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Ethnic Threats & Anglo-American Civilization in Howard & Lovecraft

Swamp in Sam Houston National Forest, Texas

4,025 words

Both Robert E. Howard (1906-1936) and H. P. Lovecraft (1890-1937) were masters of the pulp horror story. While the former placed action at the heart of his masculine and violent tales, the latter focused more on psychology and the “cosmic” dread of an indifferent universe. One element that united both men were their frequent portrayals of ethnic enclaves in the heart of Anglo-America. For Lovecraft, Upstate New York symbolized the social and intellectual decay of Dutch civilization in the Catskills, while Howard often used the landscape of West Texas and the rural Deep South to speak about the problems associated with Hispanic and African cultures refusing to fully assimilate to Anglo-American norms.

Following the great calamity known as the First World War, Lothrop Stoddard, a Harvard-educated scion of an old New England family who came to the New World as Puritan settlers, wrote with great dread about what he perceived as the coming decline of “world-wide white supremacy.” His 1920 book, The Rising Tide of Color, takes as its guiding mission the awakening of the “Nordic” race, which Stoddard hoped would liberate itself from both altruism and internationalism. Stoddard’s work is intended to be a scholarly call to action. Its popularity certainly highlighted the fact that Stoddard’s views found a receptive audience. The book was even famously lampooned by F. Scott Fitzgerald in The Great Gatsby.

Stoddard’s Nordicism, which stemmed from the earlier work of Madison Grant and French racialist Arthur de Gobineau, saw the United States as a “Nordic” civilization whose expression was in the form of “Anglo-Saxon civilization” (Stoddard 2). After World War I gutted the great civilizations of Great Britain and France, thus putting their sprawling colonial empires in jeopardy, Stoddard believed in his bones that the United States, as a “Nordic” nation, was poised to become the world’s preeminent power. Stoddard saw this as a challenge — a challenge that could only be accomplished by practicing “positive eugenics” whereby the Anglo-Saxon stock would increase, while non-Nordic stock would decline.

Since the 19th century, American academics, primarily those at New England institutions like Harvard and Yale, pursued Anglo-Saxon Studies, which focused on the history, literature, and accomplishments of the English-speaking peoples. Henry Cabot Lodge, the future Republican senator from Massachusetts, earned a Ph.D. from Harvard by studying Anglo-Saxon history (Thomas 31). Harvard was indeed a hotbed of Anglo-Saxondom, with Professor Norman Shaler, a particular favorite of President Theodore Roosevelt, espousing the innate superiority of the Anglo-Saxon ethnic group (87). Stoddard began his career as a historian and essayist at Harvard as well.

Notions of Anglo-Saxon superiority predate the late 19th century and were not confined to the upper echelons of New England society. Senator Albert J. Beveridge, a progressive Republican from Indiana who graduated from the non-Ivy League DePauw University, championed not only Anglo-Saxon supremacy but also the territorial expansion of the US into Hawaii, Latin America, and Asia (288). In the much more blue-collar world of pulp fiction writing, two of the more prominent supporters of Anglo-Saxonism and the superiority of Anglo-American culture were Howard Phillips Lovecraft of Providence, Rhode Island and Robert Ervin Howard of Cross Plains, Texas.

Ostensibly, Lovecraft and Howard did not share much in common — Lovecraft was a Tory reactionary who despised the idea of writing for profit, while Howard was the product of the rough-and-tumble Southwest who proudly thought of himself as a working writer. Their personal politics diverged sometimes as well, with their many back-and-forth letters showing Lovecraft to favor authoritarian government while Howard often championed rugged individualism. However, both men wrote frightening horror and adventure tales which all but confirmed their belief in the primacy of Anglo-American culture. Lovecraft, the Yankee, and Howard, the grandson of a Confederate officer, shared a distaste for immigration, which both men saw as a threat to “old American stock,” i.e., English-speaking Protestants. This belief is strongest and most obvious in those Lovecraft and Howard stories where Anglo-American protagonists are challenged by non-Anglo characters that represent unassimilated ethnic enclaves within the United States. This article will focus on the few Lovecraft stories that involve ethnically Dutch New Yorkers living in the Catskill Mountains and the handful of Howard tales about Spanish speakers in Texas and African American communities in the swampy South.

Decadent and Decayed Dutch Civilization 

True devotees and occasional readers of the work of H. P. Lovecraft know that the self-styled “Old Man” of Providence loathed New York City. “The Horror at Red Hook” (1927) presents Lovecraft’s most acidic depiction of Gotham, describing it as “a babel of sound and filth” where “the blasphemies of a hundred dialects assail the sky” (Lovecraft 228). “He,” published a year earlier in 1926, levels similar accusations, depicting New York as a metropolis of “squalor and alienage” (213). Lovecraft’s letters put the problem of New York more bluntly. A March 26, 1927 letter complained to Bernard Austin Dwyer about a noisome Syrian neighbor who “played eldritch and whining monotones on a strange bagpipe,” while a July 6, 1925 letter to his aunt Lillian D. Clark in Providence spoke of Lovecraft’s horror at having to share a subway car with African Americans.

