Reading racism into pulp fiction

I have a scholarly interest in the historical roots of science fiction and related genres. For this reason, I sometimes seek out and read late 19th and early 20th-century fiction, both classic and “pulp”, that I have reason to believe was formative for these genres. Nowadays I read such books critically, trying to understand what they reveal about the assumptions and world-views of the authors as well as appreciating what the authors were intending as artists.

My recent readings in this category have have included some rediscovery of the works of Edgar Rice Burroughs (which I read much less critically as a child). I’m presently reading for the first time the Cossack stories of Harold Lamb, rousing tales of battle and derring-do set in Russia and India and Northern Asia around the turn of the 17th century that are at least as well constructed as anything Robert Louis Stevenson or Alexandre Dumas ever wrote. As I’ve been reading, I’ve been comparing Burroughs and Lamb to Rudyard Kipling’s tales of India, and H. Rider Haggard’s lost-worlds tales of Africa, and to Talbot Mundy’s adventure stories also set in India.

One of the obligatory features of modern reactions to these books is to tut-tut at racist and colonialist stereotyping in them. This Wall Street Journal review of Lamb is typical, waxing a bit sententious about “brushes with anti-semitism” in the Cossack stories. But I’m learning to be critical about that sort of reaction, too — because, in rereading Burroughs, I began to understand that ascriptions of “racism” are an oversimplification of Burroughs every bit as crude as the stereotypes he’s often accused of trafficking in. And now, reading Lamb, I find that these “brushes with anti-Semitism” are raising more questions in my mind about the comfortable prejudices of my own time than they are about Harold Lamb’s.

The skepticism I’m now developing about ascriptions of racism in pulp fiction really began, I think, when I learned that it had become fashionable to denigrate Rudyard Kipling’s Kim and other India stories as racist. This is clearly sloppy thinking at work. Kim was deeply respectful of its non-European characters, especially the Pathan swashbuckler Mahbub Ali and Teshoo Lama. Indeed, the wisdom and compassion of Kipling’s lama impressed me so greatly as a child that I think it founded my lifelong interest in and sympathy with Buddhism.

But I didn’t begin thinking really critically about race in pulp fiction until I read Tarzan and the Castaways a few years ago and noticed something curious about the way Burroughs and his characters used the adjective “white” (applied to people). That is: while it appeared on the surface to be a racial distinction, it was actually a culturist one. In Burroughs’s terms of reference (at least as of 1939), “white” is actually code for “civilized”; the distinction between “civilized” and “savage” is actually more important than white/nonwhite, and non-Europeans can become constructively “white” by exhibiting civilized virtues.

Realizing this caused me to review my assumptions about racial attitudes in Burroughs’s time. I found myself asking whether the use of “white” as code for “civilized” was prejudice or pragmatism. Because there was this about Burrough’s European characters: (1) in their normal environments, the correlation between “civilized” and “white” would have been pretty strong, and (2) none of them seemed to have any trouble treating nonwhite but civilized characters with respect. In fact, in Burroughs’s fiction, fair dealing with characters who are black, brown, green, red, or gorilla-furred is the most consistent virtue of the white gentleman.

I concluded that, given the information available to a typical European in 1939, it might very well be that using “white” as code for “civilized” was pragmatically reasonable, and that the reflex we have today of ascribing all racially-correlated labels to actually racist beliefs is actually unfair to Burroughs and his characters!

And now we come to Harold Lamb. As with Kipling, he is routinely respectful of his Tatar, Indian, Afghani, and Chinese characters. Much of the overplot of his tales of Khlit the Cossack is concerned with his discovery that he is partly of Mongol blood, and his rise to become Ka Khan of the Jungars. Throughout his books, his characters form strong personal loyalties that cross racial and cultural lines. No good sword-arm is to be despised on account of the color of its skin.

