Historical Context and “Men of Their Times”

Inspired in part by an all-too-familiar conversation on Facebook a few months back, I present my essay “Men of Their Times” in the newest issue of Uncanny Magazine:

At the World Fantasy Awards ceremony in November 2015, it was announced that the bust of H. P. Lovecraft would no longer be used as the award trophy. This came after statements from prominent authors such as Nnedi Okorafor and Daniel José Older, among others, who felt that Lovecraft’s racism made him a problematic symbol for the celebration and recognition of the world’s best fantasy.

One of the immediate counterarguments was that it’s unfair to judge Lovecraft by the standards of the present day. As Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi put it:

“This shows a cultural intolerance and lack of historical understanding that is very discouraging… I daresay we will be judged harshly for all manner of derelictions a hundred years from now.”

This argument comes up so quickly and reliably in these conversations that it might as well be a Pavlovian response. Any mention of the word “racism” in association with names like Tolkien or Burroughs or Campbell or Lovecraft is a bell whose chimes will trigger an immediate response of “But historical context!”

You can read the whole thing on the Uncanny website, including discussions of L. Frank Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and arguments about tolerance, forgiveness, and historical homogeneity.