H.P. Lovecraft is infamous for his racism and xenophobia, even by the standards of his time,
championing KKK lynchings and warning against the mixing of races. So, it is enjoyable to watch his
mythos being reimagined by writers of colour and used as a source to develop stories featuring
protagonists of colour.
For the fourth day of October Frights, I’ll briefly review three books and one TV series inspired by
Lovecraftian lore: Lovecraft Country (book by Matt Ruff and TV show by Misha Green), Beneath the
Rising, by Premee Mohamed, and The Ballad of Black Tom, by Victor Lavalle.
The Ballad of Black Tom and Lovecraft Country have similar characteristics, so I will discuss them
together. The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor Lavalle is a retelling of Lovecraft’s The Horror at
Redhook. Lavalle’s version includes two of Lovecraft’s characters Suydam and Malone, but the
protagonist in Lavalle’s novella is not a named character in the source material.
Ballad is told from two points of view, Tommy/Black Tom’s and Detective Malone’s. Tommy is a
carefree hustler who financially supports his disabled father. He is hired to deliver a magical tome to
an old white woman called Ma Att and then to perform music at a gathering by Robert Suydam.
Between his interactions with these two white sorcerers and the two detectives Malone and
Howard, we get a vivid understanding of the different forms of racism in Harlem circa 1924, and how
this racism causes carefree Tommy to become Black Tom.
Lovecraft Country utilises multiple points of view, but the main protagonist is Atticus who is
summoned to the Braithwaite estate in Massachusetts. Braithwaite and his son Caleb play a similar
role and in many ways mirror Suydam in Ballad. While Suydam clearly has a white saviour complex,
intending to rule the “primitive” non-whites after The Sleeping King (Cthulhu) awakens, Caleb
Braithwaite’s racism is more nuanced. Yet both use the Black protagonists as means to an end.
The beauty of both these books and the TV adaptation of the latter, is that they centre Blackness.
The Black characters are richly portrayed individuals with agency and intelligence, and both Atticus
and Tommy are underestimated by the white antagonists.
In 1924 Harlem, racial segregation is not formalised in law but is just as rigorously upheld, by the
white police and public, as it is in the Jim Crow south with its Sundown Towns as portrayed in
Lovecraft Country. Ma Att warns Tommy that he needs to leave Queens before sundown, and in
Chapter 5, Tommy remarks that: ‘A Negro walking through this white neighbourhood at damn near
midnight … might as well be Satan strolling through Eden.’
The arcs of Tommy and Atticus inversely mirror each other.
Tommy begins the story as a young and carefree man, after his father is murdered and he accepts that an indifferent Elder God might be preferable to malicious racism, he loses his soul and youth in exchange for power. Whereas Atticus begins his story as a careworn veteran of the Korean war but inherits enough power to protect his family and cast out Braithwaite.
[End of Spoiler]
Beneath the Rising by Premee Mohamed is the outlier of the three books. Its main characters Nick
and Johnny are far younger than Atticus and even Tommy. Instead of racial segregation and racism,
this book contains themes of colonialism. The self-described “brown” man Nick is unknowingly
forced to help, support and love white Johnny. Johnny uses Nick and takes him for granted. Johnny is
an arrogant genius whose most recent invention – a free energy source – causes the Ancient Ones to stir from their slumber. Again, this book centres Nick and his story as he learns the disturbing truth
about his friend.
If you haven’t already, I would highly recommend all three books and the TV show Lovecraft
Country. They are brilliant stories in their own right and provide a balm to the virulent hatred
contained in the original stories by Lovecraft.
The following blogs are involved in the October Frights event. Please check them out and show them
Always Another Chapter
Be Afraid of the Dark
Carmilla Voiez British Horror Author (The guest author is here)
Angela Yuriko Smith
James P. Nettles
Silver Hollow Stories (You are here)
Return tomorrow for an introduction to Carmilla Voiez’s Starblood Trilogy.
Carmilla Voiez is a British horror and fantasy writer living in Scotland. Her influences include
Graham Masterton, Thomas Ligotti, and Clive Barker. She is pansexual and passionate about
intersectional feminism and human rights. Carmilla has a First-Class Bachelor’s degree in
Creative Writing and Linguistics. Her work includes stories in horror anthologies published
by Crystal Lake Publishing, Clash Books and Mocha Memoirs; a co-authored Southern Gothic
Horror novel; two self-published graphic novels, and the award-winning, dark
fantasy/horror Starblood trilogy. Graham Masterton described the second book in her
Starblood trilogy as a “compelling story in a hypnotic, distinctive voice that brings her eerie
world vividly to life”. Carmilla is also a freelance editor and mentor who enjoys making