Fantasy writers’ award switches to new design; away from Lovecraft

And it’s about time. Since 1975, the World Fantasy Convention has awarded a statuette depicting horror writer H. P. Lovecraft to honor the best fantasy fiction of the year. Along with the Nebula and Hugo awards, the World Fantasy award (“the Howard”) has long been regarded as among the three most prestigious honors for speculative fiction, the “triple crown,” as George R. R. Martin and others have called them: http://strangehorizons.com/non-fiction/articles/introduction-to-howard-who/.

It must have made sense at the time for the World Fantasy Convention to model its award statuette after Lovecraft, especially since beloved horror (and hilariously funny) cartoonist Gahan Wilson designed it.

For many, Lovecraft epitomizes everything eerie and gothically dark about fantasy fiction. Increasingly, however, winners of the award have raised concerns about certain Lovecraftian traits that are not so much creepy fun as simply creepy: rampant misogyny, anti-Semitism, and racism. In 2011, for example, the great China Miéville (and winner of one of the awards) expressed his distaste, as have winners Daniel José Older, Sofia Samatar, Nnedi Okorofor, and others. At the inception of the award, when fantasy writing was more of a good old boys’ club, the bust of Lovecraft seemed satisfyingly appropriate. In the twenty-first century, not so much. (In 1984, though, Daniel Wandrei refused to accept his award because he thought the statuette was insufficiently flattering to Lovecraft.)

In 2015, the World Fantasy Convention voted to replace the statuette, according to published news sources such as this story in The Guardian: https://www.theguardian.com/books/2015/nov/09/world-fantasy-award-drops-hp-lovecraft-as-prize-image

Now, the group has unveiled a new statuette designed by Vincent Villafranca. Villafranca, a noted designer of awards like these (the 2013 Hugo award trophy, for example, which changes designs every year) won out unanimously over all other entrants in a contest to re-design the trophy, according to the convention’s web site: http://wfc2017.org/wfc2017/ In the opinion of many, Villafranca’s depiction of a twisted tree highlighted against a full moon speaks more broadly to fantasy fiction’s present-day multicultural writers and readers, as well as to the much broader contemporary boundaries of the genre–and without the unpleasant baggage of the Lovecraft statue, which was awarded for the last time at the 2016 convention.

Many people deplore the switch. S. T. Joshi, a Lovecraft scholar, returned his two awards and urged a boycott of the convention over this slight to Lovecraft. I can imagine Cthulhu storming the convention at the head of outraged Lovecraft fans armed with torches and pitchforks. To be sure, the Lovecraft fans I know are not misogynist anti-Semitic racist pigs at all, but readers genuinely enthralled by Lovecraft’s creepy vibe. They’re the same people who love Edgar Allan Poe and love to point out the similarities. I don’t see it, myself, but there you go. De gustibus non est disputandum. Besides, Joshi argues that it’s unfair to visit contemporary attitudes on the head of Lovecraft, who died in 1937 and of course reflected the values of his time. If you’re interested, take a look at this interview he gave defending Lovecraft to SFFWorld.com as his book The Madness of Cthulhu Volume 2 was going to press: http://www.sffworld.com/2015/10/st-joshi-interview/

On the other hand. . . Misogyny. Anti-Semitism. Racism. And (de gustibus. . .) bad writing.

Despite the trophy switch (or because of it?), the Lovecraft controversy at the World Fantasy Convention rages on. Fantasy novelist and blogger Jim C. Hines gives a glimpse into the uproar that surrounded the 2016 convention, and it’s all about Lovecraft: http://www.jimchines.com/2016/08/world-fantasy-con-programming-mess/(To be fair, the convention is no stranger to controversy, Lovecraftian or otherwise.)

I’m certainly no World Fantasy Convention insider. I’ve never gone. But I admire the new statuette. It will be presented for the very first time at the World Fantasy Convention 2017, to be held in San Antonio on Nov. 2-5. (The convention is always held on one of the two weekends bracketing Halloween.) I wish it well, and the convention-goers, and the winners.

The new World Fantasy Convention trophy for the best fantasy fiction of the year, designed by Vincent Villafranca. http://www.vincentvillafrancasculpture.com

Source of World Fantasy Convention tree statuette photo: fair use through Wikipedia. Wikipedia notes the following: “This work is copyrighted (or assumed to be copyrighted) and unlicensed. . .  However, it is believed that the use of this work. . .to illustrate the subject in question . . . qualifies as fair use under United States copyright law.”

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