Imaginary Worlds: Inverting Lovecraft
John: The bi-weekly Imaginary Worlds podcast digs into aspects of certain sci-fi and fantasy stories to see how they influence—and are influenced by—culture, and why they resonates the way they do.
In this week’s episode, host Eric Molinsky explores how the work of HP Lovecraft is being explored in new works today. The twist is that the new work—particularly upcoming HBO show Lovecraft Country and novella The Ballad of Black Tom—is being created by black authors, while Lovecraft himself was a white blazing racist.
The episode is somewhat framed around cancel culture, and why (and how) Lovecraft’s work is being explored rather than cancelled. Through this episode’s 38 minutes, I couldn’t help but connect to the current problematic issues with JK Rowling. Molinsky noticed too, and made that connection explicit before too long. It’s nice to be able to process how to feel about Rowling and the Harry Potter books by seeing how a similar scenario from the not-too-distant past played out with time.
The episode begins by exploring why Lovecraft’s work feels more relevant than ever to the people he feared and despised, how Lovecraft encouraged other authors to use his settings and mythologies in their own work, and why his cosmic horror worked.
Lovecraft’s particular cosmic horror is defined as learning just how insignificant you are to the universe, and Kinitra Brooks defines Lovecraft’s relationship with white supremacy. “He has an overall anxiety about whiteness, and the false nature of its supremacy, and he’s anxious about when this will all fall down.” There’s more around the quote that explains how Lovecraft keyed into that anxiety, but I’d rather you benefit by listening to the episode.
The focus shifts into how marginalized people find something in the work of a racist. How they’re not reclaiming the work, rather inverting and subverting it. A term comes up: racecraft. Its actual definition is race as a social construction, but John Jenkins uses it in this case as racecraftian horror: “the arcane nature of how race is constructed, and how it gets deployed through narratives…then use cosmic awe and filter it through a critical race studies lens.”
This explores ways to allow the work to better itself through scrutiny of others, so it can become better than the people who created it. This was a fascinating look at how this is coming true with the work of Lovecraft, and is a good listen for anyone trying to separate the Rowling from the Harry Potter that they love.
The works of H. P. Lovecraft have inspired a number of Black creators and other writers of color, from the new HBO series Lovecraft Country to the novella The Ballad of Black Tom. What’s so surprising about Lovecraft’s newfound relevance is that he was exceptionally racist, and racism was folded into his stories.
Those are our recommendations this week! What are yours? Let us know in the comments!