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REVIEW: At The Mountains Of Madness




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Sariant



Joined: 15 Jun 2020
Posts: 6
PostPosted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 7:49 pm Reply with quote
Long-time lurker, but the closing paragraph to this review prompted me to create an account and respond.

I strongly disagree that such sentiments should be buried. It is BECAUSE they are buried and subsequently forgotten that blights like racism and fascism fester and persist over the decades and centuries. If anything, they should be kept in the spotlight so that the generations that follow never forget that such things did exist, continue to exist, and must be opposed at every opportunity lest they gain even more traction than they already possess.

Look at Nazism - not only did it survive to become Neo-Nazism and continue to plague society to this day, but there are entire segments of the population who cherry-pick aspects of WW2-era Germany (the "German Engineering" meme comes to mind most readily) and exalt those aspects while conveniently glossing over the ideology and government that birthed them.

And then there's racism - I remember reading a long while ago that several black scholars wanted to forget that blackface ever existed by expunging it from the cultural and historical record. Thankfully, there were those in the black community who opposed doing so precisely for the reasons I've touched on above. By forgetting that there was a time when black people were not even cast in black roles, and that the white performers who replaced them under blackface makeup played their parts in exaggerated, stereotypical, fashion, society would be condoning such behavior and standards.

Finally to touch on H.P. Lovecraft himself, I will point out that as a young adult I read a lot of his works and had no idea that he was such a bigot. I saw things like the society of the Elder Ones as just the sort of world-building authors of speculative fiction must engage in to properly BE authors. It was only much later that I found out that he was, indeed, a racist - something which now informs my assessment of his career and his creative output. Had an earlier generation done what Lynzee now strongly suggests - that any such references be removed from subsequent adaptations - I might not have gained that knowledge and might not now view his prose with a skeptical eye. Not everyone enjoys the written word on its own - some prefer the graphic novel or the manga version. What if those adaptations are the only exposure future readers might have to his work? It is important that they know that the author held such views and that they suffused what he wrote.

We should not forget that bigotry of whatever stripe has a long history and many proponents and adherents (past and present) behind it. To forget is to fall prey to that hoary old admonition:

"Those who do not remember history are doomed to repeat it."
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octopodpie
ANN Managing Editor


Joined: 02 May 2011
Posts: 1950
Location: Washington State
PostPosted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 11:04 pm Reply with quote
I'm in no way suggesting we burn all copies of Lovecraft. When adapting anything, there is always room for reinterpretation and adjustments. For instance, do you know how many times Bram Stoker's Dracula has been adapted to film? At least 60. Are all of those adaptations exact copies of Stoker's book? Of course not. Directors and scriptwriters altered all kinds of things, including the ending.

No one is going to learn the foundation of Civil Rights Movement and the importance of equal rights from this manga and suggesting as much is grandstanding. The bedrock of this story is Lovecraft's fear of racial and classist uprising that would displace him and lead, in his opinion, to the destruction of mankind. This view is not challenged in the text at all or in this adaptation and I'm going to call it out for that. You adapt questionable material, you get questions.
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Sariant



Joined: 15 Jun 2020
Posts: 6
PostPosted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 11:41 pm Reply with quote
octopodpie wrote:
No one is going to learn the foundation of Civil Rights Movement and the importance of equal rights from this manga and suggesting as much is grandstanding. The bedrock of this story is Lovecraft's fear of racial and classist uprising that would displace him and lead, in his opinion, to the destruction of mankind. This view is not challenged in the text at all or in this adaptation and I'm going to call it out for that. You adapt questionable material, you get questions.


I concede you the point in this regard. However, I will also quote the last line of your review:

"The master was hardly infallible and adaptations could do one better by leaving his vile sentiments buried."

Had you replaced this sentence with the explanation in your reply to my post, I would have had no issues and certainly would not have had the kneejerk reaction I did. I think your contention that the adaptation should have challenged Lovercraft's views is an excellent one. However, I also stand by my point that his bigotry and intolerance should not be in any way, shape, or form be buried. Leave it in, but challenge it? That's fine with me.
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FinalVentCard



Joined: 28 Oct 2018
Posts: 122
PostPosted: Mon Jun 15, 2020 11:52 pm Reply with quote
Sariant wrote:
[snip]


Being one of the kinds of people that Lovecraft hated, allow me a chance to point out that this stuff has never for a moment "been forgotten". It hasn't gone anywhere. The circumstances that led to Lovecraft acting the way he did never stopped happening, and people concluding that The Other Is At Fault never stopped being an outcome or being used as a shoehorned reason for someone's nonspecified malaise. And as one of the folks who's on the receiving end of it all... gotta say, kinda tired of it.