Lovecraft’s horror with New York City is often taken as yet another example of his racism. Stories like “The Horror at Red Hook” and “He” also articulate Lovecraft’s obsession with racial and cultural decline as embodied by the multi-ethnic city. The “Big Apple,” as America’s largest and most cosmopolitan port, makes sense as the archenemy for the reactionary New Englander who once wrote with invective in his Conservative journal against the notion of America as a “composite nation whose civilisation [sic] is a compound of all existing cultures” rather than one based solely on an Anglo-Saxon inheritance (Lovecraft 94).

Lesser known, however, is Lovecraft’s abhorrence of rural American degeneracy and decay. This disdain for the more déclassée regions of America was shared by Robert E. Howard, Lovecraft’s fellow pulp author and friend. To be expected, while Howard typically places his low-class characters in the barren hills of his native Texas, Lovecraft focused on pockets of antediluvian life in the Northeast. Interestingly enough, save for the famous short tale, “The Dunwich Horror” (1929), which is set in Western Massachusetts, Lovecraft most often portrayed Upstate New York as the seat of unique cultural disintegration. Even as early as 1919, with the publication of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” Lovecraft showed a certain disdain for the agrarian Dutch population of the Catskills Mountains.

“Beyond the Wall of Sleep” recounts a doctor’s incredible experience with a dangerous vagabond named Joe Slater (or Slaader). Slater is called a “typical denizen of the Catskill Mountain region,” and is furthermore characterized as:

one of those strange, repellent scions of a primitive Colonial peasant stock whose isolation for nearly three centuries in the hilly fastnesses of a little-traveled countryside has caused them to sink to a kind of barbaric degeneracy, rather than advance with their more fortunately placed brethren of the thickly settled districts (Lovecraft 56).

The “white trash” Slater nevertheless has supernatural insight into Lovecraft’s particular cosmic horror, seeing in his delirious visions Algol, the Demon-Star (65). The star is later revealed to be the star Nova Persei. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” makes clear that regardless of its name, the star that the “Catskill decadent” Slater saw is the home of the strange entity that takes over his body during the narrator’s telepathic sessions.

Lovecraft claimed that the inspiration for “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” came from an April 27, 1919 article in the New York Tribune about a backwoods family in the Catskills with the surname Slater or some variant thereof (Joshi and Schultz 19). Much like Lovecraft’s tale, the article apparently took the Slaters to be the embodiments of rural decline. Unsurprisingly, Lovecraft returned to the same topic again with the publication of the much better-known short story, “The Lurking Fear” (1923). “The Lurking Fear” takes the themes of “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” and amplifies them. The story is told from the perspective of an unnamed journalist who travels to Tempest Mountain in Upstate New York to investigate reports of a “creeping death” stalking the local area. The reporter’s first impressions of the Catskills are negative and echo the same sentiments as the unnamed narrator in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep”:

The place is a remote, lonely elevation in that part of the Catskills where Dutch civilisation [sic] once feebly and transiently penetrated, leaving behind as it receded only a few inhabiting pitiful hamlets on isolated slopes. Normal beings seldom visited the locality till the state police were formed, and even now only infrequent troopers patrol it (Lovecraft 21).

As for the local population, they are depicted as “poor mongrels” and different shades of bucolic boob. Of course, the poor stock of the Tempest Mountain locals pales in comparison with the degeneration of the once-proud Martense family. Lovecraft, as much a devotee of genealogy as racial pseudoscience, spends pages describing the generational downfall of the Martense clan and their foreboding mansion. After relocating from New Amsterdam prior to 1670, the Martense patriarch, Gerrit Martense, built the family mansion far up in the hills in order to seclude himself and his brood from British colonial rule. Lovecraft makes a point of highlighting the Martense loathing of “English civilisation [sic]” (32). This hatred leads the family to shun the wider world for generations, thus playing a decisive role in their eventual “mammalian degeneration” of their bloodline into a collection of filthy, gorilla-like creatures with yellowed teeth, ugly fur, and cannibal appetites (Lovecraft 42). Besides inbreeding, the great sin of the Martense family in “The Lurking Fear” was the rejection of assimilation into Anglo-American culture. The same can be said for the unfortunate Joe Slater in “Beyond the Wall of Sleep,” whose folkways and anti-social behavior single him out as someone outside of Lovecraft’s beloved Anglo-Saxondom. Even in “The Horror at Red Hook,” which denigrates a wide swath of New York’s multi-ethnic population, from Syrians to Italians, the singular embodiment of occult evil in the tale is Robert Suydam, “a lettered recluse of ancient Dutch family” (Lovecraft 230). Suydam is a typically Lovecraftian character in that he is intelligent, unemployed, unconcerned about pedestrian responsibilities, and a dreamer who dabbles far too much in the underside of life. Suydam is not depicted like his co-ethnics of the mountains, but he is nevertheless out-of-step with healthy society because of his interest in Asian occult practices (Lovecraft 231).

