Wednesday, August 19, 2020

Lovecraft Country is trying to tell a story about racism and a story about Lovecraftian monsters.

I watched the first episode of Lovecraft Country on HBO this Sunday. I want to say that I enjoyed it. But I also want to say that I was a bit naïve at how bad the racism is/was in this country. I had never heard of "Sundown Counties" or "Sundown Towns" and the concept behind this kind of thing--where you could be lynched if you allowed the sun to set on you in a particular place--is terrifying. The monsters then unleashed by H.P. Lovecraft's ancient imagination onto the evil white men at the end of the show, really don't hold much of a candle to the systemic evil of a country and its people who are bent on oppressing and punishing those different from them.

I was also impressed with the debut of the shoggoths. These are monsters with a lot of eyes that looked similar to Sammael in the Hellboy movie made by Guillermo del Toro many years ago. Of course, Sammael (and much of the stuff in Hellboy) is Lovecraft-inspired. In many ways, "The Great Old Ones" seem to be fertile ground for the exploration of evils that go beyond run of the mill vampires, werewolves, and mummies to something that inspires true awe and horror. And what I mean by "impressed" is simply that they looked good on screen. However, things tend to look good in certain light. The shoggoths benefit from being seen only in darkness, so the computer generated flaws of the creature are more effectively hidden. This is why the first Pacific Rim movie looked much better than the second (the fights between the robots and the kaiju happened at night and usually with water hiding the flaws in the C.G.I.). 

I know nothing about the story of Lovecraft Country other than what I've seen in the first episode of the show. But it does have me intrigued to read the book, as there may be other details within this H.P. Lovecraft-inspired tale that are missed in the television adaptation. Aside from in visions, I wonder if there is some greater Cthulhu-inspired plot, and if it will lead to some of the stranger locations mentioned in Lovecraft lore. A trip to the shores of R'Lyeh might be fascinating (for example).

The thing that Lovecraft Country makes me leery of is the fact that they are telling two stories. The story of the black people dealing with the systemic racism in the country in the 1930's feels like it is honestly enough for a show. It is compelling, and it is interesting. It is the story of a man who is putting together a guide book for his customers so that they can journey safely in counties and regions where danger to a person because of their skin color is very real. That would be enough for me to watch. But then they are adding in all of the Cthulhu stuff, which could also be its own separate story. So I have to ask, are they going to tell a story about racism? Or are they going to tell a story about Lovecraftian monsters? And why must it be both? Why can't it be one or the other? If you go to heavy on one, you lose the other. But a balance that strikes somewhere in the middle will probably not serve either plot well.

Since there haven't ever been any good Lovecraft stories that have been made into film, I wonder why we are getting sprinkles of Lovecraft here and there over the years on top of other topics and stories that people want to tell. I wonder why there never has been a really high budget attempt to tell one of the Lovecraftian stories, like "The Mountains of Madness," or "The Call of Cthulhu." It all seems very strange to me, and maybe it has to do with the fact that H.P. Lovecraft was a racist, and no one wants to touch any of his actual works, while borrowing heavily from them as they are considered "Open Domain." I'm not privy to those kinds of conversations, but I think it has something to do with funding for these kinds of things. Ah well, if Lovecraft Country is the best we are going to get, I suppose it will have to do.


  1. It sounds like that Watchmen show only I hope it works better in the end.

  2. Actually, it's because Lovecraft's stories are mostly shit and unadaptable. The only way to do it is to take his concepts and apply them to other stories. Having read his entire collection, I can say this with some authority.
    The only reason we know about Lovecraft at all is that some other author, after Lovecraft's death, did that very thing, took the whole Cthulhu thing and started writing his own stories about it.
    So Cthulhu is being used as a hook to get people to watch stories about racism, and I'm okay with that. It's a better use of Lovecraft than any use he's been put to so far.

  3. So, they're making a Green Book? It's interesting that they're interspersing the two ideas. It might make it more palatable to those who wouldn't watch a story on the racism. I've heard all sorts of good things about this show, but alas, I don't have HBO at this time.