Awards Or Bust
by Steven Erikson
A commentary on the World Fantasy Awards Committee’s decision to replace the Gahan Wilson H. P. Lovecraft bust.
This past weekend I sat at a table during the banquet and awards ceremony at the Saratoga Hilton, as Guest of Honour for the 2015 World Fantasy Awards. This was where the announcement was made official: the WFA was bringing to an end the H.P. Lovecraft bust given annually in recognition of a host of exemplary accomplishments within the field of Fantasy literature and related media. The bust’s replacement is yet to be determined, and without doubt will be selected with the WFA’s philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity foremost in mind. The applause in response to this announcement was loud and effusive.
In a fit of contrariness I had elected to attend the convention without my laptop, and with my phone on the fritz I found myself essentially incommunicado with everyone but those whom I met and hung out with at the convention. Returning home, however, I found on my Facebook page a commentary on the WFA’s decision, written by the multiple WFA winner Steve Jones. Accompanying the commentary was a photo of three Lovecraft busts.
I quote his comment here:
“I am inordinately proud of my three World Fantasy Awards. I am proud of the work and the body of work that I won them for. I am proud that they are a stylised representation of H.P. Lovecraft – one of the most influential and creative writers of imaginative fiction the genre has ever known. I am proud that they are nicknamed the “Howie” award after that other influential giant of fantasy literature, Robert E. Howard. And I am proud that they were designed and sculpted by Gahan Wilson, a founding member of the World Fantasy Convention and one of our most talented artists and authors in the field of the macabre. It is an honour to own and display these awards in my home. What I am not proud of is the World Fantasy Convention Board and their cowardly response to a small but vocal minority of people who have no sense of history or tradition. Censorship – in all its malicious and insidious forms – is always reprehensible. Let him (or her) who is without sin cast the first stone . . .” (Steve Jones)
This statement earned plenty of ‘likes’ and the reply stream was extensive, with a mostly unanimous rendition of ‘hear hear’ and similar affirmatives. And among those replies I found the common list of such terms as ‘social justice warriors’ (and indeed, even ‘social justice bullies’) as well as ‘political correctness,’ both used in their modern pejorative meaning. The contempt and disdain veritably dripped.
Over my morning coffee, I sat at the desk, laptop open before me, and simply stared, dumbfounded. My wife took note (that in itself a miracle of sorts) and asked me what was wrong? I stumbled to answer, and in the end could only shake my head. It’s now a few days later, and Steve Jones has since added to the topic with a poem, further indicating his objection to the WFA’s decision, and yet more replies and ‘likes’ have piled up on that post.
Normally, it’s in my nature to let these debates slide past me, to leave people to their opinions. Most of what I have to say, I say first and foremost through my fiction, and even in that context, not in terms of opinions or agenda, or didactic polemics disguised as fiction. I am by nature inclined to question and hold to a deep-seated suspicion of certitude, especially when it comes to human affairs.
That said … holy crap.
Symbols are potent things. Before I expound on the relevance of that statement, let me first make the following distinction, because not only is it important, it is also essential to the point I am about to make. The past winners of the WFA are among a select few: their accomplishments in the field are exemplary and impressive. Steve Jones (and all the others) earned their awards for their extraordinary talent and effort to advance Fantasy (and related) literature – as writers, editors, publishers and as fans of the genre. This is not in question, and nothing related to the Lovecraft bust should in any way degrade or discount their exceptional merit as recipients.
But I will say it again: symbols are potent things. As the physical, durable manifestation of a community of peers’ recognition for achievement, they should in every way reflect the inclusiveness, the diversity, and the unmitigated adherence to merit above all other considerations.
Lovecraft was a poet and storyteller of the macabre. He was loyal to his friends and supportive of their efforts. He was also a white supremacist. This detail was not relegated to his private life, either, hidden away like a disreputable habit. In his poetry and in his fiction he evoked the racist creed, labelling people of colour as inferior versions of humanity.
Some might raise the observation that Lovecraft was a man of his time, and therefore excusable for his objectionable views on race. Of course, there were other men (and women) of that time, who were not racists. Some of them, indeed, were neither white nor male. Accordingly, to those apologists attempting the ‘historical context’ argument, it just doesn’t fly, folks. The proof of that is plain enough and I’ll state it here: those who seek to apologise for the beliefs and attitudes of people in the past invariably do so in defense of the egregious and the objectionable. Nobody apologises for those people in the past who held virtuous views, do they? No, they laud such people and name them unusually enlightened.
Lovecraft had neighbours who were not racists. The historical context argument is bullshit.
Among the replies to Steve Jones’ first post, a WFA winner was mentioned as being perhaps a principal advocate for change in voicing her offense at the Lovecraft bust, eventually leading to the WFA Committee’s decision to retire it. To which the venerable and Lifetime Achievement award winner (and friend) Ramsey Campbell chimed in to point out that this particular winner was unaware at the time of the racist fug surrounding Lovecraft the man, only later making her objections after being informed by someone else.