There is little evidence beyond his stories to suggest that Lovecraft bore any ill feeling towards the Dutch, Dutch culture, or the history of the Dutch colonies in the United States. By all accounts, Lovecraft’s Nordicist ideology viewed the Dutch as members of Nordic civilization, and therefore related to the English, Germans, and Scandinavians. However, whenever Dutch culture or people are brought up in Lovecraft’s work, they are not celebrated. Even “The Hound” (1924), a straightforward gothic horror tale, places its ultimate evil in a Dutch churchyard. It could be that Lovecraft’s sinister view of the Dutch stemmed from his deep Anglophilia and the long history of warfare and competition between the English and Dutch in the New World. Lovecraft was a man who certainly held historical grudges, as evidenced by his lifelong Toryism and disapproval of the American Revolution.

Still, the primary motivation behind Lovecraft’s negative portrayals of Upstate New York and its inhabitants in his fiction is ethnic chauvinism, i.e., the Dutch characters are all holdouts against Anglo-American civilization. Their refusal to assimilate to a “superior” culture marks them as liminal creatures, thus ripe for various shades of uncommon horror. A similar situation exists in a handful of the horror tales of Robert E. Howard, with Texas and the South used as the background for rural and cultural atrophy instead of the Northeast.

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The Dark Heart of the South and Southwest 

In “The Horror from the Mound” (1932), Anglo-Texan Steve Brill begins the story in a mental funk. The cause of his worries is his failing farm in West Texas. Beset by a blizzard, hailstorms, and insatiable grasshoppers, Brill’s patch of land cannot adequately grow fruit, grain, or cotton (Howard 171). The only silver linings in the situation are: 1) Brill does not own the land, so can set out for better pastures, and 2) Brill is in a better position in life than his neighbor, Juan Lopez. Described as old and taciturn, Lopez, in Brill’s eyes, is a vestigial holdout from the days of the Spanish conquest of Texas. Lopez is aware of this and reminds his neighbor that, “I have heard tales of my people, handed down from generation to generation. And my people were here long before yours, Señor Brill” (173). The main point of the argument between the two men is a nearby burial mound which Lopez assiduously avoids. Brill sees such behavior as superstitious nonsense. To convince the arrogant Anglo, Lopez talks about one of his ancestors, Porfirio Lopez, and the ill-fated expedition of Hernando de Estrada in 1545. Lopez adds that the expedition created a curse — a curse associated with the burial mound next to both of their homesteads.

Howard depicts Brill as the ideal of Anglo-Texas culture — a “tall, rangy and tough” homesteader who is a “true son of the iron-bodied pioneers who wrenched West Texas from the wilderness” (171). In turn, this means that Brill scoffs at Lopez’s “Latin” superstitions. “The Horror from the Mound” proves the old Mexican to be the smarter of the two, as the mound holds the vampire Don Santiago de Valdez, the same bloodthirsty Castilian nobleman who preyed on the de Estrada expedition so many centuries before (183). Still, although Lopez was wise to the true horror of the mound, it is the rugged and resourceful Brill who eliminates the undead Spaniard. Thus, in one tale, an Anglo-Texan, the embodiment of the majority civilization of Howard’s beloved Texas, avenges the death of a Mexican neighbor by vanquishing his Spanish murderer. The Latin roots of Texas are gone; only Brill and his fellow Anglo-Protestants remain. “The Horror from the Mound” puts a proverbial stake in the last remnants of Hispanic Texas. Steve Brill is the ultimate victor.

“Black Canaan” (1936) moves the action hundreds of miles to the east, just outside of New Orleans. Here the main protagonist and the exemplar of the Anglo-Saxon South is Kirby Buckner. Oddly enough, Buckner shares some similarities with Juan Lopez in “The Horror from the Mound” in that both men have a preternatural connection with their homelands. For Buckner, this means that when he hears the words “‘Trouble on Tularoosa Creek,’” he returned to his native Grimesville because he knows in his soul that this warning foretells “old hates seething again in the jungle-deeps of the swamplands” (Howard 231). This old hate is the miasmic fear of a race revolt, which occurred back in 1845 and had to be put down with excessive violence (236). Buckner and his fellow white citizens of Canaan and Grimesville are aroused by word of a strange man named Saul Stark, a South Carolina “conjure man” who promises to kill all the local whites as a precursor to the founding of a black empire in Louisiana. Stark’s adherents are the people of the deep swamp, who are “untouched by the mellow civilization which refined the natures of the house servants” (237). These men and women are worrisome in that they remain more African than African American. Even their religion, voodoo, has its roots in West Africa and the Caribbean instead of the Old South. The voodoo god Damballah, which the swamp people worship, is painted as a serpent war-god capable of arousing enough racial hatred to light a fuse and start a rebellion.

