Lovecraft Country: Sundown   Books Included 
August 18, 2020 3:06 PM - Season 1, Episode 1 - Subscribe

HBO's new horror/period piece series about black lives in a 1950s where H.P. Lovecraft's shoggoths are real, including discussion of Matt Ruff's original collection of 8 linked short stories.
posted by mediareport (13 comments total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
So far, I like the differences. Gender-swapping George and Hippolyta's kid felt right, and making Letitia and Ruby singers, allowing them a beautiful public moment of musical power, offset the general lack I felt in the book of a sense of the overall joy and strength of black culture. The show has already deepened the relationship between the two women compared to the book, which is great.

The biggest flaw in the original short stories, I felt, was too many instances where white magicians saved black folks who had no clue about what was going on. It's obvious in the first story, where Atticus lives only because Caleb wants him too, but is most egregious in "Horace and the Devil Doll," in which a sharp Black kid is terrorized, brutalized and then rescued on the very last pages by the magic of a white person. I dunno, maybe I was in the wrong mood, but that consistent theme - Black folks buffeted by the desires of magically strong white people, with no recourse of their own - got to rubbing me the wrong way, despite the presence of strong, thoughtful, flawed Black characters like Letitia, Hippolyta, Atticus and Ruby throughout.

And yes, I get that "Black folks buffeted by magically strong white people" can be justified as a metaphor for 1950s America. It still made for kinda unsatisfying horror storytelling coming from a white guy. I kept looking for Black reviewers of the original book from before the series was announced and not finding them, so if anyone has a link to one, feel free to share.

The show looks great though, and so far, I like the differences.
posted by mediareport at 3:27 PM on August 18, 2020 [6 favorites]

I’m not familiar with the book and I thought this was great! There were a few points of clunky expository dialogue (particularly the scene in Uncle George’s shop), but I chalked that up to pilot problems.

I love the character dynamics they’ve set up and I love how much of the horror comes from real life. When they finally made it past the county line only to find a new roadblock up ahead, it REALLY got to me.
posted by showbiz_liz at 7:48 AM on August 19, 2020 [3 favorites]

It's very early on but so far all the casting feels really spot on to the characters I remember from the book. Knowing where the story goes, I'm immediately invested in all the major players.

I especially feel like Atticus could have been easily miscast and based on the first episode, Majors is a really strong choice. I don't know him from his other work but he's immediately on my radar now.

As an unapologetic fanboy of weird fiction and this specific take on Lovecraft's legacy I was fully ready to forgive/ignore any missteps but the first episode is pretty much flawless.

In what appears to be standard now, there's a companion Lovecraft Country Radio podcast that I've not had a chance to listen to yet. Don't know if or how much they get into the source material.
posted by slimepuppy at 9:11 AM on August 19, 2020 [2 favorites]

I’m with showbiz_liz on this one — I know nothing of the original book save the title, and I had only seen a trailer once before this showed up on a streaming service. I thought the first episode was generally fantastic, and when an attack on an isolated cabin by shoggoths in the dead of night is the least horrifying thing in your horror show, you’re running on all cylinders.

I am familiar with almost no one in the cast — Courtney B. Vance I know, and of course Michael K. Williams (who appeared only in a still photo this episode) but they are all great and I am looking forward to seeing more. I think there’s a touch of white saviour going on that I am not crazy about but I’m hoping this is a fakeout.
posted by ricochet biscuit at 5:51 PM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just saw this. I am here for this series. It’s been years since I’ve read the book so most of the differences slipped by me. Nice pacing of the escalation from common to more eldritch dangers.
posted by rmd1023 at 6:47 PM on August 19, 2020 [1 favorite]

I haven't read the books, but this was already the scariest horror show I'd seen even before the monsters showed up at the 50 minute mark. Then the monster attack was really excellent as well.

Between this, Watchmen, Umbrella Academy season 2, and the first half of this last season of Agents of SHIELD, it's pretty great that genre television is grappling with the experience of Blacks in America. There's an audience who needs to see this who would never watch a straight historical drama about it.

Another great thing about the show: Depicting an older couple as having a healthy sex life, and not for comedic purposes.

Oh—after posting I saw that there's a show-only thread too. Going to crosspost this over there and stay there.
posted by ejs at 8:02 PM on August 19, 2020

I really liked this. All the cast was great but I thought Jurnee Smollett was particularly electric. Could be biased though since I may have a tiny crush.
posted by Justinian at 2:33 AM on August 20, 2020 [1 favorite]

Just so folks know if they don't want to be spoiled with book plotlines, there's a show-only thread as well for Lovecraft Country.

(which I somehow missed that someone else just said)
posted by mediareport at 2:50 AM on August 20, 2020

Oh, I haven't read the book guess I'll mosey on down to that thread. Thanks.
posted by Justinian at 3:06 AM on August 20, 2020

Matt Ruff is answering reader questions on Goodreads.

Among other things, he says, "I realize that the issue of white authors writing from black perspectives is a particularly fraught one right now, but to me, what I was doing in Lovecraft Country is a natural extension of what I’ve always done: use the power of fiction to understand other ways of looking at and living in the world. I wouldn’t say I was “comfortable” doing this – it’s always good to be a little nervous, so I don’t get lazy – but I was reasonably confident that I could do justice to the characters, or that if I couldn’t, I’d figure that out before I embarrassed myself publicly.

The biggest challenge wasn’t the characters, but the history. I’d turn things up in my research that were hard to wrap my head around at first. Like the idea of whites-only ambulances that would literally let black people bleed to death rather than lift a finger to help them – that sounds like something out of dystopian science fiction, but in large parts of 1950s America it was just how things worked. So that was the tricky part, learning the rules of this strange country that my protagonists were trying to make their way in. Once I had that down, figuring out how intelligent, resourceful human beings would respond and adapt was relatively straightforward. And of course I had plenty of real-life examples – anecdotes and stories of how people coped – to draw on."
posted by alicat at 6:43 PM on August 20, 2020 [4 favorites]

I think there’s a touch of white saviour going on that I am not crazy about but I’m hoping this is a fakeout.

This is a book spoiler, so stop now if you don't want that....

..but this was a major flaw in the book, and IIRC in at least one place - the lady in the silver car and red hat saving Our Heroes from the pursuing rednecks in their pickup truck after the restaurant scene - it replaces the agency of the Black characters in the book with a white saviour in the show. That, and the monsters at the end being much more obviously called off by their white masters than they were in the book, gives me pause. I really hope the worst aspects of the book (and this kind of thing is among those) aren't made even more so in the show.
posted by mediareport at 3:44 PM on August 23, 2020 [1 favorite]

Oh yeah, and the show removed a fabulous moment with Letitia saving George and Atticus from the murderous sheriff by lighting his cop car on fire right before the monsters attacked.
posted by mediareport at 3:46 PM on August 23, 2020 [2 favorites]

I'll be the first to admit I'm not that well-versed in the topic, but is the "white saviour" trope somewhat negated by the fact that the white people doing the saving are doing so purely for selfish, equally racist reasons? They're "saving" the protagonists from a death to subject them to a worse fate.

I do get the point about removing agency though and I want to believe there's an element of building a stronger sense of help/hopelessness in the early parts of the show before subverting it.
posted by slimepuppy at 3:27 AM on August 24, 2020

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