Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Lovecraft and Weird Fiction

I recently read an article someone linked me about how The Invisibles is a microcosm of all the reasons Grant Morrison is an awesome writer. Having, at best, a lot of ambivalence about both Mr. Morrison and the Invisibles as a series, I clicked on it and read through, discussing with a dear friend as I went.

I think my problem with the Invisibles, I said, was that none of the ideas- the anti-authority stuff, the big secret conspiracy, the idea that governments are lying to you- none of those felt really new or revelatory to me. It's like Cat's Cradle- I really like it, but it's not my favorite, whereas my dad and my brother were blown away by the constructed religion and deliberate deception when they read it. I'd already found that idea elsewhere, so for me it was just a fun read.

And as we kept reading the article (which at one point in bolded italicized texts informed the reader that if they didn't think Grant Morrison was the biggest genius ever, then they were wrong and stupid), we got to the key point: reading back now, this series was just as fresh and important to the article's author as it was when he read it the first time, as a troubled young man of seventeen.

There've been a lot of books I feel like I was perhaps too old to fully appreciate when I read them, with Catcher in the Rye standing out as the worst. I'm not sure it's possible to really appreciate that book after the age where you've had to work to earn a living (though I've also been informed I just don't “get” Holden because I'm a girl). In contrast, I feel like I probably love Even Cowgirls Get the Blues more than it deserves, because it was one of the first books of what is arguably magical realism that I read. My memory of the book is inseparable from my feelings of elation and discovery the first time I read it, when I was, I believe, nineteen.

The reason I bring this up is anarticle by Jeff VanderMeer discussing the unhealthy fixation with H.P. Lovecraft that many people within “weird” fiction have (I also say this having just listened to the Drabblecast's fantastic annual H.P. Lovecraft month, which I never fail to enjoy). I like Lovecraft's work a lot, especially for the time it was written. There is some deeply troubling racism, extreme even for the time, but there's also a dab hand at the horror of the unseen that I really enjoy. When viewed as one among many (and if you're able to muscle past the distasteful elements in some stories- and I don't hold it against anyone who can't), I think he's fun and his cosmic horror really adds something to the conversation- but it's a conversation that also deserves to involve people like Shirley Jackson, Jorge Luis Borges, Kafka... the whole panoply of the surreal and horrific.

And I think for an unfortunate segment of the population, it doesn't.

I didn't realize until Nnedi Okorafor mentioned it, that the world fantasy award is a bust of his head, which feels like it has to be kind of a kick in the jaw to a lot of the writers working nowadays, whom old H. P. would have considered concentrated horror just by virtue of them, you know, being.

(It's probably worth noting that most everything said here about Lovecraft with relation to genre could also be applied to J. R. R. Tolkien (minus the, you know, overt insane racism). He's one of my first and dearest, but he's not the whole genre.)

1 comment:

  1. Insightful, I enjoyed your commentary.

    And no, "getting" Holden Caulfield is not about being male. Your comment about having to work for a living (i.e., the realization that the world doesn't revolve around your overblown and undeserved ego) is more on the mark. I hated Catcher in the Rye, even when I was younger. I knew people like Holden Caulfield; I ignored most and got in fistfights with the others. Jackasses, every one of them.