ORACLE

5/25/2011

[Rant] Lovecraft Appears on Supernatural... Well, Not Really

Earlier in the week I had a chance to finally watch the episode of Supernatural that introduced H.P. Lovecraft to the ongoing Winchester Brothers saga, entitled "Let It Bleed" (season 6/episode 21). I should tell you right up front, I had some serious problems with the show and was left terribly disappointed, to say the least. Also, if you decide to read further, I should warn you there are spoilers ahead, so read at your own risk.

From Wikipedia, here is the synopsis of this episode:
Crowley has Lisa and Ben kidnapped as a warning to Dean not to meddle in his plans. The brothers summon Balthazar for help but to no avail. Their investigation takes them and Bobby to the world of H.P. Lovecraft, who supposedly wrote a manuscript describing Purgatory shortly before his death. They discover that Lovecraft invited guests for a first-hand look into another dimension during a dinner party, where all of them eventually ended up dead or insane. Sam begs Castiel for help, who is enraged that Crowley threatened Dean with his loved ones. Balthazar meets with Castiel and tells him that he knows that he is in league with Crowley, but agrees to help Castiel to the end. Castiel saves Bobby speaks with the sole survivor of the Lovecraft party back in 1937 to know more details, but inadvertently finds out that the old man's mother is Ellie Visyak (who Dean acquired the dragon-slayer sword from back in "Like a Virgin"), who is actually immortal and originated in Purgatory. She explains to Bobby that she fell through the cracks from the opening of dimensions and has been hiding out on Earth ever since. She refuses to tell Bobby how to open the gate to Purgatory or accept his help to protect her. Meanwhile, the brothers get help from Balthazar who teleports them to where Lisa and Ben are held. While the brothers are split up, Sam is knocked out while Dean fights his way to Lisa and Ben. He discovers that Lisa is possessed by a demon who stabs her body to convince Dean to stop the exorcism spell. However, Dean is undeterred and exorcises the demon. He then carries Lisa all the way outside and reunites with Sam and the group heads for hospital. Castiel arrives to heal a dying Lisa. Castiel never wanted her nor her son involved. Dean then asks for another favor and Castiel also wipes clean all memories of Dean from them. Dean although grateful for his act remains unchanged about Castiel's goal. Later, Ellie prepares to leave her safehouse but Castiel arrives and captures her.
First off, I want to state up front that I have been a BIG fan of Supernatural from the very beginning, with my enthusiasm for the show only waining about halfway through season four (but that is another story for another time and place). The way I see it, the show has been something of a "tribute band" for all the great horror movies and literature that came before it, and overall I feel the writers have done a fine job being respectful of their influences. This is one of the big reasons I consider myself a fan. In this regard, the show has excelled... until now that is! And for me, they chose the wrong time and subject matter to play fast and loose with. The way they handled the character and history of H.P. Lovecraft was uninformed and, in my opinion, shameful. And again, disappointing!

The show opens with Lovecraft himself sitting at his typewriter typing away. The date flashes across the screen, March 15, 1937; the date of Lovecraft's death. As the scene progresses, we are shown that Lovecraft is working on "The Haunter of the Dark," which is entirely inaccurate. This is where things start going downhill for me. Every source I could find states that "The Haunter in the Dark" was written in November of 1935. This inaccuracy could be forgiven if the show did not portray this as the last story written by Lovecraft (just before the dismemberment of his body)...
Next, it is revealed that Lovecraft apparently likes to have a slug of whiskey when he is scared and stressed out. AGAIN, wrong on all accounts! Lovecraft was quite clear on his attitude towards alcohol, which he completely abstained from. Here is what S.T. Joshi wrote in A Dreamer and a Visionary: Lovecraft In His Time:
One has to wonder why Lovecraft became so obsessed with temperance. He himself was fond of declaring that ‘I have never tasted intoxicating liquor, and never intend to’. When he remarks that ‘I am nauseated by even the distant stink of any alcoholic liquor’, one is reminded of his extreme aversion to seafood, and cannot help wondering whether some event in infancy or boyhood triggered this severe physiological and psychological response.
Now, to be fair, I realize this information might not be common knowledge, even for those who have a passing interest in H.P. Lovecraft. I am not sure where I originally read about Lovecraft's disdain of alcohol, but I always figured this was a no-brainer, with his prudish ways and attitude toward life in general. For the quote provided above, I reached out to my friend Andrea Bonazzi, who has many of the Joshi written biographies of Lovecraft I do not own (thank you Andrea!). But, I feel this helps illustrate the point of this whole rant. I knew just enough to realize that I needed to do a bit of fact checking before I wrote this post. Why didn't the writers of Supernatural do the same?! Their handling of "Lovecraft the man" was careless, which can only be characterized as shameful, in my opinion.

And there is more! The straw that broke the camel's back was when the character, Ellie Visyak (the entity that came through the dimensional door from Purgatory, so I guess that makes her the Haunter of the Dark), makes this statement about Lovecraft: "Please, that guy couldn't even write hello!" Now, if I have overreacting about everything else, surely I cannot be blamed for my outrage over this one! As I stated before, by my estimation, the writers of Supernatural have always tried to pay proper homage to their influences, and have given proper respect to the subject matter and the roots of the genre. This is why I am so frustrated over their handling of H.P. Lovecraft. After seeing the episode, I am not even sure why they used Lovecraft as a character at all? None of the elements from "The Haunter of the Dark" were used; no Church of Starry Wisdom, or avatar of Nyarlathotep. What I would have given to see the Winchesters face off against the modern day cult and have to hijack the Shining Trapezohedron! I feel there was a real opportunity here that was completely missed...

The episode really comes off as name dropping just for the sake of name dropping. The entire scene with Lovecraft lasts less than three minutes, and in truth could have been written without his inclusion and the story would not have suffered in the least. Other than the mentioning of a dimensional gateway, the episode has no real Lovecraftian elements and is practically devoid of existential/cosmic horror. At least by my estimation. And to top it all off, they felt the need to slight a man who is by all accounts considered a master and founding father of modern horror literature. The flagrant disrespect is staggering!
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