The Frequently Asked Questions page is intended to be a place for relatively short, straightforward answers to common questions posed by readers of Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein.
These questions deal explicitly with issues of racism & prejudice and DO include racial pejoratives in titles and historical quotes as necessary regarding the subject matter, so read on at your own discretion.
H. P. Lovecraft
While many hundreds, if not thousands, of writers, artists, actors, musicians, and programmers have contributed to the collaborative creative effort that is the Cthulhu Mythos in the form of fiction, artwork, plays, films, audiobooks, games, music, and other media over the last century, H. P. Lovecraft is still the individual that is seen as the primary creator and originator of the Mythos—and to a large extent, the man himself has entered the Mythos. He has been a fictional character, his life and letters have become inserted into the text of stories; scholarship on Lovecraft as an individual continues to influence and intrigue generations of readers. Which includes his prejudices with regards to race, ethnicity, sexuality, gender, and even religion. So to understand how the Mythos deals with these subjects, we have to look at what Lovecraft believed, the context of his life, and how those prejudices & events affected his fiction, and what came after.
Was H. P. Lovecraft Racist?
Yes. During his life, Lovecraft expressed a belief in the reality of separate biological races, the superiority of the “white” race over others, and prejudice and discrimination against people of other races. To better understand the nature of this prejudice and discrimination, it is important to understand the cultural context of his life.
H. P. Lovecraft lived during the nadir of race relations in the United States. Segregation was the law, and especially prevalent in the Southern states. The Yellow Peril fostered anti-Asian discrimination, including the Asiatic Barred Zone Act of 1917 and the Immigration Act of 1924 which established the quota system further restricting immigration into the United States. Media such The Birth of a Nation (1915) widely publicized revisionist, false historical claims about the American Civil War, the horrors of black slavery, and Reconstruction, and led directly to the creation of the second incarnation of the Ku Klux Klan which expanded tremendously during the period; lynchings and racial violence were also common. Scientific racialism was still highly prevalent, even as the bases for claims that homo sapiens consisted of different races were in the process of being disproved; some of these views were enshrined in laws such as the Racial Integrity Act of 1924 and the Virginia Sterilization Act of 1924. By the early 1930s, the Nazi party came to power in Germany on a wave of antisemitism, and immediately began a program of discrimination against the Jews and other peoples deemed “undesirable,” which would culminate in the Holocaust.
Racism was common during Lovecraft’s lifetime. It was not unknown even in the pages of Weird Tales and other pulps. The fact that a white man who lived in the United States of America from 1890-1937 was racist is unsurprising; it would have been exceptional if Lovecraft had not been racist. That does not make his racism in any way okay or acceptable.
I hardly wonder that my racial ideas seem bigoted to one born & reared in the vicinity of cosmopolitan New York, but you may better understand my repulsion to the Jew when I tell you that until I was fourteen years old I do not believe I ever spoke to one or saw one knowingly.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 6 Dec 1915, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 47
Lovecraft’s prejudices, developed and fostered in an environment where racism was not just permitted but often legalized, influenced his life and writings in many ways. Yet racism, while prevalent, was not universal. Lovecraft was friends with those who did not share his prejudices, and it is because of their letters discussing race that we know so much about the details and development of Lovecraft’s prejudices. The encounter with James F. Morton, for example, in the issue of “Concerning the Conservative” (1915) by Charles D. Isaacson, shows that just because a white person lived when and where Lovecraft did does not mean he had to be racist.
Why Read Lovecraft If He Was Racist?
H. P. Lovecraft was racist. He was also an important early figure in science fiction, fantasy, weird fiction, and horror. Directly or indirectly, Lovecraft influenced generations of fans, writers, editors, and artists. Perhaps most importantly, he effectively created one of the most important shared universes—the Cthulhu Mythos—to which people still continue to use, expand on, and comment on today. His works have been printed and reprinted, and as they are now in the public domain, continue to appear in new editions and are freely available on the internet. Lovecraft’s life and works have been the subject of decades of study.
Historical racism is a reality that every person has to come to terms with in their own way. Everyone that reads Lovecraft has to face the historical reality of his prejudices. Racist words and ideas, the characterizations and discrimination in his fiction and letters can still hurt people today. While racism is rarely the principal subject of Lovecraft’s work, if you as a reader don’t want to read that…don’t. Choosing not to engage with material you know will upset you is a valid option. Others may choose to turn an inquiring eye to Lovecraft’s works, seeking to understand the racism in Lovecraft’s stories. Acknowledging their flaws while appreciating what he created.
