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Lovecraft: Beyond New England

Historical Lovecraft launched last month and several contributors are on a Blogging Buddies tour. Today I’m hosting Paula R. Stiles, co-editor of this anthology.

I can’t say that I was surprised to find some resistance to our doing an anthology of historical Lovecraft stories that were set in a variety of cultures and involving characters who were not white men from New England. I can’t even say that I was dismayed, as a major reason why we chose that theme was because of the resistance to it that we’d already found in doing the multiethnic issue. But I did roll my eyes at some of the excuses we got.

Most notably, we heard that you could only do true Mythos stories in a white-man-only universe, because that’s how Lovecraft did it, and that there wasn’t enough historical evidence available for women (especially) and other cultures to write such stories in the past. Well, I’ve got a few books named things like ‘Daughters of Isis: Women of Ancient Egypt to show that there are all sorts of things we know women and non-white people could do back then, and that the Black Pharaoah need not be a man.

The biggest irony in all of this is that many writers seem unaware of the great diversity of Lovecraft’s New England and the Atlantic Seaboard, alone, that could support many new stories. Herman Melville’s “pagan” harpooners, Queequeg and Fedallah, in Moby Dick reflected the world’s fishermen who washed up on the shores of Nantucket and Martha’s Vineyard, and manned the whaling vessels, during the height of the whaling industry. Lovecraft’s story of pagan worship brought home from the South Seas in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” was a darker vision of Melville’s more tolerant views, but real communities like the Portuguese fishermen of Provincetown and Gloucester, Massachusetts, and the African/mid-Atlantic-descended Cape Verdean fishermen of southern New England towns like New Bedford may have inspired the story (One of Lovecraft’s possible inspirations for Innsmouth was Gloucester).

Nor was Nantucket whaling solely a profession for men. Eliza Brock kept a journal at sea of her whaling voyage with her husband from 1853-6. She wasn’t the only such woman. It’s a short leap from that kind of source material to a story about a whaling wife encountering dark and populated Atlantean deeps.

You could also use the tradition of African-Americans in the Coast Guard. One of the most famous lighthouse keepers on the Outer Banks was Richard Etheridge, a former slave and lighthouse keeper who also ran an all-African-American rescue team out of Pea Island, North Carolina in the late 19th century. In Georgia, an “elderly African American woman” ran the lighthouse in 1836 while its keeper was ill.

Interested more in Lovecraft’s obsession with eugenics and tainted bloodlines, as in “The Rats in the Walls”, or his xenophobic fears about Catholics and Italians in “The Haunter in the Dark”? Try Breeding Better Vermonters: The Eugenics Project in the Green Mountain State, which explores the ugly effects of eugenics on social programs in 1920s and 30s Vermont.

Want some ideas for new Lovecraftian monsters? Try going medieval with the necrophageous creatures found in Saracens, Demons and Jews: Making Monsters in Medieval Art. And in the process, you can both inform yourself about the European origins of, and avoid some of the pitfalls of, Lovecraft’s more racist views.

Though Lovecraft didn’t deal much in female characters, let alone protagonists, others in his circle of Mythos-minded friends did. C.L. Moore wrote two early Mythos stories within a larger series – with a medieval female protagonist – “Jirel Meets Magic” (1935) and “The Dark Land” (1936), both of them published during Lovecraft’s lifetime. Robert E. Howard also wrote a series that Moore loved, about a pistol-wielding, red-haired, Renaissance French swordswoman named “Dark Agnes” and a story including another fiery, red-haired Renaissance woman, this time Eastern-European, Red Sonya of Rogatino. And one of his most famous Mythos stories includes one of his most vivid female characters, prehistoric pirate queen Bêlit, in the 1934 Conan tale, “Queen of the Black Coast”, a story that may have inspired the later film Creature of the Black Lagoon, at least on the general idea.

 There’s plenty of new historical ground out there to cover in Mythos Land. Go do a little digging and see what you can find.

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