This Is Lovecraft Country: A Deep Dive Into The World Of The Best-selling Book And Hit HBO Series

Promotional Image for Lovecraft Country by HBO
Image Source: HBO Max

Matt Ruff's 2016 novel Lovecraft Country was renowned for its sci-fi originality and its unforgiving take on racism in the 1950s. It was so successful that it was made into an equally-acclaimed streaming series on HBO Max. The series starred Jurnee Smollett and Jonathan Majors in the lead roles. It was produced by some huge names such as JJ Abrams, Jordan Peele, and Misha Green.

Although both the novel and the series feature monsters and ideas from H.P. Lovecraft's iconic bibliography, they also center on fantastical cults as well as hot takes on racism from the era of segregation. Fans of the series who have not read the book may wonder what the similarities between the two actually are.

Lovecraft Country, the 2016 genre-bending novel by Matt Ruff, has been adapted into a 2020 HBO series produced by J.J. Abrams and Jordan Peele. The show features monsters from H.P. Lovecraft's lore as well as a unique take on Jim Crow America including segregation and race relations in the 1950's.

Hardcover Edition of Lovecraft Country
Image Source: Amazon

What is Lovecraft Country About?

On one hand, Lovecraft Country is a story about life for African-Americans in the era of segregation in America. It mostly takes place in 1950's Chicago. On the other hand, it is a story of fantastical beasts, paranormal activity, curses, demons, among many other common science fiction tropes. It is an ambitious novel that comments on the racism of the past while painting a frightening picture of our world at large.

Our main characters are Atticus Freeman, a Korean War veteran returning home, and Letitia Lewis, a down on her luck girl just trying to make it in America. There are also references to real-life events such as the killing of Emmet Till and the Chicago Police Department's violence against African-Americans.

In addition to these racial conflicts, the story is also a love story that speaks about what it takes to overcome the difficulty of staying together. Throughout both the book and the show, Atticus and Letitia are pulled apart by outside forces, including both supernatural and political ones.

Last week we discussed Judas and the Black Messiah, a story in which the notorious killing of Fred Hampton in Chicago is portrayed. This takes place later in the history of America, in 1969, but the parallels between these two pieces of work are self-evident. Both stories show how African-Americans were treated in post-war America.

Lovecraft Country Episode 1 Sundown Town
Image Source: Men's Health

Season 1 of Lovecraft Country

The very first episode of Lovecraft Country opens with an awe-inspiring scene, in which Atticus, in his US Army gear, is engaged in trench warfare with Korean fighters. As he makes his way towards overhead bombers, he is approached by a large spacecraft and a woman who appears to be some sort of goddess. 

As she whispers something in his ear in Korean, a monster from H.P. Lovecraft's creations saunters up behind him only to get split in half by Jackie Robinson of the Brooklyn Dodgers. Lucky number 42 uses his baseball bat to destroy the monster before Atticus wakes up on a segregated bus back to Chicago.

The racism aspect of the show is depicted early on when the bus breaks down, and the white passengers are given a ride into town while Atticus and an elder black woman are forced to walk to the next spot. When Atticus arrives in Chicago, he is greeted by his uncle, George, who is played by Courtney B. Vance, of Law & Order fame.

After their heartfelt reunion, in which we are introduced to his aunt Hippolyta and his cousin Diana, Atticus and George take off to Massachusetts to search for Atticus' father, who has been missing for some time. Taking a cue from a letter written by the alcoholic Montrose, our characters are led to Arkham, Massachusetts. 

At the same time, Letitia accompanies them, wanting to see a family member of hers. The excitement of the episode picks up when they encounter the sheriff of Devon County who insists that it is a "sun-down county" When they are further harassed by these police officers, they are attacked by monsters from Lovecraft's lore known as shoggoths.