What a curious statement! I do adore you, Ramsey, and at the very real risk of burning a bridge I’d rather not burn, what on earth was the point of that observation? That her objection can be dismissed based on her ignorance of the man that bust portrayed?
Let’s indulge in a scenario here: a man is pulled out from some previously isolated, utterly unknown tribe in the depths of, oh, say the Congo. He is brought forward to receive the highest award possible for his achievements in whatever – let’s go for Genetic Purity: after all this guy’s got the oldest genetic sequence on the planet. Humbled and delighted he graciously accepts this strange bust portraying some strange man he knows nothing about. A short time later, he’s sitting at a café, sipping espresso, with the bust standing before him on the table. And he’s thinking, how lovely and generous and wonderful of those people at the Gene Sequencing Association, to think of me for something like this!’ At which point a fiercely frowning man walks up to his table and in a furious voice asks: “why do you have a bust of Adolf Hitler?” ‘Well,’ stammers the poor man, ‘he was big in the field of genetic purity. Wasn’t he?’
Culpability rests not with the unknowing recipient, but with those of us who know better.
In the shoes of that fictional man, I’d be stalking the hall of the Gene Sequencing Association, statue in hand and ready to bust some heads. Ramsay, would you blame me?
Steve, your objection seems misplaced, or at least the product of some strange misapprehension. You have the right to be proud to have thrice won the WFA. Nobody’s attacking your pride or sense of accomplishment: certainly not me. You have indeed earned it. My beef isn’t with any of that. It’s with Lovecraft as a symbol of the WFA’s appreciation and recognition of its peers. And this so-called ‘small but vocal minority of people who have no sense of history or tradition’ thing … really? Minority in what sense, exactly? Their objection to a white supremacist? No sense of history or tradition? Whose history? Whose tradition? Well, presumably, the correct one? The nineteenth and early Twentieth Century White Racist American one?
As for your objection (and poem) decrying censorship, I’m sorry, but who exactly is being censored here? Lovecraft’s more egregious writings are all available to be read by anyone. If you have the stomach for it.
I would humbly suggest that conflating the meritorious award with the bust that represents it is a mistake; to fuse your rightful pride in winning those awards with some sort of pride in the literary accomplishments of a talented but odious man, is a decision of dubious merit. Please reconsider. Your view of history and tradition (as inherently good things) is highly selective here, and it doesn’t wear well at all.
Before I leave this, I have to comment on three statements made (by people I don’t know) in the replies to Steve Jones’ post (acknowledging here that such replies do not necessarily reflect Mr. Jones’ own opinions or beliefs). I will quote them verbatim first:
David J. Schow It’s another cowardly cave-in to the PC police, who would gladly censor the writing as well, so long as some sensitive little snowflake doesn’t get all butt-hurt. It disrespects the award and insults everyone who ever adjudged it. Dostoyevsky wasn’t all that swell of a human being, either — where does it stop? Answer: It DOESN’T stop until everything is ashes and pabulum. The Mystery Writers of America award a trophy in the image of Poe; is that the next target? Now sit back and enjoy the feeding frenzy in this chum bucket, as folks fight to choose between (1) a bust of somebody who is totally, utterly inoffensive, and/or (2) a stylized safe-zone choice that will undoubtably [sic] resemble a dildo. Or a butt plug. Which would be (ahem) fitting.
Adrian Cole I agree wholeheartedly with you, Steve. I’m sick to death of all the recent political correctness for one reason or another. Bollocks! This award is not about racism. We’re getting too soft. Too particular, too sensitive. We don’t need to be. Life’s too fucking short.
Lawrence Person Damn straight Stephen! This perpetual SJW culture war is driving people out of the field.
I’ll address these in order. Schow’s opening line establishes the nature of the perceived enemy (to freedom, one supposes), invoking ‘cowardly’ and ‘cave-in’ and of course the ubiquitous ‘PC police,’ and then, having done so (said act of reading by yours truly implying a knowing nod and tsk tsk), proceeds to expound on the nefarious plans of these PC police in censoring ‘the writing’ (Lovecraft’s? I guess so), and things close out with the contemptuous dismissal of these ‘sensitive little snowflake(s).’ What follows is a highly contentious statement that eagerly invites the conflation of the award with the bust of Lovecraft, as if the two were one and the same. In effect, to disrespect Lovecraft is to disrespect every WFA award winner, and to insult everyone who adjudged it.
Uhm, who says so? Am I unique in ‘disrespecting’ Lovecraft (as a symbol of merit in Fantasy) while sincerely respecting all award winners? As for the insult to those adjudging that award, I have been one, and I’m not insulted in the least. Am I the only one?
