Pluralistic: Matt Ruff's "Destroyer of Worlds" (21 Feb 2023)

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The cover of Matt Ruff's 'Destroyer of Worlds.'

Matt Ruff's "Destroyer of Worlds" (permalink)

In Lovecraft Country, Matt Ruff pulled off a genius inversion: retelling the racist horror tales of HP Lovecraft in reverse, from the perspective of the Black people whom Lovecraft so viciously loathed, casting as villains the white supremacist sorcerers whom Lovecraft turned into heroes:

Country was adapted by Jordan Peele into a spectacular TV serial – no mean feat, given how much of Ruff's brilliant characterizations relies on the novelist's trick of giving readers direct access to characters' thoughts and internal states, something that is off-limits to screen adaptations without recourse to cheap tricks like voice-overs.

Today, Harpercollins releases The Destroyer of Worlds, a spectacular followup to Country that revisits the characters, setting, and supernatural dread of the original:

Country was structured as a series of linked novellas, each one picking up where the previous left off, with a different focal characters. Destroyer is a much more traditional braided novel, moving swiftly amongst the characters and periodically jumping back in time to the era of American slavery, retelling the story of the settlement of the Great Dismal swamp by escaped slaves:

Few writers can manage a cast of characters this large with Ruff's deft hand – they are likable, individual, and we root for all of them as they strive to save themselves from the eldritch forces that can only be temporarily vanquished.

It makes for an extremely fast-paced, high-stakes read, as we ping-pong around the Jim Crow south and all the way to the end of the universe. The white sorcerers of Country are still in the frame, as ghosts and exiles – a parable for the tireless nature of white supremacist hatred, and of the festering sores on the American body politic that have suppurated and multiplied in the absence of cleansing truth and reconciliation.

HP Lovecraft was a gifted writer, but he was not a good person. Even by the standards of his day, his racism was particularly vicious, and Lovecraft mixed that viciousness with his prodigious talents to paint the targets of his loathing in the most visceral, cruel light. It was so ugly that even Robert E Howard lectured him about it:*/

"People claiming to possess superior civilization have always veneered their … looting, butchering and plundering… by [claims] of art, progress and culture."

And yet, Lovecraft's work made a substantial, undeniable mark on the field, and the literary techniques he invented, advanced and/or perfected are woven into our literature. Rather than deny this influence, some of the field's best writers have sought to redeem it, wresting Lovecraftian techniques from Lovecraftian ideology.

Ruff is part of that tradition, but by no means all of it. 2019 saw the publication of NK Jemisin's stunning The City We Became, an anti-racist Lovecraftian tale in which New York City's glorious riot of race, color, language and viewpoint is set to be devoured by a conservatisizing, homogenizing eldritch power from another universe:

Exicitingly, World We Became now has a sequel, The World We Make, which has gotten rave reviews:

The literature of anti-racist, anti-fascist Lovecraftian horror is a broad and exciting one, including RPGs:

And David Nickle's essential duology, Eutopia (2011):

and Volk (2017):

Nickle has written well and extensively about Lovecraftian horror and race:

And the last word on Lovecraft scholarship is certainly Les Klinger's The New, Annotated HP Lovecraft (2014)

Attentive readers will recall that Klinger is the Sherlockian attorney who successfully defeated the Doyle estate's copyfraud claims that the Sherlock Holmes stories were still in copyright:

The benefits from the works of Doyle, Lovecraft, and all other authors eventually return to the public domain is neatly illustrated in this new Lovecraftian creativity. If Lovecraft had to stand alone, uninterpreted and unrebutted, we would lose his brilliance along with his wickedness. But because Lovecraft now belongs to all of us, he can be reworked, challenged, argued over, problematized, and preserved, even if he can never be redeemed.

A Wayback Machine banner.

This day in history (permalink)

#20yrsago Bertelsmann sued over Napster

#15yrsago Random House Audio abandons audiobook DRM

#15yrsago Collective intelligence spontaneously arises among ARG players — paper from I Love Bees creator

#15ysago Payday Loan scumbags prey on the elderly, illiterate, poor

#10yrsago EFF’s new international director: Danny O’Brien

#10yrsago Music industry hates anti-spam laws

#10yrsago Corporations are people, so the city of Seattle can’t have an opt-out policy for spammy phonebooks no one wants

#5yrsago Online security is a disaster and the people who investigate it are being sued into silence

#5yrsago The Copyright Office is spending the year deciding technology’s future, but the future doesn’t get a seat at the table

#1yrago The people's disruption: Tech rights are workers' rights

#1yrago A(nother) massive Swiss banking leak

Colophon (permalink)

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