“Black Canaan,” which is generally perceived as one of Howard’s best short stories, recalls the civilization of the antebellum South, which its supporters often saw as the fulfillment of the English Cavalier dream. Put succinctly by Alabama lawyer Daniel R. Hundley in 1860, “In Virginia, the ancestors of the Southern Gentleman were chiefly English Cavaliers, after whom succeeded the French Huguenots and Scotch Jacobites” (Bowman 13). Buckner and his fellow inhabitants of Canaan are not the well-polished gentlemen of the Old South, but nevertheless adhere to that region’s ancestral customs, i.e. defense of honor, willingness to serve in a posse, and adhering to strict racial boundaries.

The setting of “Black Canaan” is important as well, as Louisiana “was the most desirable region in North America for the Creole refugees” fleeing the Haitian Revolution in St. Domingue (Hunt 45). Many of these Francophone refugees, who saw firsthand the genocidal violence of the revolutionary general Jean-Jacques Dessalines, became “fire-eaters” in New Orleans who stoked fears of incipient slave rebellions in the South. This fear remained so strong for so long that the Yankee Stoddard wrote his Harvard dissertation about the Haitian Revolution and its blotting out of a “white civilization” in Haiti that was “the very pinnacle of wealth and prosperity” (Stoddard 35). Buckner has this fear in “Black Canaan,” and like many if not most of Howard’s protagonists, he defeats the foreign evil through two-fisted heroism and more than a passing dash of cunning.

In many ways, “Fangs of Gold” (1934) provided the blueprint for the better-known “Black Canaan.” Rather than Buckner, the male lead in “Fangs of Gold” is Steve Harrison, Howard’s detective character. Howard’s Steve Harrison stories were an attempt to join the lucrative hardboiled detective pulp market, even though Howard disliked the mystery genre (Lord 77). In the story, Harrison, described as a son of the South but a long inhabitant of an unnamed city, is forced to trek through a Deep South swamp to arrest Woon Shang on suspicion of the murder of a fellow Chinatown resident. Much as in the later “Black Canaan,” the swampland in “Fangs of Gold” is home to voodoo worshippers originally from Haiti. The swamp’s residents, who rarely venture into the outside world let alone assimilate into Anglo-American culture, are under the power of the priestess Celia Pompoloi. Harrison only finds Woon Shang after first saving Pompoloi and defeating her nemesis, the Dominican conman and false voodoo priest John Bartholomew. Overall, Harrison’s musings about the morbidity of the swamplands are not different from Buckner’s, although Harrison is a pure outsider rather than a native son who is forced to confront an old foe.

“Fangs of Gold” involves three different cultures clashing: the Chinese culture of Woon Shang, the Haitian culture of the swamps, and the Anglo-American majority culture as represented by Harrison. Harrison has all the qualities of a rugged individualist, with his strong, masculine sense of duty and his willingness to use violence to achieve justice. He triumphs at the end of “Fangs of Gold” much in the same way as Steve Brill in “The Horror from the Mound” and Kirby Buckner in “Black Canaan.” All three Anglo-American men, all of whom are from the South, achieve victory through force of personality and arms in the face of non-Anglo and sometimes inhuman threats.

The themes in “Fangs of Gold” would not only replay in “Black Canaan,” but the Harrison stories would follow more or less the same format: the Anglo-American Harrison is forced to confront non-white criminals in environments where Harrison and his ilk are a minority. Most of the time the genus loci of supernatural evil in the Harrison stories is River Street — a den of Asian criminals, from Chinese warlords hell-bent on obtaining chemical weapons to the Mongol Erlik Khan, the supposed “lord of the dead.” River Street is not unlike Lovecraft’s depictions of the multi-ethnic New York City, although Howard does have Joan La Tour, a Eurasian woman, as Harrison’s aid and River Street guide. When mixed-raced individuals and populations appear in Lovecraft’s fiction, such as in “The Shadow over Innsmouth” (1936), the portrayals are obsidian in their negativity.

