… No. In fact if anything I’ve noticed there’s a trend lately where the prevailing opinion is that he’s overrated, which actually turns the tables and makes him kinda underrated. Not that Lovecraft is especially fantastic or anything–
Actually before I touch anything else, there’s something I must address because it just pisses me off:
Guys and girls of the internet, PLEASE SHUT UP ABOUT THE RACISM. It seems you can’t discuss Lovecraft without someone mentioning that he was a racist (usually holding this as a reason he sucks). I have a couple of problems with this. The first is that people hold Racism against Lovecraft but not anyone else. I have literally never seen anyone say that Edgar Rice Burroughs, Philip Nowlan, or Robert E. Howard are terrible because they were racist… which leads me to the second reason it bothers me: Lovecraft’s “racism” is relatively mild, in fact there’s a lot of doubt as to whether he was actually racist at all. Which brings me to the third reason this peeves me: Racism is hardly a thing you’ll have to deal with in his work. There are maybe like three stories total where it plays a major role. In most cases its relegated to stupid shit like calling a black cat “Nigger-Man” and frankly if that bothers you, then you’re an oversensitive pussy.
And again, I have to point out the hypocrisy here: Robert E. Howard wrote entire novels about how black people were savages and will one day go nuts, kill all white men and rape their women, just because its in their nature. Yet I’ve never heard people say they can’t get into Howard because of the racism, but from Lovecraft, it’s an issue. It’s similar to how Michael Jackson was loathed for sex scandals and suspected drug use that most people turned a blind eye to when any other rock star was doing it. I hate hypocrisy in all its forms, and so should you.
Glad I got that out of my system.
Now, back to whether or not Lovecraft is overrated, there’s something (else) I think people don’t get. Lovecraft wrote for pulp magazines. “Duh,” you say. Well, the part people don’t really get is that pulp magazines were basically the 1920s version of the cartoons you and/or I grew up with. If Thundercats existed in 1928, it would’ve been in the form of a written narrative in a pulp magazine. Those Arkham House compilations of Lovecraft’s fiction? They’re essentially Season One Volume One, Season One Volume Two, etc. This ain’t an ad hoc example either–adults reading pulp magazines had the same sorts of stigmas attached to them back then that grown men playing with Pokemon does today. But like eighties cartoons, retro gaming, or whatever, the rose-colored glasses kick in and create enthusiasts who want to share the stuff they loved as kids with future generations and that’s pretty much why any pulp stories were ever reprinted outside of their original magazine appearances.
Lovecraft himself was a huge beneficiary of this–during his own lifetime, his stuff was only ever in magazines and the guy figured “that’s how its always gonna be. Once I die nobody will remember this stuff.” Then he died. Then some fans got together and founded Arkham House and we have four lovely hardcovers that get reprinted on a regular basis to make sure everything Lovecraft wrote, even some stuff he did as a kid before he got serious, is still available for the modern reader to peruse to their heart’s content.
And it’s just like the effect when you buy a Season or Complete Series set of some cartoon you loved as a kid. Yeah, you get to see the awesome episode where Joker gets pissed off that Batman “killed” Captain Clown and relive how awesome it was. You also get to sit through that effing boring episode where Ra’s al Ghoul tells them about some ugly cowboy we don’t give two shits about and wonder why you didn’t remember that one, and then you get to discover that the Mr. Freeze episodes, which your mind had recalled as psychologically deep, are really just paper-thin revenge stories that later pull an inexplicable retcon out of their ass.
Now, I’m not saying “old stuff sucks.” If you thought that for a minute, then you don’t know me very well. I would never become one of those corporate assmunchers who gladly throw away their copies of Modern Warfare 5 because Modern Warfare 6 is out and newer automatically equals better amirite. You want that kind of stupidity, maybe try TV Tropes.
What I am saying is you have to set your expectations accordingly. Nine times out of ten, when you feel something is “overrated,” its because you’re going in with inflated expectations, usually because of how the fans hyped it to hell and back and usually forgot to mention the shortcomings and flaws and “things we just kinda accepted back then” while they were at it. Case in point, I knew a guy who always tried to get people to play the original Zork trilogy by leaving out the fact that they were all pure text, no graphics of any kind. Nine times out of ten, people took one look at it and said “screw this.” Yeah they were shallow, but the point is that guy I knew should have mentioned that they were text-based from the very beginning.
Same deal with Lovecraft. People talking about how innovative and scary and whatsofreakinever he was are going to create haters just because they’re putting him on too high a pedestal. You have to mention the flaws, like that a lot of his earlier stories are pretty standard and formulaic and it wasn’t until later in his career that he started writing what we call “the Cthulhu mythos,” that he never really saw it as a “mythos” but rather just a bunch of stories that reused names, and that a lot of his stories are basically the same story with the names and locations changed.
And also that his image differs a lot from pop culture.
Yeah, about that.
One thing that constantly bothers me is…. I feel sick using a word from that site, but… Pop-cultural Osmosis. Simply put, one thing you always have to keep in mind is that the standard pop-culture version of a thing is not the same as what the thing really is, or originally was. Personally, I often find this is part of the fun. But if you want the pop-culture thing and tune in to see the original was totally different, it may be a turn-off.
Just a case-in-point: Why do Lovecraft’s monsters make people go insane? To hear sources such as the Call of Cthulhu tabletop RPG say it, it’s just an inherent power they have. Yet actually, that’s completely wrong. The reason people went insane in the original stories was simply because people were, well, kinda narrow-minded and ignorant, and suddenly discovering that these monsters exist forces them to ask questions and confront realities they’re not prepared for, and it breaks them. Yeah, that’s right–its not the monster doing it, its the people doing it to themselves. Try explaining to your next game-master though that your guy happens to be not-a-fucking-retard though and see if that’ll make you immune to losing SAN. I doubt it.
Basically, you have to forget everything you think you know about the Cthulhu Mythos when you read Lovecraft. On that note, the “mythos” itself wasn’t even really codified by Lovecraft. He invented Cthulhu and cults around dead gods, sure… but the difference between Lovecraft and the modern Mythos is the difference between Slenderman pre-Marble Hornets and Slenderman post-Marble Hornets. In fact a lot of Lovecrafts early stories were pretty standard horror stories, it wasn’t until much later that the gods and demons and insanity started.
But so far I haven’t answered the topic question (well, technically I have, but it bears repeating):
Is Lovecraft overrated?
Well, personally I find his stuff enjoyable, but not the be-all-end-all of horror fiction. If you know what you’re in for then his stories can be good times. But if you come in expecting something too specific, you might come away disappointed.
That’s true for anything, really.