You might read Lovecraft because he was historically important. Several of his stories are considered classics in the field, and have influenced a great deal of later media, with adaptions in comics, games, film & television as well as other stories. The Dream-Quest of Vellitt Boe (2016) by Kij Johnson is best appreciated if you are familiar with “The Dream-Quest of Unknown Kadath” by H. P. Lovecraft, for example. You might read Lovecraft’s fiction because you enjoy his writing, or want to write your own Mythos stories. Maybe you’re just interested in seeing what the fuss is about, or you’re assigned to read one of his stories in class.
If you do read Lovecraft, you are probably going to run into some racism at some point. That is the historical reality of who Lovecraft was, and when and where he lived. The same is true for many writers during the same period, published in the same pulp magazines and anthologies, such as Robert E. Howard and Seabury Quinn. Some folks choose to ignore it, some cannot. Some writers have chosen to address the issue of Lovecraft’s historical prejudice, such as “Variations on Lovecraftian Themes” (2016) by Veronica Schanoes or The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle. while others have simply taken the ideas of the Mythos and gone their own way.
Did H. P. Lovecraft Become Less Racist As He Got Older?
H. P. Lovecraft’s prejudices were not static throughout his life. By his own accounts of his childhood, Lovecraft expressed some racial prejudices at a very young age, and received no censure for these views even as a teenager.
I became rather well known as an anti-Semitic before I had been at Hope Street many days. Knowing of my ungovernable temperament, & of my lawless conduct at Slater Avenue, most of my friends (if friends they may be called) predicted disaster for me, when my will should conflict with the authority of Hope Street’s masculine teachers. But a disappointment of the happiest sort occurred. The Hope Street preceptors quickly understood my disposition as “Abbie” had never understood it; & by removing all restraint, made me apparently their comrade & equal; so that I ceased to think of discipline, but merely comported myself as a gentleman among gentlemen.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Rheinhart Kleiner, 16 Nov 1916, Letters to Rheinhart Kleiner & Others 72
As an adult, Lovecraft had a bit of a rude awakening when he discovered that his prejudices were not universally shared (see: “Concerning the Conservative” (1915) by Charles D. Isaacson). The 1920s and 30s saw Lovecraft correspond more broadly, travel more widely, and become exposed to more cultures and people in than all the rest of his life up to that point. A few years from the end of his life, Lovecraft wrote of this period:
As a person of very retired life, I met very few different sorts of people in youth—& was therefore exceedingly narrow & provincial. Later on, when literary activities brought me into touch with widely diverse types by mail—Texans like Robert E. Howard, men in Australia, New Zealand, &c., Westerners, Southerners, Canadians, people in old England, & associated kinds of folk nearer at hand—I found myself opened up to dozens of points of view which would otherwise never have occurred to me. My understanding & sympathies were enlarged, & many of my social, political, & economic views were modified as a consequence of increased knowledge. Only correspondence could have effected this broadening; for it would have been impossible to have visited all the regions & met all the various types involved, while books can never talk back or discuss. Even as it is, I realise that my broadening is only partial—since it does not extend outside the English-speaking world. But at least my perspective & sense of proportion are just a bit improved.
—H. P. Lovecraft to F. Lee Baldwin, 5 Mar 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin 48
If you compare Lovecraft’s writings from 1915 and 1935, the two decades of added experience did produce a change in his prejudices. While still antisemitic, he was generally more accepting of Jewish people, with Jewish friends and, at one point, a Jewish wife; much of his prejudice regarding the Irish and “Celtic” peoples had diminished to the point where he no longer spoke of it, particularly after beginning correspondence with Robert E. Howard in 1930, who identified as Irish-American; stereotypes regarding various European nationalities and ethnicities were less acute in his later years; admiration for Asian cultures, particularly Japan, grew and he considered many Asian peoples as equal to Europeans, at least biologically.
Many aspects of Lovecraft’s prejudices did not change. Lovecraft still believed in white supremacy over black people until his death; he still held to many national and ethnic stereotypes, even if he was less vocal about it; and he was still antisemitic. Prejudices are hard to overcome, and while Lovecraft was forced to defend many of his views, and in doing so retrenched on points, he gave ground only very slowly and slightly, so even in his last letters we can read passages like:
With us Nordics (as the Nazis shrewdly recognise) the tribe comes first in instinctive subconscious loyalty, and any revolution which could be construed as being against the tribe—any revolt against the existing flags and traditions and acknowledged entity of our respective nations—would throw majority sentiment to the reactionary side as nothing else under heaven could. If a few Dagoes and Russian Jews in New York and Chicago started a bolshevik revolt under the banner of the International whatever that is), the popular landslide toward the American cause (under any damn leader and with any damn policy) would make the recent election look like a draw.