So if you're tired of people calling Lovecraft out on stuff, imagine how tired other people are of all the "bad guys" in Lovecraft's stories being "primitives" with indescribable languages, big eyes and lips, and alien rituals and ways of thinking.
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Sariant



Joined: 15 Jun 2020
Posts: 6
PostPosted: Tue Jun 16, 2020 7:12 pm Reply with quote
FinalVentCard wrote:
Sariant wrote:
[snip]

So if you're tired of people calling Lovecraft out on stuff


Let me make this clear: Nowhere in my posts have I EVER said I'm tired of people "calling Lovecraft out." I firmly believe that racism, intolerance, and bigotry SHOULD be called out and held up for scrutiny wherever and whenever they rear their ugly heads. Do me the courtesy of actually reading what I wrote before playing the race card.

What I did and DO object to is, again, this statement in the review:

"The master was hardly infallible and adaptations could do one better by leaving his vile sentiments buried."

That is just censorship on the part of the person adapting the work. The offending and offensive material could be left in and the opportunity could then be taken to point out WHY it's wrong, why it's indefensible, why it should not be allowed. This is what I believe Lynzee was saying when she replied and mentioned "challenging" Lovecraft's beliefs. But she didn't say that in the context of the review.

So what happens if you just remove his racist ranting from an adaptation? What then is there to challenge? How do you point out something is reprehensible when there's nothing THERE to point to? This is why censorship of any stripe cannot and should not be condoned.

And let's face it. How many people REALLY dig deeper into things beyond the surface? How many readers of this particular manga adaptation will actually bother to read the source fiction or research Lovecraft himself? First impressions are important, and you might only get this one opportunity to argue against his beliefs. That opportunity disappears if you "bury" his "vile sentiments."

Similarly, how many people will bother to read these comments on the review? Lynzee's expansion on her stance occurs ONLY in her reply to me. So all a review-only reader is left with is her closing sentence, no explanation, no expansion. I don't know if time constraints or word count limitations forced her to leave her explanation out, but had she somehow managed to explain her stance - as she did in her reply - the review would have been more nuanced.

Let me again be clear: I am not defending Lovecraft and I certainly do NOT share his views. What I am tired of is people wanting to sweep offensive material under the rug because it offends them. Keep it visible and FIGHT it. You say racism hasn't been forgotten and that it hasn't gone anywhere. You're right: the protests are proof of that. But it also hasn't "gone anywhere" insofar as progress eradicating it is concerned. Part of the reason for that is that too many people shut out or tune out things they find offensive instead of taking the chance to argue against them and try to convince fencesitters that attitudes like racism and intolerance are just plain WRONG.
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Flare-kun



Joined: 26 Jun 2010
Posts: 82
PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2020 1:15 am Reply with quote
Sariant wrote:
Do me the courtesy of actually reading what I wrote before playing the race card.


Um, damn. I get that you've been misunderstood but the vehemence with which you're arguing and internet hollering at a person of color about racism makes me wish I could post a Patrick Stewart facepalm meme, big time. Not everyone's gonna get you 100% of the time. In this case I think you'd be better served chilling out and checking your privilege. Because, not gonna lie, a line like the above literally made me go, "found another one."
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ATastySub



Joined: 19 Jan 2012
Posts: 181
PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2020 2:50 am Reply with quote
Sariant wrote:

That is just censorship on the part of the person adapting the work. The offending and offensive material could be left in and the opportunity could then be taken to point out WHY it's wrong, why it's indefensible, why it should not be allowed. This is what I believe Lynzee was saying when she replied and mentioned "challenging" Lovecraft's beliefs. But she didn't say that in the context of the review.

