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Nightmare Royale #15: A Strange Aeon to be Cthulhu (On Lovecraft, Hatecraft and “You Say Po-Tah-To” in Fantasyland)

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Dear Unspeakable Old Ones (and other Fetid Contagions Beyond Imagining) –

I don’t know if you’re paying attention to Earth much right now, but shit is gettin’ weird down here. And I’m not talking about war, ebola, political chaos, or the hottest summer on record. Don’t know if you’ve got your extra-dimensional tentacles mixed up in such business or not. Wouldn’t surprise me. And I guess it’s your call.

No, I’m here to discuss your boy, H.P.

Turns out he is the TALK OF THE TOWN right now. As the messenger sent to crack the code on “cosmic horror” – only to die in near-obscurity, way back in 1937 – his anti-messianic message that we are all doomed has finally cracked the mainstream code as well, made him a posthumous pop-cult superstar.

Which means that you all are now superstars, as well. YOUR FIFTEEN MINUTES MAY BE FINALLY HERE! After nearly a century trapped in the shadows of clutching fandom – not to mention untold aeons, in the inky blackosphere – the spotlight appears to have landed at last.

As it turns out, there are upsides and downsides to this.

Let’s start with the good news, okay?

This weekend in Southern California, The H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival takes over Charles Bukowski’s old stomping grounds of San Pedro via the magnificent Warner Grand, an art deco movie palace and national treasure preserved from the golden age.

There, true acolytes and casual thrill-seekers will celebrate your indescribable horror for three days of movies, fun, cool readings and panel discussions with celebrated authors/artists/filmmakers, a live radio-play, a Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast(!), and much much more.

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Oakland street artist Skinner, already warping the walls.

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This year’s theme is “The Shadow Over Innsmouth”, as befits maritime San Pedro (it’s also the subject of the radio play). And Friday night, just for starters, they’re screening THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON in its original 3D. (Worth the price of admission and 45-minute drive down from LA itself; hell, EVERYWHERE IN LA is 45 minutes away!)

Saturday’s centerpiece is the film festival itself: 15 new short films that sings your praises, followed by DIE FARBE (pictured, top), an evidently-stunning German feature based on HPL’s “The Colour Out Of Space”.

Couple that with fine authors like Nancy Holder, John Shirley, and Cody Goodfellow (who will be presiding over the Cthulhu Prayer Breakfast, while I play bongos, sing backup, and perform interpretive dance, haplessly obeying his every whim)…

…plus amazing art, and tons of dealers hawking everything Old Oneian, from the nightmarish to the adorable (they make plush Cthulhu purses for 12-year-old girls now; THAT’S how big you’ve gotten!)…

…well, let’s just say that the ultimately-futile human love for you will not be in short supply. It’s gonna be a blast.

As if that weren’t enough, this weekend also signals the opening of THE CALL OF CTHULHU at The Visceral Theatre in Hollywood, where it will run through November 9th. This promises to be an extraordinary event, as the phenomenal Frank Blocker (who adapted it for the stage) performs all nine human roles, accompanied by a staggering range of puppets, visual and sonic effects, all under the supervision of madly-talented director Dan Spurgeon.

I’ve been an enormous fan of Visceral for years now, having reported on them in Nightmare Royale #4, where I referred to them as L.A.’s premiere live horror theatre. But this time, they threaten to close each performance with an actual appearance by Cthulhu, unleashing certain doom upon all who bear witness (in other words, the audience). WON’T THAT BE FUN FOR YOU!

Which brings us, at last, to the bad news.

See, there’s this thing called the World Fantasy Convention. It’s an annual event – kind of like the Lovecraft Film Fest, only larger and stuffier – in which great works of phantastic fiction are celebrated. Where the authors and audience for such work gather, because they love it, and deeply care.

And while the rest of the world was waiting to catch up with you, these World Fantasy folk have for decades awarded their favorite books of the year with a trophy that’s a bust of your boy Lovecraft. And it’s very nice.

But with great fame comes enormous scrutiny. And as mentioned earlier, we are in a period of immense global upheaval. All established order is being confronted and challenged. Empires are toppling. The ones still standing are digging in deep.