—H. P. Lovecraft to R. H. Barlow, 27 Jan 1937, O Fortunate Floridian! 397
That Lovecraft did not recant his racism before he died should not come as a great surprise; most people do not give up long-held beliefs, even in the face of concerted argument. Lovecraft did not live to see World War II and the Holocaust, the terrible consequences of the Nazi policies which were already going into effect in his lifetime; never experienced the Japanese internment camps of WWII or the Civil Rights Movement of the 1960s that led to the end of segregation. These were transformative experiences in American history, and we cannot say how Lovecraft might have responded, if he had lived to see them. Many of those who did live through them still maintained racial prejudices that Lovecraft would have recognized and agreed with, so there is no guarantee that longer life would have helped him overcome his racism.
Is Everything Lovecraft Wrote An Expression Of His Racism?
Not everything. Only a very small fraction of Lovecraft’s total output (poetry, fiction, essays, & letters) are concerned primarily about race. However, Lovecraft’s racism—his particular combination of prejudice and ignorance—touches on many interrelated issues of biology, anthropology, history, politics, and culture, so that issues of race do appear or are touched on in many of his works, even if the work itself is not primarily about race in any particular way, and not always in ways that might be immediately obvious—and sometimes is a matter of interpretation.
While not everything Lovecraft wrote is about race, many individual stories, poems, essays, and letters do have some reference to something related to Lovecraft’s prejudices in some fashion. This includes several of Lovecraft’s more prominent stories like “The Call of Cthulhu” and “The Horror at Red Hook” with their multiracial/multiethnic cults. As these works tend to dominate the discourse, it reinforces the impression that a lot of what Lovecraft wrote is about race in some form of fashion. Lovecraft wrote over 400 poems, for example, but most folks can only remember one.
Is “The Shadow over Innsmouth” About Miscegenation?
Yes. Though perhaps not in the way you think. There are actually two separate narratives about interracial relationships included in the story. Early in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” Lovecraft wrote:
“But the real thing behind the way folks feel is simply race prejudice—and I don’t say I’m blaming those that hold it. I hate those Innsmouth folks myself, and I wouldn’t care to go to their town. I s’pose you know—though I can see you’re a Westerner by your talk—what a lot our New England ships used to have to do with queer ports in Africa, Asia, the South Seas, and everywhere else, and what queer kinds of people they sometimes brought back with ’em. You’ve probably heard about the Salem man that came home with a Chinese wife, and maybe you know there’s still a bunch of Fiji Islanders somewhere around Cape Cod.
“Well, there must be something like that back of the Innsmouth people.
This is Lovecraft presenting—through a character—a reason for the oddity of Innsmouth: the idea that this is an entire community which has “degenerated” because of interracial relationships. This is what the people around Innsmouth believe about it, and perhaps an explanation that a reader in the 1920s and 30s might accept at first. However, this real-world prejudice is actually the red herring for what actually is going on:
“When it come to matin’ with them toad-lookin’ fishes, the Kanakys kind o’ balked, but finally they larnt something as put a new face on the matter. Seems that human folks has got a kind o’ relation to sech water-beasts—that everything alive come aout o’ the water onct, an’ only needs a little change to go back agin. Them things told the Kanakys that ef they mixed bloods there’d be children as ud look human at fust, but later turn more’n more like the things, till finally they’d take to the water an’ jine the main lot o’ things daown thar.
Lovecraft was definitely using the language of miscegenation in this story, thinking in terms of blood percentages and generations; and this is particularly evident in his notes when he wrote:
halfbreeds 1 b 1847
quarters 2 b 1877
eights 3 b 1907
—H. P. Lovecraft, Collected Essays 5.249
The important thing about the first narrative is that it is false; it sets the reader up to think this is going to be the story of a mixed-race community—but what’s going on is infinitely weirder than that. While racist rhetoric of the 20s and 30s often held other races as bestial or subhuman, in this case Lovecraft shocks the readers by making the “foreign heritage” of the Innsmouth community literally inhuman.
