As if there weren’t already enough mini-culture wars going on around certain literary genres and figures, another small one seems to be brewing up around the delightful weird/dark podcast series Welcome to Night Vale and horror great H.P. Lovecraft. The trigger was an interview that Newsarama did with Welcome to Night Vale creators Jeffrey Cranor and Joseph Fink, where the subject of their influences came up, including any influence from H.P. Lovecraft.
“People area always assuming is a major influence, and the funny thing is that Lovecraft is not something that I’m into – in fact, I strongly dislike his work,” said Fink in the course of the interview. “I don’t think it influenced me, though I do like horror in general, and I recognize the strong influence Lovecraft as a writer and idea man had on horror.” Citing Stephen King, Cranor then added: “Like Joseph, I’m not a fan of Lovecraft’s work, and he kind of sounds like an awful person. But his influence on other writers was considerable, and those in turn were writers who influenced me – that concept of growing dread, of something so terrifying that to look upon it would cause you to lose your mind.”
Lovecraftian blogger Robert Holm then took issue with this, although, as he says, he’s “never gotten around to listening to” Night Vale. “It’s not because the people behind it hate Lovecraft, I don’t care about that specifically. But it’s their stated reasons for hating Lovecraft that I do have a problem with.” He also manages to track down an earlier interview, where Fink said:
I actually hate Lovecraft, both personally and for his writing. I don’t think anyone can deny that he was a shitty person. His whole “cosmic horror” thing mainly came out of his intense racism. And I think that, on a prose level, he was also a deeply shitty writer. I mean his stuff his almost unreadable for me. That said, I think he was brilliant on an idea level, and that’s definitely where we connect with him. Our Lovecraft book, for me, is a way of leaving behind all vestiges of his writing, including the stupid names of his gods, while keeping the brilliance of his unnerving ideas and images. Night Vale is often called Lovecraftian, but we never consciously chose to make it that way. I just think Lovecraft, awful writer that he was, has had such an impact on modern horror and science fiction that it’s impossible to work in that field without using some of the ideas he generated. Which kind of annoys me, but I respect the old racist bastard all the same.
As Holm remarks, “it boggles the mind that people still drag out that oh-so-tired, beaten-to-death old canard that Lovecraft’s cosmicism was just a cover for his racism. If you’re going to mouth off about Lovecraft, then at least take the time to read something about the man himself, some of his letters and essays.” That said, after quoting the above remarks, and revisiting the arguments over Lovecraft’s overt racism, and the quality of his work regardless, Holm adds:
I will do what these two jackasses did with Lovecraft, and simply ignore them. I have no patience with people who let their rancid politics dictate what passes for their literary preferences. And, after all, they “kind of sound” like “deeply shitty” people, which is why I will continue to give Night Vale a pass.
I don’t doubt that Cranor and Fink are working from a pretty ill-informed and – dare I say it – prejudiced view of Lovecraft. Perhaps they should read and learn more, and open their mouths less. But it cuts both ways. If H.P. Lovecraft doesn’t deserve to be shunned for his views on persons of color, Poles, Italians, and virtually all non-Anglo Saxons, then the creators of Welcome to Night Vale don’t deserve to be shunned for their views on H.P. Lovecraft. A little less heat and a little more light, please.