H.P. Lovecraft is rightfully considered a founder of the horror genre. His writing is haunting, scary, and vast. His works have inspired countless books, movies, and games. They are also plagued by the extreme, even for the day, racism of its creator. Delightfully, there seems to be this trend of taking his stories and transforming them in order to examine the racist roots. I for one, am here for it. Earlier this year I read and reviewed The Ballad of Black Tom, and recently I’ve read two more books that fall into this category; Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff and Winter Tide by Ruthanna Emrys. I enjoyed them both very much and highly recommend them.
Lovecraft Country stays away from the Cthulhu mythos that Lovecraft is most famous for, and focuses more on the secret society of sorcerers that exist in his works. The book is a series of interconnected stories about how a family (and a few of their friends) of African Americans in Chicago interact with a group of secret society sorcerers and the magic they’ve left in their wake. The novel is set in 1954, and the ever present racism is the true horror element of the book, despite the presence of ghosts, space monsters, and evil sorcerers. There’s a moment in the first story where two of the characters are driving through a small sundown town in the middle of the night, the sheer terror of that drive had me biting my nails and then the stoplight turned red. One of the more effective things that Ruff does is that he mostly keeps his characters out of the south. It’s an effective reminder that the terrible racism that the Civil Rights movement sought to end wasn’t just regulated to the southern states. This book has also been picked up for development by Jordan Peele and HBO and I for one could not be more excited to see what they do with it.
Winter Tide is a bit more subtle in how it confronts Lovecraft’s racism, but I don’t think it’s any less effective for that. Aphra Marsh is one of the two survivors of Innsmouth, the small town destroyed by a fearful government in one of Lovecraft’s short stories. After the end of WWII, when she and her brother are released, due to government forgetfulness, along with the Japanese prisoners who became their fellow inmates in an internment camp, Aphra Marsh just wants to survive. She is given the chance to go to Miskatonic University and maybe reclaim the books that they stole after her town was destroyed, but she must also confront the ghosts of her town and the lies that lead to the destruction of her town. The cult worship of the elder gods that Lovecraft presented is turned on it’s head as a misrepresentation of Aphra’s religion. The frog men breeding Lovecraft gave as a justification for destroying Innsmouth is shown to be a twisted representation of Aphra’s biology, as she belongs to the race of humans who long ago went into the water. Emrys takes the racist fears that Lovecraft built his mythos on and points out that ignorance is the true evil. The book is a bit slow moving, but I was completely engrossed from beginning to end. This is also the start to a series, and one that I am very much looking forward to.
I highly recommend both of these two books (as well as The Ballad of Black Tom).