Indeed, Lamb’s religious prejudices are more obtrusive than any racial ones. Christianity, Islam and to a lesser extent Hinduism get respect, but not so Mongol shamanism — and Lamb’s slant on Tibetan religion is so thoroughly nasty that it reads oddly to a modern eye. To be fair, Lamb was writing before the Western discovery of Buddhist thought in the 1930s, and his understanding of even the Bon/animist tradition is obviously minimal to nonexistent. He may simply not have had the information to do any better.

The “brushes with anti-Semitism” lie in Lamb’s portrayal of the Jewish merchants of the time. They sell the Cossacks clothes, weapons, food, and gunpowder and turn the freebooters’ loot into cash. They are depicted as avaricious, cowardly, mean, and quite willing to toady to the warriors and princes they serve. How are we to interpret this in light of Lamb’s sympathetic portrayals of a dozen other races and cultures?

Of course it’s possible Lamb was simply replaying anti-Semitic attitudes he had absorbed somewhere. But in reading these stories I had another moment like the one in which I understood that Burroughs was using “white” as culturist code for “civilized”. It was this: the behavior of Lamb’s Jewish merchants made adaptive sense. Maybe they were really like that!

Consider: The Jews of Lamb’s milieu lived under Christian and Islamic rulers who forbade them from carrying weapons, who despised them, who taxed and persecuted them with a heavy hand. If you were a Jew in that time and place, exhibiting courage and the warrior virtues that Lamb was so ready to recognize in a Mongol or an Afghani was likely to earn you a swift and ugly death.

Under those conditions, I’m thinking that being cowardly and avaricious and toadying would have been completely sensible; after all, what other options than flattering the authorities and getting rich enough to buy themselves out of trouble did Jews actually have?

Lamb seems to have have mined the historical sources pretty assiduously in his portrayals of other cultures and races. Rather than dismissing Lamb’s Jews as creatures of his prejudices, I think we need to at least consider the possibility that he was mostly replaying period beliefs about Jewish merchants, and that those beliefs were in fact fairly accurate. He certainly seems to have tried to do something similar with the other flavors of human being in his books.

Nowadays we tend to interpret Lamb’s Jewish merchants through assumptions that read something like this: (1) All racial labels are indications of racist thinking, and (2) all race-associated stereotypes are necessarily false, and (3) all racial labels and race-related stereotypes are malicious. But it seems to me that, at least as I read Burroughs and Lamb, all these assumptions are highly questionable. As long as you hold them, you can’t notice what “whiteness” in Burroughs really means, or account for the genuine multiculturalism of Lamb’s books.

I am not aiming to completely clear Kipling, Burroughs, or Lamb of every charge of racial or cultural particularism. What I am trying to show is that our modern, “enlightened” leap to judgment on these issues is itself a form of prejudice that oversimplifies the way these authors (and their characters, and their readers!) thought about race and culture. This prejudice enables us to feel comfortably superior to them and to our ancestors in general, but it is unjustified.

Consider Kipling’s famous lines: “But there is neither East nor West, Border, nor Breed, nor Birth, When two strong men stand face to face, tho’ they come from the ends of the earth!” It’s a sentiment that breathes from every page of the Lamb novels. If we persist in imputing racism to these authors, I suggest that is not their fears and faults and obsessions we are discovering, but rather our own.

46 thoughts on “Reading racism into pulp fiction

  1. Interesting. For a non-fiction account of the background of some of this stuff, I recommend William Dalrymple’s *White Mughals*. He’s writing about the British in India around the end of the eighteenth century, when apparently there was no assumption of inherent cultural or “racial” superiority and apparently it was quite normal for high ranked Brits to “go native” and marry into the Mughal aristocracy. (I won’t give you any spoilers regarding the actual story of the main characters, which could be something out of Shakespeare.)

    This all changed with the Victorians, but even then there were always exceptions. Such as Kipling. I’m also re-reading Eric Shipton’s memoirs. Shipton was a top British mountaineer in the 1930s, who was involved in some of the early Everest expeditions and also did some major explorations elsewhere in the Himalayas. He was an early exponent of small, lightweight climbing teams versus big military-style expeditions (bazaars versus cathedrals), and was also noted for his respect for Sherpas and other local expedition members – insisting, for example, that Sherpas going above base camp on Everest were entitled to the same gear as the British climbers. Part of the standard Everest narrative these days is the story of Hilary the non-stuffy New Zealander treating Tensing as an equal climbing partner, instead as a kind of high altitude servant, in contrast to the stuffy Brits. But in fact non-stuffy Brits like Shipton had been doing exactly the same thing for years.

