Posted by: Mark | February 10, 2019

Herbert West–Re-Animator

By the time the movie, The Re-Animator, came out in 1985, I had already bought at least three Lovecraft collections and was familiar with the mythology (thank you D&D’s Deities and Demigods).

Unfortunately, it was about that time that I started to focus on other writers. Some of them like Harlan Ellison referred to Lovecraft’s work but I never really picked him up again until a few years ago.

I had read that “Herbert West–Re-Animator” was a weak story so I avoided it until last week. I think some of the elements that others hated was exactly what I loved.

What they don’t like:

1.  “Reanimator” doesn’t really fit in the Cthulhu or Dreamlands mythos.   Some readers take that as a personal offense. I enjoy interconnecting stories but I don’t mind if a writer takes a break. The plot of the story is a classic horror trope even if it doesn’t have an eldritch god from space.

2. “Reanimator” is episodic. This is undeniability true: the story is broken into various incidents from West and the unnamed narrator’s lives. I enjoyed that quite a bit. Many of Lovecraft’s stories are needlessly overwritten but this series of quick jolts was a nice change of pace. I wish Lovecraft did it more often.

3.”Re-Animator” is racist. It’s true that H.P. did insult Italians and Irish in this story and his description of a black boxer was decisively cruel. For better or worse, the racism here is so much slighter than his other stories that it didn’t come off as noticeably.

I think this is one of the stories that caused Robert Howard to confront Lovecraft about his racism (if the creator of Conan the Barbarian says you’re offensive, you’re offensive). Eventually Lovecraft softened his views which is better than a huge number of people today and in this story, no one really seems superior. Herbert West is the picture of a Nazi, a blue-eyed, blond-haired Nietzschite. Yet he is shown to be morally bankrupt, weak, and most importantly dead wrong about his theories on the soul. Which leads to:

4. “Re-Animator” is an affront to religion and/or atheism.” Poor Herbert made a fatal mistake in dismissing the existence of the human soul but you can’t point to this story (or anything of Lovecraft’s) as pro-religion. Lovecraft seems to be saying that there’s an ultimate answer but humans are too stupid to ever figure it out.

 

I think some purists hate “Re-Animator” because of the movie which is a shame because the movie pulled so many points directly from the story. The film’s plot is condensed to a concise period of time instead of decades, but otherwise does keep many elements from the written page (the re-animated severed head performing oral sex being an exception).

I don’t think I would rate “Herbert West–Re-Animator” in Lovecraft’s top ten but it’s definitely not a disappointment.

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