Last week, I wrote an observation about Lovecraft’s works. In the comments, several readers mentioned The Shadow over Innsmouth, a tale I had embarrassingly not read at the time. I rectified this error soon after. And wow, what an amazing story! An imaginative gem from beginning to end, with steadily mounting tension, an inspired explanation to the madness, several outstanding, unforgettable visual images, and a surprising, creepy ending.
As any reader of Lovecraft is aware of, bloodline degradation is a common theme of his. A once proud race or peoples is sullied, either through natural degradation or ill-advised unions. To use the examples in last week’s article, there is a natural decline with the central family in The Shunned House or the town in The Dunwich Horror. The dangers of race-mixing are subtly suggested by the villainous half-caste smugglers in The Case of Charles Dexter Ward and the crazed half-caste cultists in The Call of Cthulhu.
However, in all those stories, it remains a minor, background element. By contrast, in The Shadow over Innsmouth, it is the dominant idea of the work. A town is ruined and suffers a horrifying fate by destroying their bloodline through a perverse coupling. While this takes on a demonic, supernatural manifestation there, it likely reflected Lovecraft’s general views on race mixing.
Regardless of whether one fully agrees with the author or his fixation on the matter, one conclusion is unavoidable. It lends a unique flavor to his stories. And in the case of The Shadow over Innsmouth, results in a wonderful classic.
One doesn’t have to subscribe to an author’s idea to appreciate the zest it adds to their writing. For instance, I like novels with a distinct Christian morality. (Castalia House author John C Wright comes to mind, among others) This, despite not being Christian or even religious myself.
So in this case, Lovecraft’s strong personal views about pedigree, to the point of dogma, are a positive element adding to his writing. But is this true in general?
Of course not! One can think of many authors who push a tiresome political perspective, particularly of the leftist variety, where their dogmatism severely hurts their writings. Which brings us to another question; when is this a boon versus a liability?
It would be easy to claim talent or competence is the delineating factor. Lovecraft was a great writer, so for him, it makes his short stories even better. John Scalzi is a one-dimensional hack, so parroting SJW claptrap with “strong female protagonists” makes his novels even worse. Incorporating personal views simply accentuates a writer’s intrinsic strength or weakness.
However, this would not be a fair or correct assessment. While no great fan of hers, it’s undeniable that Ursula Le Guin had a certain degree of talent. (Read The Lathe of Heaven if you disagree) And when she started to incorporate her strongly leftist views into her later books, it made them much worse.
Terry Pratchett is another example. While I enjoyed his earlier Discworld books, everything I have read from Unseen Academicals onward is terrible. Which is when he started to push his own socialist views more heavily into Ankh-Morpork. Of course, I would be remiss in omitting that Pratchett suffered a debilitating neurological condition right before that book, so perhaps the heavy leftist perspective is more a symptom than a cause.
A likely culprit is the difference between a dogma cultivated by an individual’s personality versus one inculcated by their society. Lovecraft’s theme of the perils of bloodline degradation was unique to his personal philosophy. One doesn’t find this idea in other pulp stories, even back then. By contrast, Scalzi, and even talented writers like Le Gun and Pratchett simply parroted the prevailing sociopolitical narrative of their times. Ergo why it’s so tedious, unoriginal, and does nothing for their books.
Regardless, dogma is a double-edged sword. It frequently impedes a good story, although in some cases, like with Lovecraft, it enhances and enables it.