Archive for Cosmic horror

How to Read Lovecraft in 2020

As we discussed a few months ago, H.P. Lovecraft has become more popular and critically accepted at the same time as more readers are becoming aware of his truly noxious racism — and for those who already understood how racist he was, they’re realizing that it’s okay to say his racism was deeply wrong, no matter how popular he’s gotten.

And this leads to a pretty important question for horror fans. Lovecraft is second only to Poe as far as how influential he’s been for the horror genre. Every major writer has read him, and most have written pastiches of him, and thousands of horror readers have read his stories and, for the most part, enjoyed them.

But despite his popularity and influence, is he really someone who you want a fledgling horror fan reading? Do you want a kid who’s learning to love horror — or even worse, a young reader of color — to open the book to “The Red Hook Horror” or “Herbert West — Reanimator” or “The Rats in the Walls” or “On the Creation of We won’t finish this title because Fuck Lovecraft“?

Do you really want to take a new horror reader and rub their nose in the fact that the early foundations of the genre were built on deep, poisonous hatred and racism?

The question is: What’s the best way to read Lovecraft in the modern world? What’s the best way to introduce Lovecraft to young readers in 2020?

The answer is: Don’t.

Seriously, Lovecraft’s stories are almost a century old, most of them are written in archaic or old-fashioned styles, and he’s most important as a writer who influenced other writers. For new horror readers, it’s probably better if they read contemporary horror writers instead of the old-timers. And that’s not just my opinion — librarians and literature experts say younger readers are more likely to stick with a genre if they have new, contemporary books to read that speak their language, rather than decades-old works that have an off-putting style.

Rather than treating Lovecraft as someone who every horror fan should read, classify him as someone for intermediate- or expert-level horror readers. Once they’ve read enough to know they enjoy horror, and once they start expressing interest in reading older writers or writers who influenced current writers, start introducing Lovecraft to them — along with careful explanations of what a monstrously racist shitbag he was.

It’s not like there isn’t plenty other horror writers out there, right? And plenty other cosmic horror tales, too. The TVTropes page for “Cosmic Horror” has a gigantic list of cosmic horror tales, in literature, comics, film, TV, games, and more, by an absolutely gigantic list of creators. Lovecraft may have popularized this subgenre, but hundred, even thousands of other writers old and new have moved it forward. Many of them make wonderful, scary reads.

If you want to read Lovecraft, go ahead. I certainly don’t want to stop you — personally, I always enjoy reading “Pickman’s Model,” “The Music of Erich Zann,” “The Dunwich Horror,” and “The Call of Cthulhu.” But there are so many more writers out there — and so many better. Look around for your new favorite, and let’s welcome new grandmasters as they surpass the old.

Comments (1)