I recently started re-reading A Game of Thrones, which means I’ve had the Stark words lodged in my head more than usual. Winter is coming. Also, I looked outside, and as frost starts to coat the grass in the morning, Ned might have a point.
A Song of Ice and Fire is always heavy-handed with its climate metaphors, but it is not alone in ascribing certain moral values to different weather patterns. H.P. Lovecraft and Edgar Allen Poe placed their monstrous horrors beneath the ice, and C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien show a preference for temperate climes while fearing the tropics.
While superficially harmless, there begins to be a clear pattern that uses climate, particularly this kind of temperate climate marked by warm summers and cold winters, as a shorthand to remind the reader of certain parts of the United States and Europe. By continually centering this one ecological structure, authors, intentionally or otherwise, privilege a kind of Anglo-American whiteness, culturally as well as physically. The underlying message, therefore, is one of white supremacy, particularly Anglo supremacy.
I’m a huge fan of H.P. Lovecraft’s stories. They evoke a sense of wonder, dread, and the allure of forbidden knowledge. As Neil Gaiman has stated1, “Lovecraft built the stage on which most of the last century’s horror fiction was performed.” He draws the reader into a world of arcane mystery and nameless horror, threatening his protagonists’ sanity and indeed their very lives with a sense of addictive fascination that practically flows out of the page. Lovecraft’s method of “describing the indescribable” with florid and evocative language has all but made him a genre unto himself.
However, he was also a racist imperialist whose protagonists share those biases in spades.
While that never stopped me enjoying his stories, it is sometimes off-putting and makes much of his stuff difficult to read. It is tempting to contextualize this to the period he was writing (where such attitudes were expressed openly), but Lovecraft’s social and racial elitism was considered beyond the pale even for his times; though the tone of his arguments on this topic became more general over the years, they did not appear to change with the times. His correspondence (much of which has been collected and published by S. T. Joshi) bears this out.
But as I’ve re-read his stories over the years, something has dawned on me: the often wholesale embrace of “the white man’s burden” is not only a central metaphor in Lovecraft’s work, it often deepens the isolation of his characters and heightens their peril.
TW: Racist and imperialist language and themes, as well as ableist language and themes, after the jump.
This weekend marks lots of spooky celebration in the Western world. Pagans and Wiccans celebrate the Gaelic festival Samhain, marking the harvest and start of the darker half of the year. Hispanic cultures celebrate Día de los Muertos, a three day festival with roots in ancient Aztec religious beliefs. Christians celebrate All Saints Day and All Souls Day, honoring saints and remembering loved ones. Even secular Americans love to celebrate Halloween. It’s the time of year when lots of people are remembering the dead and pondering mortality. This got me thinking about the way the afterlife appears in our geeky media. Saika and I have already written posts about Heaven and Hell, respectively. Both of us note that each realm is usually twisted in some way (either corrupted or comically), or kind of boring. So do we really need to give our characters an afterlife?