Ignoring the rest of your misplaced rant, I'll just focus on this part. You claim to want the vile unneeded parts of the the story left in order to "not repeat history." In that case good news! Wanting to change things for the better is LEARNING FROM HISTORY! That's not censorship my dude. Repeating racism/sexism/etc as if those have integrity is what happens when you don't learn, and claiming it's censorship is what happens when for some reason you decide that status quo has to be kept in some form. The reason Lynzee doesn't need to say anything about adding a rebuttal in the review is because there's no needs to "both sides" a thing by leaving in the racism but adding in something to be like "well maybe that part is bad! Up to you to decide!" We can do simply do better.
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Eigengrau



Joined: 09 May 2015
Posts: 77
Location: Belgium
PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2020 6:21 am Reply with quote
Quote:
The second volume goes into great detail, about three full chapters, discussing the rise and fall of the star-headed Elder Things and their interactions with the Spawn of Cthulhu, Mi-go, and the Shoggoths. This was possibly the weakest part of the book and the story overall. It felt incredibly indulgent, likely on Lovecraft's part, as a way to dump his particular cosmic lore on the readers all at once.


I have to admit that I had the opposite reaction, in that both in the original story and the manga this was actually my favorite part. I just like that mockumentary style, since I generally prefer reading non-fiction to fiction. It’s the same reason I like the lengthy passages describing the physics of the planet in the original Solaris novel, or all those anecdotes about whaling in Moby Dick. In fact, the history of the Old Ones made such an impression on me the first time I read it, that I almost forgot it was just a tiny part of a much larger story afterwards.

I mostly interpreted the story of the Shoggoths and their uprising against the Old Ones as an early example of a “robot revolt” story. In fact, the original robot revolt story, the play “R.U.R.” which first introduced the word robot to the world, was written just a decade before At The Mountains Of Madness and had an immediate effect on sci-fi literature. Interestingly, the robots in R.U.R. are not machines, but artificially created organic lifeforms, grown from a kind of protoplasm. They are for all intents and purposes a slave race, who by the end of the play gain sufficient intelligence to revolt against their masters and kill off the human race. That is exactly the same narrative arc that the Shoggoths are on. Now it is certainly a valid interpretation to say that the robots in these types of robot revolt stories stand for oppressed groups, but they also stand as a warning for the dangers of unsupervised technological developments. I have seen claims that the Shoggoths stand for AI or even the atom bomb, and even if these things would hardly have been on the mind of a thirties author (though automation and the changes it was bringing to society is a worry that is already appearing in several of his letters), they are still valid interpretations. In fact, even if we found a letter where Lovecraft unequivocally states that the Old Ones stand for plantation owners and the Shoggoths for black slaves, the story itself supports that reading less than the technological interpretation, as the Shoggoths are expressly stated to be created and engineered by the Old Ones, their intelligence being a slowly emerging factor. The story even fits into the by that time already well-worn trope of the super-scientific ancient civilization falling doom to the technologies it’s created.

Now, another possible interpretation based on the opinions Lovecraft expressed in his letters at that time, is that the fall of the Old Ones represents a warning about what happens when a society fails to implement socialistic measures insufficiently. Although not liking the working classes, Lovecraft had come round the New Deal and was supportive of socialism and the redistribution of wealth through state supervision by the early 1930s. His reasons were largely egotistic, as he thought these social programs were necessary to keep the riff raff from revolting against toffs like him. The Old Ones are described as being a socialistic society, but are short-sighted in not applying that socialism to their own working class, and only push back with more extreme violence once the first revolt breaks out. Ultimately this leads to their demise in what some have seen as a metaphor for the communist revolution.

An interesting bit of subtext I haven’t heard expressed before is this: the Shoggoths and us humans are in essence the same. The story states that human ancestors too were engineered by the Old Ones (as all life on planet Earth BTW) to be both playthings and food. Circumstances of history lead them to break free from their masters, develop their intelligence and become the next masters of the planet. To some extent, the Shoggoths are a dark reflection of humanity, the ultimate expression that life is not the product of a loving god, but a result of mechanical necessities. The horror of the Shoggoths is coming face to face with the basic horror of being an organic lifeform, with all external subjective beauty ripped away. The bit where the narrator shouts “They were men” when talking about the Old Ones, could in that context be read as a desperate attempt to claim kinship with what he considers a higher state of being, while to more obvious and real kinship is all too clear.

Now, do I think that those readings are more valid than the racist one? No, but I would affirm that they are no less so. In fact, these are interpretations I’ve read into the story through the years, including the plantation owners/black slaves one. Lovecraft was a massive racist, whose racist view fueled much of his stories. However, At The Mountains Of Madness is not The Street, where the story only makes sense in light of the inherent racism. There is indeed no evidence to support the idea that Lovecraft even meant the Shoggoths to express his ideas on slavery. Slave races are a dime a dozen in sci-fi and fantasy, up to the Droids in Star Wars and the Ood in Doctor Who, and it’s only very recently we’ve caught up to the idea that that’s not maybe a good thing (indeed the word robot in Czech is related to ideas of forced labor and slavery). By all means, within the context a story, it may simply be a question of Lovecraft writing himself into a corner by humanizing the Old Ones too much, and having to pull out a second beastie as the final threat instead, by relying on the trope of an engineered slave race (the same thing he did with the flying polyp in The Shadow Out Of Time).

