Science Fiction Studies

#20 = Volume 7, Part 1 = March 1980


In Defense of Lovecraft

I wish to make a rather belated reply to Mr S. C. Fredericks' somewhat comical review of Prof. St Armand's The Roots of Horror in the Fiction of H. P. Lovecraft (SFS No. 15), which I only recently encountered. As editor of several volumes on Lovecraft, including H. P. Lovecraft: Four Decades of Criticism (Ohio UP, forthcoming), the definitive bibliography of Lovecraft and Lovecraft criticism (Kent State UP, forthcoming), and Lovecraft's Uncollected Prose and Poetry (Necronomicon Press, 1978), I hope that I may be allowed a few words--more in defence of Lovecraft than of St Armand.
Mr Fredericks has, in a remarkably small space, uttered so many of the common opinions about Lovecraft that I feel some straightening out is necessary. Most importantly is his belief that Lovecraft "was profoundly Irrationalist. " This is a curious designation of one who declared himself a "mechanistic materialist of the line of Leucippus, Democritus, Epicurus, and Lucretius" (Selected Letters II, p. 160) and who admired such modern thinkers as T. H. Huxley, Ernst Haeckel, Bertrand Russell, Albert Einstein, and George Santayana. A careful reading of Lovecraft's stories will show that this rationalism carries over into his fiction; for Lovecraft was one of the first to use the technique of scientific justification of his seemingly fantastic events-die greatest example being the novel At the Mountains of Madness. The employment of this technique gives Lovecraft a significant place in the history of SF, as has been pointed out by Fritz Leiber and Sam Moskowitz.

(Parenthetically one may wonder at the precise meaning of Mr Fredericks' term "Rational religion." A reading of Bertrand Russell's Religion and Science may sufficiently convince anyone that few religions have been rational, and in many cases are diametrically opposed to rationalism. It is then no surprise that Lovecraft discarded all religious belief early in life.)

Mr Fredericks also makes note of Lovecraft's "ugly racism." He has passed a value judgment upon Lovecraft without consideration for the temper of the times and of Lovecraft's social position. Virtually all members of his class were "racists" (although such a word is obviously inappropriate), and it would be as malapropos to blame Lovecraft for his racial views as to blame Herodotus for calling all non-Greek-speaking people "barbaroi." I do not wish to explain away Lovecraft's views-they are significant in understanding certain aspects of his work and thought-but I feel that Lovecraft ought not to be condemned for holding the views he did.

Mr Fredericks also mentions Lovecraft's "irrational nonconformism." If this refers to his belief that modem civilization was not as highly developed aesthetically as prior epochs, then I can hardly imagine why he need be called "irrational." I again cite Bertrand Russell, whose essay "Western Civilization" (In Praise of Idleness and Other Essays) expresses similar views on modern civilization.

Finally, Mr Fredericks soberly debates as to whether Lovecraft "is...even a minimally good writer," since his style seems "anachronistic," "overdone," and "punishingly redundant. "I do not know where to begin in correcting Mr Fredericks' opinions. Lovecraft's style was not noticeably anachronistic in his time--save in certain instances where intentional archaisms were used-as anyone who has read Addison or Johnson and then read Lovecraft will conclude. Lovecraft's style was certainly modelled upon the masters of 18th-century English prose, but to call it anachronistic is to lack historical perspective. Moreover, to condemn Lovecraft because "there are many broad-minded readers never touched by [Lovecraft's] writing" is to fall into the fatal syllogism of basing a writer's worth on popular acclaim. There have been many broad-minded readers (among them Voltaire) who have not cared for Shakespeare; but this says little about Shakespeare's intrinsic merit. Lovecraft's style is actually one of the most brilliant of our time-replete with skilful metaphors, similes, transferred epithets, zeugmas, anaphoras, and other devices found in the highest forms of poetic prose. Mr Fredericks may not like the style, and this is his prerogative; but his mistake is in assuming that all intelligent people ought not to like it. The style of such writers as De Quincey, William Morris, E. R. Eddison, and even Poe is far more "anachronistic" and "redundant"; and yet we hear no one saying that they ought not to be read.

This is not the place for a lengthy explication of Lovecraft's life and thought; it can readily be found in Lovecraft's own work-particularly the letters-and in the recent and forthcoming studies of the more important Lovecraft critics. Even though I am engaging partially in the same syllogism as Mr Fredericks, I may remark that the amount of scholarship now being done on Lovecraft may perhaps be an indication of his lasting merit. -T. Joshi


SF and Poetry

We have been apprised that the Science Fiction Poetry Association has been founded in 1977 by SF writer and poet Professor Suzette Haden Elgin, who is also the editor of its monthly newsletter Star Line. Subscription is $6 a year, to P.O. Box 2012, Leucadia, CA 92024, USA. The first issue of Star Line raised the question of whether there was such a wordbeast as SF poetry, and if so how was it to be defined or delimited: a theoretically and practically fascinating question, so far unanswered (e.g.: is something like "The door-handle opened a violet eye, and blinked at him" SF, or poetry, or both?).-DS


On Some Changes in the SFS Editorial Board

Our readers will notice a few changes in the inside front cover. First, in recognition of Charles Elkins's large role as not only the person in charge of the reviews' and the "SF and Teaching" sections but also a person sharing other editorial duties, we felt he should be recognized as a full co-editor in name also. Second, Ursula Le Guin has been telling us for some time now that her creative interests in these years do not run to SF criticism any more, and that she therefore feels uneasy as a Contributing Editor while not contributing. We have reluctantly bowed to her wish, and we are happy that her counsels as a member of our Board remain available to us. It is only by chance that at the same time we have been fortunate enough to persuade another very prominent SF writer and critic, Samuel Delany, to join us as a Contributing Editor; we hope to have a contribution from him ready for the July issue. Finally, Carlo Pagetti of the Universita Gabriele dAnnunzio in Pescara, Italy, who is helping us to get the best work of a generation of exciting new critics in and around Italy, has also consented to join us as an Associate Editor.- The Editors

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