H.P. Hatecraft: On Nepenthe and N*ggers


by Emily Balivet
by Emily Balivet

The first H.P. Lovecraft story I read was “The Outsider.” It was, and still is, a fine piece of work. It’s a poetic tale about an introvert who touches a dark “eidolon,” drinks the elixir of “nepenthe” and then joins the ghastly beings who live in the nooks and crannies of time and space. “The Outsiders” is, in addition to a horror story, a mediation on isolation and loneliness. As a closeted student in a mostly white high school, I felt like an outsider myself, and wanted to ride with the ghouls in the chilly, beautiful vistas of other dimensions.

Then I read the next story in the collection, “The Rats in the Walls.” I never finished it, because the narrator had a cat, called “Niggerman.” I have never read any other Lovecraft afterwards. I later found out that Lovecraft was a racist and anti-semite of the highest order, who subscribed to the pseudoscience of eugenics. Lovecraft wrote a poem that is practically talismanic for the White Supremacist crowd, called “On the Creation of Niggers.” Black people, like myself, are described in other stories as being bestial and like gorillas. Apologists will say that Lovecraft was a product of his time. To which I say, no. There were white progressives back then, and white people who even married black people.

I came back to “The Outsiders,” years later, and realized that there is an allegory there. Lovecraft, like the narrator of the story, lived alone in a castle of fear and hatred. He only found kinship with the ghouls and shades in an alternate universe. And what are racists, except ghouls and shades that hide out in some alternate universe where non-whites are subhuman? White Supremacy is the ultimate nepenthe.

*There is a character in the New Scooby Doo Adventures named H.P. Hatecraft.

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