We must acknowledge Lovecraft bigotry, but we must also allow the text to stand on its own and allow for multiple readings. And I’m afraid that I find that I find the reasoning that an interpretation of Lovecraft must necessarily deal with a possibly racist reading to be reductive, even in the case that Lovecraft himself intended it to be a racist rant. Tanabe’s version mainly deals with the issues of discovery and scientific zeal. He delves far more deeply into the historical background of Antarctic expeditions at that time, and the technical practicalities of those expeditions than Lovecraft did. He also makes Lake into a wide-eyed fanatic, to the point that if you did not know the story beforehand, it almost functions as a second red herring about who the killer at the camp could be. The two volumes of the Mountains manga parallel each other in this way, the scientific zeal of Lake in part one and the scientific tinkering of the Old Ones in part two leading to ultimate ruin in both cases. That is the interpretation he has given to the story. It may not be the interpretation you prefer, or necessarily the best interpretation at this time, but it is still a valid one.

Anyway, sorry about taking up this much time and space, I guess.
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Sariant



Joined: 15 Jun 2020
Posts: 6
PostPosted: Wed Jun 17, 2020 8:00 pm Reply with quote
Flare-kun wrote:
Sariant wrote:
Do me the courtesy of actually reading what I wrote before playing the race card.


Um, damn. I get that you've been misunderstood but the vehemence with which you're arguing and internet hollering at a person of color about racism makes me wish I could post a Patrick Stewart facepalm meme, big time. Not everyone's gonna get you 100% of the time. In this case I think you'd be better served chilling out and checking your privilege. Because, not gonna lie, a line like the above literally made me go, "found another one."


Checking my privilege? Seriously? What do you know about MY ethnicity? Nothing, that's what. Why? Because I never mentioned it. Why did I not mention it? Because my personal ethnicity is not relevant to the point I wanted to make about censorship.

I could tell you that I am not white, but obviously you've already assumed that I am - even though you'd be wrong in thinking that. And even if I DO tell you, there's no way to prove it on the internet. Not without revealing personal information (which is inadvisable) and which could be made up or faked anyway (and therefore pointless).

But hey, it's the internet. People will believe what they want to believe, even when it's wrong.

Eigengrau wrote:
[snip]


THIS was the sort of thoughtful response I was hoping for when I posted a comment to this review. Thank you for posting it, Eigengrau.

ATastySub wrote:

Ignoring the rest of your misplaced rant, I'll just focus on this part. You claim to want the vile unneeded parts of the the story left in order to "not repeat history." In that case good news! Wanting to change things for the better is LEARNING FROM HISTORY! That's not censorship my dude. Repeating racism/sexism/etc as if those have integrity is what happens when you don't learn, and claiming it's censorship is what happens when for some reason you decide that status quo has to be kept in some form. The reason Lynzee doesn't need to say anything about adding a rebuttal in the review is because there's no needs to "both sides" a thing by leaving in the racism but adding in something to be like "well maybe that part is bad! Up to you to decide!" We can do simply do better.


It is CONTINUING TO BEHAVE in a racist, bigoted, intolerant manner that is proof of not learning from history and not progressing. PRESERVING A RECORD of historical racism, sexism, intolerance, bigotry and what-have-you is essential to telling future generations:
"This has happened before and it was considered acceptable then. But it is NOT acceptable and this is why it isn't. This is also what you need to be on guard against in the event it comes back. It doesn't have to be in-your-face. It can be something as insidious as words hidden in a fictional narrative." Stopping the former is progress and change for the better, while making certain of the second is part and parcel of that process.

Lynzee replied that she was "in no way suggesting we burn all copies of Lovecraft." That's totally fine with me once she explained it that way. But you? To take your post at face value, you're perfectly fine with snipping all the offensive bits out and calling it "progress." It isn't. Censorship of unacceptable beliefs is still censorship and it's a bad thing - not because reprehensible attitudes should be allowed to thrive, but because you have to know and understand the nature of the beast to effectively counter it.
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