Lovecraft, racism and ammonites

Lovecraft Country by Matt Ruff is a worthy addition to the Lovecraft canon – a canon that is disturbing for many reasons.

It is 1954.

Atticus Turner has served his country but can’t get served a meal in most restaurants in America.

With this as a daily reality who needs the extra layers of horror ladled on by Lovecraft?

Matt Ruff’s book Lovecraft Country delivers a wonderfully nuanced tale of commonplace and other-worldly horrors where Atticus Turner investigates a sect of occultist with an odd fascination for him.

As a framework to this tale, Atticus is a scout for the Safe Negro Travel Guide. And that title is not a dramatic overstatement. The Safe Negro Travel Guide is a guidebook for American segregation-era motorists of colour describing which petrol stations have coloured bathrooms, which restaurants will serve them, and which Counties have corrupt white police officers who will execute them by the roadside.

All this and an occasional shoggoth in the woods? Read on …

After receiving a letter from his estranged father Atticus ventures deep into the sort of unfriendly territory that the Safe Negro Travel Guide warns about with only his wits, army training and a few good friends to rely on.

This book is drawn from the mythos created by HP Lovecraft and acknowledges a core uncomfortable question. How do you treat the body of fiction left behind by a racist author? Especially when the influence of that fiction has been so extensive?

Matt Ruff treats these moral questions with gentle pondering and never settles on a single answer.

A quick summation for those who are not familiar with HP Lovecraft, the godfather of gothic horror, and the fictional universe spawned by his Cthulhu mythos. Like one of its contemporaries, the fantasy world of Middle Earth, the Cthulhu mythos has spawned an entire fiction genre, many movies, computer games, and a signature art style. The influence of HP Lovecraft’s mythos upon the modern horror genre is as enormous and pervasive as the squidly tentacles of his most famous character; the huge leviathan sea monster elder god Cthulhu himself.

Lovecraft Country was a very good read and a worthy addition to the Lovecraft canon.

I feel that the main character Atticus represented the book Lovecraft Country and Atticus’ ever-disapproving father represented the main body of HP Lovecraft’s work.

Attics and his father are reconciled in this book as I hope this book can be reconciled with its own difficult forefather.

Which brings me back to ammonites. As a child, I was always fascinated by these shiny fossilised shells and the intricate iterative geometry of their spirals. Imagine my surprise to discover what the ancient creature who used to live in those millions of scatter shells actually looked like.

Perhaps Lovecraft got the idea of Cthulhu right but the scale wrong?


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