I'm having a crisis of book faith today. After hearing about the racist "jokes" Daniel Handler (aka children's author Lemony Snicket) said about a black author winning an award last evening, I've put him on my list of authors to stop supporting. I feel disgusted and disappointed because I liked A Series of Unfortunate Events and I was looking forward to the Netflix series that had been announced. It's my personal policy to not support authors/artists/entertainers/etc who show themselves to be racist, anti-feminist or homophobic. I don't want to support (with money or otherwise) people who have views that are so repugnant and backwards.
So why do I still say I'm a fan of H.P. Lovecraft? This has been the question swirling around my mind today.
For those that don't know, besides being the weird mind behind Cthulhu, H.P. Lovecraft was also virulently racist, anti-Semitic and elitist. This makes reading his works a challenge sometimes because it isn't the shambling, gibbering mad Old Ones who are scary, it's Lovecraft's own views. He had a major problem with people who were "other" and held those of English Anglo-Saxon descent above all others. It's frustrating how often these views come up in that time period, but Lovecraft held them much more closely and convincingly than his contemporaries. It all made perfect sense to him in the complicated and convoluted ways in which he saw and organized the world. I mean, I think we can all agree here that Lovecraft wasn't playing with a full deck to begin with. It's charitable to say he had maybe one six of diamonds and the card in the deck that has the manufacturers information on it.
Then again, despite all of this, Lovecraft married a Jewish woman so ¯\_(ツ)_/¯.
I've been a fan of Lovecraft since I was a teenager. I call myself Eldritch for god's sake. When I wrote one of my final thesis papers in college about horror in literature, I spent several pages on H.P. Lovecraft's contributions. I've studied him thoroughly. I own a LOT of his books. Even knowing everything I do today, why do I give H.P. Lovecraft a pass and put someone like Lemony Snicket on my personal blacklist? Complicated feelings are complicated.
H.P. Lovecraft is a product of his time. Born in 1890, he grew up when women couldn't vote, Jews were not to be trusted and black people were still thought of as less than a white person. The Civil War had only ended about forty years before. H.P. Lovecraft also grew up cloistered away from many people. He was a sickly child and had a Norman Bates-like relationship with his mother, who he remembered as overbearing and controlling. His father succumbed to various psychological problems and was confined to an asylum until his death. Lovecraft didn't attend much formal schooling. He was raised in the echo chamber of his family. Once they were all mostly dead, he escaped with seriously negative ways of looking at the world firmly in place. His racism and fear/distaste of those he considered "other" was set in stone before he could even read. No wonder they leaked into his writing. That was his view of the world.
Sometimes I think H.P. Lovecraft books should have a disclaimer before them, like those re-released racist Disney cartoons, saying that his writing is a product of his time and his intolerance is abhorrent today but was not viewed as harshly back then. Literature is an interesting medium because many of the most memorable and important novels of the past have been written by people who held unacceptable views or included material that would be unthinkable today. It's not a problem unique to Lovecraft but it still sucks.
Daniel Handler, on the other hand, is NOT a product of his time. He should know better. He should know what he said was unacceptable. I look more harshly upon him because of that.
After a short and weird life, H.P. Lovecraft died in 1937. He had 46 years on this planet and used them to give us tales of such exquisite and extraordinary bizarre terror that we'll be referencing them long after this planet is a pile of unlivable rock. That also means that he's fixed in time. We can't teach H.P. Lovecraft to be more accepting of people different than him. There's no redemption for him, no PR machine to spin into action the second he makes a racist blunder, no apologetic Twitter messages. All we have of him is what he left behind for us and we can't change him no matter how much we wish we could. I would love for H.P. Lovecraft to be alive right now and confronted about his views but that just isn't going to happen. He's dead. He's pining for the fjords. He's an ex-author.
Now Daniel Handler, he's alive. He can learn, he can hear us tell him why what he said was unacceptable. We can judge him on his actions and what future things he does. He can apologize and get better. He can recognize what he did wrong and perhaps grow from it. In other words, he can be less of a racist jerkwad and maybe win back fans who were completely turned off by his remarks. H.P. Lovecraft can't do that. We have to take him as he is.
Since H.P. Lovecraft is dead as Jacob Marley he doesn't have to worry about his livelihood. H.P. Lovecraft is not buying groceries. Most of his works are now in the public domain (although there is some controversy about this). It's fair to say that he and his estate are not earning a cent from any purchase of his works or the use of his characters or themes in films or role playing games. Purchasing a H.P. Lovecraft book or a Cthulhu plushie isn't going to line his pockets. Supporting his works does not support him.
Giving money to a living author is a little different. Money from their works (books, films, toys, etc) support them. It allows them to eat, to continue to write, and in some cases to use that money to further their agendas. Another author on my blacklist is Orson Scott Card, the author of the Ender's Game series. He happens to be very, very, VERY homophobic and donates his money to causes that seek to stop gay marriage and equal rights. If I bought a book by Card, or saw a film based on his works, my support allows him to contribute to causes I find to be truly reprehensible. Boycotting a living author is like boycotting a store. I don't give my money to Wal-Mart because I think they are a terrible company that takes horrible advantage of their employees. I don't give money to Chik-Fil-A because they are actively trying to stop gay marriage. I don't give money to Orson Scott Card because he uses that money to tear down the rights of other people. Money that I spend on H.P. Lovecraft books doesn't go to anyone other than the publisher who put the book out.
Ultimately, can you divorce a work of art or fiction from their creator so you can enjoy it when said creator turns out to be kind of horrible? I think in some cases you can, depending on the transgression. I've forgiven musicians, actors and authors for idiotic things they've said or done and continued to enjoy their work. Sometimes I can isolate them from their work and enjoy it without thinking about them. Handler? I don't know. I may never be able to enjoy A Series of Unfortunate Events again. I know for a fact I could never divorce Card from his works. H.P. Lovecraft himself is so integral to his stories that I don't think you can divorce him from them either. He's become part of his own mythology, a character in pop culture. There's no way you can read his work without his influence heavy on your mind.
So where does this leave me and my ridiculously large H.P. Lovecraft collection? Back where I started. I can explain away Lovecraft's racism and anti-Semitism as often as I want, but they're still there. It still bothers me every single time I read him, despite how much enjoyment I get from his stories and how personally invested I am in the mythology he created. Nothing makes me happier than joking about Elder gods and soggoths and I've pre-ordered the Cthulhu Funko Pop figure coming out next year.
Am I a hypocrite for forgiving Lovecraft while damning Lemony Snicket? This is the stuff that keeps me up at night. In her house at R'lyeh, dread Eldritch waits wide awake, wondering how she should feel about an author who has been dead for over seventy years...