We then move on to the bad habits of other writers in the past, leading to the outrageous notion that from now on every award should be symbolized by … what? Oh, ‘somebody who is totally, utterly inoffensive.’ Good grief, what a crime that would be! To think, an award symbol that doesn’t offend anybody! What will they think of next?
As for the dildo and butt comments … never mind. To each his own.
Adrian Cole chimes in to rail against political correctness and points out that the World Fantasy Award is not about racism, and he’s right. It’s not. So why symbolise it with the bust of a racist? We are then chided on getting ‘too soft’ and life’s too short to be ‘particular’ and ‘sensitive.’ In other words, this life, being so short, is better spent being insensitive, hard of countenance and dismissive of the particular.
Well, in the interest of fairness, if that’s your life, Mr Cole, you are welcome to it.
And now we come to Lawrence Person. Let me quote him again here: “Damn straight Stephen! This perpetual SJW culture war is driving people out of the field.”
I’m curious, who exactly is being driven out of the field? Please list names. Or never mind, it’s only Facebook, after all. What really interests me about this comment is the usage of this ‘perpetual SJW culture war,’ which appears as a lingering echo to the Sad/Rabid Puppy fiasco at the Hugos.
Clearly, there exists a group of people for whom Social Justice Warriors are the enemy. The descriptive is used pejoratively, demonstrably in tones of disdain, dismissal, disgust and a whole host of other disses. Similar to its antecedent, ‘political correctness,’ the common usage (as pejoratives) asserts the idea that such advocates have laid siege to freedom of expression.
But you see, I get hung up on the descriptive itself, because I am invariably led to ask myself: Who is against those who fight for social justice? For the moment, only two possibilities come to mind, and both are, at their core, idiotic.
- The self-avowed enemies of social justice are against social justice, and therefore for social injustice. Presumably, such people dream of some ideal fascistic state of tyranny in which they are the oppressors rather than the oppressed. You know, like how it used to be. Accordingly, they’re not interested in ‘freedom of expression’ at all. I assume we’re talking a serious minority here, but to use Steve Jones’ own phrase, they are a vocal minority.
- The self-avowed enemies of social justice are not enemies of social justice at all. Rather, they are enemies of a particular brand of social justice, one diametrically opposed to their own brand of social justice. In which case, their use of SJW as a descriptive of contempt is akin to unleashing a stream of sneering and invective at the (slightly altered) face in the mirror. Which makes their continued usage of the term sound, well, stupid.
Hey, the webscape is indeed a battlefield, and warriors patrol their ideological borders with zeal, and on each side there is a kind of amorphous sense of social justice. As far as I’m concerned, that’s fine. Have at it and let loose the dogs, etc. It’s all good fun, until somebody starts up with the threats and bullying and all those other defenses most eagerly employed by the losing side.
And let’s face it, one side is indeed losing. The world is moving on. It is discarding objectionable attitudes, prejudices and intolerance. All good things, yes?
The time was long past due on getting rid of that bust. And at the table at the banquet at the World Fantasy Awards, I made my applause loud and sustained. And as for the Lovecraft pin I wear to conventions, indicating a past nomination, I’d love to see a new version. In the meantime, however, I will continue to wear it, not in belligerent advocacy of H.P. Lovecraft, but to honour all past winners of the World Fantasy Award.
In my mind I can make that distinction. That I have to lies at the heart of the problem with having Lovecraft as our symbol of merit. To all future nominees and winners, you won’t have to face that awkward separation, and for that, you can thank that ‘vocal minority,’ who perhaps have not been vocal enough, and who are most certainly not a minority. Not in this field, not in any other.
Note: Edited to correct the name to Jones from Stone.
Er …. Steve Stone?
Whoops, I should have caught that. I have just edited it so it correctly says Jones now.
I have e-mailed Steven Erikson for clarification in the meantime and will re-edit as soon as he confirms.
It is an award meant to honor Fantastic works and their creators. If the physical award has become controversial. If recipients are ashamed to display it (or think it ugly and want to hide it) then the award is not performing its function and should be changed.
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I respectfully disagree that Lovecraft should be dismissed for his white supremacy views. Whether he should or should not remain on this award is still up for debate, but to remove him solely for this particular view in a dangerous and close-minded decision.
Many today refuse to eat or shop at particular places because they disagree with the political viewpoints of the executives who own them. Others would rather not live in particular states because they disagree with the majority of the political leaders. This is a very odd way to treat these situations for two reasons. Number one, you’re refusing to eat or shop somewhere because of ideas proposed by people who have very little interaction with those individual locations. Number two, you’re opening that area, store, or restaurant to continuing those ideas by isolating yourself from them. It’s ironic.
One of the big things holding back the movement for gay rights was this idea that a person in their entirety could be reduced to a sexual act. What a silly idea, right? These people were and are so much more than their sexual desires. The large part of America today is promoting tolerance and acceptance, and most regard this as move in the right direction.
