A Brazilian Looks At Lovecraft
by Davi Braid
It was a strange night in Michigan. The gibbous moon lurked behind tenebrous clouds. A barely illuminated terrene town was slowly recovering from the fetid consequences of a cacodaemoniacal college party. Eldritch shadows followed the rhythm of ululating winds, forming a blasphemous image of a chthonian forest at the horizon. Ignored by a lonely exchange student, a cup of the local, noxious coffee was getting cold by the window of a noisome hotel.
For some reason, that cup of coffee caused me to panic. Its horrible taste was a clear indicator of how far this place was from home. I had no friends, no family, no coworkers, and I kept asking myself the reason behind that trip. The original plan was to find personal growth out of my comfort zone. It was not working as intended, though.
The hotel room did not have much to offer, so my free time was spent observing the town from afar and reading. It was fun and exciting at first, but it didn’t last long. The cultural differences, the lack of a deeper connection to people, and the constant feeling of being an outsider are things that hit hard when you are entirely by yourself.
Due to being isolated and depressed, my mind would constantly spiral down into nearly inescapable cycles of fear and nihilism. Socializing is an activity that demands a lot of effort from introverts, and the trouble of trying that in a foreign culture was a great excuse to never do it at all. It seems that being a foreigner was not necessarily a charming characteristic in a small town where half the population was college kids.
Even within the Latino community, it was tough being Brazilian. We speak Portuguese, not English, so there is a language barrier that prevents us from completely fitting in. It is hard to think of a moment that felt worse than being among many other foreigners from South America and feeling like an outcast.
I do not remember exactly how or when Lovecraft’s tales really caught my interest for the first time. After researching gloomy things, taken by desperation and anxiety, the concept Cosmic Horror found its way into the screen of my laptop. I never liked horror as a genre, but the title “The Outsider” caught my eye for obvious reasons. On top of that, something about unknown entities that overshadow mundane problems felt weirdly comforting at that point.
The story failed to impress me with its simplistic structure and a generic monster. However, the ending hit me as no written story has ever done before:
I know always that I am an outsider; a stranger in this century and among those who are still men. This I have known ever since I stretched out my fingers to the abomination within that great gilded frame; stretched out my fingers and touched a cold and unyielding surface of polished glass.
Thoughts about the pointlessness of living when death is certain were just some of my recurring demons, which didn’t make me popular at parties. The outsider never belonged, and the monster was not hunting him. The narrator did not see itself as the ghoulish shade of decay that it was. This horror story was my polished glass.
That ending was digested by my brain and became the first step toward a life-long obsession with cosmic horror. Solitude in a small room was not an issue for someone who had just opened the Necronomicon. The observer triggered a long introspection that resulted in a few failed attempts to socialize, turning this newly found genre into the best way to escape reality and self-pity.
One must wonder how many demons Lovecraft had. The themes of his writings were painfully clear. Narrators were always finding out horrific truths, and madness was the natural state of those who see the world for what it is. Convinced of the lack of meaning in life, I became one of his characters. On the other hand, reading his characters was about to turn me back into a functional person.
A sudden sense of urgency—acquired after reading “Dagon”—caused me to slowly break out of an old delusion. Happy, inaccurate memories of a big city chased me to the other hemisphere, much like the old ones chased the narrator:
The end is near. I hear a noise at the door, as of some immense slippery body lumbering against it. It shall not find me. God, that hand! The window! The window!
With the help of my thanatophobia, the old one by the window caused the panic attack that shaped my following days. The end was near, time was limited, and nothing was being done. How can someone take control of their future when shackled by insecurity and hopelessness?
After so many of his tales, Lovecraft’s antediluvian view of the world became painfully obvious in “The Horror at Red Hook.” Luckily, I was about to get lectured by them:
The population is a hopeless tangle and enigma; Syrian, Spanish, Italian, and negro elements impinging upon one another, and fragments of Scandinavian and American belts lying not far distant. It is a babel of sound and filth, and sends out strange cries to answer the lapping of oily waves at its grimy piers and the monstrous organ litanies of the harbour whistles.
I was not an immigrant, but it would hardly have mattered to him. Being a descendant of Native, Scottish, and Portuguese people myself, tangled enigma was an excellent definition of my heritage. Besides, Brazil is a melting pot. Consequently, it is a tangled enigma, as the writer himself defined. Funny enough, taking offense was not my first reaction. Building anger towards an author from two centuries ago due to his outdated views felt like a pointless mental effort.
The descriptions used by the author for certain ethnicities are revealing. They seem to echo how he talks about monsters and gods—as if everything was otherworldly and incomprehensible. Maybe he was afraid of what was different and unknown. Not understanding other languages being spoken in his own country clearly disturbed him somehow: “From this tangle of material and spiritual putrescence the blasphemies of a hundred dialects assail the sky.”
