H.P. Lovecraft is one of the most imaginative, singular, brilliant, and influential horror writers of all time. Carnival Row is one of his works. He’s also one of the most overtly, profoundly racist. Lovecraft’s enthusiasts and heirs have long struggled with the question of a way to separate his particular imaginative and prescient of cosmic horror from the visceral loathing of non-white humans he expressed in his work.
Stories of Past
In the past, authors like August Derleth and Stephen King have mostly attempted to ignore the prejudice, concentrating instead on Lovecraft’s vision of a grotesque universe bent on humanity’s destruction and the fun of his clotted, tentacular, Cyclopean prose. More recently, though, numerous writers have engaged Lovecraft’s racism more directly. These creators are turning Lovecraft inside out, exposing his wet, unsightly innards for antiracist purposes. The new Amazon eight-episode fable series Carnival Row is one of the first symptoms that this strand of antiracist Lovecraft fiction is touring out of genre fiction and into greater mainstream entertainment.
Carnival Row Plot
Carnival Row is simply the contemporary narrative to repurpose Lovecraft’s tropes into an antiracist story. Still, the way it uses Lovecraft’s legacy is innovative, no longer least due to the fact it’s so casual. The series is about in a steampunk trade delusion Earth. Pixies, fauns, centaurs, and other faerie creatures (or “crutch”) stay in the segregated neighbourhood of Carnival Row in a London-like city. Humans normally hate the crutch, and one man with a hammer has begun to homicide them indiscriminately. Police detective Rycroft Philostrate (Orlando Bloom) is decided to carry the killer to justice no matter his department’s indifference to the killings.
Sure enough, Carnival Row meets the darkish god: a slimy, shambling horror, with tentacles putting from its face. It looks an excellent bit like Cthulhu fan art. But it resembles Lovecraftian beasties in other ways, too. The crotch is marginalized humans from a foreign land. In the series, they’re a metaphorical stand-in for immigrants, sex workers, and those of color — all of the chattering hordes Lovecraft hated. “They come from a darkish area and they haven’t come alone. They’ve introduced something with them,” Jack warns. As in Lovecraft’s work, non-white people are a threatening, indistinguishable mass, embodied using the unsightly cosmic horrors they carry to the sane, rational foundations painstakingly built through white men.
Carnival Row’s dark god is a creation of crutch magic. But it wasn’t raised as a weapon against humans. It was brought to life by way of one of these humans. The Cthulhu-aspect is sewn collectively from useless flesh, but it’s just a puppet. Someone has to magically pull its strings. It’s a mask some human wears, simply as Cthulhu is a mask Lovecraft wore.