One of the main things you have to remember about horror icon H.P. Lovecraft is that he was crazy racist.
Not just “for his time,” although Lovecraft’s life spanned a period — 1890 to 1937 — not especially known for its progressive views on ethnicity. He was a dyed-in-the-wool xenophobe and even his pulp contemporaries, who, to a man, banged out stories where chiseled white saviors beat back ravening African hordes or outwitted scheming oriental sorcerers on the reg, thought he poured it on a bit thick with the whole racism thing. Lovecraft’s work is fantastic, but if you wanted to argue that, not particularly far under the surface, his stories were all about his fears of foreigners, women, and seafood, well, I reckon that thesis would stand interrogation.
What’s been interesting in recent years is seeing creators — often creators of color — grapple with Lovecraft’s legacy, using his body of work as a way to unpack issues of race and racism. Victor LaValle’s novella The Ballad of Black Tom retells Lovecraft’s The Horror at Red Hook from the point of view of a Harlem street musician, highlighting and undermining the original work’s racist assumptions (it’s one of the really bad ones, folks). Chris Spivey’s superb roleplaying sourcebook, Harlem Unbound for The Call of Cthulhu RPG, sets the players on the hunt for monsters and cultists during the Harlem Renaissance of the 1920s, forcing us to confront racism head-on (to varying degrees — there’s a racism meter which is both a neat mechanic and a sobering reminder that the bad old days were twice as bad and not nearly as old as we might like to pretend). And then there’s Matt Ruff’s novel Lovecraft Country and the subsequent HBO TV series, both a kind of linked-anthology — the television version being ratcheted together more tightly than the literary — that throws Lovecraftian mysticism and horror into Jim Crow America in the 1950s.