Digging into his correspondences and stories, I ended up finding something disturbing in one of his letters:
It was there that I formed my ineradicable aversion to the Semitic race. The Jews were brilliant in their classes—calculatingly & schemingly brilliant—but their ideals were sordid & their manners coarse. I became rather well known as an anti-Semitic before I had been at Hope Street many days.H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 16 November 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 72
To my surprise, he married a Jewish woman who shared his passion for literature. At that point, a lambent idea crawled its way into my outré neurons. If Lovecraft shared the same hobbies and passions with an immigrant, would he dislike that person the same way? What if people could see how much they had in common instead of how different they were? And that’s when it hit me: What if I started looking for things I had in common with others instead of reminding them of our differences?
I used to think of myself as a unique, awake person who could see the world for what it is—a cyclopean blasphemy—and therefore, there was no point in trying to enjoy my time on earth. It turns out that person was just a socially impaired snob who constantly reminded others of how different he was. Fortunately, “The Horror At Red Hook” pushed some sense into my head in a peculiar way.
We are all people aimlessly navigating life, trying to make the most of it. If I have my doubts and fears, chances are other humans do too. Instead of trying to stand out as the eccentric foreigner, my approach was changed to “I like that too,” which changed not only my experience in the United States but my whole life as well.
Don’t get me wrong, there were plenty of weird cultural barriers to be dealt with. Nonetheless, putting some effort into breaching those barriers proved to be a much better way to make meaningful connections. Colleagues slowly became friends, and friends presented me to a whole new world and lifestyle.
Michigan was quite life-changing, and I miss my time there so much. I ended up loving snow, hockey, Detroit, and much of the local culture. I went to college parties, had terrific burgers, and even learned how to shoot a gun—although I passed on hunting. I made friends, built a professional network, and even helped many newcomers to feel welcomed.
My introversion never left me, and it will not be going anywhere. The process of changing that old behavior into something more productive took months, yet I managed to get there. It never stopped being a conscious effort, but it was a significant improvement. Ironically, all that happened thanks to a xenophobic, antisemitic man who wrote horror stories.
Besides leaving me with a life lesson, Howard Phillips Lovecraft was also the reason behind my regained interest in Brazilian legends. Many of my country’s backcountry myths inspired me to return to fiction writing, giving it a Lovecraftian spin.
When I’m having a really bad day, I return to “The Whisperer in Darkness” and “The Shadow over Innsmouth.” Someone like me is never truly free from old, obdurate demons. Maybe he wrote them down to take them out of his mind. Reading those stories reminds me that there is much more in the world to be seen and discovered, rekindling my passion for life itself.
It is possible that he would not be pleased with how his unearthly entities helped a Brazilian student to fit in the United States. Especially considering what he used to think of my country—or most countries, according to what he wrote in a letter:
If this nation ever becomes really composite; if the polyglot lower elements ever rise to the surface and direct the destinies of the whole people, then the United States will have undergone intellectual and moral death, and must be content to take its inferior place beside Argentina, Brazil, Chile, and other decidedly immigrant nations. For the glory of the world is the glory of England. […] If other nationalities are now represented here, it is only on sufferance. They are charity boarders, as it were. For this is an Englishman’s country.H. P. Lovecraft to John Dunn, 14 Oct 1916, Letters to Alfred Galpin & Others 166
Being a polyglot myself, this was the first time I ever read this word in such a negative connotation. Not having to deal with people like him was possibly pure luck. Sure, I was in several uncomfortable situations here and there. Some people wanted to try their Spanish with me as if it was my first language, and some others thought I lived in a jungle, but it felt more like ignorance than anything else.
In the end, all the situations that I had to endure were nothing like what happened to the Saudi Arabian kids. Most North Americans would actively avoid them because of their country of origin, even though they were perfectly nice and polite young men. Truth be told, It was heartbreaking to watch, which caused me to constantly check on them. In their case, as Lovecraft stated, they were there on sufferance.
I do not admire the man, just what came out of his imagination and personal fears. I read his stories during a vulnerable moment, but what I took from them is my merit. There is no point in spending any energy deliberating on his archaic opinions. Howard Phillips Lovecraft is long gone, and I have my whole life ahead of me.
Davi Braid is a Brazilian freelance writer and a games journalist who often gets out of his niche to write about different and exciting topics. Although he does not like horror stories, Cosmic Horror fascinates him like no other kind of fiction. You can contact him via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or find more of his work at https://davibraid.journoportfolio.com/
Copyright 2022 Davi Braid