Conclusion

It is no revelation to say that both Lovecraft and Howard viewed the world through political prisms that would make many people uncomfortable today. It is also no surprise that both Lovecraft and Howard supported maintaining the ethnic status quo in the United States, which during their epoch meant keeping as a majority native-born Anglo-Protestants (to be fair, Lovecraft was an atheist and Howard seems to have been unconcerned about religion). As such, their stories are full of scenes of Anglo-Americans placed into battle with alien forces. Lovecraft’s unsubtle opinions on race have been opined time and time again by contemporary critics. The New England Tory and inventor of cosmic horror believed in the supremacy of Anglo-Saxon culture and people. For some reason that has never fully been explained or explored, Lovecraft saw the ethnically Dutch residents of the Catskills Mountains, who first arrived in the area in the 17th century, as inferior or at least a cultural deviation from the Anglo-American norm. Thus, stories like “The Lurking Fear” and “Beyond the Wall of Sleep” display Lovecraft’s ethnic chauvinism, which was as much a part of his Anglo-centric worldview as his much better-known racism against non-whites. The New York Dutch in Lovecraft’s oeuvre are therefore doomed because they refuse to accept the preeminence of the English language and English customs and folkways in the United States. This damnation is made especially horrific in “The Lurking Fear” because the Martense clan refused for generations to give up their unique Dutch language and identity, thereby leading to an original sin wherein the Martense patriarch relocated the family to the isolated Tempest Mountain to explicitly avoid contact with Anglo-American culture.

A similar situation plays out in Howard’s fiction. Threatening ethnic enclaves within the larger Anglo-American world cannot be separated from history. Just as the Martense family refused to become Anglo-American, the Haitian denizens of the swamp in “Fangs of Gold” and the followers of Saul Stark in “Black Canaan” are antagonists because of their multi-generational refusal to assimilate to the culture of the Anglo-Protestant South. In “Black Canaan,” this refusal was never more pronounced than the slave revolt of 1845, fear of which is the motivating factor for Kirby Buckner’s return to his native environment. Juan Lopez and the vampire Don Santiago de Valdez are both remnants of Texas’s Hispanic past, and as such both are vanquished by the end of “The Horror from the Mound” so that Steve Brill, the Anglo, can claim mastery over his patch of West Texas soil. As with Lovecraft’s work, Howard believed in the supremacy of Anglo-American civilization. As such both he and Lovecraft can be ideologically tied to a diverse set of uniquely American actors, from New England and Midwestern senators to Confederate secessionists and 20th-century racialists.

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Works Cited: 

Bowman, Shearer Davis. Master and Lords: Mid-19th-Century U.S. Planters and Prussian Junkers. Oxford University Press, 1993.

Howard, Robert E. “Black Canaan.” The Black Stranger and Other American Tales, University of Nebraska Press, 2005, pp. 231-264.

Howard, Robert E. “The Horror from the Mound.” The Haunter of the Ring & Other Tales, Wordsworth, 2008, pp. 171-187.

Hunt, Alfred N. Haiti’s Influence on Antebellum America: Slumbering Volcano in the Caribbean. LSU Press, 2006.

Joshi, S.T., and David E. Schultz. An H. P. Lovecraft Encyclopedia. Hippocampus Press, 2004.

Joshi, S.T., and David E. Schultz, editors. Lord of a Visible World: An Autobiography in Letters. Hippocampus Press, 2019.

Lord, Glen. The Last Celt. Windhover, 1976.

Lovecraft, H. P. The Conservative: The Complete Issues, 1915-1923. Arktos, 2013.

Lovecraft, H. P. “Beyond the Wall of Sleep.” Waking Up Screaming: Haunting Tales of Terror By H. P. Lovecraft, Ballantine Books, 2003, pp.55-67.

Lovecraft, H. P. “The Lurking Fear.” Waking Up Screaming: Haunting Tales of Terror By H. P. Lovecraft, Ballantine Books, 2003, pp.20-43.

Lovecraft, H. P. “The Horror at Red Hook.” The Transition of H. P. Lovecraft: The Road to Madness, Del Rey, 1996, pp. 225-245.

Stoddard, T. Lothrop. The French Revolution in San Domingo. Houghton Mifflin Company, 1914.

Stoddard, T. Lothrop. Re-Forging America: The Story of Our Nationhood. Ostara, 2010.

Thomas, Evan. The War Lovers: Roosevelt, Lodge, Hearst, and the Rush to Empire, 1898. Back Bay Books, 2011.

 

12 Comments

  1. James O'Meara
    Posted December 22, 2020 at 5:46 pm | Permalink

    Fascinating article. I hadn’t noticed how much Lovecraft dwelt on the Dutch as degenerates but now it seems obvious.

    As for “assimilation,” neither New York State nor City has been culturally “New England” or “Yankee” The similarity of York and Yankee is misleading: according to Clyde Wilson, “the term Yankee appears to originate in some mingling of Dutch and Indian words, to designate New Englanders. Obviously, both the Dutch New Yorkers and Native Americans recognized them as ‘different’.” (The Yankee Problem). This, among other reasons, is why NYC has always been out of step with “America” where “America” really means “New England” Thus, NYC refused to support the North in the Civil War, exploring secession as a free city, and refusing to allow its boys to be drafted — see Gangs of New York, whose protagonist, played by De Caprio, is an Irishman named Amsterdam; this combination of Dutch roots and non-WASP immigration puts NYC on either side of Yankee “America.” Thus both for Lovecraft are “evil.”