“The Shadow over Innsmouth” isn’t an allusion or metaphor for miscegenation—there’s no subtext regarding that in the story, because that is the text. Yet it isn’t about miscegenation in any conventional sense; Lovecraft was taking the language and concepts of interracial relationships and directing them in a weird new direction. In creating the Deep Ones as a fantasy race, Lovecraft wasn’t alluding specifically to any existing human ethnic group—he was specifically creating something outside the spectrum of human racism, something that the human racists neighboring Innsmouth couldn’t conceive of. That’s important, because the Deep Ones aren’t presented as just black people or Jews with gills, they’re much more alien.
Was H. P. Lovecraft Homophobic/Transphobic?
Yes. While Lovecraft made few if any public statements about non-heterosexual & non-cisgender folks, and nothing regarding that made a direct appearance in his fiction, he did make occasional comments in his letters on homosexuality, gender identity, & related issues. These comments were generally discriminatory in nature, and should be understood in the context of his period.
During Lovecraft’s lifetime, sodomy was a felony in every state, rendering homosexual relations illegal. In addition to this, medical and psychological works categorized homosexuality, gender identity issues, and other forms of non-heterosexuality/non-cisgender behavior as aberrations, deviant behavior, or disease. While major metropolises like New York City did have small, relatively open subcultures for those who were different, the state laws and professional medical opinions reflected the fact that the vast majority of Americans misunderstood or were generally ignorant of many issues of gender identity and sexuality, and were prejudiced against non-heterosexual, transgender individuals—Lovecraft was not an exception to this, as he detailed in a very few letters:
So far as the case of homosexualism goes, the primary & vital objection against it is that it is naturally (physically & instinctively—not merely ‘morally’ or aesthetically) repugnant to the overwhelming bulk of mankind—including all cultures except the few (the ancient Orient, Persia, post-Homeric Greece) in which strongly inculcated artificial traditions have temporarily overcome in nature. There’s nothing ‘moral’ in the adverse feeling. For instance—I hate both physically normal adultery (which is contemptible sneaking treachery) & paederasty—but while I might enjoy (physically) or be tempted toward adultery, I simply could not consider the abnormal state without physical nausea. Even excessive psychological sentimentality betwixt members of the same sex has for the average healthy person a repulsion varying from a sense of the ridiculous to a feeling-of-disgust [. . .]
—H. P. Lovecraft to August Derleth, 16 Feb 1933, Essential Solitude 2.545–546
The prevalent discrimination against LGBTQ+ folks during Lovecraft’s lifetime should not be taken as an excuse for his prejudices; only as an historical context to show that his viewpoints were commonplace. That doesn’t make them okay.
Several of Lovecraft’s friends were gay, including Samuel Loveman and R. H. Barlow, and yet there is no indication that Lovecraft was aware of this, or if he was aware, that he treated them any differently because of their orientation.Lovecraft’s prejudices with regard to gender identity are somewhat more nuanced and complex, see Sex & the Cthulhu Mythos 41-48 for a fuller discussion of Lovecraft, homosexuality, and gender identity.
“On the Creation of Niggers”—Did Lovecraft Write It?
We think so. Among H. P. Lovecraft’s papers at the John Hay Library in Providence is a small hectographed poem titled “On the Creation of Niggers.” It is credited to Lovecraft on the poem itself, and someone has penciled in the date “1912.” This is the only information we have on the poem or its creation. No publication during Lovecraft’s lifetime has been found, and there is no mention of it in any of his surviving correspondence or writings.
The text of the poem gives no internal evidence to its date (i.e. no reference to specific events). Contextually, the doggerel verse scans similar to Lovecraft’s other poems. Lovecraft did not often express racist sentiments or use racial pejoratives in his poetry, and the poem is unusual in that regard. However, there was a period leading up to World War I where that did feature in some of his poems, such as “New-England Fallen” (1912), “On a New-England Village Seen by Moonlight” (1913), and “To General Villa” (1914), so if the 1912 date is correct it would fall within his known body of work during that part of his life. Without any evidence to the contrary, Lovecraft’s authorship is generally accepted by scholars.
“On the Creation of…” was first published in L. Sprague de Camp’s H. P. Lovecraft: A Biography (1975). Since de Camp published it, the poem has made it into collections of Lovecraft’s unpublished poetry (Crypt of Cthulhu #21) and his complete poetry (The Ancient Track). Matt Ruff included reference to it in Lovecraft Country (2016), although he erroneously gave the impression that it had been published, which it was not during the time the story takes place
Was H. P. Lovecraft Sexist?
