Lovecraft Country shows with powerful entertainment how supernatural horror can be more easily defeated than racist horrors.
Lovecraft Country is a supernatural horror that smartly combines the issues revolving racism in the fifties in America and occult cosmic horror. It’s a novel that has a big overall story arc with different short stories that each has a different main character that experiences both human horrors and supernatural horrors. While the supernatural horrors are both real as used in a symbolical way, the racism is always all too real.
Atticus Turner is only just a twenty-two-year-old army veteran when his father goes missing. He sets out on a journey to the village of Ardham with his uncle George Berry, who is the publisher of The Safe Negro Travel Guide and friend Letitia to get his father Montrose. But on their journey they encounter human horrors and racism even before the supernatural horrors that will cross their lives and change it forever, when a cult of Natural Philosophers called The Adamite Order of the Ancient Dawn, have plans with Atticus.
What follows is a suspenseful adventure in which Atticus’ family and Letitia and her sister Ruby are involved and a supernatural power struggle. But when they smartly use that racism to their own advantage, for when they are being underestimated, they fight back and the all-powerful Natural Philosopher Caleb Braithwhite doesn’t even see it coming.
Why you should read it
Lovecraft Country is written in a very playful way that urges you to keep reading. The story has a big story arc, but is divided into different short stories that are both a stand-alone as a part of the big story arc. This structure is very fun to read and gives the reader the opportunity to get to know every main character. It starts with Atticus Turner when he has to retrieve his father Montrose in ‘Lovecraft Country’ but it is just the beginning of their supernatural adventures and ordeals. We learn about the cult of Natural Philosophers The Adamite Order of the Ancient Dawn and Caleb Braithwhite who is a distant cousin of Atticus and their new frenemy.
Then the story switches to Letitia in ‘Dreams of the Which House’ which is based on the story of Lovecraft ‘The Dreams in the Witch House’ but instead of a cosmic horror story it is a smart ghost story. Letitia inherited money from her father and bought a house in a white neighborhood. Not only does she has to deal with hatred and racism of this neighborhood, but the house also seems to be haunted.
Up next are George and Montrose and their own freemason’s club Prince of Freemasons who have to retrieve an occult book The Book of Names in oder to get their ledger back, written by Adah their ancestor. This ledger holds the accounts of how much wages her slaveowner owed her after all these years. ‘Abdullah’s Book’ is also a reference to the Necronomicon written by the mad Arab Abdul Alhazred according to Lovecraft’s stories. This segment is very fun and full of adventurous and comical actions of the Freemasons, but has a serious undertone as well that accounts for what was owed in multiple ways and meanings of the word.
Then Hippolyta, George’s wife has her own adventure when she is on the road exploring safe travels for the new issue of The Safe Negro Travel Guide, but takes a detour to go see an observatory. But that one is special and has a connection to the Adamite Order and to Hiram Winthrop, Letitia’s ghost and former owner of the house and Natural Philosopher. That special observatory gives her the opportunity to explore another dimension which holds both human and cosmic horrors in ‘Hippolyata Disturbs the Universe’.
Next up is Ruby in ‘Jekyll in Hide Park’ who loses her job due to racism when she is accused of stealing and it doesn’t matter what she says nobody believes her, worse, she is not even worthy to be heard. This all changes when she meets an elusive white man who gives her a potion that turns her into a white woman. When she experiences what it is like to be seen, heard, smiled at, while being treated with care and respect, it’s a whole new world. It has a very sad undertone, that leaves a sour taste, but the fierce and spicy Ruby makes advantage of it, turning almost into a person whom she is not, a person who doesn’t care about others but herself, a Mrs Hyde.
Then Atticus and his father are sent on a mission to retrieve some important notebooks who were stolen by Henry Winthrop who ran away with the black maid Pearl whom he was in love with. A love they paid for with their lives in the end. ‘The Narrow House’ deals with ghosts and a tragic love story.
In ‘Horace and the Devil Doll’ 12 year-old Horace, son of George and Hippolyta and a gifted comic artist is cursed by a member of the Chicago Lodge of the Order and is attacked by a devil doll. It very much reminds of the third segment of the film Trilogy of Terror (1975) in which a fetish warrior doll comes to life.
The last story ‘The Mark of Cain’ is when everything that has happened to each character comes together and when they come into their power to change things around, to use the racism in a subversive way and that results in a brilliant plan of action that frees them from supernatural horrors, but not from the human horrors. A struggle that isn’t even quite over yet.
The structure is both comprised of a big story arc and short stories with different characters that are all intertwined in a fun and smart way, that all comes together in the end. It’s a smart and fun setup that shows the ordeals black men, women and kids had in the fifties which is cause for some very cringeworthy, shameful and hurtful and angering moments. It’s often very tangible, the constant fear, to be on your guard at all times, having no rights and people can do as they please with you. It’s an experience no-one should have to endure, ever.
Written from the point of view of black characters they can finally stand up to those horrors, defeat them while the reader is put in their shoes and experience how it feels to be mistreated, despised, humiliated and not treated like a worthy human being. It’s a great feat to turn the racism and wrongdoings around to give strength to the black characters. Especially subversive with a title with the name of a man who is famous for his cosmic horror stories but was a racist as well which also shows through his stories and is expressed by himself in several stories.
Lovecraft Country is both a very entertaining and thought provoking story that respects both elements and blends them together in an enthralling tale.
My favorite part
Every story has its own tone and atmosphere, dealing with cosmic horror, ghosts, ancient books and Orders and a creepy doll. I really enjoyed the adventure of the Prince of Freemasons when they had to retrieve a book. It was very comical and well-written and great fun. The devil doll was a great story and the only one with the point of view of a 12 year-old, but then his mom explored the universe which was very imaginative. The story about Ruby was thought provoking and impressive and Letitia is a great smart and brave character. It’s all very smartly put together and a great read that is a must-read for horror and weird fiction lovers, who want to read a fresh take on horror from a different perspective.
A favorite quote
‘Atticus knew the answer now, and the answer to his question to Samuel Braithwhite. An experienced natural philosopher might hope to survive exposure to the unfiltered light of creation, but Atticus would be annihilated by it. Stripped of identity, of everything that made him Atticus: not just unmanned, but un-named. It would be like dying, but a positive oblivion rather than a negative one. A return to the infinite possibility of the primordial state.’
Thrill factor: ★★★☆☆
Originality factor: ★★★★★
Entertainment factor: ★★★★★
Lovecraft Country is written by Matt Ruff and first published by HarperCollins in 2016. It consists of 372 pages.