H.P. Lovecraft's Shoggoth monster, a creature with many eyes and teeth
Image Source: New York Times

Next, the monsters are called away by a whistle, and while the policemen all die, our heroes are saved and welcomed into a mansion by a strange man called William. This is where the actual premise of the story is revealed. It is a rather complicated affair, but the basic idea is that Atticus has a blood relation to an ancient magical group called The Sons Of Adam.

The place they are being held is known as Ardham Lodge and is home to this group of occult wizards who make up the Sons of Adam. It is revealed that Montrose was taken as a way to draw Atticus to them. Atticus is related to the creator of this lodge, Titus Braithwaite. Titus raped one of his slaves and Atticus, many relations later, is from this same lineage.

Because of this connection, the current leader, Samuel Braithwaite, plans to use Atticus as a blood sacrifice in his latest spell to achieve immortality. We are also introduced to his daughter, Christina, who had previously saved our heroes from racist motorists in Episode 1. Our heroes escape to a nearby village to get Montrose back but are stopped by Samuel. He shoots both Letti and George, and Atticus is taken to the sacrificial altar.

Samuel attempts his ceremonial spell but is turned to stone by the arrival of Atticus' ancestor. The lodge is destroyed and when Atticus makes it out, he finds that Letti has been killed as well as George. Letti is resurrected by Christina and she makes it clear that she did not care for her father or the other misogynistic members of the Sons.

The next eight episodes follow our heroes as they try to unravel the mysteries of this blood cult, and as they try to stay one step ahead of Christina, who is trying her own magical spell to become immortal. She will need Atticus in the same way her father did, but she wants to offer Atticus and his family alternatives, such as granting Letti immunity from harm through a magical brand.

Episode six of Lovecraft Country Season 1
Image Source: Lovecraft Country Wiki

The Best Episodes of Lovecraft Country 

Because Lovecraft Country has such great source material and exceptional producers like J.J. Abrams, the episodes feature a larger-than-life presence with amazing action scenes and awesome historical flashbacks. My personal favorite episode, one by which I was completely wowed, is the sixth episode of Season 1, "Meet Me In Daegu". 

Since we are reintroduced to the woman from the opening of episode one, it is important to understand who she is. Her name is Ji-Ah, she is a nurse from South Korea, whom Atticus meets and falls in love with. Before we know this, however, we learn her backstory and that she suffers from a tragic affliction. Similar to the Japanese Kitsune, Ji-Ah is a Kumiho. She is a woman who needs to feed on young men.

In order to do this successfully, she lures them into a sexual encounter and then uses her hidden tails to extract their souls and kill them. Played by actress Jamie Chung to perfection, we are given humorous and gory scenes in which Ji-Ah takes the souls of men whom she encounters.

We are also given an awesome background into the history of the Korean War, such as the consequences for suspected spies or communists. Ji-Ah's friend is killed at the hands of Atticus, who, in his role with the US Army, is executing prisoners. Ji-Ah decides to pursue Atticus romantically, with the intention of killing him. 

However, she falls in love with him, and when they consummate their relationship, she tries to resist exposing her tails to him and killing him. When he sees her tails, he is disgusted with her and escapes. Before he leaves Korea, she tells him of the vision she has of his future and the fact that he will die soon. 

The sets in this episode are beautiful, featuring surreal snowy landscapes in the mountains of Korea. Ji-Ah's love scene with Atticus, as well as the young man she encounters early in the episode features some awesome CGI as well as some truly frightening and crazy violence. Indeed, it is so gory and ridiculous that it is almost comical. 

As a stand-alone, this is the best episode of Lovecraft Country, in my opinion. There is only one other episode that comes close to this and that one is episode eight, "Jig-A-Bobo". 

Twin Demons in Lovecraft Country
Image Source: The Decider

Similar to "Meet Me In Daegu", this episode has a historical basis as well. It includes the real-life funeral of Emmet Till. Diana was a close friend of Emmet's, whom she affectionately referred to as "Bobo". The Freeman family all attend the funeral on a hot summer day, and the guests leave the funeral disgusted at the racist violence that has taken young Till's life. His mother has famously chosen to leave his corpse on display to bring awareness to the viciousness of racial violence.