  2. On the topic of colonialism and racism, Have you read Edgar Wallace’s “Sanders of the River” series? It’s quite entertaining. Wallace was accused of being racist and stereotyping of native Africans, but I think his works highlight the native traditional beliefs of Africa quite well. It’s interesting that if you read his stories properly, you realize that Wallace actually believes in living and letting live – rather than attempt to “Europeanize” the African population and destroying their way of life.

    By the way, what is the technical difference between racism and racialism?

  3. > The “brushes with anti-Semitism” lie in Lamb’s portrayal of the Jewish merchants of the time.

    I’d say there’s another dimension to this as well. There’s a long-standing prejudice against merchants and any form of commercial activity in all “heroic” literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece. Heros of every kind — warriors, sword fighters, kings, nobles, etc. — always sneer at dirty, money-grubbing merchants as ignoble creatures. (And there’s a straight line from that to Barack Obama’s demonization of bankers and rich plumbers today.) It so happened that for a good section of European history, Jews were an ethno-cultural merchant class, often because they were forbidden by law from owning land. I’d say much “high literature” looked down on them for being merchants as anything else.

  4. I am not aiming to completely clear Kipling, Burroughs, or Lamb of every charge of racial or cultural particularism. What I am trying to show is that our modern, “enlightened” leap to judgment on these issues is itself a form of prejudice that oversimplifies the way these authors (and their characters, and their readers!) thought about race and culture. This prejudice enables us to feel comfortably superior to them and to our ancestors in general, but it is unjustified.

    You could, of course, easily make the same argument of Mark Twain’s The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, which is of the same time period you mention, being first published in 1884. Among Twain’s major themes were moral conflict and a search for freedom. Despite Twain’s use of the period’s common American colloquialism for black people, which is often used (ridiculously, IMHO) to paint the novel as “racist,” Twain took direct aim at racism, segragation, and lynchings, which were common in the time he lived in.

    Huck’s resolve to free Jim shows his valuation of Jim’s friendship and his (and Twain’s) valuation of Jim as a human being. Twain takes pains to highlight Huck’s moral conflict between societal norms and a sense of right and wrong. Painting Huckleberry Finn as racist does a similar discredit to Twain, who, in his own life, argued for emancipation, abolition, anti-slavery and women’s suffrage as clearly as he did in Huckleberry Finn. In fact, I’d even say that arguing that Huckleberry Finn is racist, is, in fact, racist in itself.

  5. I’ve never seen Twain’s use of eye dialect used to support the thesis that Finn is a racist novel. The “offending” passage is much more overt: a speech (more like a tirade) given by Huck’s father, also written in eye dialect (this time of a poor white Southerner), in which he drops plenty of n-bombs and speaks of how dangerous it would be to let blacks vote.

    Of course, the racism accusations are still ridiculous, as Huck’s pap is hardly a sympathetic character: he abuses his son and is generally made of fail. But considering context requires sophistication. How can you expect that of today’s readership? We have to protect the children from taking away the wrong message from anything! That’s why our cartoons have to be a half hour of pure boredom, with little moral lessons at the end.

  6. If persons of color can be accused of “acting white” when they speak Standard English, avoid dressing and acting like street gang thugs, then your premise makes perfect sense.

    Look around the world, and you’ll see lots of countries that were part of the British Empire, where they elect Parliaments, put on weird wigs, etc., and in some cases consider Elizabeth II their monarch. The people doing it are of all sort of hues, which no one would look at and say “white” or “Englishman”, and yet culturally they are indeed “white”. And Bill Clinton was the First Black President back before we had an actual black President.