Maybe. There is enough material in Lovecraft’s letters to confirm his views on race and homosexuality beyond any reasonable doubt. Sexism or misogyny is a little more difficult to judge. Very rarely Lovecraft made direct statements of women as inferior to men, and these statements tend to be wrapped up in other issues that are difficult to extricate on the issue of sex or gender alone. How and why this influenced his fiction is more difficult to judge. His views are best understood within the context of his life and times.
In the context of Lovecraft’s era, gender roles were in transition: the long women’s suffrage movement finally resulted in the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment, which prohibited discrimination on voting on the basis of sex (although discrimination on race continued, so women of color did not receive full suffrage); more women were working outside of the home; and the “flapper” archetype that appeared in the Roaring ’20s emphasized the spirit of the independent women escaping some of the traditional gender roles—yet society at large still held many social expectations and restrictions for women, who were still routinely subject to discrimination because of their gender.
On the other hand, I do not regard the rise of woman as a bad sign. Rather do I fancy that her traditional subordination was itself an artificial & undesirable condition based on Oriental influences. Our virile Teutonic ancestors did not think their wives unworthy to follow them into battle, or scorn to dream of winged Valkyries bearing them to Valhalla. The feminine mind does not cover the same territory as the masculine, but is probably little if any inferior in total quality. To expect it to remain perpetually in the background in a realistic state of society is futile—despite the most feverish efforts of Nazis and Fascisti. However—it will be some time before women are sufficiently freed from past influences to form an active factor in national life. By the time they do gain influence, they will have lost many of the emotional characteristics which now impair their powers of judgment. Many qualities commonly regarded as innate—in races, classes, & sexes alike—are in reality results of habitual & imperceptible conditioning.
—H. P. Lovecraft to Clark Ashton Smith, 28 Oct 1934, Dawnward Spire, Lonely Hill 583
Lovecraft definitely absorbed some patriarchal and chauvinistic ideas regarding women. Yet during his life he frequently read and encouraged women authors, worked with women, and corresponded with many women (see the Her Letters To Lovecraft series)—they were his friends, editors, clients, and peers in pulp fiction and amateur journalism. Chauvinistic comments in Lovecraft’s letters are very rare, and tend to get rarer as he gets older. None of the memoirs of Lovecraft by various women mention any overt discrimination, though his wife Sonia’s memoir The Private Life of H. P. Lovecraft (1985) makes it clear that she attempted to defer to him as “head of household” during the period of their cohabitation, which might represent a bit of a patriarchal unease considering Sonia was the breadwinner. Regardless of his times or personal situation, sexism on Lovecraft’s part is not acceptable—crisis of masculinity or not.
Most often when Lovecraft is described as sexist or misogynist, the evidence is taken less from his personal life than from his fiction. It is true that Lovecraft had relatively few women characters in his stories, and few of them are protagonists (only in “Sweet Ermengarde,” and the stories he ghostwrote for women, such as “The Man of Stone” for Hazel Heald or “The Curse of Yig” for Zealia Bishop). Part of this is due to Lovecraft’s self-declared disinterest in romantic subplots, love-interests, and other bits of human drama which so frequently appear in the stories of his contemporaries such as Robert E. Howard and Seabury Quinn. Lovecraft’s major story dealing with gender identity issues, “The Thing on the Doorstep,” is complicated in terms of issues and interpretation, but tells readers little of what Lovecraft himself thought. So whether the relative lack of women in his fiction is an example of his sexism or a result of his writing philosophy is a matter of interpretation; in the context of Weird Tales, the stories are not particularly notable for their lack of women characters. For more on this subject, see “The Role of Women” in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014) 113-120.
What Is H. P. Lovecraft’s Most Racist Story?
While there are many stories which show the influence of Lovecraft’s racial prejudice in some regard, there are basically only three which deal with human racism as an essential and central element of the plot.
“The Street” (1920) is a nativist fable; inspired by the Boston Police Strike of 1919, Lovecraft’s portrait of the immigrants who have moved into the eponymous street and begun to work against the white Anglo-American civilization has a strong xenophobic tone throughout, and is arguably his most direct work of fiction on the subject, although he would be more overt in his non-fiction essays and letters.
“The Horror at Red Hook” (1927) deals with immigrants as well, although in this case it is a multiracial/multiethnic cult operating in New York City, which Lovecraft had come to detest. The idea of a multiracial cult would show up again in “The Call of Cthulhu” (1928), but in “Red Hook” Lovecraft focuses more directly and crudely on the racial makeup of the cult and its members, while the central mystery uncovered is much more vague and ill-defined. The story’s reputation has climbed in part due to it being the basis for The Ballad of Black Tom (2016) by Victor LaValle.
