Saturday, January 26, 2008

Salem and Lovecraft

Salem Posessed: A Study in Witchcraft Hysteria, Paul Boyer & Stephen Nissenbaum, 1974. Details of cover and an interior illustration.

It seems natural that Lovecraft would gravitate to Salem in his writing and thoughts. When he was a small boy, Providence was a bustling metropolis, but still had that small town feel up on College Hill. Then - BOOM - the population surged 400% or more in his lifetime. Immigrants poured in, and Providence changed dramatically. {Elsewhere in the blog there are population statistics}.

So, too, Salem at the end of the 17th century. The provincial towns were devastated by King Philips' War, a conflict with Amerinds that is barely even mentioned in history books. It settled the real estate of New England un til this day, but at the time it was nip and tuck that the Native Americans might win. For the three generations or more after that, the English settlers were traumatized and paranoid. Enter, Salem in the midst of being overwhelmed by their own "immigrants" and the shadow of BIG Boston looming fast.

Nissenbaum is a scholar of the 1st degree. He was the first to expose that the New York Knickerbockers {heh, not the basketball team} with Washington Irving leading the pack invented American mythology for the first time, and Santa Claus and Christmas. It just didn't exist in the American form before him.

Of course, there's still the battle over who wrote "Night Before Christmas" but that has nothing to do with Lovecraft.

In any event, Lovecraft was probably the first non-scholar to fathom that Salem was less about witches and all about changing sociology. Then he parodied it to great effect for more than a decade in his fiction.

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