Wow. You rarely see “redhibitory” used any more

Maybe it’s more common in legal documents.

I mean, what else could publishers object to in HP Lovecraft’s stories?


  1. jenorafeuer says

    Of course, Lovecraft’s love of long and archaic words paled compared to Clark Ashton Smith, who was the third of the ‘big three’ collaborators of the time after Lovecraft and Robert E. Howard. Then again, Smith started as more of a poet than a prose writer.

  2. Akira MacKenzie says

    Humor aside, what ARE we to do with Lovecraft and his legacy? Forget him entirely? Shove him down the memory hole or bowdlerize his works to remove what’s problematic? As much as I love the Cthulhu Mythos and want to preserve it, I find it harder and harder to justify my fandom in the face of s society that’s coming to the conclusion that HPLs racial and sexual attitudes–some of which influenced that very Mythos–are unacceptable.

    Anyone got some ideas?

  3. says

    I actually have a hard time remembering the portions that would be “problematic”. It’s been a while but from what I recall women and people of color are nonexistent in Lovecraft’s fiction.

  4. aspleen says

    I’d be happy as a publisher if there are still people who read anything longer than a tweet in a few years.

  5. Artor says

    Lovecraft created the mythos, but honestly his writing is ponderously dull. Many other artists have taken the source material and done much better things with it, with a fraction of the racism inherent in the originals. There’s plenty to enjoy, and nothing of value is lost if we choose to jettison the garbage.

  6. PaulBC says

    @4 It’s not just a lack of representation but very clear racism. There’s the name of the cat in The Rats in the Walls that makes it pretty hard for the present-day reader (but that’s fixable I suppose; I mentally renamed the cat “Shadow”). There’s the point I might not have gotten except a friend pointed it out, that The Shadow Over Innsmouth is a long meditation on Lovecraft’s personal horror over miscegenation. Actually in his stories, Lovecraft’s fixation is over decay and the uncanny, rather than his racism, though that is documented very well.

    I think it’s worth reading as much as you can tolerate. You can read Atlas Shrugged as a potboiler about a guy with a perpetual motion machine. The problem comes when you think it is a great vision of how society should be structured (the fact that none of it works without the perpetual motion machine should be a major tipoff, though there are others as well). I only read Lovecraft as a middle aged adult, though I read almost everything by Poe as a teen, so the long sentences were no hindrance. I can’t say I have any interest in reading Mein Kampf, but anything should be safe in appropriate context.

  7. vorjack says

    The odd part is, Lovecraft wasn’t exactly successful during his life. He was a middling pulp author. Had he not attracted a circle of fellow authors who kept his works alive we’d probably have forgotten him alongside all the other “Weird Tales” authors. The whole “kids these days” schtick doesn’t work; he’s more famous and popular in this past decade than ever before.

  8. PaulBC says

    @6 I’m not sure I agree. A scene like this requires florid prose to do it justice

    So far I have not shot myself as my uncle Douglas did. I bought an automatic and almost took the step, but certain dreams deterred me. The tense extremes of horror are lessening, and I feel queerly drawn toward the unknown sea-deeps instead of fearing them. I hear and do strange things in sleep, and awake with a kind of exaltation instead of terror. I do not believe I need to wait for the full change as most have waited. If I did, my father would probably shut me up in a sanitarium as my poor little cousin is shut up. Stupendous and unheard-of splendours await me below, and I shall seek them soon. Iä-R’lyeh! Cthulhu fhtagn! Iä! Iä! No, I shall not shoot myself—I cannot be made to shoot myself!

    It’s also remarkable that despite Lovecraft’s view of the Deep Ones as evil, he has presented a strong case for the contrary view that they represent a marvelous civilization surpassing the staid upbringing of the protagonist.

    Maybe because I cut my teeth on Poe, I get into this. I also agree that it’s not worth trying to write like this now. However, I don’t think that if Lovecraft had told the same stories with the clean prose of a Hemingway that he would have become the cult figure he is today.

  9. PaulBC says

    The whole “kids these days” schtick doesn’t work; he’s more famous and popular in this past decade than ever before.

    My friends in the 80s were all science fiction fans and D&D players (no, really, every damn one of them). Trust me, Lovecraft was big back then. He may have wider reach to the mainstream now, but I bet he does not have more actual readers as opposed to consumers of derivative works.

  10. says

    @7 I forgot about the cat and I never thought about Shadow over Innsmouth that way. Strangely enough it is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories. I guess his stories were so alien that the thought that they would have anything to say about the real world never crossed my mind.

  11. says

    I think the people arguing above have mixed up “Lovecraftian horror” (cosmic horror), the Cthulhu Mythos, and the actual text written by Howard Phillips Lovecraft. At this point those are very different things.

    We shouldn’t bowdlerize actual Lovecraft stories. We largely shouldn’t be popularizing them either. And in practice we’re not. IME people who are interested in the Mythos regard his actual work much the same way people who are interested in cartoons regard those specimens of massive 30s and 40s racism in a lot of old Warner Brothers and what have you: They are the history of the medium, perhaps interesting to consume if you know what you’re getting into, but they are very much not the current state of the genre and very definitely Not Okay.