The idea behind both examples is the same: A person is so much more than their ideas on a particular topic or their sexuality, or whatever else you want to label them. It’s a part of who they are, but not a whole. Supporting them doesn’t require us to accept their ideas, in fact, our association may require that we publicly dismiss their beliefs, but we can’t isolate ourselves from them based on a particular idea they have.
The same is true with Lovecraft. In a world where acceptance is quickly becoming the new trend, it is ironic and hypocritical that we should say the works and accomplishments of any individual can be dismissed based on one of their views. It would be like disagreeing with someone’s sexuality and saying they shouldn’t be displayed on an award. Bigotry works both directions. Just because a particular idea is more widely accepted by society in a particular time does not make it inherently better or different from another idea, the larger point being that to dismiss a person as a person because of an individual aspect of their lives is simply not acceptable. Everyone deserves respect and equal opportunity.
You note on one particular comment that finding a figure who doesn’t offend anyone would be no revolutionary idea at all, the problem is that the person you quoted probably doesn’t disagree with you. He is saying that you won’t find anyone with clean and unspoiled hands who will be the perfect poster child for fantasy contributors. It simply won’t happen. We are all guilty of having views that people disagree with, of being unfair, and of treating others poorly.
On one hand, I agree with the comment above that says that if the award is something that the winners are not proud of, it isn’t doing its job. But we still have a Christopher Columbus day in America, and anyone with half an education knows what a horrible guy he was. It all reminds me of Fahrenheit 451. Something offends someone, so they remove it. And then something else, and something else, until different levels of literacy are offensive and they assign firefighters to burn books instead of put out fires. If we do not understand these things – if we bury them away and hide them – then we are bound to not only repeat history, but make similar mistakes and miscalculations on a smaller scale in our own lives.
Long story short, we cannot dismiss a person’s achievements because of a particular view. Does that mean he should remain on the award? Not necessarily. But if we are weighing the good and bad in people’s lives outside what the award is actually about, then we might as well line up the candidates and put together resumes, looking at who has done the LEAST wrong so that no one is offended when they see the new award.
Thank you for the reply. Greatly appreciate it.
But I would respectfully disagree with your interpretation of the events.
No one is removing Lovecraft from the field, nor is anyone trying to remove him from history. The only thing that the committee have done is decide not to use the image of Lovecraft to represent the award.
It is the World Fantasy Award, not the Lovecraft Award.
Steve does point out that
“As for your objection (and poem) decrying censorship, I’m sorry, but who exactly is being censored here? Lovecraft’s more egregious writings are all available to be read by anyone.
I would humbly suggest that conflating the meritorious award with the bust that represents it is a mistake; to fuse your rightful pride in winning those awards with some sort of pride in the literary accomplishments of a talented but odious man, is a decision of dubious merit.”
The World Fantasy award is meant to celebrate the best writing in the field today, not to commerate the historical figure of Lovecraft.
No one is denying Lovecraft’s impact on the field. No one is asking for Lovecraft’s writings to be burned. The only issue here is the the bust of someone who was a racist and white-supremacist no longer be used to celebrate the best writing in the field. Especially as the image of Lovecraft is at odds with what the award now stands for.
You very rightly point out that the award and the field want to be inclusive, but using the image of a man who was not shy about his racism does not send this message.
As far as I am aware, the awards committee is considering a vast range of options for the new award, and I think it highly unlikely that they will choose the bust of an author or historical figure, precisely for the reasons that you outline, it will be impossible to find a representative figure that will please everyone.
But I am sure that they can find a design that represents fantasy, that is inclusive, and that will make people proud not only of winning the award, but to display the statue.
This award represents one of the highest honours in the field, and if the statue causes some winners to feel ashamed, embarrassed, or worse, to display it then surely it is the duty of the committee to find some iconic representation of the award that makes people proud. To reflect the pride that award is meant to convey.
The change of statue does not mean that the committee is dismissing Lovecraft’s work, but rather acknowledging that the image of the man has connotations and meanings that are not compatible with a more tolerant and inclusive world view.
Admittedly, I always thought it strange that a writer famous for horror, SF and weird fiction was the representation for a Fantasy award, but that is my issue.
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Five years from now, you’ll be writing “No one is removing Lovecraft from history. The only thing that the committee have done is decide not to reprint Lovecraft’s fiction.”
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Incidentally, there’s a large and growing movement to get rid of Columbus Day.
Columbus deserves to be forgotten. He was evil. Lovecraft is HARDLY on the level of Hitler, Stalin, Columbus… Having mean thoughts isn’t a crime; murder is.
