Aryans in Love
I've an essay in the latest Meanjin magazine: "Aryans in Love".
It discusses the letters between pulp fiction authors HP Lovecraft and RE Howard: creators of the Cthulhu mythos and Conan the barbarian. They were also huge racists, inside and outside of their fiction.
If you're interested, do subscribe to Meanjin or buy a copy.
In the meantime, here's an extract:
Howard was a racist in the modern pseudo-scientific sense. Like many, he cleaved to a vague theory, which journalist Phillip Ball defined neatly in the Guardian as ‘the belief that literally superficial aspects of our appearance act as markers for innate differences we can’t see’. More specifically, Howard thought physiology somehow gave rise to psychological and social characteristics. And this physiology applied to whole populations with common physical traits: the Aryan, the Mongoloid, the Slavic and so on. He described racial habits and racial customs—including, of all things, knife fighting.
‘The Mexican is quick and deadly with a knife, but his instinct seems to be to slash his foe to ribbons,’ he wrote in 1931, ‘while the instinct of the Anglo-American seems to be to thrust—to drive the blade in straight with terrific force.’ He even wrote quite seriously of ‘racial memories’, in which ancient lives were still present in modern minds. ‘Perhaps … I was a skin-clad Goth in the long ago,’ he wondered. And, of course, Howard believed in a hierarchy of these races. Despite his ‘racial tendency’ towards gloominess, he saw himself as towards the top alongside other dolichocephalic types. Down the bottom were those, like the Indigenous Australians and Africans, who were barely human.
The Texan was very comfortable telling his correspondent Lovecraft these things, because his fellow Weird Tales author was also a racist. The Rhode Islander wrote about the ‘gorilla-like West African blacks’, and complained about the ‘insufferably insolent’ English blacks. He lamented the Jews taking over New York, becoming rich without losing their ‘hard realism and unctuously offensive rattiness’. And he explained much of this to his younger correspondent in a register of academic enlightenment. He was not interested in ‘rancour’, he wrote.
Lovecraft was purely interested in ‘the discovery of sound facts and the rejection of fallacies’. While doing away with Howard’s ideas about ‘racial memories’, he devoted pages to his ideal vision of civilisation. An ideal in which most citizens had education and jobs, while ‘inferior and badly-cowed race-stocks’ were thralls. While civilisation had gone beyond slavery, ‘it really wouldn’t be so bad to enslave niggers, Mexicans, and certain types of biologically backward foreign peasants’. Like Howard, he believed African slaves were generally treated well in America—though he did not, like the Texan, long to live on the southern plantations before the Civil War.