Have you ever enjoyed a book written by an author you don’t particularly care for?
This question was posed on a writing prompt I had come across on Pinterest. I saved the list for those times when finding my voice is difficult. When it came up in rotation, I became a bit nervous at my refusal to jump to another question. There are only so many prompts, and skipping over any could create greater want by forgetting where I skipped, and remember to return there. Just how was I going to answer this? I didn’t dislike anyone, my brain insisted. Keeping the faith, I didn’t shy, and when I sat down to write this piece, I found my answer ready and waiting.
Until recently, it was true that I didn’t particularly dislike any author. If I did not care for them, then I wasn’t likely to read their work (if I dislike someone, it’s based on very good reasons that almost always prove the boycott). Even in English coursework the writers I was introduced to remained vessels by which the works had come to Earth. In other words, I disregarded their lives and took the work they had created on its own merit. However, in my postgraduate work, I’ve become less forgiving. My political growth is responsible, as well as the theory that writer and work are not quite so inseparable as we would like.
In the face of #MeToo, #BlackLivesMatter, and many other civil rights movements (along with my education and personal growth), forgiving or separating artists from their work is not possible. Bias is often clear. That bias can lead to the unhindered growth of dangerous thinking which results in bad actions. So the racist or sexist words of an author often bolster those same sentiments in others, and give rise to them feeling empowered, and thus acting upon this affirmation. We see a great deal of this in the current political climate, because terrible individuals were given wide-berth to maintain terrible opinions.
The author that I would choose to give as answer for this is one I have come into contact with only recently. Of course I have heard of him before, but I never sat down and actually read his work. Kindle afforded me a low cost/free copy of the complete works, and I jumped at it. Then, stories about the author’s personality and history started coming my way.
H.P. Lovecraft is famous for Cthulhu. I’m sure you’ve seen this deity rendered across social media at some point, with his multi-tentacled mouth. Now, picture that figuratively as the author instead. It’s a multi-layered mess. Rumor and research converge to show him as a white supremacist and consummate sexist (here and here, too. Oh, and here). Fans dismiss it as a product of the times. That, however, doesn’t dismiss what it is, or its ability to still influence.
You may ask, then how can you enjoy the writing? I enjoy it as a sample of horror from a bygone era. I enjoy it as an example of what should be bygone sentiments about race, and the proof it provides about white supremacist history. I enjoy the monsters, like Cthulhu, and the connection to all the intertexts that wind off his work. I enjoy knowing more.
I would recommend Lovecraft to would be horror writers. The stories still stand as examples of how to frighten. One just has to be mindful of what they read, in order for it not to inspire hate, as well. But, unless you’re already predisposed to being a racist troll, there is no deep threat. Our institutions and daily actions do more to maintain racism, making millions of converts annually. Just keep the lens that allows you to see the bias, so that reminds us to not celebrate the author as anything other than what he was.