“Medusa’s Coil” (1939) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft is widely considered Lovecraft’s most racist story, as the central mystery and revelation involves the racial identity of Marceline Bedard as biracial, with several subsidiary racist elements involving the black characters in the story. Unlike the other two stories, “Medusa’s Coil” was ghostwritten based on a plot germ or synopsis supplied by Bishop, so the initial idea was not his—but he still wrote it, which earns it the ignominy of being his most racist story.
Why Is The Cat In “The Rats in the Walls” Named “Nigger-Man”?
When Lovecraft was a boy, the family adopted a black kitten which was named “Nigger-Man.” It is not clear when he acquired his pet or who named it—and there is no record what any of the adults of the family thought of the name, either for or against. The cat disappeared during the tumultuous year of 1904, when Lovecraft’s grandfather Whipple Van Buren Phillips died, and the family home had to be sold. Lovecraft would never own another cat, though he would make friends with many neighborhood felines. Even to the end of his life, Lovecraft recount happy memories with his cat, and he immortalized it as “Nigger-Man” in “The Rats in the Walls,” and perhaps as “Nig” in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward.
There is no indication that Edwin Baird, the editor of Weird Tales found anything problematic in this name. Weird Tales under Baird’s editorship would print the N-word (and associated terms like “darkie”) in various stories. When Baird wrote to Lovecraft after receiving the manuscript, Lovecraft wrote back:
I can assure you that Nigger-Man is (or was, alas!) a glorious and purring reality!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Edwin Baird, 3 Feb 1924, Selected Letters 1.298
The cat’s name is occasionally censored in reprints and translations, often replaced with something like “Blackie” or “Black Tom.” For his part, Lovecraft would continue to use the N-word and related terms to refer to black cats throughout his life, for example:
When I speak to little Sam I call him all sorts of things—”Little Black Devil”, “Old Nigger Man”, “Spawn of the Shadows”, “Little Piece of the Night”, “Old Black Panther”, “Little Onyx Sphinx”, “Child of Bast”, & so on, & so on ….. Not excluding the succinct & universal “kittie”!
—H. P. Lovecraft to Duane W. Rimel, 10 Aug 1934, Letters to F. Lee Baldwin &c. 200-201
It is worth noting that even in the 1890s the N-word use was pejorative. Despite this, it was also in very common and accepted use for pet names, place names, in reference to various goods and items, and in the titles of books (Agatha Christie’s And Then There Were None, for example, was first published as Ten Little Niggers in 1939—the title drawn from a popular children’s rhyme.) Jason Colavito gives a small sample of the ubiquity of the N-word in pet names in W. Scott Poole on Lovecraft’s Relationship to Poe and His Racist Cat, and the general subject of how the N-word’s usage has changed and developed over time is covered in Randall Kennedy’s excellent book: Nigger: The Strange Career of a Troublesome Word (2003).
It might seem like a relatively simple thing to ask “Who was the first ____ to write in the Mythos?” In practice, things are rarely that simple. Prejudice against women, people of color, and LGBTQ+ folks extended to writers, who might have remained “in the closet,” or chose not to reveal some aspect of themselves to the public at large. It is impossible to judge the color of a writer’s skin or their sexuality, for example, simply from their byline in a magazine or anthology. So in many cases when it comes to “firsts,” it is less a case of a conclusive fact and more “this is the first one I can point to,” and even that may come with certain caveats.
Who Was The First Black Mythos Author?
“Jeroboam Henley’s Debt” (1982) by Charles R. Saunders is the first Mythos story by a black author I can positively identify.
Ex Libris Miskatonici (1993) by Joan C. Stanley is the first Mythos book by a black author I have found, and also the first Mythos work by a black woman I know of.
Who Was The First LGBTQ+ Mythos Author?
There has been some speculation that H. P. Lovecraft was himself gay, which would make him the first LGBTQ+ Mythos author. These arguments are discussed in detail in Sex and the Cthulhu Mythos (2014). In the absence of any overt statement from Lovecraft, he is generally considered heterosexual by most. Given his self-stated low sex drive and general disinterest in sex, some have claimed Lovecraft was asexual.
H. P. Lovecraft was friends with several non-heterosexual individuals during his lifetime, but all of them appear to have been closeted regarding their sexuality during the course of their association with Lovecraft, and even later in life. So even during the period of the creation of the Cthulhu Mythos, there were LGTBQ+ folks involved, they just weren’t necessarily open about that.