After the funeral, Atticus meets up with Christina, eager to strike a deal in order to learn how to use his magical blood to cast spells. He trades her the key from the orrery that Letti found in her home, and she teaches him a basic way to cast spells. He attempts to cast a spell of immunity for himself, and later in the episode, it is put to the test.

Diana is assaulted by Captain Lancaster after the funeral and when she spits on the police officers and refuses to help them locate the orrery, Lancaster uses Sons of Adam magic to place a curse on her. The curse allows two demon sisters, Topsy and Bopsy, to chase her around the city and eventually do her serious harm.

We are given exceptional shots of Chicago in 1955, and the set is breathtaking. The demons chase Diana throughout the town, performing frightening dances while they chase her with their seriously long nails. This is one of the scariest sequences in the entire show. 

Diana is clawed terribly by these demons and passes out from the pain while her cousin tries to save her. The way this show blends genres and uses historical fiction as a background to paint their sci-fi depiction of racism is truly original and unique. This is one of the main reasons that the book was such a refreshing success.

Ruby and Christina's relationship continues but falters when Christina confesses she does not care about Emmet's death. Ji-Ah reappears in this episode, upsetting Letti, who by now is in love with Atticus and carrying his child. 

To test her immortality, Christina reenacts Till's murder with her as the victim. Ruby reconnects with her after this and then confesses to her sister Letti the nature of her relationship with Christina.

The final scene features Captain Lancaster again, who has come to Letti's house to take the orrery, and his policemen shoot up the house. Atticus comes to her rescue and tries to defend her. Just as a Chicago PD officer attempts to shoot Atticus, a shoggoth appears and decimates the entire police force. Then the shoggoth tears off Lancaster's arm, killing him.

Atticus discovers his immunity spell worked when the shoggoth does not harm him. This sets the stage for Atticus to be able to fight Christina as a rival with his new magical powers.

Both of these episodes push the story of Lovecraft Country to the next level, but their use of historical references and science fiction make them a mind-bending spectacle. The production value is high, each episode being allotted a "Game of Thrones-sized budget".

Season 1 of Lovecraft Country
Image Source: The New York Times

Will There Be a Lovecraft Country Season 2?

While HBO has not officially said whether or not Lovecraft Country has been renewed for a second season, it should be noted that the writers have been working on it anyway. Casey Bloys of HBO spoke with Deadline and said: "Misha is working with a small team of writers and they're coming up with a take. She had a book to go on in the first season, she and the writers wanted to go off and take some time to go out and figure out, without a book with these characters, what's the journey we want to go on. We all want to be sure she's got a story to tell. That's where she is right now, working on those ideas."

After that, Bloys mentioned that he was "very hopeful" for a second season. Because of the above issue referencing the lack of source material for a second season, it should be noted that there are subplots and scenes from the book which were not included in the show. These subjects could perhaps give the writers inspiration for this new season.

Indeed, Misha Green does have an idea of what a second season would look like. When speaking with Rolling Stone, she commented: "I envision a second season that carries on the spirit of Matt Ruff's novel [of the same name] by continuing to reclaim the genre storytelling space that people of color have typically been left out of."

After that, Misha went on to say: "That statement can open up a world, and the world that was created in Season One can be opened up in so many ways. That was one of the things we explored with this idea of going to Korea, and understanding that magic isn’t just limited to The Book of Names. It’s everywhere. It’s a thing that’s out in the world. Our monsters aren’t the only monsters that exist."

Jurnee Smollett in Lovecraft Country
Image Source: Den of Geek
Joseph Poulos is a freelance writer from Michigan.

No Saves yet. Share it with your friends.

Write Your Diary

Get Free Access To Our Publishing Resources

Independent creators, thought-leaders, experts and individuals with unique perspectives use our free publishing tools to express themselves and create new ideas.