    I bring this up because C-C readers may instinctively hate “New York City values” (to quote Jeb Bush) and immigration, but it is Lovecraft’s New England Yankees, with their “city on a hill” style of Puritanism, who have been the meddlers in our history: John Brown, the Civil War, Prohibition, etc. When Lovecraft mocks ” the Dutch as “degenerate” and refusing to “assimilate,” he is comparing them unfavorably to such WASP heroes as John Brown and Carrie Nation … and, as Clyde Wilson adds, Hillary Clinton. It is the Dutch who represented true European culture and values, and the Yankee whose peddling and meddling is the grandfather of Globohomo, to which he demands they “assimilate” like the Borg.

    In this way, the Dutch, although also Protestant, play the role of Catholic Italy in traditional English Gothic — dark castles, scheming monks, uncontrolled sexuality, senseless violence, etc.

    Lovecraft of course was an atheist and no Puritan reformer, yet he expresses admiration in his letter for the staunch faith and upright lifestyles of the Puritans themselves, compared to today’s secular culture. To paraphrase The Great Lebowski, say what you will about Puritanism, at least it was an ethos.

    Already by ep. 4 of season one, “New Amsterdam,” Mad Men confronted Pete Campbell and his ties to Olde New York (the condo board approves his lease because his great great grandfather “farmed with the Roosevelts”); in a later episode, “Nixon vs. Kennedy,” Bert Cooper explains New York to Don Draper: (at 3:00) —

    https://youtu.be/moH1Dctkozw

  2. Right_On
    Posted December 22, 2020 at 8:11 pm | Permalink

    You highlight Lovecraft’s “civilisation [sic]”. Presumably his disdain for “z” (you say “zee”, I say “zed”) is the same Anglophilic spelling idiosyncrasy he displayed in calling his short story “The Colour Out of Space”, unlike the Cage movie (would Lovecraft have said “film”? Or maybe “talkie”!) which adopts standard American usage, “Color”.
    Shame he had it in for the Dutch; we need all the allies we can muster.

    Never read any Robert E. Howard, but John Milius’s take on “Conan the Barbarian” gets better – and seems more relevant – with every viewing.

    • Traddles
      Posted December 23, 2020 at 4:49 am | Permalink

      ‘John Milius’s take on “Conan the Barbarian” gets better – and seems more relevant – with every viewing’

      Aye. I don’t believe that Howard had the type of “noble savage” illusions held by 19th-Century American city dwellers back east, or by today’s degenerate, ideological pseudo-anthropologists, but in the Conan stories I’ve read, Conan is portrayed favorably compared with the peoples of decadent civilisations (in “Red Nails,” “Shadows in Zamboula,” etc.)

      In “Beyond the Black River,” the savage Picts are not “noble savages.” They are, however, similar to many North American Indian tribes, in their very warlike and bloodthirsty ways. And Conan sides with the more civilized frontiersmen in that story.

      Getting back to the Milius movie, I liked it quite a lot. Schwarzenegger might not capture the sharp intelligence of Howard’s Conan, which might be due to Arnold’s limited English at the time, but I enjoyed his portrayal.

      I’d also be interested in the opinions of others who have read Howard.

      • Francis XB
        Posted December 25, 2020 at 1:55 am | Permalink

        I’d also be interested in the opinions of others who have read Howard.

        REH’s Conan stands at the fulcrum of decadent civilization and chaotic savagery. In “Beyond the Black River” he defends Aquilonian colonists who are pushing into the Pictish wilderness, and to win must penetrate into a heart of darkness where he confronts a human-alien hybrid. Conan is animated, in part, by an ancient racial feud with the Picts, and in part by a commonality with the new types of men who are rising on the frontier. There are clear antecedents based on American colonial warriors such as Robert Rogers and also the Texas Rangers.

        There’s a similar theme in “Black Colossus” where Conan leads a feudal-mercenary army in defense of a desert city-state against a fanatic horde which has strong elements of the Mahdist uprising ala the late 19th century Sudan. (Howard elsewhere has a story set during the siege of Khartoum called “Guns of Khartum” (sic) so he obviously understood the historical analogy.) In the climactic battle, the forces of civilization are about to be overwhelmed when by a combination of clever stratagem and berserker fury Conan routes the horde, slays the bad guy sorcerer, and gets the girl.

        Civilization is saved, at least this round.

        Howard had a knack for getting inside the heads of his characters. What makes Conan work is that the reader can see the world through the eyes of the predator, albeit one with a certain grim sense of honor as well as humor. Thus, Conan can be a pirate and steppe raider, yet the conclusion to which the reader comes is that the Hyborian Age is one where Social Darwinism is the metapolitical reality. Conan’s world is one of eternal struggle. No points scored for good behavior. You win by superior sword strokes or you leave your bleached bones on desert sands.