Ah, Steven…you are the voice of my own soul. Thank you! But now you must excuse me…I seem to have misplaced my butt plug…
I too was puzzled by Ramsay Campbell’s patronizing comment. Sofia Samatar TEACHES Lovecraft (“for grades” as she says), and is presumably well aware of Lovecraft’s racism. Mr. Campbell seems to imply that as Ms. Samatar strode to the podium at the 2014 WFA banquet to receive her (well-deserved) Best Novel WFA someone grabbed her arm and whispered “Hey, the dude on the award was a racist”, thus triggering some sort of knee-jerk backlash. I was at that banquet, must have missed that little scene. What I did see was a gracious and charming acceptance speech, expressing her inability to completely enjoy her moment because of the attitudes of the guy on the award. It is far past time to move on from Lovecraft as the (literal) face of the World Fantasy Award. The sense of entitlement and complete lack of empathy of Stephen Jones and his cronies speaks poorly of them.
My problem with this change is the manner in which it was done. As far as I can tell they never notified the membership that replacing the bust was under serious consideration. In doing so they avoided giving those who would be against the change a chance to speak out.
Human nature is such that people who are against something speak out. People who liked the award as it was were not going to post messages about that on a regular basis. So when the complaints and request for change mounted why was the matter not brought to the whole membership’s attention?
I am not a member of this particular group so perhaps I am mistaken. But if there was not some sort of notification to everyone that a change in the award was being considered then it is hard to to see the change as the result of allowing a minority view to be favored unfairly.
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Actually, the board did take a survey of the attending membership the previous year regarding this issue. And it was indicated at the awards ceremony then that everyone’s opinion on the matter was being taken under consideration. So none of this was a surprise. It did go through the proper processes, as it were.
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Actually, that’s not entirely true. At last year’s WFC, a vote was taken and both the general membership and the award committee voted to retain the Lovecraft bust.
Prior to this year’s WFC, the award committee alone voted to change the bust. The general membership was not notified nor was any general membership vote taken.
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I don’t remember a vote taken at DC, which I was actually present at, just a survey given out near the membership desk (which was poorly distributed and marketed), and then Gordon van Gelder indicated that the board was indeed considering all options, at the awards ceremony. Which pre-empted Sofia Samatar’s original intended speech. Heh.
replace it with a Prattchet – we know he’s harmless
But Pratchett doesn’t represent the whole of Fantasy either.
I don’t think the bust of another author would be the best solution.
I spoke about this in my previous blog post on the subject (admittedly, not as eloquently or as even-handedly as Steve did).
I think this is a real opportunity to go beyond authors and to pick something that is more universal.
Well… mostly 😉
Give the commissars time. They’ll find a way to get rid of Pratchett, too.
Reblogged this on Leona's Blog of Shadows.
“And let’s face it, one side is indeed losing. The world is moving on. It is discarding objectionable attitudes, prejudices and intolerance. All good things, yes?”
The world may indeed be ‘moving on’, but the shifting of the Overton window we are seeing in the rejection of Lovecraft as an acceptable avatar for the WFA award and, more generally, in the 2015 Hugo Awards controversy is not about ‘discarding objectionable attitudes, prejudices, and intolerance’ — it is about *whose* intolerances, objectionable behaviors, and prejudices will be allowed to predominate and which dissenting voices are to be marginalized and/or purged. It is about who gets to gatekeep the canons of fantasy and science fiction and which literary cliques get the largest bully pulpit with to advance their political and aesthetic agenda.
The folks who petitioned for HPL’s removal from the bust did not simply do so for the ‘symbolic’ reasons you state, their petition slanders him as a ‘terrible writer’. Racial politics notwithstanding, anybody who genuinely believes that is so devoid of critical acumen as permanently disqualify them from being taken seriously in *any* context. These people are kith and kin to the folks working overtime to downplay the contributions of Asimov, Heinlein, etc. to SF due only to what they perceive to be personal and/or political (not that they have any ability to discern the difference) failings on the part of those men.
The last thing these folks are interested in is ‘inclusiveness’. That would require an approach to the canons and their rich, varied (and, yes, sometimes flawed and fraught) histories that was more about expansion than purgation. Instead, they are pursuing a fundamentally flawed and morally deficient form of cultural revanchism. They see themselves as victims and outcasts and seek to switch places with their putative ‘oppressors’. They want to be gatekeepers — and if the ‘other side’ (i.e. anyone who sees isues of social justice/injustice as anything more complex and nuanced than a dualistic black/white dichotomy) keeps ‘losing’ the science fiction and fantasy genres will be reduced to archives and breeding grounds for the kind of didactic fiction in which the only visible ‘innovation’ or ‘sense of wonder’ will be in regard to how effectively and efficiently it can confirm the biases and petty bigotries of this narrowminded and thoroughly self-selected audience.
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Respectfully, I would disagree.
