Title: The Ballad of Black Tom
Author: Victor LaValle
Genre: Cosmic Horror
Pages: 160
Rating: 4.5 of 5

The works of H. P. Lovecraft shaped the genre of cosmic horror. While I don’t practically worship him like S. T. Joshi, I enjoy his work, and if I read something in the horror genre it’s usually “Lovecraftian.” Unfortunately in addition to being a gifted writer, Lovecraft was an incredibly xenophobic racist. Nowhere is this more obvious than in his The Horror at Red Hook in which the Syrian, Yazidi, etc. immigrant communities in Brooklyn are portrayed as a dangerous hive of sinister criminals, devil worshippers, and other undesirables.

In The Ballad of Black Tom, Victor LaValle (who is black) retells The Horror at Red Hook from a completely different point of view, mixing in some “Five Percent Nation” (an offshoot of the Nation of Islam) mysticism along the way.  It still deals with issues of racism, but not in a “those dark-skinned people are all dangerous inferiors” way (though there might be a touch of “all white men are racist jerks”).

The book is well-written with the right feeling of dread. The horror comes from fear of the completely inhuman something “out there” rather than stooping to the lazy “graphic gore = scary” route. For me, a lot of the interest derived from seeing the tweaks made to The Horror at Red Hook, so I’m not sure how well it stands on its own. As a companion/improvement of the Lovecraft story it was a blast!

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3 thoughts on “What Really Happened at Red Hook

  1. The only Lovecraft that I’ve read was the Annotated Lovecraft released a couple of years ago [or maybe last year? not sure which]. I don’t know if the editors curated the works or what, because I’d heard how rascist/bigoted/whatever he was and I kept expecting it to pop out and I never saw it. Makes me wonder if some selective censoring of stories went on in the choice of what material to include.

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    1. In my view, most of the racism pops up in his frequently selecting “non-aryan” people as his debauched doomsday cultists while repeatedly pointing out their dark/swarthy skin and referring to them as “degenerate, decadent mixed race, etc.” “Red Hook” is by far the worst in that the main point is that these “swarthy” people are a continual menace to “us Aryans” even though one horror has been stopped. I think some of his writing outside his stories also expresses extremely racist sentiment (I’ve seen a quote or two that I can’t bring to mind). Of course, he also likes to use inbred hillbillies as his villains, but they’re an “acceptable” group to pick on.

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