        There are Spenglerian elements of Decline of the West. In “Red Nails,” Conan and his female pirate companion stumble across a lost jungle city and here is where Howard takes one of the oldest cliches in pulp fiction and gives it new life. Turns out the city is one great big labyrinthine palace whose opulent galleries are illuminated by radium gems and inhabited by two clans of a decadent civilization. The clans divide their time between bouts of hedonism and engaging in a sadistic vendetta against the other, haunted by a specter driven to destroy them all.

        Supposedly, “Red Nails” was inspired by the Lincoln County Range War of the Old West and which gave rise to the John Wayne movie, Chisum. But Howard clearly pushes forth his view of what happens when a civilization reaches its historical winter. Even for Conan, the atrocities exulted in by the faction with whom he and his companion throw in their lot bring a grunt of disapproval. He is as distant from the decadence of the over opulent cities as he is from the savagery of the unbroken wilderness. At best, he can inspire one of the city’s warriors to a moment of humanity before his people perish in self-destruction.

        In “Queen of the Black Coast,” Conan encounters yet another lost jungle city (quite common in those days!). Once the city had been inhabited by a race of seraphic over-men, but owing to the pollution of their water supply they degenerated into apelike beings given over to unspeakable mayhem under jungle moons. One can read into this chronicle a Stoddardian commentary on racial decline. As in “Red Nails,” Conan triumphs as a warrior among the ruins but will have nothing to do with the city’s contaminated baubles.

        All this has to be seen in light of the times in which Howard was writing. Western Civilization appeared to be at its highpoint in terms of world domination, but was being challenged by the internecine slaughter of the Great War and the revolutionary threat of Bolshevism.

        Let’s close with a quote from “Beyond the Black River:”
        “Barbarism is the natural state of mankind…Civilization is unnatural. It is the whim of circumstance. And barbarism must ultimately triumph.”

        Something to think about in the continuing chaos…

        Note: Jonathan Bowden has a recorded speech which can be found about the interwebs: “Robert E. Howard & the Heroic.” It’s worth checking out.

        • Traddles
          Posted December 25, 2020 at 11:28 am | Permalink

          Thank you, FrancisXB. Very interesting. From my reading about historical frontiersmen in North America and elsewhere, I remember actual examples of those who, like Conan, didn’t fit in the more civilized (and sometimes decadent) world, or in the uncivilized world of unbridled savagery. Such men often served the cause of the more civilized communities, as long as they didn’t have to have much to do with the decadent elements, or with other aspects which they found suffocating. Then there were other examples of men who “went native.” As you suggest, it will be interesting to see how such qualities play out in the days ahead.

          In Tolkien, there were characters such as Beorn, who helped the good guys, but needed their “space.” I sometimes wonder what role groups such as motorcycle gangs might play in future chaos. They are not equivalent to Beorn, or to Conan, or to Daniel Boone, but because of the softening of so many average people, they might eventually have a positive role to play.

          I especially liked “Beyond the Black River.” It seems to have been much influenced by what really happened on the American frontier, but also with a lot of Howard’s own imaginative elements. I think I read somewhere that, not only did Howard himself live in a not-completely-tamed Texas region, but he might have had ancestors who experienced the real frontier several years earlier.

  3. Lord Shang
    Posted December 23, 2020 at 4:01 am | Permalink

    Wow! You can learn something new everyday. I had no idea Howard died so young. What’s more depressing is contemplating how much Howard wrote in that short life.

  4. Bruno Bucciaratti
    Posted December 23, 2020 at 5:43 am | Permalink

    HPL was an Anglo Supremacist, it’s true, but he also viewed Anglo Society as being in decline, unwilling or unable to hold back the tide of lesser societies.

    This is best illustrated in “At the Mountains of Madness,” which is essentially Oswald Spengler’s “The Decline of the West” in novel form.

    • Jesse
      Posted January 7, 2021 at 12:48 pm | Permalink

      He became less of an Anglo supremacist over time, coming to think that while certain groups like blacks and Australian aborigines were clearly inferior, other groups like Asians were not, and his case for limiting immigration was more just about cultural continuity than biological difference or even cultural superiority. P. 77 of Selected Letters V, 1934-1937 has this quote in a letter he wrote in November 1934:

