The Head of H.P. Lovecraft

No, I didn’t win Best Novel. That went to Sofia Samatar, who is richly deserving.

There’s a part of me that had mixed feelings about the prospect of winning the award — not because of anything against the World Fantasy Award in and of itself, but because of the thing that signifies the award: a Gahan Wilson sculpture of the head of H.P. Lovecraft. For starters, he isn’t who I think of when you say “fantasy;” I associate him much more with horror. For another — with all due respect to Mr. Wilson — I find the visual aesthetic of the thing seriously unappealing. But most of all, it’s really kind of offensive.

H.P. Lovecraft was an influential writer: no doubt about that. But he was also a deeply unpleasant person in exactly the ways that we as a genre are trying to get past.

I know there are people who want to keep the award’s design as it is. All the arguments I’ve heard from that side have amounted to “tradition” or “fondness” or something else in that vein. I’ve yet to hear anyone say that people will be hurt by changing the design. But right now, people are being hurt by not changing it. To the point where Sofia Samatar felt obliged to mention this problem in her acceptance speech.

I have a hard time seeing why tradition or fondness should outweigh that.

Had I gotten the award, I would have crossed my fingers that I could say I had received the very last head of H.P. Lovecraft ever handed out as a World Fantasy Award. Honestly, that might be too ambitious of a time-scale; I don’t know whether the WFS could get through the design and production process quickly enough to have it be different for next year. But one of my friends pointed out that they could unveil the new design at next year’s con, and that would make me very happy.

What should it be instead? People have floated lots of suggestions, ranging from the heads of other writers to various symbolic objects. Me, I say throw the doors open: let the community submit designs. We have a wealth of excellent artists among us; let them exercise their collective creativity, let the membership vote to select a shortlist, and then the board can choose the final design. Or make a board shortlist, and the membership votes on the final design. Or whatever. Something that makes the an exciting opportunity for the community, a positive to counteract the negative of the current controversy.

There was a poll at this year’s con, completely informal, to see whether it should be changed. I’m glad to see the WFS taking notice of the issue; I hope we see them take action soon.

2 Responses to “The Head of H.P. Lovecraft”

  1. Andrija Popovic

    I blame Peter Straub. The old form of the award will always be a “Lovecraft nodule” from this point forward.

    I think Mary Ann Mohanraj said it best: awards shouldn’t be modeled after people. The Hugo is a rocketship; the Nebula is a galaxy. They’re symbolic and aspirational. Or, as she put it, “Just make it a dragon and be done with it!”

    Here is hoping the next 40 years focus more on everyone’s dreams, not just Lovecraft’s.

  2. swantower

    I’d like to see a dragon, maybe holding a book. As twee as that may seem, it’s no more twee than having a rocket ship for the Hugo, and it’s probably the closest we can get to a universal fantasy symbol. (A friend of mine suggested a wizard’s staff shooting sparks, and boy howdy did that lead to some inappropriate jokes . . .)

Comments are closed.