H.P. Lovecraft is a renowned author of many works of horror and fantasy who is most known for his creation of what became the “Cthulhu Mythos” about a group of ancient powerful deities from space who once ruled the earth. Other authors have taken up that same universe of characters and creatures to create their own horror stories and Lovecraft himself has been a character in many other works of fiction. So it is no wonder that author Matt Ruff would you take up the legacy of Lovecraft in his dark fantasy horror novel “Lovecraft Country“. That novel has been turned into a new HBO series of the same name. The series was created by Misha Green known for the TV series Underground and a former writer for Sons of Anarchy. It also has executive producers Jordan Peele and J.J. Abrams.
The main theme of both the novel and the TV series is mistreatment of African-Americans in the 1950s. It is ironic because Lovecraft is well known as a racist whose works including two highly racist poems “New-England Fallen” and “On the Creation of N—–s”. (N-word deletion by me).
Despite Lovecraft’s racism, Ruff builds his story around a fan of Lovecraft and sci-fi in general who happens to be African-American. The story depicts the brutal circumstances that African-Americans endure to survive in the Jim Crow era. In one scene our main character Atticus “Tic” Freeman is describing the plot of Edgar Rice Burroughs‘ “John Carter of Mars” series to another black woman. She surprised to hear that the hero of that story was an ex-Confederate officer. She complained “He fought for slavery. You don’t get to put “ex” in front of that.” Atticus replies “Stories are like people. Loving them doesn’t make them perfect. You just try and cherish ’em, overlook their flaws.” I see that as author Ruff’s justification for appreciating Lovecraft’s stories and weird creatures despite the author’s racism.
As a personal aside, I sort of take the same approach to sci-fi author Orson Scott Card whose radical conservative politics and anti-gay stance doesn’t stop me from appreciating his works as long as those works don’t seem to reflect those beliefs. I can still despise Mel Gibson and abhor his anti-Semitism while enjoying his films. I suppose that’s easy for me because I’m a straight, white, Christian and I do not take personal offense at homophobia, racism, and anti-Semitism even though I abhor them. Author Ruff is also white so perhaps it’s easier for him to create a black character who can look past Lovecraft’s racism and enjoy the stories while facing life-threatening racism in his everyday life.
In the first episode of the HBO series, Atticus connects up with his uncle George Barry who is the author/editor of a guidebook for traveling African-Americans similar to the famous “Green Book”. Atticus has heard that his father Montrose Freeman has gone missing. Atticus and Uncle George go on a road trip in search of his father and to make more installments in the Green Book. There are accompanied by his friend Letitia “Leti” Lewis.
Atticus is played by Jonathan Majors whom I’ve never seen before. Uncle George is played by Courtney B. Vance known for “Law & Order: Criminal Intent” and for playing Johnny Cochran in “American Crime Story“. Leti is played by Jurnee Smolett most recently seen as Dinah Lance/Black Canary in “Harley Quinn: Birds of Prey“. She is the sister of controversial former “Empire” star Jussie Smolett.
Clues left in a letter his father sent leads Atticus and friends to search rural Massachusetts in an area known as Lovecraft Country (an area which was the setting of many of Lovecraft’s stories). Along the way they pass through a number of so-called “sunset counties” which are racist areas where African Americans are warned “Don’t let the sunset while you are here”. It’s basically a sort of “The Purge” type of situation where after sundown, racists are given free reign to murder blacks.
The horror of the very real and deadly racism that they encounter is actually more terrifying than the worst of Lovecraft’s monsters. And by the way while being chased through the woods of rural Massachusetts by a lynch mob they run into some of those Lovecraft monsters. Notably they encounter several “shoggoth” described as a “massive bubble blob with hundreds of eyes”.
The special-effects of them being chased by these monsters and eventually cornered an abandoned cabin is a very well done state-of-the-art sequence. Lots of terror, blood, and gore. There are some amazing special-effects also in an opening dream sequence.
Overall the writing and acting are excellent. You really feel the terror in both the racist and supernatural monster sequences. I will be anxious to see what happens in the remaining 9 episodes. I’m giving it a strong rating of “I really like it” and suggest you check it out. The first episode will re-air throughout this week and is available on demand. The remaining episodes will air Sunday nights.