      “Of the complete biological inferiority of the negro there can be no question—he has anatomical features consistently varying from those of other stocks, & always in the direction of the lower primates . . . Equally inferior—& perhaps even more so—is the Australian black stock, which differs widely from the real negro . . . In dealing with these two black races, there is only one sound attitude for any other race (be it white, Indian, Malay, Polynesian, or Mongolian) to take—& that is to prevent admixture as completely & determinedly as it can be prevented, through the establishment of a colour-line & the rigid forcing of all mixed offspring below that line. I am in accord with the most vehement & vociferous Alabaman or Mississippian on that point … Other racial questions are wholly different in nature—involving wide variations unconnected with superiority or inferiority. Only an ignorant dolt would attempt to call a Chinese gentleman—heir to one of the greatest artistic & philosophic traditions in the world—an “inferior” of any sort . . . & yet there are potent reasons, based on wide physical, mental, & cultural differences, why great numbers of the Chinese ought not to mix into the Caucasian fabric, or vice versa. It is not that one race is any better than any other, but that their whole respective heritages are so antipodal as to make harmonious adjustment impossible. Members of one race can fit into another only through the complete eradication of their own background-influences—& even then the adjustment will always remain uneasy & imperfect if the newcomer’s physical aspect froms a constant reminder of his outside origin. Therefore it is wise to discourage all mixtures of sharply differentiated races—though the color-line does not need to be drawn as strictly as in the case of the negro, since we know that a dash or two of Mongolian or Indian or Hindoo or some such blood will not actually injure a white stock biologically. . . . As a matter of fact, most of the psychological race-differences which strike us so prominently are cultural rather than biological. If one could take a Japanese infant, alter his features to the Anglo-Saxon type through plastic surgery, & place him with an American family in Boston for rearing—without telling him that he is not an American—the chances are that in 20 years the result would be a typical American youth with very few instincts to distinguish him from his pure Nordic college-mates. The same is true of other superior alien races including the Jew—although the Nazis persist in acting on a false biological conception. If they were wise in their campaign to get rid of Jewish cultural influences (& a great deal can be said for such a campaign, when the dominance of the Aryan tradition is threatened as in Germany & New York City), they would not emphasize the separatism of the Jew but would strive to make him give up his separate culture & lose himself in the German people. It wouldn’t hurt Germany—or alter its essential physical type—to take in all the Jews it now has. (However, that wouldn’t work in Poland or New York City, where the Jews are of an inferior strain, & so numerous that they would essentially modify the physical type.)”

  5. Crawfurdmuir
    Posted December 23, 2020 at 8:57 pm | Permalink

    Regarding the New York Dutch and their negative representation by Lovecraft, contrast the genial New Yorker Washington Irving, whose works are filled with nostalgic portrayals of them.

    The way to read Irving’s famous tale “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow” is as an account of how the Dutch rustic Brom Bones plays a prank on the superstitious Yankee schoolmaster Ichabod Crane (from the witch-ridden New England of Cotton Mather and Judge Hathorne) to discourage him from courting the daughter of the wealthy landowner Baltus van Tassel. Ichabod is a sort of prototype of Lovecraft’s usual protagonist, who faints or otherwise is rendered hors de combat by his encounter with the eldritch.

    I enjoy Lovecraft, but as an old-stock American of colonial Dutch and Virginia cavalier ancestry I also reserve some admiration for Washington Irving, and the blunt scepticism of the Dutch.

    • Peacebot
      Posted December 24, 2020 at 3:19 pm | Permalink

      I like the Irving stories too, but they’re not flattering to the Dutch. He always portrayed them as fat, slow witted, drunk, lazy, and addicted to pipe smoking. As one who has a lot of Dutch American ancestry, the only reason I’m not that offended by Irving’s slur stories is that I am often drunk and lazy.

  6. Peacebot
    Posted December 24, 2020 at 1:25 pm | Permalink

    Could Lovecraft have been inspired by the “Jackson Whites” aka the Ramapo Mountain People, in the lesser known Ramapo Mountains just south of the Catskills? They have Dutch names (e.g., Van Dunk) and mostly call themselves Indians, but that’s debatable. Some legends say they are quadracial: Dutch, Indian, black, Revolutionary War Hessian deserters. The cynical could say they’re pretending to be Indians to get a casino. They seem from photos to be light-skinned mulatto, living mostly in Hillburn NY, Mahwah NJ, and Ringwood NJ. Unlike most blacks, they seem to be comfortable being in the woods. As recently as this century they made the news doing something most associate with white “hillbillies”:

    https://www.newyorker.com/magazine/2010/03/01/strangers-on-the-mountain

    https://advrider.com/f/threads/atv-rider-shot-in-ringwood-state-park.129160/

  7. gkruz
    Posted December 24, 2020 at 7:33 pm | Permalink

    You can’t know much about Howard to infer he was any sort of Anglo supremacist. He was actually a Celtic supremacist. Lovecraft found that out the hard way when, in one of their many letters, he made the mistake of assuming Howard’s surname indicated he was Anglo and made an anti-Irish comment. Most of Howard’s characters, Solomon Kane being a notable exception, were either Celts, proto-Celts or Celtic-inspired, like Bran Mak Morn, Cormac MacArt, Turlough O’Brien, Francis X. Gordon, Kirby O’Donnell, Sailor Steve Costigan, and Conan the Cimmerian himself.
    As for Lovecraft, as much as I admire his fiction and the erudition of his letters (some of which display his best writing), he was himself the perfect representative of the degeneration of the New England Puritan elite.

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