Critics, academics, fans, and authors, of all nationalities, backgrounds, and belief systems have debated the worth and impact of Lovecraft’s writing for decades. Some think he was an amazing writer, others have been more critical, and some have been downright damning. The field has always been like this. Divergent opinions, arguments, debates.
Lovecraft is a divisive figure. His work is challenging, engaging, entertaining, and objectionable. We can’t deny the racism in some of his work. We can’t deny his views and opinions that he expresses in his letters. And we shouldn’t.
But even those who dislike Lovecraft as an historical person acknowledge his impact on the field. They acknowledge that at the very least some of his writing is integral to the evolution of the genre.
People will continue to read, teach and research Lovecraft’s work. Just as they will Asimov, Heinlein, Howard, Leiber and all the early SF and Fantasy authors. But as the field grows, new voices are added to the canon. New works are seen as having an impact, for better or for worse. New authors whose lives may not be spotless will be included in the debates. That is how the genre grows.
As I said above, no one is trying to remove or censor Lovecraft’s work. No one is deleting him from the canon. No one is erasing his work from history. He is still published, researched, read, argued about, loved and hated.
Everyone has different authors whose work they love, respect, venerate, and have special reverence for. No one is saying you can’t be a fan of an author who other people don’t like, regardless of their reasons.
But this was about the image of the award. In the 21st Century, in the modern day, with all that is happening in tearing this world apart and pitting us at each others throats, can we really justify keeping the image of a self-proclaimed and unashamed racist as the image of an award? An award that is meant to be about the whole community, not just those who like Lovecraft.
SF and Fantasy have always been genres that looked at different perspectives, that played with expectations and points of view, they have always been genres that explored. They are also broad enough to encompass many houses under their remit. There will always be authors publishing stories of daring do, there will also be space operas, adventures, conservative and liberal stories, experimental and traditional. As they say in Star Trek, infinite diversity in infinite combinations.
Changing the image of the award is part of that, is meant to acknowledge that. An image that encapsulates and represents a deliberate hatred of part of our community does not further the field, it shuts it down.
Fans will continue to buy the work of and support their favourite authors. It is what they do. Academics and Critics will continue to debate the various merits and weaknesses of authorial works until the end of time. We couldn’t stop them if we tried. Publishers will continue to print work that sells, that is their job. If there is a market they will cater to it. These things won’t change.
Debates happen, opinions differ, we will all carry on reading.
The World Fantasy Award is meant to engender pride. It is an accolade. It is meant to honour authors. Having a statue that does not reflect that to a proportion of the community, a statue that affronts them, that symbolises hatred of them, and that is at odds with the feelings and beliefs of so many in the community is surely reason enough that we change it.
“But even those who dislike Lovecraft as an historical person acknowledge his impact on the field. They acknowledge that at the very least some of his writing is integral to the evolution of the genre.”
Again, and respectfully, no.
Here are some bon mots from Daniel Jose Older, the author of the petition to remove Lovecraft’s likeness from the award:
“Even [Lovecraft’s] fans admit he’s a pretty wretched wordsmith…”
“Lovecraft’s stories often weren’t even stories, just ideas floating glumly along through paragraph after paragraph of wordiness. The ones that do have an actual plot tended to be scattered and leave us wondering why: Why should we care about the character? Why was the story even written? What…even…happened?”
“[Lovecraft’s] already stale protagonists defended themselves from sweltering masses of dull clichés: the same stupid, evil brown and black folks that white writers have been conjuring up for centuries to justify imperialism and institutional racism. A craft failure and human failure of epic proportions.”
That’s about as sweeping a dismissal of a writer and his work as I’ve seen — one that is hardly confined to excoriating him for the racist elements that all reasonable people are willing to stipulate are there within Lovecraft’s writing. Older is seeking to indict all elements of HPL’s craft: his ability to craft evocative prose, his plots, his characterization skills — nothing is spared his over the top (and entirely half-baked) derision.
This guy, and his sycophants, are the people you, knowingly or unknowingly, are making common cause with.
They don’t just want Lovecraft’s likeness off the WFA award, they want his merits and contributions to the genres of fantasy and horror downplayed to the point of irrelevance. You, personally, may not want HPL stricken from the canons, but make no mistake — they do.
And if they get their way, they will not hesitate before moving on to the next opportune target — maybe it will be Poe, but it could just as easily be Conrad, Hemingway, or Fitzgerald. Perhaps, in an ultimate manifestation of irony, it will be Orwell.
Given that, and since you were kind enough to reference IDIC in your genial reply to me, I will respond with a Star Trek reference in kind. In the words of Jean-Luc Picard, “The line must be drawn *here*,” — against cultural revanchism, against the gatekeeping attempts of the identatarian left, against the bigotry that seethes underneath the facade of so-called ‘political correctness’ and against the politicized purgation of the gifted craftsmen (and women) within whose word-smithies the foundations of the genres we love were forged.
