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Inspired in part by an all-too-familiar conversation on Facebook a few months back, I present my essay “Men of Their Times” in the newest issue of Uncanny Magazine:

At the World Fantasy Awards ceremony in November 2015, it was announced that the bust of H. P. Lovecraft would no longer be used as the award trophy. This came after statements from prominent authors such as Nnedi Okorafor and Daniel José Older, among others, who felt that Lovecraft’s racism made him a problematic symbol for the celebration and recognition of the world’s best fantasy.

One of the immediate counterarguments was that it’s unfair to judge Lovecraft by the standards of the present day. As Lovecraft scholar S. T. Joshi put it:

“This shows a cultural intolerance and lack of historical understanding that is very discouraging… I daresay we will be judged harshly for all manner of derelictions a hundred years from now.”

This argument comes up so quickly and reliably in these conversations that it might as well be a Pavlovian response. Any mention of the word “racism” in association with names like Tolkien or Burroughs or Campbell or Lovecraft is a bell whose chimes will trigger an immediate response of “But historical context!”

You can read the whole thing on the Uncanny website, including discussions of L. Frank Baum and Edgar Rice Burroughs, and arguments about tolerance, forgiveness, and historical homogeneity.

Mirrored from Jim C. Hines.

Comments

( 5 comments — Leave a comment )
mt_yvr
Mar. 1st, 2016 07:29 pm (UTC)
Read the entry. Interesting read with a fascinating synchronicity to my entry today about Mike. This conflicting view of things that people want one facet of the individual to "win" over the others.

Interesting thoughts.
deborahblakehps
Mar. 2nd, 2016 04:54 pm (UTC)
There is a difference between blaming someone for being a product of their times and using them as a stellar example. I don't hold these folks' views against them, but neither would I want them to represent a prestigious award, when there are other ways to do that.
kalimac
Mar. 2nd, 2016 09:26 pm (UTC)
You mention Tolkien in your essay.

Yes, Tolkien was certainly sexist by today's standards. But historical context is not what I'd use to defend him. What I'd like to point out is that Tolkien was also, at times and in certain ways, rather impressively non-sexist. Leaving him a mixed bag, like most of us.

Examples of Tolkien's non-sexist side:
1. The tale of Beren and Luthien. In how many other fairy tales with a prince setting out on a quest to win the princess's hand does the prince get captured, and then the princess gallops off to rescue him?
2. Erendis in Unfinished Tales and Andreth in Morgoth's Ring, women who really get to have their say.
3. Eowyn's encounter with the Witch-king. "Thou fool. No living man may hinder me." "But no living man am I. You look upon a woman." Tolkien is guying the Witch-king for misusing "man" to mean "person of either sex," and this is over 60 years ago, so historical context makes it far more impressive than it would be now.

So: bad points and also good points. Mixed bag.
funwithrage
Mar. 3rd, 2016 01:17 pm (UTC)
I try to distinguish between two things:

1) Were they, as far as I can tell, merely influenced, probably unconsciously, by the reprehensible ideas of their times (e.g. Tolkien) or did they actively try to advance or perpetuate them (e.g. Lovecraft)? Both are entirely fair subjects for discussion, and intent is not magic, but to me as a feminist, for example, there's a difference between not having active female characters and presenting female characters as spineless victims, perpetuating the virgin/whore binary, etc.*

2) Are they dead? (This really applies to my choice of whether or not to buy their work at all.) If so, did they die before or after they'd had a chance to be exposed to later arguments? If not, have they responded anywhere to those problematic elements of their work?

* I can read LotR much more comfortably than I can the adult Pern books for that reason.
filkferengi
Mar. 6th, 2016 04:31 am (UTC)
Articles like yours are one of the reasons I'm so happy to sponsor "Uncanny."
( 5 comments — Leave a comment )

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