft’s home town, and was a bit of a celebration of Lovecraft.
Others have pointed out that this was 40 years ago. The genre has evolved a great deal since then. While we could debate whether or not Lovecraft’s head was an appropriate trophy in 1975, I believe it’s completely inappropriate in 2014.
October 17, 2014 @ 2:30 pm
He was a lot less obvious about it, though. However, he would have been against the ring, anyway. He hated the inscription on it, he had created it to sound ugly.
Nicole J. LeBoeuf-Little
October 20, 2014 @ 1:29 am
“If the objective is to purge the award of any suggestion of racism–”
But it isn’t.
I think there is a vast gulf between “any suggestion of racism” and “they communicated how much they loved my writing through the likeness of a man who famously thought I was subhuman. This is an honor… why?”
I mean, the Hugo rocket is not without “any suggestion of sexism”. It looks pretty phallic, and the idea of “stories about rocketships” is itself riddled with a history of sexism. But at the same time it isn’t the face of goddamned The*dore Be*le.
(Name munged to prevent Jim having to deal with the named one arriving on his doorstep.)
Do you know, that phrase has acquired over time the power to immediately put my hackles up! Why might that be? Perhaps because it’s the near-universal tagline of every “devil’s advocate” who’s “just saying what everyone’s thinking,” and wants to be simultaneously considered RIGHT but at the same time escape blameless for any unsavory implications of those words?
Richard Lee Byers
October 24, 2014 @ 3:20 pm
I knew I said something that reasonable people might disagree with. I didn’t realize it had “unsavory implications.” What were they, exactly?
November 6, 2014 @ 2:49 pm
If Lovecraft, the patron saint and originator of modern horror, is replaced for his views by a comparative unknown like Octavia Butler, the reputable will go somewhere else.
Yet another repugnant tantrum thrown by Social Justice Warriors. Ask yourselves if Butler would have been selected if she had been something other than a black lesbian and you have the real motivation: cultural warfare.
Jim C. Hines
November 6, 2014 @ 2:55 pm
::Waves goodbye to the so-called “reputable” Lovecraft apologists::
November 9, 2014 @ 9:56 pm
I think that the “product of the time” argument is facile, but so is its dismissal.
We’re talking about a person who did not graduate from high school, did not attend college, did not live in a major cultural center, was introverted and reclusive, had little contact with people of different ethnicities, races, and viewpoints, had no access to mass media or the Internet, and spent the bulk of his time with his family, at least one member of which was virulently racist, for the first twenty-five years of his life and most of what came after. Under those circumstances, it’s hardly surprising that he turned out racist. Likewise, it’s not surprising that authors with different upbringing, education, and experiences did not.
Unfortunately, Lovecraft’s views were widely available and accepted, though certainly not everywhere. In 1958, Gallup found that public support for interracial marriage was at 4%. That was over two decades after Lovecraft’s death.
Also, Lovecraft was certainly not “dousing every page in fetid, over-the-top racism,” as opening one of Lovecraft’s books will prove.
Nonetheless, Lovecraft was racist, some of his writing was racist, and both of those are unacceptable. If people think someone else would be a better representative of the fantasy genre, I understand completely.
I.E. | New Year, New Focus
January 1, 2015 @ 9:58 am
[…] issues collide with niche interests, whether it is the intersection of feminism and video games or questions regarding the less palatable views of genre titans like Lovecraft. As nerds, geeks and dweebs, we are all affected by these issues in some way or another, and they […]