    Many of the “right-wing racist” parties in Europe have platforms to defend “white culture”. So long as they believe that persons of any color can participate in that culture, in my book they aren’t racist at all. They’re “culturist”. They welcome people who have fled other cultures who want to embrace Western Civilization. They oppose massive immigration of people who are trying to replicate in their banileux the culture whence they came. But if you say “white”, you must be a White Supremacist, and if you so much as give one of them the time of day, you are tainted by association, and Charles Johnson will put out a fatwa on you for being a raaaaacist.

  7. >So long as they believe that persons of any color can participate in that culture, in my book they aren’t racist at all.

    Is there any evidence that they do believe this, though? My impression of the BNP and the National Front is that they are racist in the strictest sense.

  8. It’s my understanding that the natives of Afghanistan are called Afghans, not Afghanis. The term “Afghani” is the name of the currency of Afghanistan, not the people or the culture. Or am I missing a subtle distinction in terminology between ethnic Afghans and citizens of Aghanistan who may be of non-Afghan ethnic descent?

  9. >the BNP and the National Front is that they are racist in the strictest sense.

    The leadership definitely seems to be. But I don’t think most of the supporters are. They just seem to view them as the lesser evil when compared to the ass-kissing pro-immigration PC slimebags who have been running things for decades.

  10. How do you find time to read?

    Well, I can’t speak for esr, but for me, I don’t watch much television, if any at all. I may tote a book with me if I have to go somewhere where I’m going to have wait in line, etc. Personally, I don’t see how people can claim they don’t have time to read.

    ESR says: All this goes for me too, and my wife and I usually read over meals.

  11. @Jeff Read:

    I’ve never seen Twain’s use of eye dialect used to support the thesis that Finn is a racist novel.

    Really? Huckleberry Finn is one of the most banned books of all time, for this very reason.

    The “offending” passage is much more overt: a speech (more like a tirade) given by Huck’s father, also written in eye dialect (this time of a poor white Southerner), in which he drops plenty of n-bombs and speaks of how dangerous it would be to let blacks vote.

    Huck’s father is hardly a sympathetic character; he’s, in fact, an obvious representation of what Twain saw as the wrong-headed cultural norms of the day. Or is that not as obvious to some as it was to me when I read it some years ago?

    But considering context requires sophistication, how can you expect that of today’s readership?

    Easily. This why is we have literature classes in secondary and post-secondary education. Unfortunately, some of the people teaching them are the “ass-kissing pro-immigration PC slimebags” William B. Swift mentions above. :(

  12. If you want to look into Huckleberry Finn (note the “Finn”) for racism you should recognize Huck’s father for a stereotypical drunken, violent, feckless Irishman against whom prejudice was very strong in those days, rather than reading its author as exhibiting prejudice against persons of African ancestry.

  13. Hey, maybe Irishmen really were drunken, violent, and feckless. Right, ESR? ;-)

    (Fascinating essay. But I couldn’t resist.)

  14. >a stereotypical drunken, violent, feckless Irishman against whom prejudice was very strong in those days

    I’m part Irish, and some of my ancestors in the 19th century probably saw their share of this sort of thinking. The interesting thing is this: people of that time, including the Irish immigrants themselves, made a distinction between “lace-curtain” Irish and “shanty” Irish. My Irish ancestors were lace-curtain Irish who aspired to and succeeded in achieving respectable middle-class status. Their disdain for shanty-Irish brawlers like Huck’s father was strong enough that I’ve heard traces of it in my parents’ anecdotes about their childhoods — in fact, I’ve heard my mother (who’s now pushing 80) use “lace-curtain Irish” in an approving way, though hers was probably the last generation to learn the term through common speech rather than as a historical description.

    My point is that the anti-Irish “prejudice” of Twain’s time wasn’t simple either, and was in significant ways shared by the more assimilated Irish themselves. Compare the way today’s more educated and assimilated blacks use the word “nigger” as a pejorative for the violent and feckless ghetto blacks of our time.