    The Mythos was not even ‘not mostly’ the work of HP Lovecraft; he hardly did it at all. Lovecraft merely did an interesting trick of mentioning a few names of entities and the occasional character in more than one story, often in unrelated places. It was his successor, August Derleth, who started compiling this into a sort of interrelated ‘Lovecraft Cinematic Universe’, and by and large it coagulated in later fandom as more and more people weighed in with their interpretations and stories. You can consume reams and reams and reams of the Mythos and its expys (the whole original run of Doctor Strange was basically one guy vs. the mythos, like a magical version of Doom) without ever coming closer than two degrees of separation from Howard himself.

    Cosmic horror of course is a lot more than Lovecraft or the Mythos, even though we do sometimes call it ‘Lovecraftian’. I doubt he even originated it, though he was definitely the first serious popularizer. It’s definitely ironic that what he was afraid of was really everyone who didn’t look exactly like him (PoC and Jews did indeed appear in his stories, invariably as the twisted cultish figures working with the cosmic horrors… ‘The Horror At Red Hook’ is easily the most monstrously racist text I’ve ever personally consumed, and pretty much walks right up to the line where if it was any MORE racist it would spill entirely into the territory of ‘The Turner Diaries’ or ‘Protocols of the Elders of Zion’), and instead popularized a genre that tickles everyone eho’s ever been afraid.

    Finally, don’t forget: he’s dead, long ago. That matters insofar as “supporting his work” no longer means anything that can actually harm someone, unlike how supporting the work of living, active, out-and-proud bigots like Orson Scott Card and Joanne Rowling helps them spread and promote their bigotry.

  12. PaulBC says


    Strangely enough it is one of my favorite Lovecraft stories.

    Same with the person who pointed this out. It’s still a good story.

  13. Rob Grigjanis says

    For early 20th century fantasy using archaic (like, Elizabethan, and quite lovely IMO) language, you can’t beat The Worm Ouroboros. Which you can now read online!

  14. Robert M. Corless says

    Lovecraft lost me (long ago) when he called penguins “grotesque”. It’s just a nonsensical image, to anyone who has ever interacted with a real penguin, or even seen video of them flying underwater like black-and-white rockets. Seriously, the phrase “grotesque penguins” kicked me right out of the story, and I have never opened another Lovecraft piece. Charles Stross does much better, anyway.

  15. PaulBC says

    Rob Grigjanis@15 I think I read The Worm Ouroborous all the way through when I was younger and had that kind of attention span, but I didn’t really like it, and I think for a specific reason though I had to check it just now to log my memory. There were Demons and Witches among other things and I couldn’t really keep track of which was which. Despite promising a rich fantasy world, it just struck me as words, not images. There was a lot of speechification by nobles of various places, and I couldn’t visualize what was going on. Contrast with Tolkien where Dwarves, Elves, Humans, Orcs, etc. are unmistakeable from each other. Maybe I missed a subtly of some kind. I’ll concede that I read it at a point in my life when I was looking for “something like Tolkien” and it did not fit the bill.

    I don’t think the problem was that it was “too old” or “too hard.” I have read a lot of old writing, even some George MacDonald.

    On the subject of obscure 20th century fantasy, I found David Lindsday’s A Voyage to Arcturus intriguing, though I can’t say for sure I understood his allegory. There were just individually compelling scenes that struck me either through exotic images or the intended moral dilemma. That’s also one that would probably be a tough sell today though.

    (I also reread the Gormenghast books recently and appreciated them more than previous times.)

  16. PaulBC says

    @16 Maybe it fits his essentialist outlook better than you think. A penguin is a bird, but it doesn’t fly. Those things that ought to be wings are actually more like fins, but it’s not a fish either. What is it? Doesn’t it know its place? I am sure the very existence of penguins kept him awake at night.

  17. PaulBC says

    I tracked down the quote

    On the barren shore, and on the lofty ice barrier in the background, myriads of grotesque penguins squawked and flapped their fins; while many fat seals were visible on the water, swimming or sprawling across large cakes of slowly drifting ice.

    If this was the first thing I ever read by him, he probably would have had me hooked right there. I like penguins, but it’s fun to read the thoughts of someone who doesn’t.

    It’s also believable that whether he even saw a penguin in a photo or at the zoo, he would have found them grotesque, and I suspect for the reasons I suggested above. He had a very clear idea of what a bird ought to be and those grotesque penguins were standing right there in open defiance, squawking and flapping their, uh… fins (?!). Oh, the horror!

    Or maybe they were something like the penguins in Scott of the Antarctic.

    It needn’t be a little penguin. It can be the biggest penguin you’ve ever seen. An electric penguin, twenty feet high, with long green tentacles that sting people, and you can stab it in the wings and the blood can go spurting psssssshhhh in slow motion.

  18. says

    Robert Bloch was one of the “Lovecraft circle”. Born in 1917, he was writing letters to Lovecraft and publishing stories during the 1930s as a teenager. His stuff wasn’t as polished, but (unless I was oblivious to it) doesn’t contain the same types of bigotry that Lovecraft’s did. “Notebook Found In A Deserted House” was his standout Cthulhu story.

    Though as a Transgender person, I despise Bloch’s “Psycho” for feeding into and building the myth of the “Trans predator/psychopath”.