Samuel Loveman was gay and wrote poems dedicated to Lovecraft, including “To Mr. Theobald” (1926); these may be counted as “Lovecraftian” in the sense of being related to Lovecraft himself, but are not part of the Mythos. Still, he would almost certainly be the first gay Lovecraftian writer.
Robert H. Barlow was gay and collaborated with or had his fiction revised by Lovecraft, including “The Night Ocean” (1936). Because of Lovecraft’s direct hand in some of these, they are often considered “Lovecraftian,” but are not part of the Mythos. Still, this would make Barlow the first gay man to collaborate with Lovecraft.
August Derleth has been suggested in Derleth: Hawk—and Dove (1997) by Dorothy M. Grobe Litersky to have been bisexual. If this is the case, Derleth would be the first bisexual Mythos author, with his first contribution being “The Lair of the Star-Spawn” (1932) by August Derleth and Mark Schorer. There have been some occasional claims that other members of Lovecraft’s correspondence circle were also closeted, such as the Rev. Henry S. Whitehead, but most such claims are spurious or speculative.
Arthur C. Clarke was gay, although this was not openly acknowledged for much of his life, and wrote the “At the Mountains of Murkiness, or From Lovecraft to Leacock” (1940), which would make him the first gay author of a Lovecraftian parody, and the first gay author from outside Lovecraft’s circle of correspondents to dabble in the Mythos.
Joanna Russ was probably the first lesbian to publish Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction, with “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket— But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) and “My Boat” (1976). She did not come out about her sexuality until relatively late in life.
Jessica Amanda Salmonson is probably the first transgender writer of Lovecraftian and Mythos fiction, her story “O Christmas Tree” (1979) with W. H. Pugmire ties into the Mythos via his Sesqua Valley setting, and “Beckoner of the Nightwatch” (1989) is dedicated to Lovecraft.
Caitlín R. Kiernan has described herself as genderqueer, and might be the first such; she has written a considerable amount of Mythos fiction, with an early tale being “Paedomorphosis” (1998).
Who Was The First Woman Mythos Author?
H. P. Lovecraft worked, collaborated with, and revised the work of many women throughout his life, both professionally and in private, sometimes sharing bylines and sometimes not. Some of these women also wrote and dedicated poetry to him such as “H. P. Lovecraft” (1937) by Elizabeth Toldridge. This makes it a little tricky to assign “first” status because it depends very much on how much of the portion of authorship can be assigned to the woman as author, and the degree to which the work is related to the Mythos.
Anna Helen Crofts collaborated with Lovecraft on “Poetry and the Gods” (1920), his first published collaboration. There is no Mythos content. The first collaboration with any Mythos tie-in is “The Crawling Chaos” (1921) by Winifred Virginia Jackson & H. P. Lovecraft, with Lovecraft supplying the title and there being no actual Mythos content beside that. Lovecraft’s first published collaboration with a woman that includes Mythos content was “The Curse of Yig” (1929) by Zealia Bishop & H. P. Lovecraft, although Lovecraft supplied all the Mythos material himself. This is true for all of his subsequent published collaborations with Zealia Bishop and Hazel Heald, while his collaborations with his wife Sonia H. Greene have no Mythos content.
It should be noted that all of these collaborations were initially published without Lovecraft’s name in the byline, and outside of the relatively small circle of Lovecraft’s closest pulp correspondents his hand in the authorship was at best guessed at, and would not be revealed until Arkham House began collecting and reprinting the revisions & collaborations in the 1940s…and even then, his authorship was not entirely acknowledged on the stories collected in The Curse of Yig (1953) as by Zealia Bishop. So to many fans of the Mythos, the first woman Mythos author would be Zealia Bishop for “The Curse of Yig” (1929) or Hazel Heald for “The Man of Stone” (1932).
Catherine Lucille Moore participated in “The Challenge From Beyond” (1935) with Lovecraft and others, and so is the first professional female pulpster Lovecraft collaborated with; all of the Mythos material came from Lovecraft’s section of the story.
Edith Miniter, an amateur journalist associated with Lovecraft, wrote “Falco Ossifracus” (1921) the first Lovecraftian parody; it has no Mythos content but pokes fun at his style.
Grace Stillman wrote “The Woods of Averoigne” (1934), and was the first woman to professionally publish a Mythos poem in a paying magazine; Virginia “Nanek” Anderson wrote “Shadow Over Innsmouth” (1942), the first poem by a woman in a fanzine I’ve discovered so far.