  15. >Hey, maybe Irishmen really were drunken, violent, and feckless. Right, ESR? ;-)

    You jest. But look at the comment I just wrote. Yes, the “shanty Irish” quite often really were drunken, violent, and feckless — a fact rued by no one more that their lace-curtain kin.

  16. Sorry, can’t resist

    Being drunken, violent, and feckless is not enough to be an object of prejudice. Look at Cossacks, they were more drunken, violent, and feckless than Irishmen, yet nobody laughed at them.

    No amount of lace can replace a good shashka ;)

    Disclaimer: my ancestors were Cossacks

  17. If you want to look into Huckleberry Finn (note the “Finn”) for racism you should recognize Huck’s father for a stereotypical drunken, violent, feckless Irishman against whom prejudice was very strong in those days, rather than reading its author as exhibiting prejudice against persons of African ancestry

    See esr’s answer, though my Irish ancestors were fully assimilated into English Quaker culture well before their move in the second half of 17th century to the shores of western New Jersey.

  18. >(And there’s a straight line from that to Barack Obama’s demonization of bankers and rich plumbers today.)

    You’re right about warrior elites, and the heroic literature shaped by them, having a traditional disdain for commerce. But I think you’re misattributing elite left-wing hostility to trade, which has a different source — after all, they’re disdainful of warriors, too.

    Elite left-wing hostility to trade combines the Marxist view of of kulaks as reactionary class enemies (see Joe the Plumber) with the academic’s resentment of the wealthy merchant. Ultimately I think the latter traces back to the pre-Protestant churchman’s contempt for mere getting and spending, as opposed to proper concentration on higher matters.

  19. ESR, are you familiar with Kevin McDonald’s book on what he calls Jewish evolutionary strategy? What’s your opinion of them?

    ESR says: Don’t know of it. Sounds interesting. Pointer?

  20. Hm. If this review of Kevin McDonald’s A People That Shall Dwell Alone is accurate, his major theses seem to me to be so obviously true that I can’t really understand why they’d be controversial, even among Jews. But perhaps this is only because I’m steeped in evolutionary-psych thinking myself.

  21. >drunken, violent, and feckless Irishmen

    They say there are five Irishmen buried under every mile of railroad cutting. Start with 500 Irish and 500 barrels of whiskey, go a hundred miles, get new Irish and more whiskey.
    Why yes, I AM Irish. Got anything from Mr Jameson?

    When John Buchan’s hero calls a friend he’d die for ‘the whitest Jew since the Apostle Paul’ there’s more involved than the careerist crimethink a modern Education, Journalism or Sociology major understands as racism. But half the population of the country is below average. How do we explain past beliefs to low normals without some such terrible simplification as ‘they were all racist’?

  22. >>So long as they believe that persons of any color can participate in that culture, in my book they aren’t racist at all.
    >
    >Is there any evidence that they do believe this, though? My impression of the BNP and the National Front is that they >are racist in the strictest sense.

    The BNP’s a bit of an odd case, being a straight up Fascist organization (in the original sense, a populist, progressive and excessively Nationalist party which promotes a national identity in part by contrasting against a despised ‘other’) but Fascism isn’t inherently Racist so much as strongly Culuralist, I wouldn’t consider them racists specifically, as it isn’t race that’s the driving issue for them so much as a thoroughgoing lack of Britishness. Some of their leadership pretty clearly is racist however. The National Front however is pretty clearly over the dividing line into outright racism.

    But I’d think someone like Geert Wilders or Pim Fortuyn is a better example of promoting ‘white’ culture rather than racism, or even the saner side of Vlaams Belang. The biggest problem is how to differentiate between this promotion of Eurpoean Culture, classic Fascism and outright Racism, particularly since the dividing lines are so unclear.

  23. ESR: his controversialness probably stems from his being a self-professed white nationalist, who ties Jewish activism to a bunch of phenomena that they (and paleoconservatives) generally dislike such as the civil rights movement, gay rights, feminism, multiculturalism, the 1965 immigration reforms, and a few others. I haven’t read his books (it’s a trilogy iirc) and I haven’t read nearly enough on the Frankfurt school and such to be able to verify its validity anyway. I reckoned getting your opinion would be an acceptable shortcurt to becoming more informed.

