Thursday, August 06, 2009

An online Lovecraft-focused magazine, the Innsmouth Free Press, posted an interesting, thoughtful review of my novel WINDWALKER’S MATE, a paranormal romance partly inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s “The Dunwich Horror.” Excellent publication—check it out! They praise WINDWALKER’S MATE as a romance, saying, “the plight of emotionally scarred Shannon Bryce will keep readers turning pages,” and, “Fans of paranormal romances who have grown weary of vampires and werewolves should find much to enjoy in Margaret L. Carter’s novel.” As a Lovecraftian horror novel, however, the reviewer considers it unsuccessful, partly because the romantic interludes break the mood of cosmic dread and, more significantly, because he considers Lovecraftian horror incompatible with romance, a Lovecraftian romance being “an oxymoron.”

In principle, he has a valid point. Lovecraft’s world-view is hard-line monistic materialism. The cosmos is utterly indifferent to human life, and all living things as well as the physical universe as a whole are destined to ultimate nonexistence. Romance, on the other hand, promotes a fundamentally optimistic philosophy of life. To a strict Lovecraftian, the romance belief in happy endings would be at best a pleasant delusion.

In practice, though, I’m not so sure. On that premise, no atheist could seek any lasting happiness in this life, and that doesn’t seem to be the case with most nonbelievers. Many of those I’ve met and read about seem to have happy marriages and fulfilling careers. For instance, Isaac Asimov, a thoroughgoing but quite cheerful rationalist, stated explicitly that the prospect of the ultimate entropic death of the universe and his own personal dissolution into nothingness after bodily death didn’t bother him a bit. A belief in the long-term meaninglessness of existence doesn’t appear to keep people from pursuing goals and enjoying life in the short term. Moreover, in the vast scheme of things, why would a rational mind consider the existence of a monstrous entity from another dimension any more of an impediment to normal life than the hazards of wars, plagues, or tsunamis? Even an author who shares that bleak world-view (which I don’t) could write a sort of existentialist Lovecraftian romance—the cosmos is meaningless, so we’ll create our own private meaning.

Still, the Innsmouth Free Press reviewer is quite correct that the *mood* of Lovecraftian horror clashes conspicuously with that of romance. Can any two genres be successfully crossed, or are there truly some pairings that are irreconcilably incompatible? After all, I still encounter people who think the idea of vampire romance is too weird to accept.

Margaret L. Carter
Carter’s Crypt


  1. Margaret:

    Very good question.

    Here's how I see it.

    "Genre" is not defined by what you put IN to the fiction, but rather by what you LEAVE OUT.

    That's why people will not read something they really REALLY like because it contains some element (however small a part of the whole) that they dislike. Publishers have learned this from statistical studies of sales.

    So editors have resisted cross-genre as a religious tenant -- and now they've had a conversion mostly (I think) because Star Trek 'zine readers and writers grew up and began taking over the major publishing arena with crossing genres.

    I think this started with the first Vampire Romances, and continues today as we are discussing on this blog.

    So the question is not whether any randomly selected genres "can be" crossed, but how much audience acceptance there is for each element and tolerance of the strange element in the mix.

    That's from the commercial standpoint.

    From the artistic standpoint, I look at it the other way around.

    "Literature" (the lasting contributions to our understanding of life as a human being) is a "white light" type phenomenon. A story, to be "real" Literature has to contain ALL GENRES.

    When you mix together all genres, you get Literature.

    Or when you take Literature and separate out one thread of the whole coaxial cable that constitutes a Literary Novel, you get a genre.

    There are genres inside Literature that have not yet been successfully separated out and presented commercially in an identifiable way.

    Now, if you take A GENRE and "cross" it into ANOTHER GENRE, (any two random genres), you can get a really "nasty smell" people won't get near.

    BUT, if you add a third genre in the middle, to mediate between the immiscible components, you can get a commercially viable novel.

    What's that title, THE YIDDISH POLICEMAN'S UNION or something like that, a murder mystery set in a Jewish Alaska of an alternate universe?

    It won everything in sight, and is 3 genres at least, if not more.

    Think about it. When you "mix" genres, you are creeping closer and closer to "Literature."

    Jacqueline Lichtenberg

  2. Thanks, Jacqueline! Good point -- what has to be left out of the Lovecraftian horror story to make a romantic happy ending possible in that universe is precisely the cosmic dread and indifference of the universe that die-hard Lovecraftians consider indispensable to that kind of horror. Only if the characters relegate the awareness of cosmic dread to the background or ignore it altogether can they find mundane happiness. (And yet many people seem to manage it; I've "met" Lovecraft fans who share his world-view and appear to have happy families and careers like anybody else.) People can and regularly do "compartmentalize" their lives -- could it be said that genre is a form of compartmentalization -- because, as you point out, it (or art in general) selects and foregrounds certain elements from that amorphous mess of reality you mention in your later post?

    I consider Stephen King's IT a successful creation of a Lovecraftian universe in which the characters do find fulfillment and happiness in spite of the cosmic horror they confront. Unlike Lovecraft, of course, King does allow for the possibility that an over-arching force for good exists. I wrote about this novel in an article, "The Turtle Can't Help Us," published on