"It's my estimation that every man ever got a statue made of 'em was one kinda sombitch or another."
--Cpt. Malcolm Reynolds,
Whether it's gaming, comic books, science fiction or fantasy, nerd culture is no longer the mainly-white-male-cis-gendererd-heterosexual-club that it used to be. As we welcome more and more non-whites, women, and LGBT members into our community of weirdos, there is bound to be some tension between our new brothers and sister geeks and those in the Old Guard who want to keep things status quo. Particularly contentious is how should we approach sexual and racial matters in our favorite media? One of these issues that comes up again and again is how the various branches of geekdom should approach H.P. Lovecraft and his works.
Over the years, I've come to be of two of minds about HPL. On one hand, I've enjoyed reading his stories and playing Call of Cthulhu and other related RPGs since I was in 8th grade. I love the Mythos: the cosmic nihilism, the tentacled alien deities and the diabolical cults that worshiped them, the strange blending of occult horror and science fiction. Certainly, there was much to admire about the man himself. He was quite intelligent and erudite. He loved knowledge, science, and appreciated critical thinking (at least in some things). He loved language--boy did he love language! He also loved cats. That's usually a big plus in my book.
But yeeeeah... On the other hand, he was a racist and xenophobe and a pretty vile one too by all accounts. According to his ex-wife, Sonja Greene, during his brief residence in New York City, he'd yell at any groups of immigrants with whom he came in contact with. His private letters defended Southern lynch mobs and initially spoke glowingly of Hitler. You can see his obvious disdain for anyone who wasn't a WASP—or, in his case, a WASA: "White Anglo-Saxon Atheist"—in stories like "Hebert West: Reanimator" and "The Horror At Red Hook." The cults of the Great Old Ones where usually filled with "degenerate" half-breeds and led by shadowy Orientals, secluded in China or the Himalayas. The Deep Ones were a conglomeration of Lovecraft's paranoia over miscegenation and his dislike for fish. He even named one of his cat's "Nigger Man."
So while I think he was an excellent, imaginative writer, I also think he was kind of an asshole.
Of course, like many fandom communities, there are those who will militantly defend HPL from such criticism then make lame justifications for his beliefs in a attempt to rehabilitate his image. Yes, you can say he was a product of his time, when casual racial bigotry was the norm. Yes, he had a sheltered childhood, raised by a broken family that was rapidly deteriorating both financially and psychologically (i.e. both his parents died in an asylum). Yes, he himself probably suffered from various mental health issues. Those are all very good reasons for Lovecraft's behavior, but I don't think they are excuses.
In my opinion, the best and most honest thing we Lovecraft fans can do with try to distill the positive products of Lovecraft's talent while openly acknowledging and condemning him for his foibles. No more excuses or justifications. It's entirely understandable why some defend him some vehemently. No one wants to think less of their heroes, especially when you are dealing with something as odious as racial and/or sexual prejudice. However, in the end, you're efforts to defend the indefensible will only further tarnish his reputation. It's best to know when you are on the losing side of a lost cause.
Personally, I see HPL as a-man-who-could-have-been. He was someone who had the capacity for greatness but is largely overshadowed by his flaws. I love the horror writer, I hate the racist "sombitch," and, most of all, I pity the human being who was Howard Phillips Lovecraft.