All other roads lead to staid and souless echo chambers standing where a vibrant and *authentically* diverse; in terms of backgrounds but also (and frankly more importantly) in terms of thoughts, ideas, aesthetics, and sensibilities; literary milieu used to be.
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I love Lovecraft, as author, while I do hate racism.
But did people think 5 mn an author will lay on paper all that is in his/her mind and soul. HPL writtings are full of pain, terror and unknow ennemies; I am sure that was what his daily was filled with!
I strongly believe without that dark side of his soul, HPL would have never give the world whose wonderfull novels.
Last, for those who are of my generation (pas 50 y old), and who did leave in a middle sized town all their life, read “The stree” (the title is La Rue in French), and compare with what you did saw in your street! Was it that wrong, or was it simply a way to describe what did happen in your streets?
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I agrees that there is better candidates for the award. It is only a thing to repressent the award anyway. Who ever end up on the bust, it won’t make the award anny less.
We here in Norway have had a similar problem with one of our most famous writers; Knut Hamsun, whom was a known supporter of Hitler. His works are still lauded as good, but we try not to brag too much about the writer himself.
That said, I have a small problem with the statments about SJW. Real warriors for social justice are known as decent people. Those characerized as SJW are the extremists of the genre, much in the same way as many associates “feminism” with the militants of their kind.
SJW are a proponent of what’s come to be known as a victimhood culture. This is a culture where so called microaggression is blown out of context, and flagged for reprimandment by either some sort of authority, or the internett mobb.
Big fan of Eriksons books btw 🙂
2 or 3 vicious and obsessive anti-white racists go after the Lovecraft bust and want to replace it with Octavia Butler. Are you really that naive? Why not replace it with a black of Silly Putty, because that’s what you’ve done to the phrase “group defamation.”
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Thanks for taking this stance.
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“The bust’s replacement is yet to be determined, and without doubt will be selected with the WFA’s philosophy of inclusiveness and diversity foremost in mind.”
There’s the problem. “Foremost in mind.”
Why should the WFA care more for diversity than merit, influence, genius? I’ll tell you why. Because in the current climate if you don’t embrace diversity, if you dare to suggest that people should be judged purely on their abilities and skills, you are labelled as a racist. And attacked. And vilified.
Social Justice 101. Not a movement for good, a movement to kill the appreciation of excellence above all else.
I went into a bookshop recently. In the fantasy and sci-fi section they had changed all the “display” books on the tables into a “Diversity” section. I.E. the most prominent books, those most likely to be bought, were being forced onto people because the authors were female or not white.
This just pissed me off. I don’t care who the author is. Most of the time I don’t even *know* who the author is. I mean, would anyone in this world refuse to read a book because they suspected the author was black or female? “Linda, the author of this book may hail from Africa. Don’t touch it!” No. All any reader wants is a good read.
This point may seem unrelated to the arguments above, but I mention it, Mr Erikson, to address your dismissal of people driven from the field. I’m not saying it’s happening, but I am saying that as soon as publishers begin to value diversity – “Ooh this person is female. Let’s publish their book so we can be seen to be diverse! Fling that piece of genius by that white man in the trash, Sarah.” – above merit, then there will be a problem.
One final thing:
Your examination of the social justice ideologies is incredibly naïve. However, I wouldn’t examine if further if you value your sanity.
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I suspect that this is happening more often than the hardline SJW-types are letting on: “Ooh this person is female. Let’s publish their book so we can be seen to be diverse! Fling that piece of genius by that white man in the trash, Sarah.”
I note this as a liberal Democrat, BTW.
Overall this is a remarkably short sighted post from an author whose work I adore.
First, Erikson’s criticism of David Schow’s comment shows how little he has been following the public debate about Lovecraft and the WFA for the past year and a half. There has been a good bit of public discussion about whether Lovecraft’s work, since it is in the public domain in most (all?) countries, should be rewritten to remove the racial material. This is, in fact, censorship. Anyone who wants can dig up endless blog posts and discussion on this issue through a simple google search.
Second, Erikson’s own work is extraordinarily offensive in many areas. Let’s count off the number of transgressions which could have his work flushed down a memory hole:
1) Casual racism among different fantasy races.
5) Negative views towards labor unions (particularly in Toll the Hounds)
6) Use of repeated rape as a plot device. In fact, many of the same critics who went after the Lovecraft bust have been criticizing Erikson for the extreme rape scenes in Dust of Dreams for years.
The idea that someone from the past should be judged using the standards of the present is the worst sort of prejudice – the prejudice of presentism. Will Erikson’s work stand up to the morals of 2115? It is quite likely it will not.
Again, I love Erikson, and I think he and Esslemont have written what is possibly the best fantasy series of all time. But on this issue he is flat out wrong, and he is doing a disservice to himself and his fans with a lazy argument like “anyone who opposes social justice is a racist”. Awful.