So lemme cut to the chase.

As it turns out, the deeply weird poster child you delivered your gospel to, lo these eighty-some years ago, had some personal issues. I’m guessing that’s part of what made him ripe for the message. But you tell me. You’re the ancient experts.

Bottom line: the guy was pretty fucking racist. And racism is one of the hot-button arenas where change is most powerfully rearing its head. Speaking personally, I’m all in favor of pressing that button. Racism pisses me off. It’s one of the things that sometimes makes me think you guys are right, and that we deserve annihilation.

Because as it turns out, the whole human race is pretty fucking racist. If that weren’t true, it wouldn’t even be an issue. Grappling with difference is our single greatest obstacle as a species. And it’s tearing us apart, at every level we live.

10462852_534338090021797_4914785844721279091_nI would argue that the male/female divide – playing across all races, religions, and everything else we could argue about – is the big one. But that’s another issue, for another column.

How this all boils down, as pertains to you, is that there’s a petition aimed at removing Lovecraft as the trophy. The suggested replacement is a brilliant, multi-award-winning African-American science fiction writer named Octavia E. Butler. This would, theoretically, directly redress the crime of having anointed Lovecraft in the first place. And signal a new, more egalitarian way.

It’s lovely, in theory.

My only problems are these:

1) Whatever wonderful things one could say about Ms. Butler – and there are trillions – the one thing you can’t say is that she was a fantasy writer whose work deeply influenced the last three-quarters of the Twentieth Century, and every speck of the new century to date. Because that just wouldn’t be true.

2) People don’t love Lovecraft because he was the world’s greatest writer, or the world’s greatest human being. They love him because he gave us YOU. He presented the alarming cosmology that allowed us to grapple with the enormity of your shadow upon us.

The fact that you chose a broken vessel in no way diminishes your astonishing power. From what I can tell, H.P. Lovecraft was afraid of EVERYTHING. Poor fucking guy couldn’t look at a shadow without seeing you in it. Much less another human being. You were everywhere. On everything.

No wonder he was so crazy.

But for all his broken craziness, he opened the door that led us to you. And his fear of people colored other than white was just one of the many, many triggers that made his work so enormously provocative, powerful, and influential to this day.

Of course, you Ancient Monstrosities Beyond Time Or Measure don’t give a crap about any of that. You sit, and watch, and wait, and do whatever other hideous shit you do. You loathe and dismiss us all equally, regardless of race, sex, or laughable political affiliation.

We will all suffer eternally, in meaningless pain. Because you’re the monsters in charge, and that’s the way it goes. Unless, of course, it’s all nonsense.

In which case, I still enjoy the show. And am here to tell you that all the cool people who show up at the H.P. Lovecraft Film Festival, or THE CALL OF CTHULHU, aren’t there to throw a White Power rally. That’s the furthest thing from their minds. They’re there because THEY LOVE YOU!

As for the World Fantasy Award, I think the paltry powers-that-be would be best off picking an icon that bears no human face at all, but rather reflects sheer imagination: one of humanity’s finest virtues. (That said, I VOTE TENTACLES!)

So that’s the scoop. Just wanted to catch you up. HOPE ALL IS WELL, WITH YOU AND YOURS, IN THE INFINITE COSMIC DYSTOPIA!

Yer pal in the still-human trenches, with all our flaws,

Skipp

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About the author
John Skipp
John Skipp is a New York Times bestselling author/editor/filmmaker, zombie godfather, compulsive collaborator, musical pornographer, black-humored optimist and all-around Renaissance mutant. His early novels from the 1980s and 90s pioneered the graphic, subversive, high-energy form known as splatterpunk. His anthology Book of the Dead was the beginning of modern post-Romero zombie literature. His work ranges from hardcore horror to whacked-out Bizarro to scathing social satire, all brought together with his trademark cinematic pace and intimate, unflinching, unmistakable voice. From young agitator to hilarious elder statesman, Skipp remains one of genre fiction's most colorful characters. Visit him at Facebook, or on Twitter @YerPalSkipp
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