H P Lovecraft Had At Least One Black Fan

A while ago I came across an amazing piece of fan fiction – Ex Libris Miskatonici by Joan C Stanley:

Cover Image of "Ex Libris Miskatonici"

It’s a pitch-perfect listing of the sinister and bizarre works that have been collected over the centuries by the great university. The back cover reads:

It is well known that the Miskatonic University Library holds in its collection some of the rarest and most obscure volumes in occult literature. Until this time, access to materials within the library have been restricted to scholars and researchers, and only those with significant academic credentials.

And quite rightly restricted too – these books are dangerous. It goes on:

Now, in this greatly detailed and researched volume, university librarian Joan C Stanley offers some background on the various collections to be found within the Library, as well as detailed descriptions of many of the more infamous volumes contained therein. To be found in this book are chapters detailing histories of the such volumes as The R’lyeh Text, Codex Dagonensis, Die Unaussprechlichen Kulten, as well as the most notorious volume in the university’s collection, The Necronomicon.

She mentions in passing the gruesome ends that many of the donors came to, but is properly thankful for their gifts to the University. She has dry academic discussions of some of texts, like blandly noting that the Eltdown Shards are not just prehuman, but pre-carboniferous, and that they discuss the Cthuhlu rebellion and the extinction of its minions and servitors. With regard to the mad Arab author of The Necronomicon she says:

“Abdul Alhazred” is not an Arabic name, but the type of European corruption of an Arab name common during the eleventh through eighteenth centuries (witness such names as Avicenna and Rhazes). Professor Sadowski’s learned reconstruction of the name appears to conform with what little is known of him. Sadowski translates it as “the worshiper or slave of the Great Devourer or Strangler”, or Abd Al-Azrad.

That careful attention to philology is rarely mixed with “Slave of the Great Devourer”.

So who was Joan C. Stanley? The book’s bio says:

Joan Stanley (1945 – 2016) was a long-time science-fiction and fantasy fan who fell in love with Lovecraft’s writing by reading At the Mountains of Madness while in the tenth grade. To a life-long resident of Boston, those shoggoths pouring out of the cave resembled nothing so much as a speeding MTA streetcar coming out of a Tremont Street tunnel, or a subway train screeching through the Park Street Under. She often wondered if Lovecraft had once been terrified by the city subway system. In real life, she was a criminal lawyer (that can mean whatever you wish) whose only previous forays into writing had been in the appellate courts.

Then I found her obituary and picture:

She wasn’t just a lawyer, she was the second Black woman to be assistant US attorney for Boston. She was born in Boston, and graduated from Howard University and Northwestern Law. She had a long career, but suffered from rheumatoid arthritis for her adult life. She wrote a number of Lovecraft pastiches, but this one is still available in soft and hardcover from Necronomicon Press.

Now, Lovecraft was infamous for the racism in his works. So infamous that a novel was based on it, Lovecraft Country (2016) by Matt Ruff. Its premise is that a young Black fan of Lovecraft in the 1950s finds the world of white people to be just as alien and horrifying as Lovecraft’s visions of the Elder Gods. His family publishes The Safe Negro Travel Guide, the equivalent of the actual Green Book, and he goes off on adventures to rescue his father from a nasty WASP cult.

Cover of "Lovecraft Counter" by Matt Ruff

I enjoyed the novel, but have not liked the HBO mini-series based on it. The stress on racism is just as compelling, but the horror bits are banal when you actually see them. Banal because you’ve seen haunted houses and Masonic-ish rituals and monsters in the woods many times before. These are Hollywood tropes, not Lovecraftian ones. Some bits also ring false, like the founder of the cult having a Black slave mistress. In Massachusetts? In 1830? It doesn’t help that all the backwoods yokels in supposed Massachusetts have southern accents (the series was actually filmed in Georgia), or dress in Pennsylvania Amish clothing styles. All those East Coast states are the same, right?

Of course, racism is an actual and pressing problem, while Lovecraft’s horror of cosmic entities is not. It’s the mixing of the two that doesn’t quite work. Stanley managed to mix cosmic horror with arid academese to funny effect, and that was a skillful combination to pull off.

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