    Another reading tip. The Occidental Quarterly is an interesting, if at times unsettling, look into this new wave of academic white nationalism that seems to be growing on the web. It’s very different from the standard politics, that’s all I can say for sure at the moment.

    http://www.theoccidentalquarterly.com/
    http://www.toqonline.com/

  24. >[McDonald's] controversialness probably stems from his being a self-professed white nationalist,

    OK, I see that from the Wkipedia article on him. It wasn’t manifest in the review of his book.

    I’m on the other side. I think the loosening of ethnotribal ties is a good thing, because I’m a radical individualist. But I recognize that ethnotribalists like McDonald might win the argument; that is it may turn out that white ethnotribalism is the only functional response (Western) humans have available to Islamism or whatever toxic sludge succeeds it as a civilizational threat. Not the future I want to live in, but I’ll choose white ethnotribalism over dhimmitude if it comes to that.

    And, unfortunately, Western transnational/progressive elites are doing a pretty good job of making McDonald’s case for him…

  25. The interesting thing about Jewish evolutionary strategy is that, for me anyway, it provides strong support for validity of the g factor. Supposedly, given their social niche, selective pressures for quantitative and verbal intelligence would have been predominant in European diaspora. Yet, at least in my familial experience (Soviet Jewish), Jews were overrepresented in many professions requiring strong visuospatial abilities (such as mechanical engineering and medicine.)

  26. “it may turn out that white ethnotribalism is the only functional response humans have available to Islamism or whatever toxic sludge succeeds it as a civilizational threat.”

    Civic nationalism is a possibility (at least locally — obviously white ethnotribalism would be global in character.) The trouble with white ethnotribalism though is that it’s an insufficient response to Islamism. White males disenfranchised by modern feminism are especially vulnerable to the Islamist pitch — that appears to be the Achilles heel of such a strategy. It would be trivial to divide and conquer a West organized in such a way.

    So the solution is to neutralize the progressives/cultural Marxists first and foremost — the rest will take care of itself.

  27. >Jews were overrepresented in many professions requiring strong visuospatial abilities (such as mechanical engineering and medicine.)

    Hm, that’s interesting. Different story in the U.S.; our medical professionals are disproportionately Jewish but our engineering professionals not so much – except for software engineering which does have a very strong Jewish presence. On the other hand, Jews pretty much own show business in the U.S.; is that true in ex-Soviet Russia?

    UPDATE: I did a little Googling for statistics and I think it may be that the reason Jews in engineering are less common in the U.S. is because those who might have been are mostly university academics instead. Was there a policy of keeping Jews out of university chairs in the SU? If so, it would explain why they tended to colonize engineering.

  28. > It was this: the behavior of Lamb’s Jewish merchants made adaptive sense. Maybe they were really like that! If you were a Jew in that time and place, exhibiting courage and the warrior virtues that Lamb was so ready to recognize in a Mongol or an Afghani was likely to earn you a swift and ugly death.

    If you were a Jew in the 30’s, you weren’t really that likely to earn a “swift and ugly death” at anybody’s hands. There were lots of pogroms in Russia (and Prussia?) in the 20’s and obviously Nazi Germany in the 40’s wasn’t too kind to us. And the 20’s hadn’t been the first period in which Jews had been murdered en masse. But the 30’s were probably a bit safer (this is also indicated to some extent by other societal factors, like schooling, prosperity, land ownership, immigration to the U.S., etc., but we don’t need to go into that).

    Even so, there were hundreds of thousands of Jewish orphans that were in their late teens or early twenties in the 30’s, and many more survivors besides who remembered the pogroms of the previous decade. So these survivors were very likely afraid.

    I wouldn’t be so quick to affix such highfalutin terminology to the Jews’ behavior as “adaptive” or “group survival strategy”. It wasn’t any more “adaptive” or “strategic” than an abused child cowering at the sight of his parent’s hand. If you want to call it adaptive, then it is adaptive in a synthetic a priori sense: the child was already wired to acquire this behavior.

