Saturday, January 16, 2010

Lovecraft on the Nordic Ideal

As promised, Chrispy is trying to create some original mini-essays.
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Lovecraft and the Nordic Ideal

Lovecraft often spouted out lengthy diatribes of his personal beliefs to either convince or coerce his close correspondents of his own personal philosophies. Those ideas and ideals were sometimes, if not often, idealistic and historically unfounded. Many, Chrispy believes, are founded upon a few simple facts: Lovecraft's personal and family way of life was under constant attack and erosion by socio-economic forces that traumatized him. Notably, his quiet College Hill Providence environ was swamped by a massive influx of ethnic population during his lifetime. I think his poverty forced him into contact with that cultural upheaval in a way that wealth might have insulated him, and probably did his first 14 years of life.

To Frank Belknap Long dated Sunday, 13 May 1923.

"I am naturally a Nordic - a chalky-white, bulky Teuton of the Scandanavian or North-German forests - a Viking - a berserk killer - a predatory rover of the blood of Hangst and Horsa - a conqueror of Celts - a son of thunder and the arctic winds, and brother of the forests of the auroras ... aye - I speak truly - for was I not born with yellow hair and blue eyes - the latter not turning till I was nearly two, and the former lasting till I was over five?"

While this is poetic hyperbole, Lovecraft had immersed himself in some Aryan belief system by 1923. Later, he toned this down slightly.

To Frank Belknap Long dated Tuesday, 11 December 1923.

"I do not claim to be 100% Teuton. My dark hair and eyes forbid me that honor ... ho for the frozen seas and the epick of sleet and blood, strange lands and far wonder! ... Great Thor, but this is the life! There are no woods like our woods, and no bards like our bards! ... So, Sonny [i.e. FBL], your old Grandpa is pretty well satisfied to be a Nordick, chalk-white from the Hercynian Woods and Polar mists .. WE ARE THE MASTERS."

It's almost as if HPL plucked out the nordic descriptions from F Scott Fitgerald's, "It seemed still to whisper of Norse galleys ploughing the water world under raven-figured flags, of the British dreadnoughts, gray bulwarks of civilization steaming up through the fog of one dark July into the North Sea." from "This Side of Paradise" (1920, Ch. 4). H may have picked up some secondary "Nordic Ideal" propaganda concepts that became notable through a book" Rassenkunde des deutschen Volkes by Hans F. K. G√ľnther (circa 1920).

Mr. Joshi's biography of HPL indicates that (p. 132) Lovecraft spouted about the "teuton" at least as early as 1915 ("The Crime of the Century") "The Teuton is the summit of evolution". This may have been derived from writings of Thomas Henry Huxley.

Again, in the hands of the relatively innocuous Lovecraft these are hypothetical and poetic rants, but there is an underlying falsity and somewhat of a growing menace in his words. The hyperbole is somewhat reflected in his bitterness at his world's apparent erosion, which also manifested in rants of hating mankind, and that except for a few choice individuals, the rest might as easily be eradicated. Lovecraft ranted that hate had to be en masse so that individuality would not color compassion. This is somewhat fearsome.

Very early, Lovecraft was deeply anti-IRA, and in 1921 [To Galpin, dated 6 October 1921] HPL was speaking of the greatness of the British race, and more bitter: "Slavs are emotional and irrational ... the brachycephalic masses are incurable peasants incapable of governing themselves ... the ruling classes are ... Teutonic." The roots of belief were certainly present.

Chrispy is not necessarily a one note kind of guy. Much as it might seem, it ain't Lovecraft 24/7/365. :) I have been fascinated and read many biographies and one recently that caught my attention was another of my favortie personalities: Charles Monroe Schulz. This incredibly brilliant and famous cartoonist, was once a bit like Lovecraft. An only child of poor parents, but unlike Lovecraft "Sparky" was indeed of both German and Nordic parents. His biographer, David Michaelis, has written a sparkling and amazing biography. Portions of "Sparky's" early life are an attack on Lovecraft's idealistic view, and I record bits of those here.

Schulz's father, Carl, had been born in Stendahl, Saxony-Anhalt, in north-central Germany in April 1897 (making him a bit younger than HPL). The family moved to a Wisconsin farm, and Carl Fred Schulz attended an all German school, and his parents never learned English. After WWI, Carl immediately lost all German inflection in his accent and never spoke a word of German thereafter. So careful, so conscious, a barber who worked beside him for ten years never heard him utter a word about his German background. His cousin oft rebuked Carl who quickly shut her down to stop bringing it up.

Carl married Dena Halverson, a true Norwegian, her father being Torjus Halverson who came from Norway as a child in 1866 to Wisconsin. The Wisconsin of the 1920's waas filled by Norwegian second generations. Many were abandoning the farms for big cities, but many stayed to eke out a modicum of impoverished living.

Minnesotan, Sinclair Lewis wrote at nearly the same time that HPL was expositing. In The Nation, May 30, 1923, his "Minnesota: The Norse State" excoriates Lovecraft's ideal: No fable is more bracing, or more absurd, than that all the sons and grandsons of the pioneers, ... are racy and breezy, unmannerly but intoxicatingly free. The grandchildren of the men who in 1862 fought the Minnesota Indians, who dogtrotted a hundred miles over swamp-blurred trails to bear the alarm to the nearest troops - some of them are still clearing the land, but some of them are complaining of the un-English quality of the Orange Pekoe in dainty-painty city tearooms which stand where three generations ago the Red River fur carts rested; their chauffeurs await them in Pierce Arrow limousines (special bodies by Kimball, silver fittings from Tiffany); they present Schnitzler and St. John Ervine at their Little Theaters; between rehearsals they chatter of meeting James Joyce in Paris; and always in high-pitched Mayfair laughter they ridicule the Scandinavians and Finns who are trying to shoulder into their sacred, ancient Yankee caste. A good many of their names are German.

Had Lovecraft visited Dena's family, he might well have been aghast.

They lived on 120 acres of chickens, eggs, and milk decorated by trimmed topiary and potted plants in the kitchen. When the weather dipped to 10 below, Carl and Dena would shove terrified Sparky into the Ford and drive out each Sunday into the white wilderness speckled with pines and outhouses. Sparky, like HPL, was a city boy. He struggled but never understood the life where Dena's family saw birth, copulation, and death every day. "I was always uncomfortable and was so glad when we left."

Two barking, fang-bearing collies met the Ford and little Sparky was petrified. Inside was worse. The adults gathered in the kitchen, forcing the children together. The adlts drank copiously, usually raisin wine. Sparky, like HPL, was a life-long tee-totaller. The pasttime was to denigrate, berate, ridicule, and slander one another in good fun - until the drunkenness spilled over to anger and the men went outside to wrestle and fight in the snow banks. Otherwise, sitting in their sleeveless shirts, they alternately dozed or bombast one another.

The women vied for who could bake the most sugar-frosted and coconut laced confections, or most Norwegian fish dishes. Sparky grew to hate both. From thence, many of his "Lil Folks" and later "Peanuts" would speak volumes of the fearsome adult world.

In essence, by 1923 Lovecraft had worked up steam and invested in some expanded form of "Nordic Ideal" despite essential facts were already present to deflate that concept, and contact with mainstream media, or simply speaking to ordinary people might have stopped his vehemence.

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