While Lovecraft is widely considered to have been one of the most influential writers of horror fiction in the 20th century, the issue of racism has tarnished his legacy. Some argue that his beliefs and actions were common for the time, but others point to evidence suggesting it was more than that.
|The works of H.P. Lovecraft|
(Ok, it's actually a type of nightshade)
Image courtesy Wikimedia Commons
I'm not here to argue that matter one way or another.
Nor am I hear to discuss whether it was right or wrong for people to call for the boycott of the 2013 movie Ender's Game in protest of Orson Scott Card's views on homosexuality and same-sex marriage.
The questions I have are more along the lines of "What do I do with their books?" and "Am I a bad person if I like something they've written?"
These questions are related to a philosophical dilemma of whether something good can come from something bad. Aspects of it can be seen in the legal concept of "the fruit of the poisonous tree" and the logical fallacy "poisoning the well". Really what we're asking is "Do the sins of the artist lessen the art?"
I can imagine that the perceived quality of the work could affect the answer, as well as how much objectionable material managed to make its way into the work. For example, there are loads of old cartoons that I know I thought were fantastic as a child, but when I go back and watch them now I'm horrified by the racist and sexist content. Maybe I was too young and stupid to notice before. Maybe my beliefs have changed since then along with society. Either way, it's an easy decision to not waste my time watching them and not to bother showing them to my children. I can easily let them go into the dustbin of history.
But there are films and novels that are still dear to me. In spite of portions that make me wince, they contain images or passages or even just themes that are beautiful and aren't to be found anywhere else. These are the troublemakers. Sometimes the offensive material can be excised, but that raises issues of censorship and whitewashing that I'm even less comfortable with.
As a writer I'm faced with an even more pressing problem. Just about all of the authors I grew up reading have some kind of skeleton in their closet. The most common example is the blatant sexism of folks like Heinlein and Burroughs. Is there a beam in my own eye that I haven't noticed? As cultures shift some beliefs and behaviors become unacceptable. Am I unconsciously putting any expressions of such beliefs into my work?
I don't have a good answer for any of this. I suspect the closest thing to an answer is to stay aware of how both society and my own beliefs change and let history do its thing.