  29. >If you were a Jew in the 30’s, you weren’t really that likely to earn a “swift and ugly death” at anybody’s hands

    Sorry, how is that relevant? The Lamb novels were set in the early 1600s.

  30. Huck Finn’s father is rural “white trash”, not ethnic Irish. A large portion of the early U.S. population was of Scottish and “Scots-Irish” origins, but these people were distinct from the “Irish Irish”. For one thing, they were Protestants. This is not to say that there was no common cultural element: the reckless, hard-drinking, combative, “honor-driven” Southern white was often descended from Scots-Irish forebears,

    Twain, BTW, was very much a casual bigot when it came to “Irish Irish”. He quite happily traded in cheap stereotypes and insulting “humor” at their expense.

    WRT to Lamb and his “stereotypical Jewish merchants”: it is one thing to describe some members of a group as conforming to a negative stereotype, and another thing to wallow in such description – to imply (or assert) that those negative qualities are universally characteristic of the group, to exaggerate them, and to deny any positive characteristics. It’s also a sign of prejudice when a ‘bad’ character is described in terms of ethnically stereotypical appearance as repulsive.

  31. >WRT to Lamb and his “stereotypical Jewish merchants”: it is one thing to describe some members of a group as conforming to a negative stereotype, and another thing to wallow in such description – to imply (or assert) that those negative qualities are universally characteristic of the group, to exaggerate them, and to deny any positive characteristics. It’s also a sign of prejudice when a ‘bad’ character is described in terms of ethnically stereotypical appearance as repulsive.

    Indeed. We don’t get appearance stereotypes in this case. We do get exaggerated greed and craftiness. I might have said we get an implication that those negative qualities are universally characteristic, except for three things:

    First, Lamb puts the following line of dialog in the mouth of one of his Cossacks: “A Jew can sometimes be trusted, but Greeks will sell their very wives.”

    Second, there are two stories in which the plot turns on a Cossack recruiting a minor character who’s a Jew to do something rather dangerous. At the denouement of both you discover that had the Jew not held up his end the hero would have been toast. In both cases, Lamb pulls out this revelation as though he’s deliberately playing against the earlier portrayal of the Jew as cowardly and greedy.

    Third, the Jewish characters are never actually villains. Generally the cowardice and toadying and greed are presented in an almost mannered way, as though the Jew and the Cossack both know how they are supposed to behave but neither is taking the other’s posturing very seriously. That is, the Cossack blusters and threatens, the Jew whines and cringes, and they end up making a fair deal.

    Also, the Jewish merchants who serve the Cossacks’ hidden war camp on one of the Dneiper islands are the only outsiders who are permitted to know the location of the siech — information the enemy Tatars crave. Yet the Cossacks never worry that the Tatars — portrayed as quite willing to torture for information — will extract the location from a merchant.

    I think the implication Lamb wants us to draw is that his Jews are capable of courage and resourcefulness, but only when motivated by gain — an attitude the Cossacks find contemptible. It’s hard to tell whether Lamb wants us to feel contempt for these characters or is using them as comic relief.

  32. PP,

    “I’d say there’s another dimension to this as well. There’s a long-standing prejudice against merchants and any form of commercial activity in all “heroic” literature, going all the way back to ancient Greece. Heros of every kind — warriors, sword fighters, kings, nobles, etc. — always sneer at dirty, money-grubbing merchants as ignoble creatures.”

    Of course the irony in it is that the original, pastoral-heroic Jews of King Dovid thought the same way. Jews developed a mercantile spirit much later and only because they were thoroughly Hellenized, becoming basically monotheistic Greeks. And the Jewish mercantile-bourgeois spirit surviving to these days is the surviving mercantile spirit of Ancient Greece in a Hellenized people.

  33. > Sorry, how is that relevant? The Lamb novels were set in the early 1600s.

    My mistake. I confused the two periods somehow.