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I don’t see this as the prelude to a sinister initiative to purge Lovecraft from fantsay/scifi, as if that were even possible. Right now HPL’s visibility is greater, and his influence wider, than ever before. Cthulhu Mythos themed anthologies are practically a minor industry, and I see the work of writers of persuasions being featured in those anthologies. So people are still feeling free to take inspiration from Lovecraft’s work even if they want nothing to do with his racial politics.
This really is just about the bust and whether it’s distracting from what the award is supposed to be doing. Personally, I’m on team “It [the award] shouldn’t be the image of an author at all”.
If a follow up movement to burn HPL’s books gets going, then I’ll oppose it. I’m not holding my breath, though.
That should be “all persuasions”.
“The change of statue does not mean that the committee is dismissing Lovecraft’s work”
Of course they are dismissing the man’s work. You can’t have it both ways. The man is suddenly unacceptable as the representation of an award because of his views – which in the decades after his death seemingly nobody has noticed or cared about -, but despite this damning verdict his stories should be still acknowledged as an achievement for the genre? How could this be possible? How can you read or even enjoy the work of someone who is called a white supremacist? (Which even in Lovecrafts case is a grossly exaggerated and willfully wrong term.Like a lot in this reevaluation. ) You don’t. You condemn it and avoid it.
And as this debate was done, the message is clear.If you enjoy Lovecrafts writing, you have no taste (this terrible wordsmith) and must be at least a closet racist. Older and his fans said this quite clearly. They don’t advocate censorship, no, they say read him, learn by his mistakes, be duly repulsed and then move on to better written things. Written by their standards.
And could we please retire this man of his time equals apology nonsense. It is a lazy argument and it is not true. Acknowledging something and putting it in its historical context is not apologizing.
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You have zero credibility here: You can’t even spell RAMSEY CAMPBELL’s name correctly. Why should anyone hear you out, therefore?
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Thank you for fixing Campbell’s name.
As for the rest of the post: Well, you have your take, and that’s your right, but I respectfully disagree with the intention of changing the bust. Evolution is one thing; to abandon for the reasons stated is vacuous, however (meaning: that a few people feel better that something was “done”–to include the milky white China Miéville, who was the one that began all this blather to start with). If people really want to land on the side of the righteous, they need to do more than criticize the incorrect notions of the dead… There are real problems in the world; this isn’t one of them.
The left needs to step back, take a breath, and deal with reality, not try to enforce some silly utopia onto something like this. It makes us look moronic to be this satisfied with such an inconsequential and hollow gesture as stripping a symbol of context, relabeling it “bad”, and then warring to purge it.
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Typos are easily fixed. Autocorrect can be a help or a hindrance in equal measure it seems.
I’ve been in the field for decades, friends and colleagueswith S. T. Joshi for decades, and been in the EOD APA, a Lovecraft and weird fiction fan and scholar for decades, and indeed of HPL, who started me off on the whole thing (and the film ALIEN as well, leading me to go read HPL). I haven’t been to a WFC for
many years, but attended several in the 1980s.
Well, after being annoyed by this flap the past few weeks, and months, really,
and being attacked by Social Justice Bullies (read: Nazis) and ganged-up
upon on Twitter, with nobody even bothering, on the HPL side, to come my
defense, not that I needed, or expected it, I will say this: next you can target
Edgar Allan Poe, who (and I’d forgotten this) was a racist, pro-slavery guy,
white supremacist who worked racist stuff into his only novel A. Gordon Pym.
I didn’t know that work as well as I might’ve known Poe’s other major works,
which I do indeed know, but in any case, being reminded of this by someone
else’s well-detailed blog on the racist elements in Pym, I just give up.
Why don’t you go try to knock Poe off his vast cultural and literary pedestal?
Nobody is excusing the racism, far from it, but what I mean is, where does
this nonsense end? You think Poe is in danger? I don’t bloody think so,
pal. Nor, really, is Lovecraft, although yes, their views and racist writings,
such as they are, are not to be celebrated. I don’t see that Poe’s
ever suffered one whit even from some of his own racial gaffes,
That’s all I have to really say on the matter. Let’s just censor everything,
and throw all the books and articles out that ever had anything remotely
objectionable, and then, well, further welcome to Orwell’s 1984, folks.
Now, I have had enough of this bloody nonsense and don’t even intend
to ever, ever, comment on it again. Life is just too short. These idiots
make a big deal of this, but don’t seem to care that the terrorists are
blowing half the world up in the name of religion, fanaticism, and
intolerance? They really seem to have their priorities straight, don’t they?
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Articles like this really grease the shafts of kngoeedwl.
Just as the word “fascism” has been robbed of its historical significance, in this discussion, a similar process seems present regarding the word “censorship”.
Greaat reading your blog