One need not read very far into the stories of H.P. Lovecraft to find themes of xenophobia and eugenics. And overt statements made in his letters are downright shocking (he said of Hitler, “I know he’s a clown but by god I like the boy!”). The “man of his time” argument doesn’t go very far toward excusing or even explaining this aspect of Lovecraft, however much one might wish to exonerate him.

Similarly, one need not read very far into his biography to understand that Lovecraft spent his life trying to get back what he’d lost as a child: an elite, monied nest of privilege. I say this neither to praise him nor bury him. Lovecraft’s letters reveal him as terribly insecure. He was a poseur, particularly in his early years. As a prolific writer of letters, he recorded it all for posterity. He said foolish, offensive, terrible things. But not, I think, from genuine hatred. Whatever ugliness he put forth—and that he put forth ugliness is indisputable—must have come, at least in part, from this insecurity about whom he was in the world.

I can hear feathers ruffling as I type, calls to raise the torch and pitchfork, but I am no apologist. Not for Lovecraft, nor for anyone who spreads ugliness in the world. But as Canadian author David Nickle rightly suggested in an August blog post, we need to acknowledge Lovecraft’s racism because it so directly shapes his work. It is impossible to understand a thing without looking directly at it; without calling it, for better or worse, what it is; without idealism and sentimentalization, but without outrage and hysteria, too. And maybe Cory Doctorow is right when he suggests that the statuette of Lovecraft given to recipients of the World Fantasy Award should be changed.

Lovecraft was a racist. Okay—so what? Not that it doesn’t matter. But rather, where does it get us? Wipe his image from the WFA? Ban his stories? What about other authors accused of being racists? Twain? Kipling? Flannery O’Connor? Try teaching the “The Artificial Nigger” and watch the sweaty contortions of freshmen as they attempt to avoid saying the word. And why stop with the racists? What about the misogynists? What about those accused of darker tendencies? Lewis Carroll, I’m looking at you.

Why are we so astonished to find racists, misogynists, pedophiles, and assholes among the best writers and artists? Is it because we expect these dissectors of human nature, these seekers of the soul, these high-minded folks who wear old cardigans and sequester themselves for months to walk around in someone else’s shoes to be above the despicable? Why?

Why should knowing something disappointing, something alarming, something, yes, despicable about an author change your opinion of his or her writing? Cannot love for the work and acknowledgement of the flawed human being who created it coexist?

Or is it this: we want to identify—we do identify—not just with the characters on the pages, but with the creators as well? Seeing ourselves in our most loved authors, our most loved authors in ourselves, we don’t want to hear that they have a darker side, too—that, yes, they are human.

The reason we need to acknowledge Lovecraft’s racism, the reason O’Connor’s story could not be titled differently, is because it contributes to the writing—to our understanding of the works, and our understanding of human nature: where we’ve been, where we’re going.

Bringing Lovecraft’s racism into a discussion of Lovecraft’s stories, as Nickle rightly suggests, acknowledges how the author’s world view has shaped the horror we find in his work. Lovecraft’s stories are all the more horrifying—all the more effective—for our knowledge of the man behind them. Knowing Lovecraft expressed regret toward the end of his life for some of the things he said and wrote doesn’t erase those things. He was still a believer in eugenics to the end, as far as we know. But he died early, when he was just beginning to see the wrongness of some of those ideas. This is speculation, of course. Who can say what he might have become, given enough time. Knowing that Lovecraft struggled with his own darkness—with many kinds of darkness, in fact—doesn’t make him monstrous. It makes him human.

Looking a terrible thing—racism, misogyny, ignorance, or hatred—in the face this way reflects the horror back at us. We are reluctant to confront the

monster, yes. Maybe what makes us so reluctant—and what makes it all the more crucial we do so—is that confronting the monster compels us to confront what is monstrous in ourselves.

Canadian author Jacqueline Baker researched the life of H.P. Lovecraft for her new novel, The Broken Hours, published by HarperCollins Canada in September.