My Best Friends Are Elder GodsTags:
September 26, 2016 by Travis Anderson
It seems that every year, Lovecraft and Cthulhu continue to grow in popularity. There is always a Kickstarter with the elder gods in miniature or card form readily waiting to get funded, and the tentacle-faced horror can be seen on everything from t-shirts to mugs to dice bags. This green world shatterer has taken the nerd world by storm and shows no sign of slowing down, his brethren not far behind. How long before the likes of Dagon or Hastur are as well known in the tabletop gaming lexicon as the big undersea baddie himself? Whatever the reason, it looks like these mind-breaking monsters are here to stay and, without H.P. Lovecraft, we wouldn’t have them. Awesome, right? There’s just one problem:
He was a huge racist.
Now I’m not going to compile a handy list of all the terrible things this man has said about other ethnicities for your perusal; I’m sure there are plenty of those scattered throughout the internet. Neither do I have any interest in linking or copying his many quotes that involve the N-word. I don’t give a flying fhtagn what time period this guy was raised in, Lovecraft said some seriously messed up stuff. However, this post isn’t about him, but about fandom transcending creators like him.
Lovecraft died in 1937. Since it’s 2016 as of this writing and I have a calculator, that was 79 years ago. We are coming up on a century since this man’s death, living in a world that is far different from the one he grew up in while still retaining the same racial tensions and problems that have been prevalent for decades. There’s a part of me that wonders why we don’t vilify a man like this in our day and age, instead of turning his creations into minis we can throw down for our next DnD session or put our dice inside of. We’ve transformed Lovecraft’s work into a commodity because we find it cool and weird and, by all accounts I’ve heard, quite well-written. Yet, with someone like Orson Scott Card, a living writer, we boycott his movie when we learn what a cretin he is. Why not the same in this case?
I feel the biggest reason is because we’ve separated the monsters from the man to a large degree. We’re getting to a point where people know who Cthulhu is because its look is iconic, especially in the nerd community. I have no doubt there are people out there, tiny little budding dorklings, that are growing up, have seen Cthulhu, and love it, but would most likely need to look up the writer that brought it into being. We’ve removed the politics and baggage surrounding the man to focus on the fruits of his imagination. Being dead for almost 80 years allows for some distance to be made, I’m sure. At least, if you’re white.
I have no idea how black nerds feel about Lovecraft. I’m sure there are fans out there of every shade who love his work, but I don’t see how. That is not something in my nerd life I have ever really had to deal with; reading something that might be enjoyable if not for the clear cut disparaging mindset the author has for me and those with my skin colour, presented unabashedly right there on the page.
There is this mindset we have to let racism and bigotry slide because of someone’s age or, if it’s presented in media, because they are dead. And yes, when it comes to books or movies here and there, I can agree. We can’t judge the choices that were made by someone in the 1920s or 40s with the same criticisms we have now, there are too many variables to consider. At the end of the day they were, if not outright racist, simply stupid and should have taken the time to think before regurgitating the prejudice they had been fed growing up. Now, people are simply ignorant and there’s no place for them not to smarten up and understand that their bigotry is shitty and needs to stop. Overall, however, we have to quit letting racism from anyone’s mouth or pen slide, age and time be damned.
I’m not saying don’t enjoy Lovecraft or read his work. I’m a fan of what he has created and my wife loves his stories while still being uncomfortable with certain pieces of his writing. We should just always be careful who we raise up in fandom culture. I get why tabletop gaming has gravitated towards the guy. It’s public domain fiction that has cool monsters you can paint on cards or sculpt into pricey miniatures and a lot of it can subvert genre. You can make games that stick to the pulp era his stories take place in or apply his creepy, horror aesthetic and aberrations to everything from fantasy adventure and sci-fi to a wild west rpg or deck-building card game. Cthulhu is like the all-spice of the gaming world.
In a day and age where diversity is constantly being talked about and needed in every industry, I find it fascinating that we have lofted up the creations of a racist. As time passes, I’m interested to see what becomes of Lovecraft in the gaming world. Will his elder gods continue to dominate the tabletop medium or will we pull away from him as more varied creators join the fold? We shall see.