'Lovecraft Country': What to Expect from HBO's Timely Horror Drama

Lovecraft Country - Publicity Still 2- H 2020
Elizabeth Morris/HBO

Already the home of must-see fantasy, science fiction and superhero stories with Game of Thrones, Westworld and Watchmen, HBO is about to take viewers into the realm of horror and pulp stories with its latest event series, Lovecraft Country.

Created by Misha Green (Underground) and based on Matt Ruff’s 2016 novel of the same name, Lovecraft Country (premiering Aug. 16) explores the horrors of racial injustice and the supernatural through the eyes of several Black families in 1950s America. What begins as one man’s search for his missing father alongside his uncle and childhood friend, becomes a larger exploration of family, legacy, and trauma shared in blood and reckoned with through a love of pulp fiction.

Central to this consideration of weird tales and pulp fiction, named so for the cheap quality of paper these genre stories were printed on, is H.P. Lovecraft, famed horror author of the early 20th century whose stories, At the Mountains of Madness, Herbert West — Reanimator, The Shadow Over Innsmouth, The Colour Out of Space, The Dunwich Horror and The Call of Cthulhu (the list goes on), are widely considered to be some of the most influential within the genre. Lovecraft’s legacy can be seen across film, television, video games, board games, music and literature. Genre greats like Stephen King, Guillermo del Toro, Stuart Gordon, Ridley Scott and James Cameron (again, the list goes on) all owe a part of themselves to Lovecraft’s legacy. 

Even in 2020, a year in which so much of our media has been affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, Lovecraft’s presence has not gone unfelt, with the Kristen Stewart creature feature, Underwater, and Nicholas Cage starrer, Color Out of Space, both tying to the mythos of Lovecraft. But, as well loved as Lovecraft’s stories are within the genre, the things we love can also hurt us.

Lovecraft Country doesn’t hold back when it comes to the idea that loving something doesn’t mean being ignorant of its flaws. That’s true of the relationships between people, and the relationship between people and the content they consume. For all of his horror brilliance, H.P. Lovecraft was a racist. Some literary scholars have pointed out that his racism was not uncommon for a white man in New England in the early 20th century. As true as that may be, there’s nothing to be gained in omitting how strongly held his racist views were.

In 1912, Lovecraft wrote a poem, “On the Creation of Niggers,” in which he referred to Black people as beasts and argued for racial segregation. The cat in his story, The Rats in the Walls, is named "Niggerman" and based on the name of an actual cat Lovecraft had owned since childhood. Lovecraft’s investment in classism, racial superiority and breeding, which led him to conclude that even other white people were lesser if they weren’t Anglo-Saxon, is an unshakeable shadow over his long legacy, and it’s one that drives the horror explored in Ruff’s novel and the HBO adaptation.

Although H.P. Lovecraft’s name looms heavily over the show, Lovecraft Country is not an adaptation of any Lovecraft work, and the supernatural and otherworldly concepts the show introduces aren’t from his work, though the term Lovecraftian certainly applies to a few of these elements. In Lovecraft’s stories, Lovecraft Country, also known as the Miskatonic Region and Arkham County, is a New England setting where most of his stories take place — an idea that Stephen King would later borrow to create his fictional town of Castle Rock, Maine, that ties many of his novels together. In Green’s series, Lovecraft Country refers to the crossroads where the horror of racial injustice and the horror of genre stories collide and reverberate across the country.

Lovecraft Country interrogates horror and pulp stories beyond H.P. Lovecraft as well. The works of Edgar Rice Burroughs, creator of John Carter of Mars and Tarzan of the Apes, are also heavily referenced in the series, alongside fathers of science fiction, Jules Verne and H.G. Wells. While none of these authors, all writers in the first half of the 20th century, held the same intolerances of Lovecraft, their stories are equally important to examine through a Black perspective. For decades, pulp and horror stories, and their descendants have talked around Black people, or worse yet, omitted them entirely. Lovecraft Country inserts Black people back into the story, giving them a means to not only confront their fears, but also their heroic aspirations within a storytelling legacy that’s finally finding its borders broken open.

Lovecraft Country debuts Sunday on HBO. Stay tuned to THR.com for full coverage.