Last week the World Fantasy Convention announced their trophies will no longer be based on the likeness of horror writer H.P. Lovecraft. Most known for the creation of the Cthulhu mythos and other cosmic horror stories, the famed writer also held disparaging views on a variety of groups – ranging from African-Americans to Irish Catholics. This recently lead the WFC to announce they will be removing Lovecraft’s likeness from their trophies next year in order to promote diversity and be more inclusive to writers of color accepting the award.
While some writers really do want to tear down the house Lovecraft built, doing so is both inadvisable and very much impossible. Lovecraft created a startling reality where alien gods, some indifferent to humanity and others extremely hostile, existed beyond human perception, often resulting in madness for the protagonists of his dark tales. H.P. Lovecraft has influenced many of our literary giants on both the page and the screen – including the likes of John Carpenter, Guillermo Del Toro, Stephen King and Neil Gaiman. And beyond that, his horrific creation Cthulhu has lived on in a way that Lovecraft could have never imagined – as an Internet meme.
However it’s important to note that the Lovecraft legacy can – and will – survive the WFC’s decision. After all, this decision has more to do with the future of the World Fantasy Convention – and the genre itself – than it does Lovecraft himself. That’s because the WFC’s choice of a trophy – in both its Lovecraftian past and TBD future – is a symbol of recognition and pride in the fantasy genre. But if the Confederate flag controversy has taught us anything, it’s that symbols can have multiple meanings, simultaneously existing as both benign and hateful representations.
Truth be told, using Lovecraft’s likeness for the World Fantasy Award has always seemed to be a weird choice to me, the author’s racial views notwithstanding. Critics have pointed out no one has complained about the Bram Stoker Awards, the John W. Campbell Awards or the Edgar Allen Poe Awards. But whatever their personal flaws, these literary figures represent their respective fields to a tee. Stoker, the author of “Dracula”, represents an award given by the Horror Writers Association. Campbell, the writer and editor of “Astounding Science Fiction” (better known as “Analog”), now represents an award for science fiction. Poe, best known for suspenseful tales like “Murders of the Rue Morgue”, now represents an award for mystery. And so forth and so on.
But having H.P. Lovecraft represent the World Fantasy Award is already a little bit of a stretch. First of all, he’s a horror writer, and while fantasy does overlap with horror in dark fantasy, having Lovecraft represent all of fantasy is oddly specific. However, the biggest conflict is having Lovecraft represent the World Fantasy, which is especially ironic since Lovecraft held the Anglo-Saxon race among many others. To put it bluntly, why have a xenophobe – even a highly talented, wildly imaginative, extremely influential xenophobe – represent all fantasy spanning the globe?
For my piece, I think the the face of the World Fantasy Awards needs to be bigger than one man. For all his flaws, Lovecraft conceived of a world beyond the veil of human intelligence. Whatever form the next World Fantasy Award takes, it should represent the fantasy beyond the veil of our dreams, bordered only by our own imagination.