    But I think my point stands. I’ll reply to your next post though, which is more relevant to the discussion.

  34. Out of curiosity, and consciouss that you’d probably have disagreements with almost every sentence, have you read Starship Stomtroopers, by Moorcock? URL: http://flag.blackened.net/liberty/moorcock.html

    Charles Stross is in essential agreement with this position, I believe, that a lot of SF and horror encodes racist and, for wont of a better term, fascist/militarist tropes. I’m not sure myself, I think both sides have a certain amount of plausibility: for instance Lovecraft’s stuff does seem to be not-so-subtly racist. On the other hand, and as much as Heinlein may have had a vestigial admiration for the military virtues, I think he was far from advocating that type of society as is described in ST. He even had some interesting treatments of racism, one in Farnham’s Freehold, which is unfortunately mixed up with some strange family ideas, and the most interesting one, in my view, in Friday.

  35. >Out of curiosity, and consciouss that you’d probably have disagreements with almost every sentence, have you read Starship Stomtroopers, by Moorcock?

    Just read it.

    Wow. What an amazing pile of incoherent drivel. There isn’t any actual argument there to which one can respond, just a series of gut rumbles connected by expressions of disgust.

  36. I’ve lately been reading the excellent collections of Howard’s work published by Del Rey, and the same thing occurs.

    It was also suggested in one of the appendices to one of them that another thing to remember is that in the 20s and 30s racialism was respectable, not just popularly but scientifically.

    We now know that it was all pretty much baseless crap, but at the time, one can’t expect an author to have gone against it simply because we have the perspective of most of a century…

    (Much as, perhaps, global warming hysteria will be thought of in 20 years, but without the Nazi-related tinge of active evil that racial theories got. But “it was respectable to believe so at the time” is an important lesson to learn, in general.)

  37. Morgan, Huckleberry’s father wasn’t the only racist in Huckleberry finn. Come on. Everyone down to Huckleberry himself, in one way or another, was racist there. Mark Twain depicts it quite well.

  38. >On the other hand, and as much as Heinlein may have had a vestigial admiration for the military virtues, I think he was far from advocating that type of society as is described in ST.

    It has been some years since I last read Starship Troopers, however while he described the operation of the franchise (veterans only), I do not believe that Heinlein actually described the society in any sort of detail at all, so I do not think that any statement on whether or not he was advocating that type of society can be reasonably made.

  39. Lovecraft was racist and antisemitic from top to bottom, and his published writing (especially when considered as a whole) exhibits nothing but. Like many antisemites, he had many Jewish friends and even married a Jewish woman.

  40. >Lovecraft was racist and antisemitic from top to bottom, and his published writing (especially when considered as a whole) exhibits nothing but. Like many antisemites, he had many Jewish friends and even married a Jewish woman.

    Interesting. An anti-black racist subtext is indeed quite noticeable in Lovecraft, but anti-Semitic? What’s the evidence for this? I think this is an even more interesting question given what you say about his intimacy with Jews. I have not observed this to be common in anti-Semites.

  41. Lovecraft’s antisemitism is very evident from his letters, which are the great bulk of his writings. Lovecraft wrote a truly staggering amount of correspondence, a great deal of which is preserved. He also wrote a lot of personal essays, many of them breathing fire and slaughter against the Jews. HPL was essentially an amateur writer with little interest in professional publication.

    As for antisemites not having their favorite Jews, it was Heinrich Himmler who affirmed that in his infamous Posen speech to the SS officers: there are “eighty million good Germans, each of whom has his decent Jew. It is clear, the others are pigs, but this particular Jew is first-rate.” (Original here.) Hitler, indeed, knew more than three hundred “first-rate Jews” whom he either exempted from Jewish status altogether or gave the status of half-Jews to (half-Jews were non-citizens, but in general they stayed out of concentration camps, like African Germans, though many of the latter were forcibly sterilized).

  42. Well if you actually look at the large movement against fascism in 1939, I think that there were most likely millions of people that were against this view of white male supremacy.

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