Joanna Russ might have been the first woman who was not a collaborator or revision client of Lovecraft’s (and thus, the first to whom no authorship could be attributed to Lovecraft himself) to publish Mythos and Lovecraftian fiction, with “My Boat” (1976) and “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket—But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964).
Why Was The Cthulhu Mythos So White, Male, & Heterosexual For So Long?
Science fiction & fantasy fandom began to get organized in the late 1920s and early 1930s. Readers of pulp magazines were diverse in terms of gender, sexuality, race & ethnicity. Because of outstanding prejudices at the time, this diversity was not at all equally represented among either professional or fan publications. Some of these prejudices are discussed a bit in Jim Crow, Science Fiction, and WorldCon. In some cases, fans simply hid who they were—there were LGBTQ+ folks, friends of Lovecraft, who were involved with the Mythos from the 1930s on, but they could not openly come out because of laws and prejudice at the time. This had a silencing effect—which extended to the lack of diverse representation in Mythos fiction as well, with basically no LGBTQ+ characters and fewer women and people of color in the stories outside of stock roles during the 1930s…and beyond.
After Lovecraft’s death, Arkham House was established in 1939 by August Derleth and Donald Wandrei to collect and publish Lovecraft’s work. Since Lovecraft’s literary executor R. H. Barlow moved to California and them Mexico to pursue a career in anthropology, and Lovecraft’s aunt and heir Annie Gamwell died in 1941, Arkham House had a largely free hand with publishing Lovecraft’s materials, and exerted a proprietorial influence on all other Mythos fiction that was published—or could be published. In addition to this, Arkham House became one of the main venues for the reprinting of selected weird fiction from the pages of Weird Tales, including Mythos-related authors such as Robert E. Howard and Clark Ashton Smith.
The circle of correspondents centered around Lovecraft did include a few women pulpsters—notably C. L. Moore and Margaret St. Clair—but neither of them participated in the “game” of the Mythos while Lovecraft was alive (Moore did participate in the “round robin” “The Challenge From Beyond” (1935)), and did not do so after his passing. There were no known black pulp writers or fans in the immediate circle of Lovecraft’s correspondents. So the initial core of material which Arkham House had to draw upon was predominantly white, male, and heterosexual (or at least closeted)—and over the subsequent decades of Arkham House’s largely de facto control of Mythos publishing, that continued to be the case. The Mythos was not quite a closed set, and fanfiction continued to be written and published unofficially, but the main core of stories had a relatively low diversity.
That began to change in the 1960s, when Joanna Russ published “I Had Vacantly Crumpled It into My Pocket—But By God, Eliot, It Was a Photograph from Life!” (1964) by Joanna Russ, and accelerated in 1971 with the passing of August Derleth. Lovecraft didn’t live to see the Civil Rights marches, the post-WW2 changes in societal attitudes towards women and the gradually increasing acceptance and openness of LGBTQ+ folks, but when in the 1970s Arkham House ceased to be the effective sole arbiter of what Mythos material could be published, the field was now open to new books, fanzines, magazines, comics, and related works were published—this time, with both the creators and the works they create better reflecting the diversity of the fanbase. In many ways, however, this has been a very gradual process.
I Want To Read More Diverse Mythos Fiction—Where Do I Start?
The good news is that the Cthulhu Mythos is more inclusive and diverse than ever before. More and more women, people of color, LGBTQ+ folks, and people with disabilities are writing stories in and around and about the Mythos than ever before—and a lot of it is good fiction, stories that deserve to be read and talked about. Deep Cuts in a Lovecraftian Vein maintains a Recommended Reading page with links to particular books and anthologies like She Walks in Shadows (2015), Dreams from the Witch House: Female Voices of Lovecraftian Horror (2015), Heroes of Red Hook (2016), and EOM: Equal Opportunity Madness (2017) which are specifically focused on presenting more diversity in Mythos fiction. Blogs like Diversity in Horror Fiction, Women In Horror Month, and The Miskatonic Review also showcase new voices in horror.
Hopefully, the Review Archive itself will lead you to stories and creators you weren’t aware of before. Writers such as Caitlín R. Kiernan, W. H. Pugmire, Charles R. Saunders, Silvia Moreno-Garcia, Ann K. Schwader, Carrie Cuinn, Gemma Files, and Molly Tanzer have more works out there than Deep Cuts have reviewed, and they deserve to be read. There is a whole world of Mythos fiction by authors from all around the world, of every gender and ethnicity, just waiting to be discovered.