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Saturday, August 22, 2020

Lovecraft Country 1.1: Racist Police Get Horror Comeuppance



Finally had a chance to watch the debut of Lovecraft Country on HBO.   I was pulled away this past week by the Democratic National Convention, televised and virtual and truly inspiring.  And it was oddly appropriate that I did not look at Lovecraft Country until just a few nights before the upcoming Republican convention, which begins on Monday.  Creepily appropriate, because Lovecraft Country is a tableau of racism and horror, and that's pretty much what I expect to find in the Republican National Convention.  Would be nice if that meant I didn't need to watch any of those four blustering nights.

I know, it may not be good style to mix real politics and popular culture, but times have changed.  H. P. Lovecraft was a real author of horror, and a real racist.  Since I'm no fan of horror, I've never read much of Stephen King, whose progressivism is in an accord with mine.  So I certainly didn't bother with Lovecraft, and always found mentions of his Cthulhu at science fiction conventions mildly annoying.  

To make matters worse -- worse for my being anything like a knowledgeable reviewer of Lovecraft Country -- I haven't read Matt Ruff's 2016 novel by the same name, which explores the mix of horror and racism in a narrative whose hero Atticus Turner is an African-American devotee of pulp science fiction that flourished along with racism in the first half or so of the 20th century.  But I've always held that reviews of television and cinema by people who haven't read the novels are a necessary part of the critical process, because they can evaluate the movie or TV show on its own terms, rather than in comparison to the novel or short story.

So what did I think of the first episode of Lovecraft Country?  I liked it a lot.  It was fun seeing the racist murderous police get their comeuppance by another H. P. Lovecraft monster, the Shoggoth.   That was a fine metaphoric fulfillment of Atticus's appreciation of bug-eyed monster science fiction.   The genre is intrinsically a celebration of the unlikely hero, and it's a cool twist to make the genre itself a component of the heroism in this story.

I was asked a few weeks ago by Elizabeth Yuko, writing an article for Reader's Digest,  to offer an example of a science fiction novel that accurately predicted the future.  I offered Isaac Asimov's Foundation trilogy (to see why, here's the Reader's Digest article).  If Reader's Digest ever asks me to choose a horror novel that got the future right, I might well choose Ruff's Lovecraft Country, as a strong metaphoric example of racist police getting just what they deserve.

But I'll try to watch the rest of the HBO series first, which by the way has good acting by Jonathan Majors as Atticus, and Jurnee Smollett and Courtney B. Vance in other lead roles.

See also Lovecraft Country 1.2: Malleable Dreams

 


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